Lessons in living life to the full for UCC's mature students

For former Navy diver Muiris Mahon, life as a mature student at University College Cork has been an ‘amazing’ experience. He tells Rowena Walsh why

Lessons in living life to the full for UCC's mature students

For former Navy diver Muiris Mahon, life as a mature student at University College Cork has been an ‘amazing’ experience. He tells Rowena Walsh why

“They said to me, ‘oh the mature students, you sit up the front.’” But Muiris Mahon is absolutely sure of one thing: “I’ve never wanted to be in the front. Even during all the courses I did before, I was always at the back, hiding.”

Muiris, who is starting his third year of a BA in Arts at University College Cork (UCC), says he was upskilling throughout his 34-year career in the Irish Defence Forces. A chief diver in the Navy, the 60-year-old has been decorated for his work in the aftermath of the 1985 Air India crash.

Going to college had always been in the back of his mind, but Muiris wasn’t sure if he would be able for the demands of third level. “I didn’t do my Leaving Cert,” he says. “I did my Inter Cert in 1974. There was a huge doubt in my head all the time, am I able for this?”

This is something that Damian Butler, UCC’s mature student support officer, is used to hearing. “Quite a lot of mature students suffer from imposter syndrome, where they wonder when they are going to be caught and thrown out. We remind them that their application got them here and that they deserve to be here,” he says.

To go to college as a mature student, an application must be made through the CAO. The CAO opens in November and closes on February 1, for entry the following September.

“There is a great video on the CAO website that explains the process,” says Damian.

In most cases, a mature student will have to write a Statement of Interest and there may be an exam or entrance test.

Muiris describes going to college as “a fabulous experience. I get a great buzz out of studying politics and sociology.”

It’s this intellectual stimulation that attracted Anne Barrett to an arts degree. Anne, who has a writing background, is about to start first year in UCC studying English, politics, history of art, and philosophy. She designed and built an ecological guesthouse in Kenmare.

Anne, now in her 60s, has just finished writing a memoir on her experience of relocation. “I want to learn some research skills, to focus on what might be good to do next in the writing field.”

For Anne and other incoming mature students, Muiris recommends having an open mind. “If you go in with a certain idea and it doesn’t work, you could be disappointed.”

“It’s also getting involved,” he says. “When you want to say something, don’t be afraid to put your hand up. There’s no such thing as a stupid question, even though we’re all thinking, oh my god, should I really ask this?”

“The workload can be quite intense from the beginning,” says Damian. “Time management is very important as mature students are already juggling quite a lot before embarking on a full-time undergraduate degree programme.”

Outside of classes, you can be on your own a lot, says Muiris.

But I don’t have an issue with that. There is a mature student common room in UCC, but I’ve only used it a handful of times. If you go into one of the canteens or the library, you’ll always meet someone who’s in one of your classes.

Muiris says he’s lucky to have a pension, so he’s “not a poor student” but he has seen others struggling. Damian echoes this, saying that “the financial implications of full-time study are a major worry for the majority of mature students”. There is assistance offered by the college, however.

Muiris, who will be the first of his siblings to go to college, is justifiably proud of what he describes as “an amazing achievement”.

Equally amazing is the fact that he is going to college with one of his own children. His son Darragh, who is about to finish his masters degree in Chinese and Asian Studies, is also attending UCC.

Muiris says that Darragh found it strange when he introduced him to other students. “He came home one day and said ‘Mam you’ll never believe it, I met Dad at the student centre. He was with a load of students. He was holding court and they were talking about legalising marijuana. He was in full flow. Mam, he’s going to make a show of me.’”

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