I am the middle child of eight children; there were six of us to begin with and then my parents fostered a boy and a girl who became my half-brother and sister. I always joke that my parents called every single one of my sister’s names before they called mine!
As a middle child, I think you both pine for attention and are able to amuse yourself, it’s a good thing to learn at a young age. We had an excellent upbringing and my parents were wonderful. My entire extended family is involved with the caring of others, whether it be through charity or otherwise, and that was definitely something that was bred into us. It is important to be kind and to be aware of others, always.
At school, I think that I would have been described as shy and quiet, and I was. I am 48 now and it feels like forever ago, but I remember feeling really shy.
I didn’t necessarily worry about school or about the social side of things, but I was definitely one of the more quiet individuals. I attended Scoil Aiséirí Chríost on the north side of Cork City for primary school and it was a great experience. I was studious and got good grades; I think I really developed an interest in specific subjects when I went to secondary school.
I went to secondary school at North Presentation I loved three subjects above all else. Art allowed me to indulge my creative side. I loved to draw and I loved doing the projects that involved mediums like collage and things like that. I felt really free when I was in art class. I adored geography and history, because of the teachers I think. History as a subject just fascinated me. I loved learning about the big events that had happened in the world and hearing the stories that surrounded them.
We had a history teacher in secondary school called Mrs Buckley and she captivated me. She taught us all about the Second World War in such a way that I was really in it. It never felt like she was just reading out of a textbook; she was fabulous. She lives in Blarney and I see her the odd time. I have such an interest in history because of her and I don’t think I’ve ever told her that.
Our geography teacher Mr Murphy was a lunatic altogether and we loved him. He was very funny, and he made geography so interesting. We loved him.
Because of him, when I came out of school I was determined to travel. I spent time living in Africa, when I travelled all around and then I travelled all around India.
I don’t think that teachers realise the impact that they have on the children they are teaching. In fact, it’s only when you leave school yourself that you realise how much you are influenced by what and who has been at the head of that classroom.
I think if you have a teacher who can keep you engaged and interested then you are already ahead of the pack. There are some incredible young teachers coming up now who are brilliant. They have an interest in both their subjects and in the children who they teach; they are going to inform and inspire the next generation in such a great way.
Right now my eldest daughter Shauna is trying to fill out the CAO form and I want her mind to stay as wide as it is now. I think when you are in school, the subjects that you study will give you the stability to focus on what you want to do. You do need a grounding and you do need a structure to be successful, and school give you that. For example, the subjects that I chose in secondary school, like accounting and business all contributed me starting my own business.
Growing up in a big family, there was no way that all eight of us were going to go to college. I think the question that was asked of us as we finished school was ‘what job are you going to get’ rather than ‘what course are you going to do’. The aim was to take the best job that was available to you at the time.
I try to encourage my son and daughter to keep dreaming above all else. That’s what I hope for them. I want them to keep all their hopes and dreams alive; I don’t want them to finish school and shut off. I think that sometimes when you become an adult you shut off your optimism and your self-belief — it tends to disappear among all the parts of life like paying bills and going to work every day.
I think that children are open and it’s our job and the job of teachers and the education system to encourage them to stay that way. It is my hope that school gives children options and different routes to achieving their dreams, to keep that fire of optimism and hope burning inside them. Life is just a series of stepping stones, and even if you have a bad experience, it’s just one stone on the way to achieving your dream.