I’m originally from Mayo. I grew up in Swinford and I attended both primary and secondary school there. The primary school was mixed up until first class and then it was an all-girls situation for the rest of the way, when the boys were exported across the road to the boy’s school. Secondary school was mixed. It was a convent, but had nuns, lay people, and priests teaching — that’s rural Ireland in a nutshell.
I am the eldest of five and I was by nature very well-behaved during my school days. I remember my first day at school so distinctly because I was watching one child — one boy — who was crying and crying and crying for his mum. I remember having a lump in my throat but I would not allow myself to cry. I think this is down to being the eldest child and not wanting to cause trouble. I wanted to be dependable, sensible, looked out for my siblings, that kind of thing.
I have three daughters and I recently had the whole conversation about a mobile phone with my eldest. Her dad works in tech as a software engineer and he told her teasingly, that she wouldn’t get a phone until she was 16. She came to me in tears saying how unfair it was being the oldest child and that her younger sisters will get phones at a far younger age than she eventually gets one. I thought it was a great example of what it’s like to be the eldest child. The expectations that a parent has on the oldest child are definitely different, because you have no clue with your first. My dad was a secondary school teacher and I think that his job and the expectations that come with it definitely played a part in how I conducted myself while at school.
I remember, for my birthday, she gave me a birthday card with Kermit the Frog on it, who I loved. For some reason, she came to my birthday party at my house. I remember her crawling through a ditch with me — I wanted to show her some flowers that were over this ditch and she actually crawled through it with me so that she could see these blooms with me. This was not the experience I had with the rest of the nuns, so maybe that’s why I hold her in such high esteem but she was a very gentle woman. I was a decent student. I loved languages, I loved English, I loved Irish. I got it into my head that I didn’t like maths, and I was no good at it and that has actually stayed with me all my life. In these formative years, when you are blocked by a subject like this it can be paralysing for the rest of your life. There are certain questions that still get me, like ‘if Mary leaves Athlone and her train is doing 120km an hour, how long will it take’ — these kind of questions send me into a sweat.
Once, I didn’t do my homework for a couple of nights running, which would have been very unlike me. I hadn’t done my tables or my maths and I remember getting one out of ten in the test. We had to put our heads down on the table, and then you had to put your hand up in the air if you got ten out of 10, and then nine out of ten, and so on. I didn’t put my hand up at all, because I was so ashamed by how I had done. One of the girls then put up her hand and said ‘Loretta Kennedy didn’t put her hand up to say what she got’. I felt so ashamed and I remember deciding that I would always do my homework, because this feeling was the result of not doing it.
When I think of the child that I was, I definitely see the roots of entrepreneurship in her. I think that stems from an adaptability. I’ve been an intuitive learner my entire life; that means, if I know that something is not for me and is not working, then I’ll put it down. I realise that there are certain subjects that are not a good fit for me and I think this is something that has always been in me.
I think the most important lesson that I will take from my school days is that no education is lost. I did a couple of years studying one law at UL and I absolutely hated it. I ended up converting the credits that I earned at Limerick towards a degree in English and Psychology. I believe that having the ability to identify the resources that are open to you in the present moment and use to the best of your ability is one of the greatest things that a child can learn.
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