Catching the teaching bug
Sir - I always detested the word retirement and have given it a wide, wide berth - way off over the dim horizon…
It only seems like a couple of years ago since I trained in Mary I and graduated as a fully fledged primary teacher in 1973. All my hopes, dreams, aspirations from childhood realised - I was on the crest of a wave. Growing up in West Kerry, choosing to be a teacher was viewed as a very noble career.
I was hit by the bug very early in life. My late parents would recall memories of dolls, teddies, neighbours' children lined up in their "classes" and any available wall, or boards, were used as a blackboard for tables, the primary cert exam, and call "the rolla".
I suffered from travel sickness and knew I could never travel on a bus to Dingle or Tralee secondary schools. I worried about attaining a Leaving Cert, which would be the first step into teacher training college if the required amount of honours could be realised.
Countless novenas were made, St Jude stormed with a plea to come to my aid and help me find another route that would lead me on to that particular path I had aspired to... that saint of hopeless cases did come on board in such "an-out-of-the-blue" manner.
My parents, who always stressed the importance of education, were discussing my plight and asked how I would feel about going to Colaiste Ide, the only all-Irish boarding school for girls in the country.
This boarding school was a preparatory college to train teachers in the beginning of the last century and had a reputation for high entrants to Mary Immaculate Training College.
This was an answer to my fervent prayers.
I was very conscious that 90 guineas in fees, every year, would create a big hole in my parents' small pockets - who were farming 40 acres on the foot of a hill which didn't yield many green pastures and therefore "guineas" would be very, very scarce.
But they were both very selfless, hard-working people and I owe them so much today for the huge sacrifices they made in ensuring I wouldn't be deprived of a secondary school education.
Unquestionably, they are the reason I have enjoyed a wonderful career for the last 45 years. I feel grateful, lucky and indebted.
The word "retirement" has raised its ugly head and entered my domain, blocking me in that path which I thought had no finishing line… it is for real… only a matter of weeks.
In September, my world will be a semi-silent place. The laughter, fun, constant buzz and chirping in an infant classroom will no longer be… little children running up to me on a Monday morning recounting - the visit to the cousins, the Friesian cow giving birth to Holly, the puppy that nearly got killed, the jobs done for granny, and daddy eating lots of biscuits.
The month of December will be very different.
All those years when I couldn't wait for this month to arrive and tick it off. It signalled Christmas - my favourite teaching season.
Santa would settle himself into an unseen camera in my classroom and keep teacher up to date on all those who are good and working hard… also point out to me those who were stepping out of line... the Nativity play, those letters to Santa... he never disappoints and I was sure to find that out on January 7.
At spring time, it was the sowing season in the garden, seeds in containers in the classroom, drowned with water; experiencing the joy of a child reading that first book, getting a star, winning the race or prize in the raffle, baking and making the chocolate biscuit, cake or flap jack... all the time observing children blossoming, progressing, reaching milestones.
All will be no more, but I go on my way and be ever grateful for fruitful, fulfilling years.
Amazed by depth of people's compassion
Sir - I never doubted the compassion of the Irish people but I am still amazed and gratified by the depth of that compassion.
It's about time we banished the culture of Mother and Baby Homes and the Tuam Babies scandals. We have grown so much and, speaking as a granddad, I am so proud of our people.
Patrick Burke Walsh,
A fight goes on
Sir - I wish to see discussion and debate around the topic of crisis pregnancies continue. I voted No on Friday but I will not stop, this campaign does not end.
Hopefully we can all agree on the following:
No pregnant woman should have to endure homelessness.
Medical services for women and their unborn children need massive investment, especially to help women with difficult pregnancies and for children with life-limiting conditions.
Substantial financial support for women in pregnancy and on giving birth, to help ease the burden on families.
Life-affirming counselling services need to be better financed and resourced.
Abortion regret needs to be recognised as a significant phenomenon and comprehensive psychological support needs to be provided for pregnant women. I will fight for these things every day of my life.
Now fix the HSE
Sir - At least this time around the people of Ireland, had the hard facts to allow them make an intelligent decision.
There will be angst amongst many, in particular those of the ideology that everything in life is black and white. But those who will be really irate this weekend are the men and women who imagine they alone know the mind of God, whomever He/She is.
No doubt those who are of the opinion that neither a female nor a politician can be trusted will be more verbose than ever.
What a shame that all involved in the debate prior to the vote cannot put the same energetic effort into forcing the politicians of Ireland to fix the HSE and the housing crisis.
Vested interests keep car bills high
Sir - I have read with interest the excellent article by Geraldine Herbert (Motoring, Sunday Independent, May 20) on the subject of motor insurance premiums in Ireland and would like to make the following comments:
The very existence of Insurance Ireland is an indication that the industry is a closed shop and, as with any representative body or trade union, one of its objectives is to protect and maximise the benefits for its members.
Since the first investigation by the European Commission in 2017, there has been a hive of image-building activities by the insurance industry, including spreading the false news that premiums have fallen and increased advertising in the media highlighting insurance support for all sorts of communal activities.
Concerning the reasons given for the high premiums, the crime of fraud does not exist, as to the best of my knowledge no prosecution has been brought to date by the insurance industry or the DPP and high compensation requires urgent government action.
Giving the present state of affairs, powerful vested interest groups, which include the Government, have no interest in tackling the issue of high motor insurance premiums and sadly motorists' only hope is intervention by the European Commission.
Name and address with the Editor
Labour amnesia over health cuts
Sir - Every so often in your paper you invite different views from a different member of a political party and last Sunday (May 20) Alan Kelly of the Labour Party wrote his opinion of the cervical check scandal - I found it almost nauseating to read.
He was trying to give the impression he was very worried about Vicky Phelan and how he wanted to hug her.
I wonder, does Vicky Phelan realise it was his party, Labour, when in power that cut €4bn from the health budget, on top of everything else, which in my opinion caused all the trouble in the health service?
He said also that "there must be accountability" for what happened to women in the cervical cancer scandal. I ask: was he accountable to anyone when doing all the cuts?
He also implied that it was everyone's fault but the Labour Party. If his party had stood up against its Fine Gael partners in Government about all the cuts to health, we wouldn't be where we are now.
When his party was in power, did any minister ask the people he now blames about what was going on? No Mr Kelly, what you didn't know didn't bother you, and now you're trying to seem very worried about women.
Another thing that strikes me is whenever a member of your party writes for this paper, you all seem to suffer from the same "selective amnesia'', like you never cut anything when you were in power.
Our long journey away from the past
Sir - As someone who was born in the mid-1950s, I feel I have seen both sides of the coin on Ireland today.
It was a very rural country with large families and people were self-sufficient and grew their own food. It was an Ireland where the family Rosary was recited each night.
The majority finished school at 13 or 14 and started working. The school life was harsh and, while we survived the physical scars, we will take the mental abuse to the grave. It was also the wish of many a mother to have one of the children join a religious order.
In the early 1940s, a seanchai, Tailor Buckley of Gougane Barra, wrote a book on rural life in West Cork. It caused uproar in the Senate and three days were spent debating it. The book was banned. Three priests came to his humble cottage and forced him to burn what he had written in his own fireplace. How apt the words of LP Hartley: "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.''
The Swinging Sixties brought rural electrification and with it The Late Late Show. It opened our eyes and minds to many social issues. One TD proclaimed in the Dail that there was no sex in Ireland before The Late Late Show. I wonder where the eight to 10 children in each family came from.
Today we are a very modern and sophisticated country. Our young people are well-educated and much-travelled. One of them stated recently "you learn from everyone you meet and there is room for everybody".
As a people, we are more liberal, more loving and we respect the difference in others. We did not bat an eyelid when Leo Varadkar was elected our first gay Taoiseach.
Another major change is that women have come to the fore in all aspects of Irish life. Adi Roche, Sister Stan Kennedy and Mary McAleese - to name a few who speak for those with no voice. Also Catherine Corless, who had the tenacity to shine a torch on the dark, bleak times at the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam and tell the world about it.
Today, I gazed at the graveside of that famous couple - the Tailor and Ansty - and read the epitaph on their headstone: "A star danced and under that was I born." Yes, we have come a long way.
Stamp of approval
Sir - Fifty-two weeks ago, the Sunday Independent started the series 'The Letter I Wish I'd Sent'. I wrote one immediately as I loved the idea but imagined it would only last a few weeks. Here we are a year later and still going strong.
A quote from Joseph O'Connor on letter writing (Sunday Independent, June 4, 2017) may give us the answer: "Maybe we'd all like to read other people's secret letters but know we can't." Into that tempting space stepped the Sunday Independent. Congrats.
Shame on these political spinners
Sir - The Sunday Independent (May 20) published a copy of a letter drafted by a Fine Gael activist. The letter is an insight into how this island operates. One man spots an opportunity by crafting a form of words he hoped would be acceptable to one person only, Emma Mhic Mhathuna. If she was happy, the rest, as outlined in his proposal, would happen.
Sean O'Connor would be elevated to a rank with power in Fine Gael, An Taoiseach would be given an opportunity to burnish his medical background and leadership skills. But O'Connor never got it did he? He demanded "an honest, confidential meeting with Taoiseach and the health minister" followed by a "public meeting where Emma can speak about the sympathetic approach by Government".
It's called spin, something Mr Varadkar has invested heavily in within Government. Simon Harris is also a spinner. Even they, once the proposal was leaked, distanced themselves from it like a rabbit from a greyhound. O'Connor seems very concerned, not about Emma Mhic Mhathuna but about this Government. "The benefit to Government is a credible advocate to carry them through this storm, rather than an angry gale." That last sentence gets full marks for steel balls and zero for compassion. It goes on in the cults that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have spawned. Mainly men trying to climb a greasy pole towards perceived rewards. Climbing over women like Emma Mhic Mhathuna, terminally ill as she sees the curtain coming down, but the likes of Sean O'Connor sees a curtain rising on his political acumen. Shame on all concerned.
Work of gardai cannot be faulted
Sir - The great policing in the two terrible cases of a child and young woman murdered in the space of a week, shows the debt we owe to the Garda.
The speed and work on both operations must be up there with the best carried out since the force was founded. There is appalling sadness and grief for the families, but the work of our gardai cannot be faulted. Those on the front line of fighting crime keep us safe and deserve our support at all times.
A hell on earth for the horses
Sir - The Campaign for the Abolition of Cruel Sports (CACS) is calling for a complete ban on the cruel "sport" of sulky racing.
We do so with no disrespect to the Travelling community. While some Travellers may participate in or condone this activity, many more condemn it as inhumane and unacceptable, reflecting the wider public perception.
Sulky racing causes extreme suffering and distress to horses and also poses an unacceptably high risk to public safety. The horses are subjected to long bouts of running, during which they are kicked and beaten to enhance performance, pushed to the point of exhaustion, and routinely collide with road traffic.
Horses injured during the crazy Ben Hur-style careening along big motorways and small roads are casually abandoned, even when their injuries are minor and easily treatable. These loyal and affectionate animals are left to starve on the roadsides.
Dumped horses with broken necks, still breathing, have drawn tears from witnesses. Not a week passes without a severely neglected, abandoned or savagely ill-treated horse being reported somewhere in Ireland.
Proposals by some politicians that sulky racing could be "regulated" and the drivers asked to wear high-visibility jackets are pathetic - an "Irish solution to an Irish problem" of the kind that led to coursing greyhounds being muzzled while the law still permitted hares to be terrorised, mauled and tossed about. Sulky racing is well past its sell-by date. Horses deserve better than the hell on earth meted out to them in this relic of the Dark Ages.
Campaign for the Abolition
of Cruel Sports