Best foot forward – Mary O’Rourke on life beyond the Leaving

An Irishwoman’s Diary

Recently, the media was awash with Leaving Cert results, CAO first-round offers, CAO second-round offers, and all of the attendant publicity and sometimes joy, sometimes heartache, which accompanies this time of the year.

My mind goes back to the late summer of 1954 when I, as a 17-year-old, got my Leaving Cert results. There didn't seem to be any hype at that time; you just got your results in the old-fashioned way by post or by telephone. I remember so clearly that I had what you might call a "mixed" Leaving Cert. At that time, it was straightforward honours or pass in the various subjects, or sometimes, unfortunately, a fail. I had honours in English, Latin, botany and art. What a varied account of my five years as a boarder in Loreto College in Bray, Co Wicklow. Back then I was a young student, with the world before me.

I was the youngest of four by a long shot and the other three had gone on to their various walks of life.

In my innocent, unformed mind, journalists were exciting people, living exciting lives, and I longed to be one of them

Very vividly, I remember my father saying to me “What would you like to do with yourself?” and I said, without hesitation, “I would like to be a woman journalist.”

I had a real notion that time that journalists were mysterious, knowledgeable people, interviewing equally mysterious, knowledgeable people and reporting on it to the daily and Sunday newspapers. I felt it would be a wonderful life into which I could step.

My father gave it great thought and said, in the end, that he didn’t see how I could go further in my wished-for career, but he decided that my best bet would be to go to UCD and do a good BA, hopefully with an emphasis on English, which might outfit me for my seemingly unattainable career objective.

In my innocent, unformed mind, journalists were exciting people, living exciting lives, and I longed to be one of them.

So I duly packed my bags and went off to UCD to pursue first Arts – subjects being English, Latin, history and psychology.

I enjoyed college life, as I know many of the young students starting off this autumn will so do, as they embark on their careers. When my first Arts exams were over, Dr Lorna Reynolds got in touch with my father to say that, based on the results of my exams, I should pursue further studies in English.

Coming back to the Hodson Bay Hotel in Athlone with my newly minted BA, what was I going to do with myself?

So far so good, if it could bring me along on my ambition to be a journalist.

I am sure some of the readers of this column will have good memories of Dr Lorna Reynolds as she powered her way through UCD with her flowing robes and her mortarboard firmly on her head. She was a wonderful guide through the treasury of poetry, from the Chaucer years right up to modern times, and I thoroughly enjoyed her lectures.

Group 4 English was the course on which we embarked, nothing only English with 28 English lectures per week. Can you imagine! Anyway, I embarked on it with sometimes gusto, sometimes boredom, and after the three years, I got my good BA.

Coming back to the Hodson Bay Hotel in Athlone with my newly minted BA, what was I going to do with myself?

This was swiftly decided when my father and mother asked if I would stay at home to help them in running the hotel (my sister had been trained in hotel management, but had gone off and got married).

I agreed, and also agreed to do the books for my brother Paddy who had a haulage business. Those two job occupations, combined with my nightly sojourns with Enda O’Rourke, who in the previous 12 months I had got to know, made for a full life.

This was followed 10 years later by a H Dip in education pursued in Maynooth College, which equipped me for secondary teaching.

So there I was, married with a family, a BA and a H Dip, and ready to embark on what turned out to be a few short years of secondary school teaching.

By then, the bug of politics had hit me and I entered into local and then national politics, and so the long story began.

So what about my admiration for journalism and those who work within it?

I have retained, in the main, my admiration, based on the fact that most journalists I meet are interesting, informative and have a good outlook on life.

I’ve never been sorry to have pursued English. It has stood me in good stead through all the facets of my life. I hope that many of the young people who are entering into higher education, further education or wherever post-Leaving Cert life takes them will realise that the Leaving Cert is only the beginning of life. Life itself is the real university, and long may that last.