First published 30th July, 2013.
Some time ago the Irish Times started a daily birthday list. I soon noticed that rarely was there anyone older than me mentioned, unless it was a dinosaur like Bruce Forsythe, or someone very old like Nelson Mandela. Yesterday I saw that Frank McCourt’s younger brother Alphie is a few days older than me, and today Buddy Guy the jazzman is 77. Next Sunday I will be 73, and I must admit, I never saw that coming.
Six years ago I realized that I had been working for fifty years. I had started working at 17 as an apprentice in the Air Corps, then after a few years changed direction and spent most of the rest of my working life involved with the Abbey Theatre, with many interesting jobs in the freelance world of TV, film and radio to keep me renewed. However, fifty years is a long time and there were other things I wanted to do before I got too old. I decided to park my life as an actor and get an education.
I had only ever spent one year in secondary school, then two years in a ‘Tech’, and was acutely aware of my educational shortcomings. I enrolled in a Diploma course in Irish in NUI Maynooth, over two years, and while I was engaged in that I heard that it was possible for mature students to enroll in university. I put in my application to the CAO, was accepted, and in September 2008 I started my life as a full time undergraduate. My first year subjects were Modern Irish, Medieval Irish and Celtic Studies, and Greek and Roman Civilization, with the latter being dropped for the final two years of the course.
In my Irish class there were 209 students, only two of us hadn’t done our Leaving Cert. that year, so it was a culture shock, to say the least, to be in the same boat as that many teenagers. But they were great, for the most part hard working, pleasant companions. I had the advantage in as much as I was doing this for my own sake, I was not looking to the future, but they had the burden of knowing that their efforts in the next three years was going to have a knock-on effect for the rest of their lives, a big burden.
Three years passed, I had never worked so hard in my life, the challenges were enormous, but the reward of doing well in all three years was unsurpassed. I graduated in 2011 along with hundreds of my classmates, in the lovely surroundings of the Maynooth south campus, one of the best days of my life. I decided to go on and do an M.Litt , did some work for a year, reading and tutoring, but have now decided to park that task for a while, maybe for good, there are other things to be done.
So maybe 73 is the new 63, I know I don’t feel 53, so to hell with it, I’ll go on, following wherever my heart and head tells me to go, which is usually the path less taken, but that direction has never let me down yet.