Well known Irish people share pivotal life events in new book by Cork students

A Cork school wrote to celebrities asking them what was the turning point in their life - and their 125 responses now form a book, reveals COLETTE SHERIDAN
Well known Irish people share pivotal life events in new book by Cork students

From left, Hamilton High School Transition Year students Kirills Karpov, Padraig McCarthy, Liam Twomey, Brajan Mazur, Daniel Sheehan, and Tom Cullen with their book, Turning Point

“THIS is the kind of book that can change lives.”

That is how author Donal Ryan describes Turning Point, in which well known Irish people talk about pivotal events in their lives.

The book was put together at Hamilton High School in Bandon to raise money for an astro pitch.

The boys’ school, which has nearly 500 pupils, doesn’t have a sports amenity apart from a field “that gets quite mucky at this time of the year,” explains teacher, Leona Foran. “The field is not really fit for purpose all year round.”

Leona, who teaches English, was involved in producing the book and is doing publicity to generate sales.

The pupils wrote to about 200 personalities and succeeded in getting 125 responses for the book, from people such as Gerry Adams, Bertie Ahern, Mary McAleese, Dave Fanning, John Giles, Eamon Dunphy, Jacqui Hurley and Louise O’Neill.

A former pupil at the school, Jamie Wall, is included in the book for his heroism. Involved in sports, he lost his ability to walk at the age of 20 as a result of an accident. But that hasn’t stopped him from following his passions. Jamie is involved in coaching at Mary Immaculate teacher training college, having got a degree there in primary school teaching. He is also involved in his local GAA team in Kilbrittan. He is studying law now.

“He’s amazing really,” says Leona.

The book is the brainchild of Rob Honohan, head of physical education at Hamilton High School.

“Rob saw a book about regrets, it was published as a fund-raiser for another school,” says Leona.

“There’s a committee of sports teachers and teachers who do extracurricular activities in our school. They met and talked about writing to celebrities asking them to write about turning points in their lives. Pupils from first to fourth year were involved.

“When you’re doing something like this, you don’t really know what kind of a response you’ll get.”

The pupils were thrilled to get such a good reaction to the concept. Their school’s astro-pitch which is nearly ready, is costing €200,000. The school has a small amount of money to put towards it and has set up a Go Fund Me page. Its main sporting activities are football and hurling.

West Cork-based author, Louise O’Neill, in her contribution to the book, shared her experience of working in a fashion magazine office in a high rise building in New York. Designer samples hot off the catwalks of London, Milan, Paris and New York came into the office and there were photo shoots with celebrities.

But Louise writes about how she felt empty there after only one day. Later, she came back to Ireland with just $50 in her account. Her boyfriend had split up from her.

But she remembered a night in Queens, when she told a friend she wanted to be a writer. She experienced a sense of freedom, a turning point. And her dream has come through.

Louise’s advice is not to look for a career that will impress others or to look for something that’s easy. Rather, she advises challenging yourself and using your own gifts.

Former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese’s contribution to the book describes how she was celebrating becoming a law student when violence arrived to her estate in Ardoyne on August 14 in 1969. Her parish was attacked and went up in flames.

She didn’t know how to respond. Some of her friends joined the IRA but Mary “had a natural reluctance for hatred and didn’t want to give into sectarian hatred”.

Even after her profoundly deaf brother was stabbed in a sectarian assault, her parents were adamant there would be no retaliation. Mary came to see “the sheer stupidity of violence” and became involved in community reconciliation and peace-making. She learned “the hand of friendship is the only weapon we need to make peace and to grow peace.”

Gerry Adams’s turning point happened at school when a teacher came in to supervise his class during a free period. The teacher spoke about the history of Belfast.

Up until then, Gerry was used to hearing all about the War of the Roses and other English history. He didn’t understand why he wasn’t learning about the history of his people.

After the lesson, the future President of Sinn Féin went out and looked at the River Farset in Belfast that the teacher had spoken about. It was a chance encounter with a teacher interested in Irish and local history.

Dave Fanning, 2FM music presenter, shared how, in 1990, he was asked to present a new live music show called Rocksteady. He had never done live presenting but didn’t tell the producers. It was his turning point.

He realised that “you must always seize the day, and he quotes Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. “There is a tide in the affairs of men when, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

Dave says when an opportunity comes along and you think you’re not ready or not good enough, “you have to believe you are”.

He stresses the importance of self-belief, and advises that “mistakes happen but move on. When you see a chance, take it.”

The students of Hamilton High School were “bowled over by the celebrities taking the time to sit down and write back about their experiences,” says Leona.

It was, she adds, the perfect Covid project, embarked on in March of this year.

Turning Point is available in some bookshops including Bandon Books and can be ordered from www.hamiltonhighschool.ie.

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