Every year, Tara McCarthy tries to do a night class. This year, she’s undertaking the new Bookkeeping Certificate in Malahide Community School.
“I went back to work full-time a few years ago – and did an Excel course when I was going back into the workforce and so that I could do basic accounts. In my new role, I’ll be moving into Finance – I have no formal training in bookkeeping so this new ICB (Institute of Certified Bookkeepers) certificate will teach me bookkeeping and give me a qualification as well. For me, the timing couldn’t be better.”
Previously, Tara and her husband did night classes together as a way of spending time with each other and getting time out from parenting their four children. “We did a ballroom dancing class together – I started night classes here in 2010 and try to do at least one a term.
“This ICB certificate will help me with my career and it’s nice for the kids to see that education doesn’t finish with college.”
Along with helping her career, the night classes help socially as well. “I’ve made good friends on the courses and still meet up with people I’ve met over the years. On this course, it’s all women of different age groups and professions and it’s really about women supporting women. We go over things at the end of class and Elaine, our tutor, is brilliant and we get support as well from Tena, the ICB representative – that is great because we are learning from a different perspective. That and the ICB resources are a wider support, like a scaffolding, around the class.”
Every night class comes with an adult education department behind it and Tara is very complimentary about the team in Malahide. “The staff are brilliant, and they provide a huge number of courses for the whole community.”
Tara is so pleased with her progress that she’s thinking of progressing onto Year 1 of the Accounting Technicians’ course!
Mariana Jiménez Moreno moved to Ireland in 2010 and, shortly afterwards, she started teaching Corkonians how to speak Spanish!
Today, she delivers beginners and more advanced Spanish classes in Bishopstown Community School, Ballincollig Community School, Ashton Comprehensive School, and Carrigaline Community School.
And, in September 2019, she and nine of her night class students headed to Cabra, a small town in Andalucia for four days. “This was an immersion experience to enhance their Spanish language and knowledge of the Spanish culture and way of living,” says Mariana, who hails from Madrid originally.
“Cabra is a small town and most of the people there do not speak English, so it was an opportunity for the night class students to practice their Spanish. The town is one hour’s drive from Cordoba and Granada, and two hours from Seville, so it was a great base.
“The main aim was to learn about the town and to get to know everything about it, the people, the food, the culture.”
The Spanish classes in Cork have proved extremely popular. “A lot of different people come to the classes: from people who are in college to people in their 80s. Some people want a few words of Spanish to use on their holidays, or some want to learn Spanish because a family member has married a person from Spain or Latin American and they want to communicate better with them.
“In some classes, we have a very wide range of ages. I have students who want to train their mind and learn another language. Some people are retired and want to move to Spain (or already have a base in Spain) or want to learn to speak to Spanish-speaking grandchildren. Or, in the September class, people come to learn Spanish because they have booked a holiday in Spain over Christmas.”
As with any night class, the social benefits are enormous. “In some classes, a lot of the same people come back each year. People become friends and get to know about each other’s lives.”
In terms of lifelong learning, Spanish is ideal in helping people to navigate social situations on holidays. “In the beginners’ class, we cover the basics, greetings, introductions, then different foods and directions. At the improvers’ classes, the participants know what they need – maybe going to a hairdresser when living or holidaying in Spain.
“Every class has a cultural element – so, for instance, at Christmas time, we cover what Christmas is like in Spain, compared to what it is like in Ireland.”
And the lucky ones get to visit Spain – lifelong learning at its best!
When we think of Tai Chi, we think of slow graceful movements – and, yes, you too can learn those slow moves in night classes across the country.
Master Charles Thackaberry is an experienced Tai Chi tutor and has been teaching Tai Chi since 1981. Today, he runs very successful night classes in Gorey Community School, Co. Wexford, right back where he started in the 1980s. “Classes became very popular during the Celtic Tiger years because people realised they needed to take care of themselves,” said Charles, who also runs classes in Dublin.
So, what is Tai Chi? An ancient Chinese tradition, it combines a series of slow continuous movements that flow into each other, meditation, and breathing exercises. “You tune into your body and mind,” said Charles, adding that, in today’s fast-paced world, people who are recovering from illnesses find it useful and busy people find it a great way to destress.
Charles himself came to Tai Chi as a fan of Bruce Lee when he was a teenager in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. “I did Tae-Kwon-Do for a few years but was not into the fighting side of it. Then a friend of mine died and I felt like I had no tools to deal with it. I discovered Tai Chi and my teacher told me it was an art for living.
“It’s quite meditative and a lot of our students might come to us suffering from burnout – Tai Chi lets you recover and learn techniques so you can save yourself. It’s very relaxing and calms the mind and can really help with anxiety or physical and mental stress.” Charles also works with people with Down’s Syndrome who may not be able to verbalise stress.
“The exercises are geared towards the health side of things, and are ones that help with blood pressure, stroke and the mind.” By working at a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level, Tai Chi helps bring balance to a person’s body, mind and soul. “A lot of people who don’t sleep well say they always sleep well the night of the Tai Chi class!” said Charles.
In Gorey, the classes proved so popular than an additional night was added, bringing the number of classes available to people to four a week – two on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. “When I started classes in the 1980s, one of the first places that gave me a class was Gorey Community School under the adult education director then, Paddy Conway. It didn’t take off at the time, so it is great to see how Tai Chi is so popular now in Gorey.”
NACED schools are the first in the country to introduce a new Certificate in Bookkeeping accredited by the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB).
“The Certificate is aimed at those who are new to bookkeeping and have little or no previous knowledge or experience,” said Tena Sheil, an accountant and lecturer who has introduced the Certificate to Ireland. “It’s ideal for anyone who would like to work in an accounting role in a small business, for people who would like to run their own bookkeeping business, or for owner-managers who wish to understand the finances of their small business.” It is also very useful for bookkeepers who would like to enhance their experience with a qualification.
So far, two community schools have had great success with the Certificate, introduced in September 2019. “Malahide and Gorey are running the courses with good numbers attending – essentially, ICB provides the course materials and the school sources the tutors.”
The Certificate in Bookkeeping is made up of five topics: Underpinning Knowledge, Preparation of Business Documents, Accounting for VAT, Entering Transactions, and Reconciliation and Reporting.
At the end, successful candidates will be able to show a full understanding of the concepts of double-entry bookkeeping and its place in modern business, enter transactions into a bookkeeping system and produce an initial trial balance. They should be able to reconcile sales and purchases ledger balances against the relevant control accounts and reconcile the bank account. They should also be able to identify and correct errors present in the system.
What is the ICB?
The ICB is the largest bookkeeping institute in the world, said Tena, who lectures on the ATI course in Gorey Community School’s Adult Education Department and delivers ACCA and CPA professional programmes. The ICB promotes and maintains the standards of bookkeeping as a profession through the establishment of relevant qualifications and the award of grades of membership that recognise academic attainment, working experience and competence.
Significantly, the ICB also offers a conversion course for those who have achieved a Distinction in QQI Level 5 Manual & Computerised Bookkeeping.
Both the Certificate and Conversion Course include student membership of the ICB, where members benefit from enhanced professional status, global recognition, ongoing support and the kinship of the world’s most engaged bookkeeper community.
The advantage of having an ICB qualification is that ICB qualifications are recognised as the benchmark for the profession across the world, said Tena.
Night class participants in Cabinteely Community School are thrilled to be learning Country Jive and Line Dancing with tutor Laura Nolan, who will feature on Dancing with the Stars in January!
As well as Country Jive and Line Dancing, Laura is a professional dancer and provides ballroom and Latin dancing classes privately. “My mother was a dancer, so I started dancing when I was three,” says Laura, who hails from Lucan.
“I started with ballet, Latin and ballroom dancing until I was 16, got all my ballet exams, and then stopped the ballet. I started teaching at 15!”
An accomplished professional dancer, who describes dance as a sport, Laura has an impressive list of achievements. She was a finalist in the U21 World Championship, placing her amongst the top 10 in the world. She and dance partner Alessandro Bosco ranked number five in the World Open in Riga, Latvia, last December. She has won numerous International Open championships and was a finalist in the German Open. In fact, she was the first Irish dancer to compete in the World Championships, so her talent is undisputed.
Dancing with the Stars
Having been on the competitive trail with ballroom dancing and focusing on World Championships and representing Ireland, Laura is looking forward to the change of pace with Dancing with the Stars. “The professionals get together to start training in November, then we start with the celebrities in December, and the live shows are recorded in January,” says Laura. “It’s a good opportunity to put dance more into the spotlight – ballroom and Latin dance competitions aren’t televised in Ireland, so this is a good opportunity for people to see dance.”
What people are seeing increasingly is line dancing as social dancing sweeps the country. “Line dancing is so popular again and it is great to see – dance is amazing for people’s fitness. It’s a great way to burn calories in a chilled relaxed way as it has a fun element to it.
“The great advantage to country jive and line dancing is that you don’t have to have a partner – I teach both sides in terms of the steps involved in country jive so that each person can then dance with anyone.
“It’s great, people meet others and go to social dancing and start new friendships. People are there to enjoy themselves and do a little dancing. It’s great to see dance so popular.”
Máire Kelly started to learn Irish seriously in 2017 – and secured herself a H3 in this year’s Leaving Cert! She is now attending Dublin City University, undertaking the four-year Bachelor of Education degree programme.
Home-schooled from the age of eight, she has an international qualification that is the equivalent of the Leaving Cert. “But when I decided I wanted to be a primary teacher, I knew that I would need a H4 in Leaving Cert Irish,” said Máire, from Arklow, Co Wicklow. “So I started learning Irish in 2017 – I knew some Irish words but not many. I did an online course at Junior Cert Level and, last year, I went to the Leaving Cert Irish night class in Gorey Community School and got grinds as well.”
Máire was not only motivated by her love of teaching but by a love of languages. “My grandparents spoke Irish and I love languages – I learned Russian using a learning language software programme and now I have pen pals in Russia!”
Work experience teaching crochet in a local Gaelscoil also helped to improve her Irish and she was able study at home alongside her siblings. “I’m pretty self-motivated and able to work on my own, so I did a lot of study at home to complement the classes.”
In Gorey, she found the night class, which runs on Monday and Wednesday nights, hugely beneficial. “The teachers taught us as peers, which was really nice.”
This Leaving Cert for Mature Students night class is specifically designed for students who want to improve a grade achieved previously in Irish so that they can gain entry into courses where a minimum grade of H4 is required. These are typically primary school teaching undergraduate courses. The class focuses on the Leaving Cert oral exam or the Hibernia College Irish interview and on the Leaving Cert higher level written exam paper. People who just want to improve their Irish speaking abilities also attend the class!
“The Leaving Cert exam was OK – the essays I wanted didn’t come up, but I was able to tie in essays that I had prepared. I preferred the Oral Irish exam – I was asked my favourite sraith pictiúr and poem.
“Overall, I found that Irish was a challenging language but I love languages and I really want to be a teacher, so I persevered!”
This Autumn sees Crescent College Comprehensive S.J. in Limerick offering a new season of night classes that are as affordable as they are innovative. New courses for this term include Bicycle Maintenance, Greek and Roman Civilisations, Make-up Application as well as Screenwriting, Calligraphy, Ukulele, and Design and Dressmaking for the more creative minds out there.
Among the most popular courses are Dog Grooming, Zumba, Woodcarving, Flower Arranging and Bridge, a sociable and inexpensive hobby which is offered at both beginner and intermediate levels.
“Night classes offer lots of fun and are a great way to meet new people and form new friendships, all while learning a lifelong skill,” said Catherine Scannell, Director of Adult Education in Crescent College Comprehensive S.J.
Night class participants will also be able to boost their language skills with classes available in Spoken Irish, English as a Foreign Language, Spanish, French, Japanese, and basic Latin.
“Social dancing is a very enjoyable evening and is so popular that the class has been extended to an hour and a half for this term, as has the highly demanded Yoga class. People can also bring their partner to the Social Dancing class.”
From chess to cooking
Other courses include everything from Tin Whistle to Guitar, Emotional Freedom Therapy, Woodwork/Joinery, Painting with Oils, Creative Writing, and Chess and Draughts. Digital Skills for Citizens, which is free for those over 45, offers a variety of useful routes to upskill in specific fields such as online banking and social media.
“There is a sincere focus on what is current and in demand. Cooking for Men has become more and more popular in recent years as it gives men who might not be as confident as their female counterparts in the kitchen a chance to gain some Jamie Oliver-like skills. Cookery for All Grades and Gourmet Cooking classes are also available.”
It’s not everyone who would do Irish in the Leaving Cert twice. But driving instructor Dane Tyghe is one such person. He travels to Gorey Community School from Wexford two nights a week to learn more than the cúpla focail.
In June 2019, he will sit down to tackle the Leaving Cert Irish exams, slightly older than others in the room. At 39, he’s doing this for no other reason that to improve his own level of Irish.
“I want to improve my own fluency in Irish,” says Dane, who did Ordinary Level Irish first time round. Now, he’s got a YouTube channel to teach others how to Learn Irish! “I needed a structure to keep me disciplined – in fact, I’d have done five nights if I could have. But the two nights gives you the intensity and the breaks that you need and the tutors, Daniel and Lucy, were great. They’re very approachable and give great feedback.”
Whilst others in the class are redoing their Leaving Cert Irish in the hopes of qualifying to train as primary school teachers, Dane is on his own journey. “I really just want to improve on the language. It’s a personal goal for myself. I love the language and how poetic it is.”
He’s also been motivated by what he says is criticism of the language from people in the media or elsewhere. “Some people say they came through school without knowing any Irish, but I think they’re not prepared now to go and learn it.
“Others just insult the language – so I decided there must be something to it and I started to learn it myself. I watched TG4 and YouTube videos before I found this course in Gorey. I’d say my Irish was at an intermediate level but I’m well on the road to advanced now.”
His Irish has already been tested – during the Oral exam in March. “I went in feeling confident and we had been well prepared. I may have got one or two words mixed up, but I was delighted with the way it went and the examiner was very approachable.”
Being more mature has helped in the preparation as well. “If you prepare and take breaks in the study as well, you’ll be fine. At 39, I’m more mature and focused, so that’s good.”
He’s also able to surprise learner drivers with his Irish, particularly when teaching Leaving Cert teenagers how to drive!
In the meantime, he’s hitting the books in between the driving lessons. “I’m just so grateful that this course was available. If I’d been learning it myself, I wouldn’t have had the same experience.”
Next stop? Keep learning! “There’ll always be another phrase to learn,” says Dane.
5K and Beyond – yes you can, in Carrigaline
Dave O’Regan may be an accountant by day but, by night, he’s responsible for getting Carrigaline running. For the last few years, he ‘ran’ the Couch to 5K class in Carrigaline Community School, Cork.
That class has been so successful that the school has added on a 5K and Beyond night class. The class attracts those who had completed the 5K and wanted to stretch themselves and others who can run 5k comfortably.
“Last year, by the end of the 5K and Beyond class, we had people running up to 10k. We add variety to the training so that participants can see different sides of training – it also breaks up the monotony so that we’re not running the same course each week. So, for instance, we do speedwork – four by 400m runs with two minute stops. The idea is to get people running faster than they would normally run.”
The group will also do hill repeats and, over time, work up to longer runs around Carrigaline. “It’s very enjoyable – it runs over the 10 nights and I tell them that, ideally, they should do two other runs during the week. That way, they’ll be able for the step up next week.”
Couch to 5k
Adult Education Director Gene Cahill now takes the Couch to 5k group. “It’s a 10-week course and the people who see it through are all able to run 5K non-stop at the end of it,” says Dave. “The class is aimed at people who have never trained or run and who want to become more active, or they want to get back running.
“People also see it as an alternative to the gym – you’re exercising in an environment where everyone is starting from the same place. Everyone who signs up has little or no fitness.”
Pace, not race
Building up their times from the first night to the last, the class is all about pacing yourself, not running yourself ragged – more the tortoise than the hare, slowing down to speed up …
During the winter months, the group, which can number up to 20 people, jog a loop around the school. But, when the time changes in March and the evenings are longer, they let loose down around Crosshaven.
10K and counting
“I get a lot out of it. I love running so it’s almost like giving back – I’m happy to encourage others to run or do something healthy.”
If you want to trip the light fantastic, head to Bishopstown Community School where tutor Kay Herlihy will put you through your moves.
Kay has been teaching ballroom dancing for the last number of years, with the waltz, foxtrot, slow waltz, quick step, and tango among the signature moves taught. Rock and roll and the cha cha are other dances also on the menu.
“I love ballroom dancing, I’m addicted to it,” says Kay. “I took lessons myself in Cork Dance Club – I still go! Dance classes are great places to make friends, and have some banter and craic.”
Kay’s classes are such a success that people come back year after year to help out, particularly the men. “More women sign up for ballroom dancing, so sometimes some of the men from previous years come back to help pair up with someone for the dances. The idea is that you rotate your partner.”
Couples, old and new, also sign up for the classes – and Kay has helped many a bride and groom to prepare for their first dance.
Stay social, keep fit
Indeed, her own husband was her dancing partner for many years. “We started dancing 20 years ago and I went ahead and did the exams.” An accomplished set dancer as well, she says there are plenty of dancing opportunities in Cork. “People can go social dancing in Ballincollig, Cobh, Douglas, Midleton or Mayfield. You’ll find dancing on at different GAA clubs. I always tell my classes that they should get out and practice.”
Not only is dancing a sociable activity, it’s a great way to keep fit. “Set dancing is more energetic, but people love the slow waltz or the slow foxtrot. You’d often see people dancing as if they’re a pair of gloves, a perfect fit. Dancing in general is a great hobby, you mix with every walk of life but you have no idea what they do as a day job. We’re all just there to learn. And you forget your troubles and focus on the enjoyment of the dance!”
Men love to cook too! And in St Colmcille’s Community School in Dublin’s Knocklyon, the Cookery for Men class has proved extremely popular.
This course gives men the chance to improve their cooking skills and add to their repertoire of favourite meals. The emphasis will be placed on cooking meals that men traditionally like to cook (and eat!).
The man behind the skillet for the last two years is Frank Guinevan, a professional chef. “I have a family background in food and I’ve always enjoyed experimenting with new methods, menus and tastes. Food is about all these things but it is foremost about an experience, whether that is learning on a personal level about food or sharing that experience with family and friends.”
For Frank, the best thing about teaching is in nurturing the enthusiasm and interest in food shown by the class participants each week. “Being able to cook healthy wholesome food is a basic skill that gives people of all ages independence. Learning how to take raw ingredients and by following a recipe, you can then turn them into a desirable dish, picking up handy tips along the way is what I am trying to achieve as a teacher.”
One of the most important elements in any class is fun. “After the first evening, all the participants start talking and sharing and discovering a common interest and that gives me a great sense of achievement. It is satisfying to hear someone say that, as a result of the class, they only make homemade soup now. In the class, we cover some baking and also regional cooking such as Italian and Spanish dishes.
“Food is also about sharing. All the recipes we cover in the course can be recreated at home. Because the class is hands-on, the mystery has been removed and you can just go ahead and enjoy good company and hopefully receive the praise you deserve.”
In his role as a chef, Frank gets a lot of satisfaction from preparing food and getting feedback that the customer has enjoyed what he has prepared using his skills. “Teaching this adult education class has the same effect: knowing that the skills I teach will be used to allow those class participants to add and enjoy another experience.”
Chris Lawlor and Adrian Finlay turn wood into wonders in their night classes in St Colmcille’s Community School, in Dublin 16’s suburb of Knocklyon.
The Woodturning class, delivered by Chris, offers the woodturning beginner the basic skills in tool control, turning methods and machine safety. Covering both spindle turning and faceplate work, beginners start with simple objects such as a 'Twig Vase', and progress onto more complex items by the end of the ten-week course. Those who already have some experience of woodturning are given projects of a suitable level and encouraged to advance their skill level and range of techniques. Class sizes are kept small and there is one student per lathe, ensuring that students have a fully hands-on experience.
Both Chris and Adrian deliver the Woodworking and Furniture Making class. In this, participants work through a variety of projects during which they learn basic woodworking and furniture making skills. Learning the correct use of power and hand tools, participants also learn how to prepare solid timber and panel board as well as finishing and polishing techniques.
“Altogether, we run classes in woodturning, cabinet making, and wood carving every week,” says Chris, who worked as a cabinet maker and project manager in a furniture company himself. “As a project manager, I ran projects up to a value of €1 million.” Then, he moved to Dublin Institute of Technology as a lecturer in the wood section, working with apprentices and the degree programme. “I upskilled in DIT during the recession and have a degree in timber production management, so I also bring industry experience to the work,” says Chris.
“We get a good mix of night class students, young and old, experienced and people with no experience. We also have mixed genders in the class with three to four women in woodturning and about five in the cabinet making class.”
Classes like these are useful for people who want to make gifts for family or friends; some set up workshops at home; and others have moved into apprenticeships and then industry.
“The benefits of our night classes are that they can provide stress relief for people who may work in offices all day. They can zone out for a while. With the woodturning, you can see the project, let’s say a bowl, coming together quite quickly and you can take a finished piece home at the end of the night. There’s a satisfaction in making and building something and seeing it through to the end.”
It’s not everyday you meet a guy who’s worked with musical geniuses such as Van Morrison, Thin Lizzy, BB King, Chris Rea, or Jethro Tull. But, if you were in the Sound Engineering and Music Technology night class in the Donahies Community School in north Dublin, you’d bump into Don McKevitt. Don joined the class to learn about today’s sound engineering technology.
“I started as a sound engineer and toured with the likes of Thin Lizzy and Chris Rea and also worked as production manager in studios with Van Morrison, Chris Rea, and the Rolling Stones,” says Don. “I was very fortunate; I’ve been to most places in the world with the music.”
A songwriter and musician for years, he came across the Donahies night class and tutor JJ Vernon when he wanted to update his own skills. “I know live music mixing, but I knew nothing about the modern way of mixing. And I wanted to learn that so I could use it for my own song writing and recording.
“The class is excellent – JJ is very knowledgeable as an engineer and as a musician. He’s also a very good teacher – we’re a mixed bunch in the class but all our aspirations are serious.”
The technical bit
In the class, people learn how to record and edit musical performances by both solo artists/ensembles and speakers. They learn how to operate Pro Tools, mixing and editing software, as well as exploring MIDI, using virtual instruments and plug-ins.
“I keep the course practical,” says tutor JJ Vernon, adding that the class attracts musicians keen to record their own work or that of bands. They might be nervous of the technical aspects of the recording technology – but that soon disappears as the group works together on each other’s work. “People interests vary – the younger participants are into electronic sound, synthesisers, and drum machines. The older participants are into singing along to their guitars and want to capture that.”
The class is also a reflection of how the music industry has changed. “Musicians used to record in large studios with professional staff,” says JJ, who works as a sound engineer himself. “That’s gone now – anyone can produce a CD, and the money is in gigs and merchandise as streaming of music has changed everything. Now, it’s all about learning the software and I give them the confidence to get started on that.”
Who knows, the next Van Morrison or Chris Rea could be learning how to mix music in the Donahies Community School? Stranger things have happened!
Roslyn Hickey guides adult learners through the epic tome that is James Joyce’s Ulysses in a night class in Coláiste Chiaráin, Leixlip. Here, she recounts her own history with Ulysses and how she keeps her class interested and motivated to survive and enjoy Joyce’s journey around Dublin
National and international critics affirm that Ulysses by James Joyce is one of the greatest novels ever written. Most Dubliners are proud of the book and speak about it with affection and good humour. Indeed, they are known to wax lyrical of its attributes both with other Irish people and in conversation with tourists and fellow holidaymakers while abroad. Amazingly, they engage in these exchanges despite the fact that they may never have read Ulysses!
I understand this attitude because, like most ordinary people, I was intimidated by its ‘infamous’ reputation as a highly complex tome that can only be deciphered by the professional academic. My situation was compounded by the fact that I am an English and History teacher who studied English in Trinity College, in the mid-1970s, under two iconic academics, Brendan Kennelly and David Norris. And it was compounded because, I too was, in my 50s and had still not risen to the challenge of reading one of the greatest literary achievements to be created by a fellow Dubliner.
Rise to the challenge
In January 2013, in order to address this shortfall, I made a pact with the Senior Librarian of Palmerstown Library that we would rise to the challenge of concluding our reading of Ulysses in time to celebrate, as ‘authentic’ Joyceans, Bloomsday on 16 June. I love teaching and I love witnessing the flourishing of adult learners within the context of lifelong learning from the cradle to the grave. Therefore, we decided to offer a study group to 22 adult learners. The experience was intoxicating and utterly unforgettable.
I explored with this initial group the reasons why so many Irish people are reluctant to read this great Irish novel despite having such respect, curiosity and affection for it. Their feedback holds true for subsequent groups that I have facilitated in Coláiste Chiaráin, Leixlip where even avid readers and literary aficionados frequently disclose how ill-equipped they have felt at the prospect of taking on such a tome.
Some say that having started to read the book, they soon became overwhelmed by obscure references and a complex structure. Consequently, Ulysses is archived in their inner most stacks – under the bed!! And all this happens shortly after the first episode (chapter) which ends with the word, ‘Usurper’. There is an irony in this concluding sentence as it speaks of the absent eyes of the average reader whose presence, as Declan Kiberd, explains, has been supplanted by the ‘literary canon’ and ‘corporate university’. The legend of its forbidding difficulty has scared readers off (Kiberd, 2009). I always have a similar discussion with the groups who sign up for the Ulysses class In Coláiste Chiaráin, before commencing the study, as the exercise proves very useful in ameliorating their concerns and assuring them that their experience is a very common one.
Reading Ulysses requires time and commitment. There is a certain mystique surrounding Ulysses which is tangible when the class first meets; a sort of conspiratorial ‘nod, nod, wink, wink’ undercurrent which permeates the class; not unlike the attitude excited teenagers have in anticipation of looking at something hereto forbidden.
However, as the class settles down to study, this initial reaction soon develops into a far more measured attitude as readers discover that Ulysses is a complex work of art that demands rigorous attention. Ulysses consists of 18 episodes which are spread over more than 700 challenging pages. Reading Ulysses is not unlike training for a marathon: you need a time-framed programme which builds up stamina, speed and endurance by ring-fencing a minimum of one hour per day and by committing to this regime for six months.
Walking in Joyce’s footsteps
Another important dimension to the work of reading and studying the text are the trips which I arrange at various stages of our reading of the book. This includes visits to Glasnevin Cemetery to follow in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom as he partakes in the funeral cortege of Paddy Dignam (Hades, episode six). In the past, our guide, coincidentally also called Paddy, retraced the fictitious event and enriched the experience by showing us the graves of Joyce’s contemporaries including those of Daniel O’Connell, Charles Parnell, Arthur Griffith and Home Rule who are referenced in Ulysses.
Other visits include the Martello Tower, Sandycove (Proteus) where one group gathered on a blustery, wintery day, shortly before Christmas to be brought on an exhilarating tour by the author and Joycean, Robert Nicholson. Robert explained how Joyce was a ‘literary magpie’ who incorporated events and real people from his life into his work. In this instant, he showed us where Joyce, as guest of Oliver St. Gogarty, slept and was subsequently terrified by the antics of another guest, forcing him to flee the tower in the middle of the night! This incident is immortalised in the opening episode of Ulysses.
Adult learners really enjoy and are stimulated by visiting places in Dublin which are referenced in Ulysses. Terry Fagan, local historian, Dublin north inner city, enthrals groups with his tour of Dublin’s infamous red-light district, which is commonly known as ‘Monto’; it features in Ulysses as Nightown in Circe, episode fifteen.
For some suburban adult learners, visiting the old inner-city of Dublin is revelatory; for others it offers the opportunity to recall childhood memories of having lived there, or to share stories of relatives who survived tenement living and fought in the city streets against the British Empire.
Earlier this year, the present group of adult learners, having read Lotus Eaters, (episode five) - which concerns the adventures of Leopold Bloom as he traversed the city from north to south - had a fantastic visit to Sweny’s chemist, Lincoln Place, Westland Row; this is where Leopold bought the famous slab of lemon scented soap. The curator, a magnificent and generous, gifted raconteur, served us up copious cups of steaming tea and delicious chocolate biscuits; led us in a reading from Ulysses, a sing-song from Edwardian times and a discussion with other Joyceans from various countries who were also there.
In April 2019, the present group will have successfully completed a first reading of Ulysses. The occasion will be marked by our final outing which will be to the Jewish Museum, South Circular Road. This little gym archives an integral, but lesser known, part of Irish history and has been a highlight for past groups.
We will go to learn about Judaism, especially in relation to the Jewish community in Ireland in order to gain a greater understanding of the main character in Ulysses, Leopold Bloom (who was technically not a Jew – another one of James Joyce’s conundrums!!). Groups invariably find this visit, revealing, fascinating and moving. Yvonne, the guide, gives an insightful talk beginning with the first reference to the Jews in Ireland in 1079, to 1170 when Strongbow’s expedition was backed financially by Jews, to the establishment of small settlements, mostly around Dublin and later Belfast, Cork and Limerick
Studying Ulysses opens up unexplored areas of culture, history, beliefs and philosophy etc. In the great tradition of adult learning, it inspires the reader not only to pursue further study of Ulysses but to enquire into other areas of interest which the book pre-empted such as gender and sexual orientation, minority rights, fascism, racism, identity etc. How right James Joyce was in claiming that his great work would keep critics and readers baffled and curious for generations!
I love working in the evening programme in Coláiste Chiaráin and value the support of the staff members in their determination to make special interest subjects accessible to the suburban reader. For me, the spirit of the philosophy of adult education and lifelong learning which underpins the night classes is paramount, as it gives me the flexibility to design and deliver the programme in response to the needs of the class.
I have been working for a few years in Coláiste Chiaráin and every programme I facilitate is unique in keeping with the needs and interests of the group. We learn together in equal partnership – and have fun in the process. I put my hand up at the very start of the session by admitting that I am a non-academic Joycean enthusiast who will be delighted to see the back of them at the end of our reading of Ulysses. This revelation usually generates a tense class reaction which explodes into hoots of laughter as I explain that all of the past members of the classes which I have facilitated invariably outperform me in terms of their grasp and understanding of Ulysses!
At the end of our classes, I wish them well as fully fledged Joyceans and look forward to seeing them ambling in the footsteps of Bloom and Stephen on Bloomsday to the ring of Molly’s affirmation, ‘and yes I said yes I will Yes’.
Cayisha Graham is a dance tutor in St Tiernan’s Community School, Balally, in Dublin. Teaching dance for the past 10 years, she tells how her Jamaican background has influenced her
Although I was born in England, I am half-Jamaican and half-Italian and growing up in Jamaica aged from four to seven had a massive influence on me musically. In Jamaica, you are reared on music, you live and breathe it, it’s a way of life. From a very young age, children have great rhythm, largely because they are exposed to dance and music all the time.
When I moved from Jamaica to Ireland, it was a huge culture shock and took me a while to settle in. My taste in music was very different from anything that was going on in Ireland and I don’t think anybody had really even heard of Caribbean music back then. In my family, I think dance and music were a way for us to bond, so you would often find the whole family in the kitchen breaking out the moves in our own way of togetherness. And that has not changed to this day!
In school, I connected with friends through various bands that we had in common. I can remember choreographing for local talent shows - I really took them and myself so seriously! I would get a crew together to learn dances from my favourite bands - Steps, Five, Spice Girls, you name it we had the dance for it (cringe). That’s really where it all began.
In the now
I used to take classes in the Dance Theatre of Ireland and I remember being in awe of my dance teacher and thinking he was the coolest person ever. As a teenager, I was going through all the highs and lows of teen angst. Then, I realised that dancing gave me confidence - it was my escape from worries and stress. When you’re dancing, you’re in the now, there is no room for thinking about anything else. I found it was like a form of meditation.
Later, I did a dance course and experienced the life of a dancer. It was very challenging but very rewarding and I learned a lot about myself. When I finished college, I got a job as a teacher in the Dance Theatre of Ireland. When I passed the audition, I was in shock because I found the place so daunting. This is where all my idols taught me and, now, little old me has the chance to follow in their footsteps.
Teaching in the Dance Theatre of Ireland is almost like coming full circle. And so many doors have opened up for me, I really have Loretta Yurrick and Robert Connor, the artistic directors of the Dance Theatre to thank for that. Their belief in me gave me the inspiration to push my boundaries and this is an inspiration I try to pass on to all my students, including those on my DancerSize night class in St Tiernan’s Community School.
The job is so rewarding when you see the difference it can make to a person’s life. I often see students coming in very shy, timid and no confidence. After a few classes, they come out of their shells and are full of confidence. I try to create an environment that’s happy and safe. From my youngest student to my oldest student who is now 78, dance is timeless and it’s a beautiful thing to watch them flourish regardless of their age.
Dream come true
I also sing and dance in my own band - I feel I made my childhood dreams my reality. I couldn’t ask for a better job. It is true what they say - choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.
As long as you believe in yourself, you can make your own dreams come true too.
This is what dance means to me:
Dance is freedom
Dance is expression
Dance is empowerment
Dance is life