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Mary O'Rourke: When I was 21, I wish I'd known...

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A young Mary O'Rourke

A young Mary O'Rourke

Mary O'Rourke with her late husband, Enda, on their wedding day.

Mary O'Rourke with her late husband, Enda, on their wedding day.

Mary O'Rourke

Mary O'Rourke

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A young Mary O'Rourke

Mary O'Rourke on life, love, adventure and education

Stay in love.

Stay in love with life – it doesn't have to be in love with a man. Keep love in your heart. When I was 21 I had an honours degree in English and I wanted to be a journalist, but my father said to me, 'You'll do a good BA and it'll stand to you.' In more than one way he was right.

My mother ran the Hodson Bay Hotel in Athlone, so my father said, you stay at home now and help us to run the hotel. I said, okay, because I had met Enda O'Rourke by then. I was going out with the love of my life so I was only delighted to be anchored in Athlone. I was hot in love. We got engaged shortly after. We were children. Life was good.

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A young Mary O'Rourke

A young Mary O'Rourke

A young Mary O'Rourke

Be adventurous.

Try things, talk to people, if you've a spirit of adventure and curiosity it keeps you lively. I was always very much alive to life. I was always confident enough about talking and mixing with people, even though at that age you're not confident. You just want to be the same as your peers, wearing the same clothes.

I was mad about clothes, and I never lost my zest for window shopping. I still look in shop windows before buying.

When I was in the Dail with Eileen Lemass we used to skidaddle to Grafton Street at 7pm and I remember one night we were late for a vote and Vincent Brady was the whip and he just murdered us!

Be not afraid.

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I never thought I was pretty or attractive or smart or good looking or anything. I was talking myself down, always beating myself up. I would say, in hindsight, having tasted life, you're as good as anybody else. Go out there and make the most of yourself. Don't be thinking you're not smart or with-it.

I see old photos and think, wasn't I ravishing. You are a person in your own right, you may not have stellar qualities in looks or that, but think of yourself as being as good as your next-door neighbour or the rest of the crowd.

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Mary O'Rourke

Mary O'Rourke

Mary O'Rourke

Continue in education.

Get the most out of it, not just the books and libraries but the auxiliary activities which go with being in college. Join the societies, the debating, politics, café society, wash-your-underwear society!

When I was 29 and my son was three, my father showed me an ad in the newspaper saying Maynooth was opening to extern students and he said I should do a post-grad. Four of us went to it, car pooling from Athlone.

If love comes your, way grab it.

You might not get a chance again. I taught Latin when I started out and I remember the phrase Carpe Diem – seize the day. Well, I was a great one for that. I never looked for any more than Enda. That's who I wanted to be with.

Mary O'Rourke is a former government minister for health and education and is celebrity ambassador for the shingles awareness campaign, www.shingles.ie


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