From ballet to body boarding, meet the retirees grabbing life by the horns

‘Life has a habit of slipping past, so if we have an ambition, we should lose the sense that others have the right to judge’

We’ve all heard it said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But while it may have been deemed only proper in the past for people of retirement age to keep themselves busy with simple hobbies they had dabbled in for a lifetime, times have changed.

There are no longer any societal expectations on people of a certain vintage to remain under the radar. More and more retirees are grabbing life by the horns, and taking up new and exciting activities. Here, six older people who are living life to the full share their joy in the novelty of doing something new.

Ballet dancer: Barbara Jones

After retiring from a demanding job as a university professor in 2016, 72-year-old Barbara Jones signed up for a “wellness class” based around contemporary dance at Queen’s University in Belfast.

“I was initially surprised to hear the strains of Tchaikovsky, and even more so when I was asked to find a place at the barre – it soon became apparent that I had, in fact, joined a ballet class,” she says.


“I literally started from scratch, never having had any sort of dance tuition when I was younger. But the initial experience with teacher Clare Novaes was so inspirational that a few months later, I decided to join the Ballet School in Moira, where she had just started an adult ballet class.

“What is enthralling for me about classical ballet is the discipline of the movements, the delightful music, and the magic of expressing myself in this way. Taking regular classes promotes core strength and poise and can give a sense of wellbeing and also calmness: after a class, there is a sense of how great it is to be alive. The activity creates very positive feelings in the moment, which can also carry over into other parts of my life.

“I think what worked for me could also work for others, so I would suggest taking a class with the purpose of just becoming immersed in a new craft or activity. Once you have enrolled, you are more likely to stick with it as it sweeps you along - and meeting new people with the same interest also helps. This is especially so if there are some people of similar age, which can bolster confidence in the belief that what you are doing is really very normal.”

Children’s author and illustrator: Dolores Keaveney

Dolores Keaveney is 73. Since the 1980s, she has enjoyed painting, but in recent years, the mother of three and grandmother of eight has been creating books for children, recently publishing her 17th picture book.

“I’ve always been a very busy and creative person, so was feeling a bit lost when I finished working,” she says. “I had been painting flowers, and decided to learn about keeping bees. Then one night, I woke up with a bee rhyme in my head, so I wrote it down on and went back to sleep. Later, with encouragement from Lucy, my lovely neighbour, and others, I put it with some of my flower watercolours and this became my first picture book.

Never let fear of failure stand in your way

“I was turned down by publishers, but it didn’t deter me, and I decided to self-publish If I Were a Bee with my own savings, even though I think people thought I was a bit daft. But I wasn’t doing it for money – it was for my grandchildren and any other children who would read them. Spreading love about nature was, and still is, my goal.

“Of course, it was challenging, but suddenly out of nowhere, I was writing and illustrating a picture book. It has been an amazing journey for me so far, and I hope to continue until I can’t do it any longer. I think that no matter how old you are, if you are in reasonably good health, then it is vitally important for you to do something that stimulates you. Never let fear of failure stand in your way.”

Musician: Tim McStay

Music has always been played a big part in Tim McStay’s life. The 67-year-old Dubliner swapped an early career in the industry for the corporate events world, but since retiring, he has found himself writing and performing songs once again, and says he couldn’t be happier.

“During school and college, I was always playing and singing,” he says. “Having tried my hand at another career, I found myself doing a lot of gigging in the 1980s. Our band, The Resistors, were actually on the original Dublin compilation album Just for Kicks with U2 and others, and Phil Lynott produced a single for us in 1983 – one of my tunes, entitled Steal My Love. Eventually, I drifted out of the scene and headed into a more conventional work life, but I never stopped writing and playing and occasionally recording – I am now full-on again and having a ball.

Every day now has something musical in it, and it’s just great

“I feel it’s the best ‘refiring’ I have ever done, because it is all so natural. I don’t have the inclination to do anything else other than play what I want and share my songs. If there’s something you really love and want to dedicate your time to, then do it – I actually had to lie down after the first gig because it was like a reboot of my spirit.

“Life has a habit of slipping past, so if we have an ambition, we should lose the sense that others have the right to judge. Not everyone will be on your team, but that’s fine – it is your idea, not theirs. I now have a load of songs on Spotify and released a new single, Dublin Bay, earlier this year. Every day now has something musical in it, and it’s just great. Musicians are a generous tribe, and I love being back amongst them again.”

Lifestyle blogger: Hilda Smith

Hilda Smith is 65 years old and lives in Dublin. The retired English teacher, mother of two and grandmother of three is hugely enjoying her new role as a lifestyle blogger for older women.

“I am a technophobe, so starting a blog was a huge challenge,” she says. “I didn’t even have a laptop and barely knew how to turn on a computer, so my family laughed at me initially, but then they got behind me. My older daughter set up a website, I wrote posts by hand for my husband to type up, and my younger daughter helped with photos. It really was a family affair.

There is so much out there, and now, maybe for the first time, we have time to try new things

“I’ve covered many diverse topics such as health, holidays, beauty treatments and products that I like. I love clothes, and believe there is no such thing as ‘age-appropriate’ dressing. I would like brands to recognise the spending power of the older woman, and see that reflected in advertising. Since starting the blog, I’ve had many different opportunities, and I’m absolutely loving it. I would never have believed how much I would enjoy it. It’s lovely to get messages from readers who tell me that I inspire them.

“We need to keep challenging ourselves as we age – research into ageing shows that learning a new skill is important in slowing down the ageing process and keeping the brain cells working. And if it doesn’t work out, so what. Try something else. There is so much out there, and now, maybe for the first time, we have time to try new things.”

Body boarder: Marie Cooney

Seventy-year-old Marie Cooney from Co Meath is an orchard manager and beekeeper at the Boann Distillery family business in Kilmessan, which manufactures Silks Gin. As a keen traveller, the mother of five and grandmother of six has discovered a newfound passion for body boarding.

“I holiday in South Africa every year and recently took an interest in body boarding – or boogie boarding, as it’s called here,” she says. “Instead of standing on it, you wade out into the sea to waist height and attach a leash to your wrist or arm. Then you turn to catch the waves coming in, and it brings you back to the shore.

Life is short, particularly after the pandemic. It’s so nice to be able to do something different

“It’s superb fun, and all we do is laugh. I only started it in February and have done it a few times since, all in South Africa, and have found it fantastic – it makes you feel so exhilarated.

“My advice to anyone looking to try a new hobby or activity, at any age, would be to go for it, for the sheer fun and the enjoyment of it. Seize it with both hands. Life is short, particularly after the pandemic. It’s so nice to be able to do something different.”

Mountain biker: Flan Gibson

Martin ‘Flan’ Gibson is a 72-year-old freelance land surveyor. He has been enjoying mountain biking for the past 26 years, and has no intention of stopping. Originally from Co Clare but living in Dublin with his wife Catherine, he has five daughters and 12 grandchildren, and would encourage anyone wanting to take up a new hobby to just “get on with it”.

“I started mountain biking in 1995 when the sport was in its infancy with a group of long-term friends. It involves having a very good eye for the mountain bike terrain, along with a good level of fitness and skill, as there is a lot of climbing involved as well as the downhill runs. We all, especially me, have our fair share of spills, cuts, and bruises along the way – but you just have to get back up on the bike and persevere.

“I try to get out a minimum of twice a week with a couple of buddies. We have great camaraderie, keep an eye out for each other, and have plenty of craic along the way.

“I would encourage anyone to give it a go if they have an interest, and would recommend the blue trails in the Gap at Glencullen Adventure Park, which are great for beginners young and old. Then, if you are comfortable and have gained confidence, you can progress to the red and eventually on to the black trails.

“I would encourage anyone, regardless of age or fitness levels, to give it a try. It is a fabulous sport: it gets you out in nature, challenging your skill levels, improving your fitness, and keeping you young at heart.”