Spring heralds the start of busy season

Head of Education at Fota Wildlife Park, Lynda McSweeney talks about her diverse job, family life and interests
Spring heralds the start of busy season
Lynda Mc Sweeney of Fota Wildlife Park. Picture: Darragh Kane

TELL us about yourself;

My name is Lynda Mc Sweeney and I work in Fota Wildlife Park as its Head of Education. I qualified as a zoologist in 1992 from University College Cork and was fortunate to secure employment in Fota in 1995.

My job role is quite diverse, which I find most appealing and allows me to combine working outdoors in an educational setting.

I have been fortunate to witness the park’s development and growth over the last 23 years and am equally as excited about what the future holds for the park!

Where were you born?

In the Bon Secours hospital in Cork city in 1970. Coincidentally, some years later I ended up in Scoil Mhuire in Cork city with two others born in the Bons around the same time. All three of us have remained good friends to this day! Fall-outs generally tended to happen when a consensus couldn’t be reached in relation to which night we celebrated all three birthdays! Maturity has since eradicated that problem — we are just glad to see another year!

Where do you live?

In Whitegate in East Cork, which thankfully allows me to avoid the stress of traffic jams on my way to work — most of the time!


I am married to Andrew and I have two daughters, Ava and Clara! Fortunately my two siblings, Niall and Nicola, also live in Cork.

Best friend?

My husband Andrew is without doubt my “wingman”. However, my brother and sister are great support systems! My brother Niall and I speak daily and he is an amazing friend, even if he does spend a lot of the time slagging me off! However, I wouldn’t have it any other way at this stage in my life! Nicola is always great for advice as well and I am very fortunate to have all three of them in my life!

Earliest childhood memory?

That involves a small family terrier named Monty! According to my parents, he acted as my bodyguard from the minute I arrived home from the hospital. Over the years he proved to be a dependable and loyal play companion and didn’t appear to mind being cast in various roles on a daily basis! My mum was an avid wildlife enthusiast and did her utmost to ensure that animals were an integral part of our childhood experiences!

Person you most admire?

Without wanting to offend anyone, I will refer to the person whom I admire on a professional level rather than on a personal level! The person I admire the most within the field of zoological research has to be Dian Fossey. Her pioneering research allowed for a greater understanding of gorilla ecology and behaviour and very much transformed people’s perception of the species.

Person who most irritates you?

Drivers who think that indicators are surplus to requirement (husband included)!

Who would you like to see as Minister for Finance and why?

Anyone who possesses the foresight and ability to eradicate excessive taxation in this country!

Where was your most memorable holiday?

I have been fortunate to travel to some beautiful locations over the last 20 years. However, last year my family and I spent a weekend glamping in Dromquinna Manor in Kenmare. The location is breathtaking and it is a fabulous location to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life! It is definitely a location that is worth a second visit! All too often we overlook the natural beauty that Ireland has to offer.

Favourite TV programme?

I rarely watch TV to be honest, but anything associated with David Attenborough is always a reason to sit down! However, I am partial to the odd Keeping Up With The Kardashians but I probably shouldn’t advertise the fact!!

Favourite radio show?

Gareth O’Callaghan on 4FM! Treasures from the past that we can all relate to and he possesses one of the most melodic voices in radio that can keep one enthralled for hours!

Your signature dish if cooking?

I think nothing beats a Sunday roast with all of the trimmings! Sadly, my cooking skills leave a lot to be desired but my family and friends have survived without any serious repercussions to date!

Favourite restaurant?

Luckily, I am spoilt for choice by living in East Cork. Murph’s Tavern in East Ferry serves amazing food and the view from the restaurant is breathtaking to say the least!

The Farmgate in Midleton is also on my “favourites” list and is a must for special occasions!

Likewise, The Greenroom in Midleton offers great food in a relaxed atmosphere!

Last book you read?

I am currently reading Ireland’s Wild Plants — Myths, legends and folklore. I have a keen interest in folklore surrounding native flora and fauna. I am hoping to host a Folklore weekend in Fota this summer and am doing my utmost to gain knowledge on the topic! If anyone is keen to get involved please let me know!

Best book you read?

The Future Of Life by E. O. Wilson. This book highlights the precarious state of our environment and, sadly, the mass extinctions occurring in our lifetime. However, it’s not all doom and gloom and the book does spell out a specific plan to save our world while there is still time. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the field of conservation.

Last album/CD/download you bought?

Pink — I have to keep up with the times bearing in mind that my two teenage daughters play music incessantly at a rather worrying volume!

Favourite song?

Summer Of 69 by Bryan Adams — a throwback to rugby discos in venues such as Con and Dolphin in the ’80s! Fabulous memories of when youth was on my side!

One person you would like to see in concert?

I wish I had seen The Eagles when they came to Dublin some years ago. I have been fortunate to see many of the original members of the band individually but not together. Guess that ship has sailed now… sadly.

Do you have a pet?

I have an array of pets, seven in total including cats, dogs and a much loved pony! I couldn’t imagine not having a pet at home — unconditional love at its best!

Morning person or night owl?

Definitely, I am a morning person these days, but for many years I was a confirmed night owl, particularly during my college years when I worked in the fast food business!

Your proudest moment?

Receiving an Honorary MSc from UCC in 2011 was a very proud moment on my behalf in recognition of my contribution to Biodiversity conservation education.

Of course, there are many more directly related to family life but I wouldn’t want to bore your readers.

Spendthrift or saver?

A bit of both, unfortunately! Despite working in the great outdoors, I have a Zara obsession and An Post will pay testament to this, although I have to stress that a lot of items are returned (too small, sadly)! Working in a wildlife park does not always lend itself to wearing the latest trends but I try my best to be fashion forward even if it’s only for the odd day in the year!

Name one thing you would improve in your area in which you live?

The intermittent bus service.

What makes you happy?

Overall, anything associated with family life makes me happy. Having animals as part of that family life adds to the enjoyment.

I consider myself to be extremely fortunate and I constantly remind my own children to be grateful for what they have!

How would you like to be remembered?

Hmmm, this is a hard one and I have to be realistic! I hope to be remembered as someone who has lived her life with integrity and was a loyal and reliable individual. My colleagues and friends will probably have their own suggestions!

What else are you up to at the moment?

As spring approaches, it signals a return to classes on a full-time basis and the start of the busy season for the park. Plans are already underway for our forthcoming children’s’ activity camps which we are hosting at Easter and during the summer holidays in July. The camps are a great opportunity to encourage outdoor exploration in a very unique setting. I am a great believer in the Persil motto — “Every child has the right to get dirty”!

Fota Wildlife Park’s award-winning education centre can host more than 350 students per day through its formal education programmes, which are catered to both primary and secondary schools. Close to 15,500 students pass through the gates every year and the education programmes and guided school tours make it one of the biggest educational tour providers in Ireland.

Bookings are now open for the annual Easter Activity Camps (April 4 to 6) email education@fotawildlife.ie for more information.

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