Kay Mooney NALA

“I can’t understand how I left school not being able to read, spell or write.” Kay Mooney, Tallaght, Dublin

One of 12 children, Kay Mooney was raised in Keogh Square, Inichicore where she was sent to Goldenbridge Convent as a toddler because her mother had contracted T.B. and couldn’t look after her.

“To this day I can’t understand how I left school after 10 years not being able to read, spell or write. The nuns thought we weren’t going to get anywhere in life so they didn’t spend much time educating us.” says Kay who stars in next Monday’s episode of RTÉ’s A Story with Me in it.But they were good to us, giving us food, clothes, dressing us for communion and confirmation,

In the programme, Kay is teamed with Belinda McKeon, one of Ireland’s most promising young writers, to create her own piece of writing about life growing up in inner city Dublin. Having listened to Kay’s story, Belinda wants her to commit to paper the memories and impressions that she has held onto her entire life.

“I’ve been given access to a very personal world,” says Belinda who travelled from her base in Brooklyn, New York to work on the programme. “Because there’s some difficult personal material, it’s bound to be emotional. It will be good to get that down on paper rather than having it rattling around inside her head because there’s more a feeling of being in control,” she says.

“I kind of have butterflies in my stomach. I never thought I would do this to be honest. I’m wondering what Belinda will think of me and will she be able to help me write my story,” says Kay who left school at 14 not being able to read and write. Like many girls her age she went to work immediately and at the age of 16 was married.

“You came out of school and you were going to follow the path of your mother. You were going to have loads of kids and get married. You weren’t going to do much with your life. And it was always a fire in my belly that I was going to rear my kids, give them the best education I could, and prove to them before I die that I was capable of being educated, and capable of reading and writing. It was just the circumstances of where we lived, the poverty that we lived in that stopped me,” says Kay.

Over the years, by attending adult education classes through BEST in Tallaght, Kay has made great advances in her reading and her writing and would encourage anyone of any age to go back to education. “The fact that I can put that pen to paper means I won’t be stopping!’ says Kay.

Belinda is equally full of praise for Kay’s positive attitude. “She’s taken to writing like a duck to water and that’s really obvious. Kay has told me how hard she has worked in life at every job she’s done. And it’s exactly the same with writing her own story – she just gets straight down to it and does it.” says Belinda.

In the programme on Monday night, Kay calls her story ‘My journey to get educated’. “Working with Belinda has just made me take everything out of my head and put it on paper which is much better,” says Kay.

“When I was a kid I read books for kids and I think that’s what really started me writing and I do particularly remember the absolute joy of reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That really was a transformative moment for me because I can clearly remember just reading that book and thinking something is possible that I didn’t realise before. I don’t remember the exact chronology now but I reckon I probably started writing fiction myself almost immediately afterwards,” says Belinda, who won the Bord Gáis Irish Book of the Year for her novel SOLAS in 2011.

“Kay has placed a lot of trust in me and I’ve been very conscious of that. It’s been emotional, but it’s also been very important for me as a writer and I think that working with Kay has really made me realise, not to take writing for granted,” she says.

A Story with Me in it is a personal transformation series that focuses on the journey of each individual person.  It is a fresh, honest, often moving and insightful look at how people cope with having to learn the basic skills many of us take for granted.  “One in four adults in Ireland have difficulties with basic reading and writing skills, enough to affect their everyday lives. Many people invest a lot of time and energy into hiding this, due to the stigma associated with having literacy difficulties in today’s society. This series aims to dispel this stigma and deepen our understanding of the importance of good literacy skills in 21st century Ireland,” said Inez Bailey, Director, National Adult Literacy Agency.

Currently in Ireland there are 55,000 adults attending VEC adult literacy courses nationwide. This adult literacy service is provided free of charge. Basic Education Services Tallaght (BEST) can be contacted on 01 414 7187.

For more information on these courses or NALA’s distance education courses Freephone 1800 20 20 65 or Freetext LEARN to 50050 for an information pack.

A Story with me in itwill be broadcast on RTÉ ONE television on Monday evening at 7.30pm on the 28 May.

I don’t recall Kay being in Goldenbridge industrial *school* during my incarceration period. Perhaps she is talking about attending Goldenbridge convent school, which was just across the road from Keogh Square?! I know that the nuns at the convent would have visited very poor people living in Keogh Square and fed and clothed them. Despite living across the road from the industrial *school* that would not have given the children automatic court entrance into the nearest industrial school. Take for example, Evelyn Doyle who grew up as a wee child not too far away in Fatima Mansions, she was not sent to Goldenbridge, but instead, High Park on the other side of the city. That was a common thing of the judicial system at the time to send them as far away as possible from home.

This stood out for me what Kay said in the opening lines

The nuns thought we weren’t going to get anywhere in life so they didn’t spend much time educating us.” says Kay who stars in next Monday’s episode of RTÉ’s A Story with Me in it. But they were good to us, giving us food, clothes, dressing us for communion and confirmation,

The nuns being the Sisters of Mercy, whose ethos it was to educate the poorest of the poor — and of whose Foundress  gave up her very life to care for them, was felt by Kay that she wasn’t worth educating. This was also the same scenario with us who were on the lower echelons of the Goldenbridge ladder. We too were going nowhere and therefore were not worth bothering about in that same light.

I like the “but” bit. “They were good to us, giving us food, clothes”… ah, yes, but the clothes were also religious clothes, so that they would remain in church, a further indictment of their need to control the poor and keep them dependent on religion. It’s such a pity that they never bothered to teach the children how to read and write and spell, so that they wouldn’t have ended up in the position that Kay and myself find ourselves in our older years. They were kind in giving Kay pretty communion and confirmation suits, but they were not kind to deprive them of an education. The women after all made vows to educate the poor and they failed them miserably. Proselytisation?

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