Alma Mater


Some people might have looked forward to going to school, but I can't say I did. The teachers were grand, and I have no complaints against them. What I hated was the fact that you had to be in at 9 a.m. and you had to sit until 4 p.m.

Being indoors sitting all day annoyed me. I wasn't that sort of person. I liked to be up and about.

We had to sit on the bus on the way to school, sit all day in school, sit on the bus on the way home and then sit down and do our homework in the evening. My school life wasn't exciting at all.

I used to enjoy the summer holidays though, and I hated the thoughts of going back to school at the end of summer.

National school wasn't so bad. I attended school locally - one and a half miles away from my home in Coronea, Co Cavan, and I was able to cycle to school every day. We were out by 3 p.m. so we had the whole evening to ourselves.

However, second-level school - Loreto College, Cavan - really killed me. It was about nine miles from my home and the bus went around the countryside. It was nearly 5 p.m. before I got home. In my last few years, a teacher used to give me a lift. That was great because I got home half an hour earlier.

At Loreto we used to get an hour for lunch and I'd spend every minute playing some sport or other. I'd come back late and some of the teachers were very nice - they'd realise I hadn't eaten anything and they'd make me sit down and eat.

I was very much into sport. If there was a ball about I'd be kicking or hitting it. I lived on a farm and, as children, we used to make our own fun. We were always running and jumping about in the fields. All my family were into sport. The boys played Gaelic football and the girls played camogie. Sport was taken for granted. We talked about it but we all spent more time playing it.

At school, I was always on the team. That was one of the things that kept me alive there. I played basketball, camogie and I ran. There was always something coming up. I was away somewhere every week with a team. Some weeks I spent only three and a half days at school. I'd go into school thinking: Great, I have camogie today. That will kill one day.

I wasn't a dosser at school and never missed a day. I just did enough to get by. It just wasn't for me. At home we were all sensible enough and knew we had to do exams and we did what we had to in order to pass. It was a question of pride.

I studied but I didn't enjoy it. But lots of things in life are like that - you do them because you have to do them.

When I left school I did a secretarial course in Cavan. I really enjoyed it - I love shorthand and typing. I spent a summer working for a local solicitor and then got a job with Cavan Co Council as a receptionist and telephonist. I loved it and met a lot of very nice people. The gave me time off to run and I appreciate that.

Before I left school I won the all-Ireland schools cross-country championship. That sparked me off and showed me I had a talent. I love running. It's a great feeling and I feel I'm good at it. The training can be hard and it can be lonely, but you can't achieve anything unless you put in the effort. You have to be committed. You can't push people to do it, they have to be motivated. I'll keep running for as long as I enjoy it.

Catherina McKiernan was in conversation with Yvonne Healy.