School Daze: ‘I loved anything creative so naturally art was something I really enjoyed'

School Daze: ‘I loved anything creative so naturally art was something I really enjoyed'
School Daze May 18 Sinéad Crowley.

Sinéad Crowley chats to Eve Kelleher about her time in school.

AH, PRIMARY SCHOOL – they were simpler times. My most vivid memory of those years is getting called to “come over” in a game of “Red Rover” out in the yard and it making my life! Nothing better than a good rib-cracking during your lunch break – until it was banned for safety reasons (I wonder why?!).

In secondary school, it seems like we just spent our days sitting outside in the sunshine on our lunch break, laughing and chatting about everything and anything – our high score in Snake, the latest additions in Home and Away, the members of the band Blue we would marry (I’m sure some education happened at some point too!) 

What I remember best about my first day in secondary school is landing in with the most oversized school uniform and school bag imaginable, exhausted after a morning spent taking millions of photographs with every single shrub in my mom’s garden, and getting the key to my very own locker – making me feel like a complete grown-up.

I was the shy, creative type. For the first half of secondary school I was the kid who would go a mental shade of pink the minute she was asked to speak in front of the class. 

Fourth-year was a real game-changer for me as I really came out of my shell, found my “tribe” and began to feel comfortable in my own skin (well, as comfortable as any 16-year-old will feel!).

I loved anything creative so naturally art was something I really enjoyed and got on well with – French, Physics and Maths too. I was never any good at Irish but ironically, I went back a few years ago and repeated the Irish Leaving via evening classes and I fell in love with it. 

It’s a pity the magic of the Irish culture is being lost somewhere along the way.

The lesson I learned during my school years that applies to my life today is to speak up and don’t be afraid to make mistakes – it sounds daft but you actually learn more from your mistakes.

If I were to meet the child I was I would say: “Sinéad – FYI, it’s completely ok to feel awkward and 100% guaranteed everyone in your year is probably feeling the same. Try not to waste your time comparing yourself to others (I know it’s hard though!) – everyone is different and that’s okay too.” 

We had a tiny year – around 50 students – and we all got along well and had the craic. Smaller “groups” formed within the year and these legends are still my closest friends today. Everyone is different but I think it’s more about quality than quantity.

The best advice I got back then is that life goes on. Sometimes things can happen outside of your control or that you don’t like the outcome but just go with it – everything happens for a reason.

Everyone and anyone from West Cork knows of the famed “Boiler Room” – the wonderfully mystical industrial hall that you longed to get into and then when you did, it turned out to be just a load of awkward, sweaty teenagers “meeting" along the wall to “Cotton-Eye Joe”. 

School Daze: ‘I loved anything creative so naturally art was something I really enjoyed'
Sinéad Crowley.

Not the epic club experience you imagined it would be but good craic all the same!

As for the teacher who influenced me the most? One hundred per cent, it was my art teacher. It was my first real experience of getting critical, constructive feedback – which at the time felt like I was just doing it wrong, but looking back now, she knew how to push us to be our best. 

I know it sounds cheesy as feck but I don’t think I would be working in design today if it wasn’t for her. Thanks, Ms O’Connell – oh, and your outfits rocked!

Did I always know I would end up working in the area of sustainability? Not a chance. I didn’t even know what sustainability was when I was 13 (I’m pre-Green Flag and all the other great sustainable initiatives they do in schools these days). 

I never fully understood why at the age of 13, my friends were reading Mizz magazine and I was hooked on Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth. I thought I was freak but I think I was just subconsciously starting to put two and two together – that planet-positive living isn’t just good for the planet, it leads to a better life for us too!

Thirteen-year-old Sinéad would probably say: “I hadn’t a clue you could mix creativity and sustainability and get paid to do it!” In fairness to baby Sinéad, 65% of kids entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that don’t exist yet – so we won’t be too hard on her for not knowing either (that’s what’s exciting!) The highlight of my work for me is getting to combine two of my passions – design and sustainability – in my "day job" at the Cool Planet Experience. 

I probably should say meeting Prince Charles and chatting about reforestation but honestly, it’s hearing all the “grassroots adventures” my followers are embarking on and feeling the benefits of!

It’s important to appreciate the little things, keep everything in perspective and be kind. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself! If you are having a sh*tty day – roll with it and acknowledge that it’s completely ok to feel scared/exhausted/confused or all of the above!

Focus on the benefits of climate action (feeling healthier, saving money, making friends, supporting local) and the cool ideas that are changing our future. 

No one responds well to guilt trips, instead have the craic with living sustainably and remember that we don’t need a handful of people being perfectly sustainable, just millions of people doing it imperfectly.

Clonakilty native Sinéad Crowley is on a mission to discover if living sustainably can be more of an adventure than a sacrifice and documents her discoveries on her blog “A Grassroots Adventure”. 

She is the lead designer at the Cool Planet Experience (Ireland’s first interactive exhibition on climate action, located in Powerscourt Estate, Co Wicklow). Follow Sinéad’s journey on Instagram @agrassrootsadventure



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