That’s how graduate Peggy Townend, 82, summed up her experience yesterday as she and six companions were honoured by the President at their graduation ceremony on a sun-kissed island off the south coast.
President Mary McAleese and her husband, Dr Martin McAleese, travelled by ferry from Baltimore to Sherkin Island off West Cork to be the guests of honour at the conferring of awards for the Dublin Institute of Technology’s (DIT) BA in Visual Art.
It was hailed by organisers as the first official Presidential visit to Sherkin Island.
Peggy, who has been living in West Cork for almost 20 years, was reluctant to be the centre of attention but she agreed to speak to the media to encourage other people of similar age to consider pursuing further education.
In her first venture into third-level education, she studied video and painting and is considering pursuing another course in art as alternative therapy — but only after she has finished overseeing a building project at her home on Turk Head.
“If you really want to do it, it’s never too late,” she said.
“A lot of people close their minds when they reach 65. A lot of people have to change their attitude to old age. And if my speaking about it today does that, then I’ll be happy.”
Peggy’s sons Ian, David and Peter, daughter, Sally, and four of her grandchildren, Robert, Amy, Zoey and Ellen travelled to the island to watch her graduate.
“It’s fantastic really to see your mum graduate like this,” Ian said.
As the island basked in glorious sunshine, Peggy and her classmates posed for photographs in their gowns and caps on the road outside the Sherkin Island Community Hall awaiting the President’s arrival.
President McAleese visited Sherkin NS just up the road first before Peggy and her fellow graduates, Lorraine Bacchus, Monica Boyle, Rebecca Keyser, Veronika O’Driscoll, Catherine Ryan, and Alison Trim, marched in procession from the school, the 80 or so yards to the community hall.
Dozens of family and friends lined the low stone walls, with the Atlantic as the backdrop, and applauded as they processed inside where they were conferred with their degrees by Dr Frank McMahon, DIT’s director of academic affairs.
The little hall was packed to the doors, with dozens more outside under a marquee, with more still sitting outside in the sunshine.
The loudest cheer was reserved for Peggy, when she collected her degree.
Lorraine Bacchus, a former journalist with the BBC, said it was an unbelievable day.
“The people of Sherkin really have pulled out all the stops — it was a most extraordinary experience,” she said.
There was a festival atmosphere all over the island since last Friday.
Tricolours flew from every available flag-staff — including above the Jolly Roger, which hosted a performance of DIT’s Conservatory Music and Drama on Sunday. It was followed by a recital by internationally acclaimed classical guitarist, John Feeley in the Islanders Rest that night.
And as President McAleese’s motorcade swept down the one-vehicle-wide road leading down to the community hall, one man summed it up.
“Jaysus, ‘tis a great day for the island,” he said.
“What’s that? The first official visit of a president?” his lady companion said.
“No — it’s an ’08 BMW,” he quipped.
Sherkin’s BA in Visual Art is a partnership between Sherkin Island Development Society, DIT and the West Cork Arts Centre and is supported by the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs.
Sherkin Island became the first island to host such a course when it was established in 2008.
The four-year programme offers a dynamic and creative education in the visual arts and is fully accredited, managed and delivered by DIT.
It evolved from a pilot programme in art and culture that took place on Sherkin from September 2000 to June 2003 which consisted of a series of accredited short courses developed by the School of Art, Design and Printing at DIT, in partnership with the Sherkin Island Development Society.
Yesterday’s ceremony was also attended by Bríd Grant, the director and dean of DIT’s College of Arts and Tourism.
Susan Harrington, a spokesperson for the West Cork Arts Centre, said the support of President McAleese was hugely significant to this third-level arts education programme and marks a major step forward in recognising the significance of this arts and cultural resource for the West Cork region.
Ms Harrington said the programme brings professional artists to the area and creates opportunities for students, other artists, communities and arts organisations alike.