Women’s working lives: then and now

Communications manager Tara Humphreys (40) and former Aer Lingus employee Irene Rooney (78) tell their stories


Tara Humphreys (40), corporate communications manager

Corporate communications manager and mother of three Tara Humphreys returned to work four days a week after the birth of her first child six years ago. Though the fifth day was officially parental leave, she often found herself on the Blackberry.

“I had the childcare in place that if I needed to do a couple of hours work I could do it…the unfortunate thing is that you don’t get paid for those extra hours.”

When she was five months back and a promotion came up, she got it, reverting to a five-day week. When her eldest was nearly two, redundancy was offered so she took it.

“At that stage I had two children in full time crèche which was financially a lot but it was still worth my while.”

Childcare costs she feels are an impediment to many women wanting to balance children and a career. “Childcare costs, the cost of getting to and from work – you have to look at all of that and make sure there is some financial gain, but at the same time, you are keeping your skills up to date and keeping your career going.”

She admits that when both parents are working, things are hectic. “We’re lucky we’ve both had understanding employers.”

They split crèche fees. “It’s not like my salary goes towards childcare. We contribute an equal amount to a joint pot and everything gets taken out of that.”

When pregnant with her third child, she made a decision to take two full years out. “I felt that was the maximum I could take out without it being a big gap on my CV.” With her daughter now 10 months old, she’s keen to get back to work.

“But I definitely want to keep my career going and keep my hand in so that I have something that defines me in addition to being a mother.”

Irene Rooney (78), former Aer Lingus employee

“Air hostessing was the plumb job, but I got in as a secretary,” says Irene Rooney, who joined Aer Lingus in 1952 aged 19. Two years in, she was appointed secretary to the airline’s research manager, one Garret FitzGerald.

“He was great,” Rooney recalls. “He talked fast, he walked fast, he thought fast.” When FitzGerald left, she was hot property. “Everybody wanted me because I had worked for Garret – you had to be fantastic if you worked for Garret,” she jokes.

Pay at the national airline then was far from equal. “I did a little bit of work in personnel, and I learned that the clerks with an ‘F’ after their name, the females, earned less than the clerks with a ‘M’ after their name.”

She subsequently worked for Aer Lingus in New York and Jamaica. In 1964, Rooney toured Australia in her Aer Lingus uniform talking to rotary and women’s clubs about Ireland. Working abroad was an eye-opener.

“In Ireland then, there was no such thing as going to bed with somebody; you married first, then the rest took place. But in Australia, they were looking for women to go to bed with them and I found this very difficult to handle.”

Returning to Ireland, she met “the light and the love” of her life, her husband. Marrying meant leaving Aer Lingus. “Everybody who left to get married had to leave Aer Lingus, and that was that.”

On leaving the workplace, she missed it. “In the morning your husband is getting up and going out to work and it would lovely for you to have a place to go to for the day . . . I took a job somewhere else for a few months but then I got pregnant and that was the end of my working life.”

In conversation with Joanne Hunt. Irene Rooney’s first novel, Lavender Terrace is available at originalwriting.ie