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John Hunt

DOCTOR OF LETTERS

John Hunt

JOHN HUNT

Since childhood John Hunt lived in a home environment conspicuously committed to cultural and heritage preservation. His early years were spent at the family castle at Craggaunowen as his parents carefully restored the building as a home, not only for a family, but as a lodging place for an incomparable collection of cultural artefacts and objets d'art. Though he was educated away from home at St Gerard's in Bray, Co. Wicklow and at Glenstal Abbey in Co. Limerick, his heart was always at "Crag," as he called it. The Craggaunowen project, comprising the recreation of early Celtic settlement and housing, was under construction right through his youth until, in one of the striking acts of generosity which distinguishes the Hunt family, the entire project was donated to the Irish people. It was unsurprising therefore that John Hunt pursued studies in Art History and Archaeology at University College, Dublin from which he graduated with an honours degree in 1979. Very soon after his graduation it became apparent that John Hunt's cultural commitments embraced more than history and heritage but extended, in a most practical way, to the contemporary arts as well. He established (and staffed, with his business partner Rúairí Ó Cuiv) the first professional art handling, transportation and installation service in the country. It was they who hung the inaugural exhibition of modern Irish art with which the Belltable Arts Centre announced its presence in Limerick City. It was around this time that John first met with Patricia Mooney whom he would soon marry. By 1984 John had joined the staff of the Arts Council as Visual Arts Officer, with responsibility for film and new media as well. While in office with the Council John curated many major shows, most notably a mid-term retrospective exhibition of the painter Brian Bourke and a major retrospective exhibition of the work of Louis le Brocquy which toured Australia in 1987 to great acclaim. He also launched the important showcase initiative, "30 Days Art September" during his time at the Arts Council. With his next career move John was in a position to recombine his abiding interest in and dedication to cultural heritage and the living arts by becoming the Director of Temple Bar Gallery and Studios in central Dublin. This venture was a key component in the transformation of a run-down centre city area into a thriving cultural quarter on the right bank of the river Liffey. While at Temple Bar Gallery and Studios John continued to expand and deepen his curatorial experience, winning many supporters and admirers for his management skills, flair and innovation. He used his time in Dublin's cultural quarter to expand and deepen his passionate engagement with all kinds of music, especially modern jazz. From the beginning of the nineties John and his sister Trudy Hunt embarked on what was to become their major enterprise, the Hunt Museum Project. The Hunt Museum is now an established feature in the national cultural landscape, intensively visited in that gloriously restored building on the left bank of the Shannon in the heart of Limerick city. This award-winning museum is, of course, the work of many hands but the initial vision and the dogged persistence needed to realise that vision was John Hunt's. John was one of that really rare breed, a visionary with his feet planted firmly on the ground. Before the Hunt Museum came into existence there was a lot of wheeling and dealing, cajoling, lobbying and persuading to be done. John did it and he did it indefatigably. He was never a man to take no for an answer, particularly if that answer impeded the thrust of the long-established Hunt practical philanthropy. John slowly built the Hunt Museum from small beginnings in a few display cases on this campus to what it is today, a national treasure housing treasures. It was during this hectic time that John and Patricia's own personal treasures, Jack, Paddy and Miriam were born. Since its inception the Hunt Museum has been inflected with John Hunt's personal style. John was as happy and effective on a building site as he was in a boardroom, the term "hands-on" might just have been coined for such as he. For John, a museum is much more than a venue for display, it must also allow the visitor to interact closely, to discover and forge connections, to experience at firsthand. Hence the Hunt Museum's innovative approaches to display and access and its deep and continuing commitment to educational and training programmes, from the casual to the professional, while maintaining the highest standards of excellence in all areas of its activities. While John was in the throes of the Hunt Museum Project he continued his commitment to the wider arts world through his advocacy of the arts in general and in his work as an arts journalist in both electronic and print media. His work with RTÉ Radio and with Lyric FM gave him access to a nationwide audience, an access that he valued greatly because it allowed him to disseminate more widely his no-nonsense, plain-spoken art criticism. John and Trudy Hunt were given the Freedom of the City of Limerick in 1997 in recognition of the Hunt family's munificence to the city and to the nation generally. John was awarded a Gold Medal for distinguished service to the arts by the Royal Hibernian Academy in 2001. He happily joined the board of the Island Theatre Company here in Limerick and served as a valued member until ill-health prevented him from being in Limerick as often as he wished. His untimely death deprived the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig in Monaghan of its most active and innovative chairman. A man of vision, of service, of dedication to an ideal over a lifetime, a persistently creative individual; it is fitting that the University of Limerick honours the memory of John Hunt and his lifetime's work.

   

It is a goal of the University of Limerick to work beyond the walls of its campus. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to offer our facilities to those who are pursuing knowledge, truth and understanding.

It is essential to recognise today social, charitable and personal contributions which have had a substantial and long-lasting impact on the well-being of what are commonly referred to as 'these islands'.

Sport is a unifying force - it brings together parishes, counties, provinces and the nation in support of a common cause and helps to boost national morale and raise the international profile of our country. It is therefore eminently appropriate that this university should recognise and honour those who epitomise the finest virtues of sport and who have contributed substantially to the enhancement of Ireland's sporting heritage.

The University of Limerick - honouring those who use their achievements to benefit the people of this city and region and show special appreciation to those who have contributed to the development of this great institution.

Demonstrating our respect for cultural achievements on the national and international stage.

There is no idea so uplifting as the idea of service to humanity.

Woodrow Wilson

We acknowledge the remarkable contribution of individual's to the betterment of the lives of those past, present, and to come.

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University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland
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