Category Archives: Community

Emigration – Ireland & Me….

Reading newspaper articles on the emigration of Irish people in recent times, I have been caught up in the many tales of heartache and separation that occur when such a drastic step is taken. Many of the stories are about economic emigration because it can be difficult to see a future in the harsh landscape of Ireland in the post Celtic Tiger gloom of the present. Other stories are about bravery and vision and a belief that life will be better away from this small Island that has a huge history in shipping out its talent and youth and sending our best to the far flung corners of the globe.

When I was engaged to be married a life time ago, I had the opportunity to go to Chicago in America with my fiancé. He had an uncle who would sponsor us and we were assured of good jobs, accommodation and a loving family member who would be thrilled to watch over us and to help in any way that he could. My fiancé wanted to go but I didn’t. I loved living in Dublin at that time and being a young and naïve 19 year old, I didn’t want too many challenges or to be separated from my family and friends. My argument was that we would go, work hard and have a life, but would never be able to afford to come home for our parent’s funerals if they died. Travel was expensive in the early 80’s and this was a valid argument in my mind. We didn’t go and the dye was cast on our life in Ireland.

We stayed here, married, raised a small family and lived a small life surrounded by the people that were important to us. We educated our children and hoped that they would eventually acquire the skills needed to become independent and to continue to live here and not to be included in the statistics of people who emigrated and had to leave Ireland’s shores. We wanted them here with us and I believed that I was rearing them to become the new generation of Irish people who were going to continue into the new century with pride and a skill set that was worthwhile and valuable. Sustainable living in Ireland was our hope for them and I never gave a thought to them leaving this country.

My children are grown now and are independent and working. They are maintaining their own lives and homes against a backdrop of savage austerity and hardship. Tax cuts are biting deep and there are harder days to come. There are Increases in the cost of living, health insurance, fuel and other day to day products as well the introduction of stealth taxes on property and other items that reduce their disposable income every day. There seems to be no good news on the horizon for Ireland and for this new generation of citizens the emigration figures are climbing higher and higher.

Looking back at my own opportunity to emigrate, I realise that I was young and scared. I was afraid to take a step into the unknown, afraid to take a step into a different country, afraid to leave behind all that was familiar, afraid simply to take a step. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t been that way, and I really admire the people who have taken the plunge and have gone on to make lives for themselves and their families in so many places far from this land. They possessed the courage that I lacked.

As an Island state, Ireland cannot continue to sustain its population indefinitely and so will continue to provide the rest of the world with educated young people who will search out better places to live and to settle in. I will always want my children close by, but I am beginning to see myself as being selfish in not wanting them to go where life offers better possibilities. They have not mentioned emigration, but it’s something that I may yet have to face.

Home is somewhere that you carry in your heart and distance cannot change that. I always want them to be happy in their choices and not to be scared like I was when I was their age. If emigration calls them I don’t want them to be shackled to me or to the past, I want them to look to their own future and to find that special place that they can live and prosper in no matter where in the world it is.

I will also have a few bob put aside for them just in case they need to fly home for my funeral!

Destiny can be about evaluating the past and reshaping the future……

New View…..

When I was recently having surgery to insert intraocular lens into my eyes I was worried about my eyesight. Would I see things differently afterwards- would I see colours as I remembered them- would this surgery restore my sight to what the experts promised it would be? These questions were the biggest things on my horizon when I embarked on a journey that was frightening and uncertain. My distance vision has been impaired since I was about 15 years of age and so I’ve worn glasses all my adult life. This has never bothered me at all.

In the past few years however my near vision has deteriorated rapidly, and as I was not suitable for varifocal lens more radical steps were required. I have since had the surgery and have had a revolutionary procedure that has resulted in my distance vision now being better than 20/20 and my near vision being restored. I can now see the world in a sharper and clearer way.

I still had the bandages on one eye when my mother got the news this week that her cancer is terminal. Her breast cancer has spread to her lungs and as she is a frail 82 years of age, her surgeon sees no point in putting her through the trauma of the originally proposed mastectomy. She will be treated with oral chemotherapy to try to contain the disease to her lung and breast in the hope that it will not travel further.

Bravely- she asked the question about how long she had to live- and unhesitatingly her Oncologist answered. Two years.

Facing an uncertain future is something we all live with but we push it away and pretend that we have years ahead…. My mam is now faced with a finite date on her life and is determined to be as strong and upbeat for as long as she can be. She is wilful and stubborn and I realise that she will do it her way and not mine or my sibling’s way because she is an independent strong woman and despite a million and one rows that we have had over the years, I wouldn’t have her any other way.

Thinking about my own eyesight fears seem so petty and small compared to the struggle that my mam is going through and I wish that my new eyes didn’t register the worry and uncertainty that I saw on her face today. I wish I didn’t see the tiredness and I wish I didn’t see the effort that she was making to chat and remain upbeat.

I collected her and her sister to bring them to lunch and I kept an eye on her through the drivers mirror as I drove along. She was in the back seat of the car chatting with her sister when she leaned through the seats and said “I never realised how beautiful your cheekbones are- I never noticed them before because you wore glasses”.

Compliments from my mam are rare and treasured. Today we both saw each other differently and I wonder how that view will change in the coming weeks and months ahead.

Destiny is a path that changes all the time….

The circle of life.

I have recently embarked on a new adventure and although the ride is bumpy, I am loving each and every corner that I turn. I am currently taking a Post Graduate H Dip in Adult Education & Community Development and part of my own learning is getting ‘out there’ to get the experience of working with other new learners in a teaching environment that I am supported in.

I have been so lucky to be included as a facilitator/lecturer on a programme that is being delivered at a local level to new learners who are taking their first steps in Adult Education. This programme is accredited learning from the National University of Ireland on the National Framework of Education and carries weight and distinction.

Meeting the new learners on my first night was nerve racking and throughout that day as I prepared for my new class I wondered if I was cut out for the job. Would I appear stupid, would I get things wrong? Would they all see through me and realise that I hadn’t a clue and demand another person in my place? These were the fears that I had as I drove to the venue where the classes were being held.

Meeting these lovely people who were all there for different reasons was a wonderful experience. They had decided to ‘sign up’ to make a difference to their own lives and to the lives of their families and communities. During break time I met several who told me personal stories about themselves and what had prompted them to embark on this new Adult Education programme. Each and every person had a story about adversity, inequality, bias, marginalisation- and some more extreme. Like the new immigrant who was finding the cultural shift between their own country and this new Irish one so difficult to embrace and to feel a part of, and the person who was campaigning vigorously to establish addiction services in his local area to eliminate having to travel miles to a needle exchange.

Delivering material and being a part of the group during that first class was one of the best moments of my life. I looked at the eager faces sitting on chairs around that room and realised that only a very short time ago it was me in one of those chairs with that hungry look on my face. It was me who raised my hand up with questions about things that I didn’t understand. It was me who gazed in awe at the lecturer and wondered how he ever learned all that he knew. It was me who joined in group discussions and was vocal about the subject that we were tackling that particular night. It was me- It was me!

Speaking with one of the lovely new learners at the end of the night, she told me that she wants to go further in education and that this course is her stepping stone to her future. She is sure footed and knows the steps that she has to take and is determined to succeed. I was humbled to hear her speak about how tough life has been for her, yet her sparkle and intelligence shone through her words and I believed her sincerity in wanting to make a difference to her own life and to those that she loves. Telling her that I was in her chair not long ago and that I too had started my return to learning in a similar fashion broke down any barriers that may have existed between us, and she reiterated her belief that this experience was going to be life changing for her.

“The circle of life” is a cliché that fits in so many ways to my thinking, and it was reinforced for me that night as I realised that the very first steps I took on my own personal path in Adult Education are being repeated by the people in my group of new learners. They in turn will go on and continue to bring education back to the people who constantly seek ways of wanting to make this world a better place to live in.

Education is a powerful thing and I am so glad to be able to share my own learning and experience with this new group as I have no ownership of the knowledge and material that I have received throughout my own educational journey. It has been a life changing experience for me and passing it on is the greatest gift that anyone can bestow on another.

Destiny is often shaped by others when we least expect it.

Living life facing death…

Mam, me and Bernie my mother in law. 2010

Mortality or death is something that surrounds us every day. We are faced by the brutality and sadness of it in every news bulletin and newspaper that we read, and although it is a part of our daily lives, it is usually about someone that we don’t know. Someone distant who we might think about fleetingly but are not connected to. We may feel momentarily sad for their circumstances and for the people who might mourn their loss, but really their deaths don’t touch us, as it is about someone else- someone unknown to us.

Facing death with someone you love is altogether different.

Ultimately we all know that we will die, but while we are young we manage to put that notion of death on the long finger. The Grim Reaper is not for us! Most of us imagine that we will grow old and die a peaceful death (if and ever we have a moment in our busy lives to even contemplate it).

The reality of living with mortality is heavy and dark, and I believe that we never really consider it until we are faced with losing someone we love or have actually lost.

Coming to terms with a life threatening terminal illness is an indicator of how powerless we really are as humans in the face of disease. We may have the will to live, but “fate “can decide otherwise.

I am currently facing uncharted territory with two special wonderful much loved women, my mother and my mother in law. My mother is 82 and has terminal breast cancer, and my mother in law who is 93, is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s .

Watching these two wonderful women cope with their disease’s while hoping for a positive outcome humbles me as I realise that they do not want to die. They struggle every day to hang onto life despite their pain and suffering.

They are on their own particular course and I am on mine. They will ultimately die, and in time they will be gone. I will have to cope and get on with living although my heart and life will be bereft without them.

This is my tough future.

Loosing someone that you love unexpectedly is horrendous as you have no warning –like the sudden death of my darling younger sister Annie, but loosing people that you love dearly day by day, little by little is tougher still.

Having to be emotionally strong and to pretend that somehow death is within our control is exhausting, and providing reassurance knowing what the eventual outcome will be, is heart breaking at this moment in time.

Cliché’s about ‘living life in the moment so that you will not feel regret in the future’ are easily spoken or read. They are harder to live by when time is taken up by the day to day management of hospital appointments, shopping, meal making and other mundane repetitive household chores that have to be completed.

None of these things really matter in the grand scheme of things, and although it keeps a semblance of order in the minutes, in the hours, in the days, in the weeks that go by, it is all meaningless in the context of what lies ahead.

At the funeral, will people remember that the house was clean and that the dusting was done? Will it be noted that the carpets were vacuumed and that the kitchen towels were matched?

I don’t care about this and I am sure that the people who will come to mourn with me in the future do not care either. In the time that is left I want to tell these lovely women to forget about the house work and all of the stupid household tasks that are rendered useless and meaningless in the face of death.

I want them to embrace sunshine as the day dawns, and to smell the sweetness of summer flowers. I want them to rejoice in the simplicity of living and to enjoy if they can, the wonder of a star filled night. I want them to enjoy ice cream dribbling down their fingers as they try to catch the last bit, and to do all the things that are possible in the time that they have left. These are the things that I think are important, but I realise that what I want may not be a part of their thinking as they struggle towards an unknown future.

Living with their uncertainty has changed my own perspective on life, and the clichés about living in the moment have never held more resonance than they do now.

Living life and facing death is not just my destiny, it is universal to us all.

Monkey on my back……

Having left formal State education at the tender age of fifteen, (rebelling against strict parental rules) I was thrust into the labour market at a very young age with limited skills and a whole lot of attitude. I survived, and with various bumps, joys, and disappointments along the way I clawed my path through life. I married my husband when I was twenty and he was twenty four. We were in love with life and each other, and I truly believed that we were invincible. We both had jobs and we bought our first house together shortly before we were married.

I continued working full time during those first few years but we wanted to start a family and our son was born when I was twenty three and our daughter arrived when I was twenty six. I quit working outside my home for a few years to concentrate on rearing my children.

I loved being a parent but often wondered if life had more to offer me. As the kids grew older I began to see gaps in my education and at times it was difficult to address homework issues with them. I always figured that I wasn’t stupid, but lacking formal state examination certification because I was an early school leaver, I believed that I was somehow worthless in comparison to my smart and clever children. This was the monkey on my back and I didn’t like him.

As time went on I enrolled in day classes and night schools. I participated in various courses in many disciplines and I slowly began to build up accredited learning. It sometimes felt like a never ending quest , and that old monkey was always present. In time when my children were teenagers I returned to full time employment and although I was better equipped skills wise, I still lacked that all important state educational certificate. This was a major factor that contributed to stagnant opportunities and cul de sac promotional prospects.

In conversations about qualifications, people always began with the the question” What grades did you achieve in your Leaving Certificate” (which is the final State examination at 2nd level before embarking onto 3rd level at University). I felt so ashamed so often admitting that I never completed that stage having voluntarily left school early. My mistake. My Monkey.

I continued reading and learning during the years that my children became young adults, and despite the fact that I had well paid jobs during this time and was happy in some of them, that monkey was still lurking.

When my children finally finished college and were on their own chosen career paths, I often considered the advice that I had given them over the years. I thought about the importance of education, and about how their father and I had supported them emotionally and financially, and paid for extra curriculum help when it was needed. Education gives you power and I wanted that for my children. I had never compromised on it. I took a long hard look at my own life and wondered why was it that I placed such importance on their education, but didn’t rate my own. Was it too late for me, and had I missed the boat?

Destiny has a funny old way of working.

On New Years Eve in 2008 I met a neighbor at a party who had a few drinks and was feeling happy and full of enthusiasm for her New Years resolutions. When we started chatting, she told me that I had inspired her to look beyond her then boring job, and to reach out and do what she had always wanted- which was to be a teacher. She told me that I was the most positive person that she had ever met, and that because of me she was currently a mature student in a University getting her teaching degree and that she was on her own personal path to fulfillment.

Her conversation staggered me. I had no idea that my simple encouraging words to her at a previous party had led her to take such a huge step, and I left that night feeling bewildered and flummoxed by her apparent sincere feelings of gratitude. I came home and reflected on what had happened and realised that I was so busy encouraging other people to find their own destiny that I had completely relegated my own.

Before I went to bed on that fateful night -Jan 1st 2009- I had applied online to Maynooth University as a mature student for a Double Honor Arts Degree in English Literature- Sociology and Anthropology.

I have that wonderful woman to thank today as this is the eve of my Graduation. Without her kind words I would never have had the courage to leave full time employment to take up the College place that I was subsequently offered. She told me that I inspired her, but she actually inspired me to act, to take a chance and to grasp life. I have had a wonderful three years in a University where I have had the education that I had previously only dreamed about. My world has expanded beyond belief because of this experience, and I am so happy to say that finally, that monkey is off my back. Goodbye- I won’t miss you.

Destiny feels a little closer tonight.