Wednesday 18 September 2019

Dublin mum: 'I used to get my children to write their school notes because I didn't want them to know I couldn't read'

Olive Phelan
Olive Phelan

Alan O'Keeffe

It was hard for Dublin mum Olive Phelan to hide her secret from her children when they needed notes for their teachers.

One of her most painful moments happened the day she brought home 12 bags of baking soda instead of icing sugar because she could not read the labels.

"I didn't want anyone to know I couldn't read," said Olive (58).

Now she encourages other adults to end their personal misery of not having an acceptable grasp of reading or writing.

A secret hell for thousands of adults is being unable to send a text message or an email or to book a flight online because they are unable to read.


"The relief on people's faces when they start learning is wonderful to see," Olive said.

Compassion and respect are key factors when people contact the National Adult Literacy Agency, she said.

As part of International Literacy Day yesterday, Olive told the Herald of her joy in being able to read and write proficiently at last.

"I left school at 14 without knowing how to read," said Olive, a native of Crumlin who now lives in Tallaght.

"I was married at 18 and had three children. I never wanted the children to find out I couldn't read or write."

"I remember my child needed a note for his teacher and getting him to write it himself and I signed it," she said.

"I was an avid baker of cakes and would bake Christmas cakes for a lot of people.

"But I ended up buying 12 bags of baking soda instead of icing sugar.

"I only discovered it later after I had started the mixing. There was no way I could go back to the shop," she said.

But she finally got the courage to enrol in an adult education course run by the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA).

Her new skills have given her great confidence and she operates public stalls for NALA to encourage others.

Crumlin resident Joe Higgins (58) also spoke of the benefit he got from a NALA course.

NALA's freephone is 1800 202065 and even offers tuition over the phone.

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