Dr Mary Upton

The most exciting thing that happened in my life when I was a child was the burning down of my school - Knockerra National School…

The most exciting thing that happened in my life when I was a child was the burning down of my school - Knockerra National School, near Kilrush, Co Clare, when I was five. We had to move to a school in the heart of the country, two miles in the opposite direction, for a couple of years.

Knockerra was a three-teacher school. I didn't really enjoy it. In the 1950s, primary schools weren't exactly good fun. There's such a huge difference between schools now and then. We were very much into the three Rs with very little extra-curricular activity. For second level, I went to boarding school at Colaiste Mhuire, Ennis. I liked it quite well. There was a whole new range of subjects - Latin and science for example - subjects that weren't in the primary school curriculum and that I didn't even know about.

At school, there was a lot of emphasis on exam results. Leaving and Inter Cert results were published in the Clare Champion and we were ranked in order of merit. It was fine if you were at the top, but not if you were further down. I didn't like being away from home, but I liked a lot about boarding school. You made great friends there and learned to stand up for yourself. Most of my friends went on to train as primary school teachers. I was the exception - for one reason. I couldn't sing. In those days, you had to be able to sing to get into teacher training. I didn't even attempt it.

I was ambitious at school and didn't mind doing exams. I specialised in doing the Latin homework of my classmates who hated it. I particularly enjoyed Latin. It was eminently logical. At school, we did everything through Irish, including Latin. When I went to UCG, I chose to do physics, chemistry and maths through Irish. In second year, only chemistry was available through Irish, so I did that with biochemistry and microbiology. By fourth year, I had dropped chemistry and biochemistry. I really enjoyed my time in UCG. It was a lovely small university where everyone knew the people in all the other faculties. When I completed my primary degree, I did a MSc in UCG and then took a job in the food science industry. Three months later, a job came up in UCD. I applied for it and was offered the post in 1969, at the same time that I started my PhD. I found combining a full-time occupation with a fairly demanding research programme difficult, but I did it. I've been there ever since.

Entering the Dail will be a big change, but I will retain some contact with UCD - my postgraduate students and some courses which I have up and running this academic year. You could day that the Labour Party skipped a generation in my family. My parents were interested in politics, but not active. My grandmother, though, always voted Labour. I'm looking forward to my new life, but I won't give up science altogether - I'd miss it too much.

Dr Mary Upton, the newly elected TD for Dublin South Central, was in conversation with Yvonne Healy

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