Angela MacNamara: 'Thousands of pounds fell from one letter I opened'
Retired youth counsellor Angela MacNamara (81) became Ireland's first newspaper agony aunt in 1963.
'Before I became an agony aunt, I gave talks on relationships and sexuality to Leaving Cert girls in schools around the country. At the time, I was a young mother myself -- and didn't think that girls got enough education on marriage.
"So I wrote out all the points that I would make and sent them to a local school principal, who invited me to speak to the students.
"The Sunday Press heard about it and asked me to do an article for the paper -- but the letters never stopped coming.
"In those days, there were unspoken rules about what you could and couldn't discuss in a newspaper -- especially to do with sex. Quite a few people enclosed stamped addressed envelopes asking for confidential advice. One of the most common questions I got was: 'What is a sin?'
"People wanted black and white answers to their problems, but they didn't get them because there are no black and white answers. Instead, I just tried to get people to think for themselves.
"Others would send me money they had stolen and ask me to return it to its rightful owner.
"I'll never forget tearing open an envelope one morning and thousands of pounds bursting out.
"With email, being an agony aunt is very different now -- but I think there are basic problems like alcohol and loneliness which remain.
"By 1980, I was just too jaded to go on. The letters just kept on mounting.
"At my age, I don't think I could deal with being an agony aunt any more -- but I still give plenty of advice to my grandchildren!"