A CARRIGALINE-based grandmother who returned to education at 65 says it’s the best thing she ever did.
Geraldine Squibb (the unusual surname is that of her English ex-husband), who left school at just qw, has just attained a distinction award in the Early Years level 5 programme at the Cork College of Commerce.
Studying child care, including learning about the Children’s Act , how to play with and listen to children, as well as practical classes in arts and crafts aimed at youngsters, were all part of the course that Geraldine undertook last year. It was an appropriate course for her as she was working part time in a creche before the lockdown.
“Children keep me young,” says Geraldine, who will be 66 this year. She has three grown up children; Niamh (45), who has two children, and Jessica (30) and Jack (28).
Geraldine, who attended primary school in Midleton and lived in Cloyne, refused to go to secondary school. Her mother had died and she was being brought up by a sister and her husband.
“We moved from Cloyne to the city. I just rebelled. I don’t know whether I hated school or what but I just felt I didn’t fit in.”
When she was about 14, Geraldine started an apprenticeship with a hairdresser in Cork.
“You had to pay for your apprenticeship. So the owner of the salon took the money from my brother-in-law and said that if I left within the first three months, I wouldn’t get the money back. She sacked me and two other apprentices within three months.”
That was a bad start to the world of work. Geraldine went from job to job including a stint at CMP and a textile company. She then went to England for a while to stay with her other sister — she is the youngest of five, two of whom are now deceased.
Later, back in Cork, Geraldine became pregnant with Niamh.
“My confidence wasn’t great but having Niamh really grounded me. I went to England with her and after living with my sister for a time, I got a live-in job as a housekeeper and minded a child. That was brilliant because I was able to bring Niamh with me.”
After about three years, Geraldine and her daughter returned to Cork. Being a single mother was not a problem.
“Coming from a small village like Cloyne, I thought my friends’ mothers — who had been really good to me — would look down on me. But nobody did. I was lucky where that was concerned.”
Geraldine’s sister Monica and her husband, Tom Dineen, owned the Phoenix Bar on Union Quay.
“I worked there for a long time and then I went back to England with Niamh. My uncle there had died. I had been very close to him. I stayed with my auntie because she was very upset. But would you believe, a week after my uncle died, my auntie died. I stayed in England and met my ex-husband. He was like a father to Niamh.”
Living in Birkinhead, Geraldine gave birth to Jessica and Jack. She was involved in getting a care home ready to open up and went on to work for the local council, supplying school meals as well as meals on wheels. But when she was pregnant with Jack, Geraldine gave up work as she was feeling unwell and had lost triplets while pregnant, before having Jessica.
Niamh eventually got a job with the military police. In 2003, she and her two younger children moved to Ireland.
“Where we were living in Birkinhead, there were a lot of druggies around. Jessica found needles on the side of the road.”
Also, Geraldine says that in this country, there is an expectation that after leaving school, education will be continued at college, unlike where she lived in England.
“Even though I had no education, I knew I wanted education for my kids.”
It was Jessica who encouraged her mother to study child care.
“Jessica had done the course in it at the College of Commerce. She went on to do social care at CIT. She had always been saying to me that I should go for it, saying I’d get a lot out of it.”
Geraldine recalls her first step into the Cork College of Commerce door. “Oh my God, I was shaking. I was in a classroom with all these 17 and 18 year olds and there was me at 65. I was wondering what I had done.
“But the teachers were amazing. They were very good to me. I hadn’t a clue about computers. And the essays and the research and trying to comprehend it and put it all together — that was hard. But I loved being in class. I can talk for Ireland.”
When Geraldine got her results, she says: “I couldn’t believe it. It was surreal.”
She had a lovely celebration with Jessica and Jack. Niamh, who now lives in Dubai with her husband and children, organised that afternoon tea be delivered by Vienna Woods to her mother and half-siblings.
“It was gorgeous. It came in a huge box with a bow and balloons. There was champagne. It was amazing.”
Geraldine hopes to get back to work in the creche she worked in before the lockdown. With her qualification, she may be in a position to command more money.
“But it wasn’t about that. It was about proving to me that I could do it.”
Her advice to early school leavers thinking of going back to education is to “just go for it. Don’t hesitate. Give it your all.”
Wise words from one who knows.