THE joy of reading a good book transcends age, race, and creed. It is a lifelong joy.
But it is a joy available only to those that have mastered the art of reading.
Reading is a skill that is learned, as well as a privilege, and according to the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA), one in six Irish adults has difficulty reading.
One person who was in that situation was Tony Moloney, who lives in East Cork.
Tony’s story begins many years ago in Cork city. His mother was left widowed with a large family and suffered from multiple sclerosis.
Attending primary school in the 1960’s, Tony was one of a class of 57 boys. Individual attention and learning were difficult, and there the seeds of his literacy problem were sown.
Tony moved on to secondary school, and despite smaller classes, still had difficulty reading and writing. However, he found his strengths lay in languages, and became a fluent Irish speaker, and achieved ‘A’s in Maths and Science in the Inter Cert.
On leaving school in June, 1973, he applied for a position with Pfizer in Cork. Despite success in two interviews, his literacy problems went against him. His poor exam results in English scotched any hope of the job.
Similarly, Tony was forced to abandon an aptitude test for Apple as he was unable to read the questions.
Instead, he began an apprenticeship as a painter and decorator, and again underlined his diligence by earning a silver medal in the European Apprentice Competition.
Tony set up his own business, but the downturn of the 1980s changed things. While still painting, Tony bought a taxi and worked day and night to keep his wife and family. He also had a keen interest in rugby coaching and scouting for many years.
Through all this, Tony’s literacy problems remained, and impacted on his ordinary life. Any paperwork for his business was done by his wife. Any reading for his school-going sons or school notes were greeted with “ask your mother”.
It wasn’t until 2007, when his sons began using computers at home, that Tony’s curiosity was stirred. When a leaflet came through the letterbox at that time, advertising computer classes at East Cork Further Education and Youthreach Centre, it was perfect timing for Tony, who was anxious to learn how to use a computer. He decided to attend.
That decision was a life-changing one. On the first night, Tony was struggling with the spelling of words while typing on the computer. The tutor, noticing his difficulty, asked if he would like to do something about it. Tony was amazed that something could be done, and that help was available. Despite his fear, he agreed. The tutor suggested one-to-one tuition, reassuring him that this would not be anything like school.
After a year of these weekly sessions Tony was ready to join a class. Although it felt daunting, “the thought was worse than the doing,” he says. He attended the class, continuing the one-to-one tuition for a further six months.
Tony was 53 years of age when he realised his literacy difficulties were not his fault. Two years after he began his literacy journey, a turning point came when he attended a NALA student day in Waterford Institute of Technology. As he listened to the speaker, Michael Power, Tony was “blown away” and realised he was not alone. He was one of the 750,000 people in Ireland with the same difficulties.
After the session, Michael asked Tony to become a student representative for the Cork region.
Since then, Tony has been fully committed to encouraging people to come forward to learn to read and write. He talks to local groups and local radio, visits factories, and was involved in NALA’s ‘Write On’ programme.
Tony helps promote literacy at the National Ploughing Championships each year. He takes every opportunity to publicise the services available and expressing the joy and relief that is to be experienced in overcoming reading and writing difficulties.
Tony Moloney is living proof that it can be done. He mastered the art of reading, his confidence soared, and the learning bug hit him. He has now completed several courses, including in computers, retail, media, and genealogy, and has made friends for life.
The courage required for someone to admit their reading difficulties, to seek help, to make that phone call, to walk through the door and tell their ‘secret’ to another adult must be admired. As the old saying goes — A problem shared is a problem halved.
Currently, there are 65,000 adults attending adult literacy courses nationwide. President Michael D Higgins, patron of NALA, has said: “Literacy, as a gateway to participation in society, is a fundamental right ,and must be a priority for all who are concerned with human rights and equality.”
So, on World Book Day in Ireland, as we open those books, we might remember the words of Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), an American Social Reformer: “Once you learn to read you will be forever free.”
Ad then we must ask ourselves, have we as readers, the right to deny anyone that freedom?
World Book Day in Ireland will be celebrated on Thursday, March 5. Over the last 23 years it has become established as Ireland’s largest annual event, promoting the reading and the enjoyment of books.