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Saturday 30 August 2014

Mary O'Rourke: I'll do my best to help you, but first let me explain why I want to be an agony aunt...

Mary O'Rourke

Published 14/10/2012 | 06:00

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Hello to all the readers of the 'Irish Independent Weekend' magazine.

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Yvonne, the editor, has invited me to act as agony aunt, and I am delighted to accept. She has also asked me to talk about myself -- to lay out my stall, so to speak -- so here goes.

I have always read the agony aunt columns in newspapers, magazines, or wherever I come across one.

I cannot explain the reason why, but there is a fascination in reading about people's lives and the troubles that beset them.

What strikes me in this huge era of change is that despite all the new technology -- email, internet, Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones, etc -- there is still a need for people to talk to people, to interact with people and to seek, if possible, advice from people.

This, to me, is always welcome, because human communication is as old as time, as fresh as whatever the new dilemma is, and will be with us always, I hope.

Well, now, that's fine for an introduction -- what about myself? I am a mother, a widow and a grandmother.

In my early life, I was a secondary-school teacher of English and History before I went into public life. I was born and brought up in the town of Athlone, where I still live.

I loved teaching in the girls' secondary school. I loved watching young girls emerge from the chrysalis of youth into budding young womanhood, and, in many cases, sharing with them not just the poetry of our English classes and the facts and stories of our history classes, but often sharing with them, too, their growing-up dilemmas and the twists and turns of life which they were already encountering.

We shared together our love of history. History, of course, is not always about old, forgotten, far-off things and battles long ago.

It's also about all the stories of the people behind the wars, behind the high-sounding treaties which were signed.

History, in the end, is about ordinary people.

In a similar vein, I always loved teaching English -- the list of poetry and the human emotions behind poems is ever appealing, particularly to young awakening minds.

Public life beckoned, and I served at town council and county council level for some years, before I went into Dail and Seanad Eireann.

Along the way I got married. I was 22 and my husband, Enda, was 24 -- absurdly young, but we were in love and believed that love conquers all!

We had two sons, who went through the same traumas as everybody else's son or daughter of the babyhood, growing-up and early teenage years.

We shared the dreams and aspirations of the early adult years of our family -- hopes often raised, hopes often dashed. It was always thus and always will be so.

Widowhood came far too early to me, as it does to many women. My two sons have married and had their families, so I now have six grandchildren in all, ranging in age from two to nine.

I am loving this stage of my life -- lovely, lively grandchildren with all of their hopes and aspirations and having the time now to love, to talk, to indulge them (even a little bit) along the way.

Most of my life was spent in the public arena dealing with situations at national and European level.

Most of my weekends were spent at local level here in my hometown, meeting people, listening to people as they opened up to me about their concerns, about their daily lives, about their families, about the problems that they faced on an ongoing basis.

How do I go about answering the queries I get?

Well, I read each query a few times and then I start to think about what's behind the query, how I would give advice to this person based on my life and the people, situations and events I have encountered over the years.

I reflect on it at length, teasing it out in my mind before I start to reply.

Truly, I try to see all sides and angles so that I will give as rounded a reply as I can.

Of course, my replies may not always suit you, the person who is posing the question to me, but this will not be a reply based on a knee-jerk reaction or a top-of-the-head solution.

I don't promise that at all, because of course life is not all Pollyanna. But I will give it full reflection and thought based on, I hope, some of my experiences in life.

Emily Dickinson, the American poet, wrote, "We turn not older with years, but newer every day".

I look forward to hearing from you -- I will try to help and advise you the very best I can.

If you have a problem, email Mary O'Rourke at maryorourke@independent.ie

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