2024 Beatty Lecture:

Cónal Creedon
Eske Willerslev

October 22 at McGill University

Irish author, playwright, and filmmaker Cónal Creedon and Danish evolutionary biologist Eske Willerslev will deliver the 70th Beatty Lecture at McGill University on Tuesday, October 22, 2024. Both share a dedication to exploring human history and cultures, enriching our understanding of the world and our place in it. Whether in novels, plays, or documentary films, Cónal Creedon crafts compelling narratives rooted in Irish life and culture. Through his pioneering research into ancient DNA, Eske Willerslev unravels the stories of human history and prehistory, providing a deeper understanding of our origins and the evolutionary forces that have shaped humanity. They will each deliver a lecture followed by a joint Q&A. Tickets go on sale in the fall. More details will be shared on this webpage and to Beatty Lecture newsletter subscribers over the coming months.

The 2024 Beatty Lecture is presented in partnership with the World Cultural Council (WCC). Since 1984, the WCC has held a yearly Award Ceremony in a different university around the world, granting prizes to outstanding scientists, educators, and artists whose remarkable work in their fields have contributed positively to the cultural enrichment of humankind. This year's Award Ceremony will be held at McGill on October 23, 2024. On this occasion the 2024 Albert Einstein World Award of Science will be bestowed on Professor Eske Willerslev and the 2024 Leonardo da Vinci World Award of Arts will be bestowed on Cónal Creedon. For more details visit www.mcgill.ca/world-cultural-council-2024.


                                                                                                              Cónal Creedon

                                                          Cónal Creedon sits at a table with a small dog in a chair next to him

Cónal Creedon is an award-winning novelist, short-story writer, playwright, essayist, documentary film maker, and collaborative artist. His creative practice has been described as an exploration of ‘the spaghetti bowl of streets’ in downtown Cork city, Irelandwhere his family has lived and traded for over a hundred years. His detailed investigation of such a tight-knit neighbourhood reveals insights into the universal nature of the human condition and constitutes a significant contribution to the artistic legacy of creative expression.

The diversity of Creedon’s artistic practice reaches back over thirty years and across various media including books, theatre, film, radio dramas, music, live performance, and collaboration with other artists. When examined in its entirety, his diverse output becomes a single cohesive body of work that resonates far beyond the inner-city streets of his native Cork.

Creedon’s creative output has received widespread recognition. His latest book, Art Imitating Life Imitating Death (2022), received the 2023 Independent Publishers Gold Award for European Non-Fiction. His novel Begotten Not Made (2019) received the 2020 Eric Hoffer Award USA. His most recent collection of short stories, Pancho and Lefty Ride Again (2021) was awarded the One City One Book Award for Cork City in 2022 and holds the record of being the most borrowed adult fiction book at the Cork City Libraries in 2022.

His stage plays have been produced in the UK, Shanghai and New York to high critical acclaim and have received awards including Best Production at the Irish National Play Awards and two Business to Arts Awards by President of Ireland Mary McAleese. His film documentaries have been screened at the West Belfast Festival, World Expo Shanghai, Origin Theatre Festival New York, and the Irish National Centenary Commemorations.

In his home city of Cork, Ireland, Creedon’s contribution to the arts continues to be recognized. In 2016 he was presented as Writer-in-Residence at University College Cork (UCC) and was subsequently inducted as adjunct Professor of Creative Writing to the School of English and Digital Humanities at UCC. Nominated Cork City’s Person of the Year in 2001 and 2018, Creedon was appointed Cultural Ambassador for Cork City in 2020 and awarded Cork City Lord Mayor’s Cultural Award that year.


      Eske Willerslev

                                                                   Headshot of Eske Willerslev

Eske Willerslev, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Copenhagen and Prince Philip Professor at the University of Cambridge, is renowned for breakthroughs in evolutionary genetics including his pioneering contributions in establishing the field of Environmental DNA and the sequencing of ancient DNA to track the origins and interactions of human population groups.

During his doctoral studies, Willerslev published his research demonstrating how modern and ancient DNA from birds, mammals, and diverse plants can be directly obtained from environmental samples. His work has allowed for highly detailed reconstruction of ancient marine and land ecosystems from microbes to plants and vertebrates. He recently published in Nature the reconstruction of a 2-million-year-old ecosystem from Greenland.

The sequencing of ancient human genomes was thought impossible until Willerslev found a way to do this. His numerous studies on the subject have helped rewrite human history from the origins of Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians through to the peopling of Europe and Asia. One byproduct of this is the ability to follow the spread of disease risk and comprehend how it differs among peoples. His group’s discovery that pathogen DNA can be obtained from ancient teeth has changed our understanding of the evolution and spread of diseases such as the plague, hepatitis B and smallpox.

Willerslev shares his research results with broad segments of society. He is known to be an active and engaging speaker, who promotes science to the public through debate, documentaries, radio, TV, and magazine interviews. He has written various books on science for lay readers of all ages, which are best-sellers in Denmark and will soon be available in English. He has also promoted the next generation of scientists within and outside his research group, mentoring award-winning researchers and launching new Centres of Excellence. The town of Horsholm (Denmark) has a bronze statue of him in recognition of his work promoting education and research.

His discoveries have borne sway on scientists’ approach to Indigenous communities, and even the US Repatriation Law. Respecting Indigenous communities, he has worked alongside Indigenous Peoples and his findings have resulted in the repatriation of various human remains to their rightful descendants including the highly debated Kennewick Man skeleton (The Ancient One) and The Spirit Cave Man mummy. Willerslev is an adopted member of the Crow (Apsáalooke) federally recognized tribe of Montana.

Willerslev has been awarded numerous honorary doctorates and accolades, including Foreign Associate of the United States National Academy of Sciences and Member of the European Molecular Biology Organization. His research is published in the most prestigious journals and includes more than 60 publications in Nature and Science. He is one of the Web of Science’s most cited researchers, in the top 1% of his field. His work has broad scientific impact, forcing us to rethink the origins and evolution of human groups, languages, and behaviour, while causing ripples in fields as diverse as medicine, ecology, archaeology, and climate science.


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