Learning: Springboard for the young — and a godsend for the old

A photography project captures the community spirit of learners of all ages in Mayfield. ELLIE O’BYRNE talks to those involved
Learning: Springboard for the young — and a godsend for the old
Maggie O'Shea. Picture: Jim Coughlan

LEARNING doesn’t end when we finish school. It’s a lifelong process and, as a Cork initiative is proving, it has long-term gains both for individuals and for their communities.

Mayfield was included in the UNESCO-recognised Learning Neighbourhoods programme last year, joining Knocknaheeny, Ballyphehane and Togher in the scheme, which is designed to foster lifelong learning and social inclusion.

Mayfield Community Development Project Ltd (Mayfield CDP), based in Newbury House, runs an Adult Learning Project that offers a selection of courses in the community in a relaxed and friendly setting.

To celebrate Mayfield’s first year of involvement, 41 people on their learning journey, aged from four months to 80 years old, sat for portraits by photographer Eddie Hennessy last summer, and the resulting exhibition, Faces of Learning, was displayed at Cork Airport.

The exhibition has just celebrated an official launch at Cork City Hall and is set to travel home to Mayfield to be exhibited there, too.

Here are three of the many stories behind Mayfield’s Faces of Learning:

Maggie O'Shea. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Maggie O'Shea. Picture: Jim Coughlan


For Maggie O’Shea, courses at Mayfield CDP gave her the confidence to publish her first poems at the age of 40, and to lose six stone in weight following health battles.

Maggie, who grew up in Mayfield, is a qualified childcare practitioner, but until a move back home to Mayfield three years ago, was not in a good place in her life: battling chronic back pain, she was out of work, on disability allowance, and living in isolation in Ballincollig.

“I was just spending my days in my room and I wasn’t getting out and meeting people,” says Maggie.

“I put on a lot of weight and I wasn’t doing anything for myself. You go crazy in the house if you don’t have something to look forward to, to go and do.”

Following her move back to Mayfield, Maggie started looking for adult education courses. She stumbled on a Personal Development course taught by Ber Nolan at Mayfield CDP. “It was so good I did it twice,” she laughs.

The supportive, friendly environment of the classes led to Maggie taking a step dreaded by many: at 40, she got up and read one of her poems aloud. She had always been a keen writer since her teens, and has written “books and books worth” of poems, but always lacked confidence to share her talent.

Now, Maggie is a regular contributor to Mayfield Matters, the community magazine, writing poetry and feature interviews. She’s also an adult leader in the No Name Club (a youth centre for teens between 15 and 18 based in the Foróige office in Mayfield) and participates in a Saturday night homeless drive.

Maggie is currently waiting on tests to assess her fitness to return to work, following over four years of severe back trouble. One of the big impacts on her health as a result of her back complaint was weight gain.

“In the last year and a half, I lost six stone through Slimming World,” she says. “But really, that all stemmed from the personal development course too.

“It’s all stemmed from my learning in the neighbourhood. If I hadn’t gotten involved in that and if they hadn’t been so good to me and involved me as much as they have, I don’t think I’d be as confident as I am now to do the other stuff. You’re made so welcome by everybody that you want to go back to see these lovely people again.

“My life has totally changed,” she says. “I’ve met so many people and I’m learning so much. It’s all little things, but the little things become big things, if you know what I mean?”

Bryan O'Leary. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Bryan O'Leary. Picture: Jim Coughlan


Mayfield GAA intermediate hurler Bryan O’Leary is upholding a family legacy of community involvement to honour his mother’s memory.

Bryan’s mother, Rosarie O’Leary, was heavily involved in community youth activities in Mayfield, but tragically, she died suddenly two years ago.

“It’s something she instilled in us from a young age, to be proud of where we come from and to help out at every opportunity,” Bryan says.

“Mayfield has had a bit of bad press in the past, but it’s actually a fantastic place to live.”

The 28-year- old hurler, who was on the team that took Mayfield to victory at the All-Ireland Junior hurling championship final last February, is deeply committed to his work in early years education.

“I did FETAC level five and six in early years childcare,” he says. “Now, I work in a creche and I absolutely love it. It’s the best job in the world and I want to be in it for the rest of my life.”

Coaching under-8s and under-10s at his beloved club was where Bryan first realised that he wanted to work with kids.

Early years education is still something of an unusual career path for a man, though? Bryan laughs.

“It is all right; there were only three men in my class in college.”

Bryan, who attended Mayfield Community School, has fond memories of his education, where he made friends he has to this day, and he wants to help give the children he works with the best possible start in life.

“I want to help them to develop to be the best person they can be in the future,” he says.

For Bryan, Mayfield’s community spirit was best encapsulated in the amazing level of support their team had for last February’s junior final.

“The support we got was just unnatural,” he says. “There were people who would never have even been to a game before who had flags out in their gardens and hanging off their walls. It was fantastic, and it made me proud of where I come from.”

Cecily Lynch. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Cecily Lynch. Picture: Jim Coughlan


Retiree Cecily Lynch had a dramatic introduction to learning when the skills she was taught on a First Aid course at Mayfield CDP helped her to save a friend’s life.

Now, over a decade later, Cecily is 74 and still actively involved in learning in Mayfield.

“I discovered the courses at CDP when I retired, and it was a godsend,” Cecily says. “The first course I did was First Aid, and it came in very useful. We were on a tour in Youghal and my friend had a stroke in the water.”

Cecily’s friend, Catherine MacNeill, collapsed while paddling in the sea, and with help, Cecily got her to shore, where her First Aid training kicked in and she put Catherine in the recovery position as others called for help.

Cecily, a former schoolteacher, has gone on to further her learning in many areas. “I intend to keep learning until I’m 100,” she says. “It’s social, and it’s incredibly useful. I’ve contributed several little articles that I wrote to Mayfield Matters too.”

She’s also become something of a silver surfer: “I did my FETAC level 5 in computing. I’m very good now, even though I do say so myself. I do my banking and shopping online.”

Cecily lives in St Lukes, but happily travels to Mayfield to take part in classes. At the moment, she’s particularly enjoying her conversational Irish classes, which she says are a great way to make new friends.

“Learning is more than just doing facts and figures: it’s a whole life, it’s an enrichment, an enhancement,” she says.

“It really fills out life when you’re retired, but I’ve been in classes with youngsters who went on to great things, and ended up in nursing and other careers. It’s a springboard for the young… and a godsend for the old.”

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