Family Learning Longitudinal Group, Co. Clare

Family Learning Longitudinal Group, Co. Clare

Mary Flanagan tells us about a group of parents of children at high risk of not making the transition from primary school to second level school who were invited to attend a Family Learning course in 2002. A very strong inter-agency group of community and adult education supports was put in place around the group and this was reviewed annually. Five settled Irish and two Traveller mothers attended and progressed onto Further Education and Training Awards Council (now Quality Qualifications Ireland) Level 3. A number of students then progressed onto Level 5 courses and one completed Level 6. All their children went on to second level. As the mothers became more confident they got involved in the community campaigning for a playground and another as a Family Resource Centre Board member for a number of years.

See below interviews from two of the mothers:


Interview 1 with mum in February 2015 –  13 years after starting Family Learning.

Completed Level 5 Art

Mums voice:

My kids were young and my friend introduced me years ago.

There was classes starting so I gave it a go.

They helped me put my kids into the crèche at the time and supported it.

Which was good for me as it got me out of the house, mingling with other people and you know what I mean, I suppose learning, I was good at school but I wasn’t that good at school. Crafts and maths and communications and stuff like that.

Then moved from that then to Level 3, same thing, same group of people and new people came in then on top of it.

And took it from that then to when we all kind of split up, went our own ways.

People I knew did Childcare, I did Art, other people did different things. We were all in the same group.

More than anything it was just getting out, getting support, and getting help

I felt good about myself

Getting up in the morning, getting the kids out, mingling with adults and having an adult conversation and just instead of being stuck in the house, that’s how it started out, instead of being…I felt isolated at home and I was getting out and about.

I suppose with Emily anyway or Amy (she’s the oldest), when I did do the maths from what I remember… what I was learning I was going home and if she asked me something, because years ago being in school, you would forget bits and pieces like.

So that actually helped.

When I started doing the crafts and found what I wanted to do, like with Amy I’d actually help her with the art like I was pretty… I found what I wanted to do and it was the art, but helping her, it felt good like.

I always liked it but never had confidence to do anything.

‘Cos I wouldn’t do it by myself.  So I’d the support of people helping you and pushing you in the right way.

Mingling with people socialising, something I wouldn’t have doing.

When I got further on and I was doing the art I actually told my sister, she lives here in Ennistymon, I actually said it to her, and she came on and gave it a go.

She did like, she did. Em she liked it and she stuck at it for a while then as well, you see she started too late. I started from the beginning and worked my way up.

I remember the time I sold my painting in the Art Gallery, the kids came along with me.

They actually still say it on and off. You know what I mean that Mam help me with my art. I haven’t done in a while, but as in they remember being there when I sold it. It made me feel good.

Years ago the way I felt as a lone parent, by myself with the kids, kind of at home with nothing to do.   With the support and the help I’d definitely give it 10 out of 10.

Helping them at home, and do you know, not, you’d just say by the time I’d got back and I got my kids, I wasn’t as do you know what I mean…cranky or whatever. I was out and about my head was clearer. Do you know that kind of way, mingling with people.

More happy like in myself, so if I’m happier in myself, my kids can see it like.

Definitely 10 out of 10 I know I shouldn’t… it would be because they did see a big difference.

If I didn’t do what I did back then, I probably would have gone insane.  At this stage…yea you know…

Kids… a big impact you know.

And even now my kids are 16 now and 11 and when I did move back here make and… seeing can I get back in, to pick up where I left off. Seeing where I could better myself that bit more.

So you know so it is good like … I think.

 Yea, the day I sold the painting, the day I sold the painting… I was like je… I’m worth…I can actually do this, I can do something that before I couldn’t. Like the support that they gave me is like… is like in one way I know it sounds stupid like a child supporting me, helping me, pushing me along that I could do it like do you know what I mean that kind of way. It was tough when I did the Level 5. The two years Art, that was tough.

But the support was brilliant. And I think that helped me from the start to build my confidence all the way up along to do what I did then and now I’m hoping to continue and finish it.

Build the foundations and work your way up.

Like I did go to school. I did do my Junior Cert and I did the Applied Leaving. But when you do leave all that you’ve kids and you’re taking care of them

You forget, you forget, you actually forget, and then your kids are coming home with their homework, and then you’re trying…. so it was easier when they came home doing even…. At the time like doing like even communications stuff like a small bit of childcare we were doing as well do you know. Stuff like that helped them and my kids didn’t see me as much under pressure, cranky. Socialising bit was the best bit and the crack and the laugh we had together was brilliant as well and meeting people as well.

Even my parents, the time when in the Art Gallery, even my family came down and everything and supported me. I thought it was brilliant.

And a painting that I did do, my mam actually still has it at home. ‘Cos like she thought it was amazing, it was really good. They always said it you were good with…but it took me to do ‘cos I had Amy at 19 and I kind of, you know…had taken care of her and forgetting about myself  but to do this helped me build myself back up to move onto more what I wanted to do and the support and help with the childcare as well. Knowing that Emily was …or Amy, I think Emily was born, she was. Yes Emily was. Yea Amy was upstairs in the crèche and Emily was downstairs so the two of them got looked after, I could breathe, do what I was doing and then you know an adult conversation as well.


Interview 2 – Completed Level 6 Childcare now employed

Traveller Mum:

You know I went to school in my early days, three hours a day in to learn for the Confirmation or the Holy Communion. I never got secondary school. I came from a family of twelve and in them times the Travellers didn’t believe in having kids in school. I came from the side of the road to be honest moved into a council house.

In 2002 I just moved into the Clare area and I was approached that family learning classes were going to take place.. My daughter was only six at the time. She was starting primary school in the area and I needed to know more as a mother would.. So I wanted to be able to help her with her homework, so I went along to the classes. I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest at first. The first day was a bit daunting. There was a lot of people that I didn’t know. … I came to the head of the road and I was actually going to turn back and not go in. Cos it is shaky, there’s no point in not saying it….you’d have this attitude you’d  be judged. You’re not going to be judged. It’s your own thought in the back of your head and it can be as big as a mountain

There was classes for maths, cooking, literacy and numeracy skills, there was art, there was no end to the classes that we done after that. And Janet and Jacinta was involved in the guiding of it, and anything that you felt you were stuck with; if you weren’t aware of where to  go or what to do you could always go back to them. They were always a support … It makes such a difference in your life. You don’t have to be a genius to take part in it.

So I met Katie and I explained I had a problem… that I wanted to go into childcare as a professional, being a Traveller I didn’t think I’d be able to achieve it,

I needed the background of family learning because I’ve dyslexia so my understanding of spelling wouldn’t be great. I could read but I wouldn’t be able to spell… So for me to put something down on paper, and awkwardness… to be able to go on and do the work, the studies and the exams, I wouldn’t be able to do it alone to be honest with you. 

I never ever thought that I’d go to work or ever go back to school and learn as much as I’ve learned. Or be able to sit and do an exam, even for the communications, to be able to stand up in front of a crowd. O my God I thought I was going to drop, but even that day when Jacinta said to me you can do so much for yourself. At the time I hadn’t self esteem. I hadn’t belief in myself. And two year after that, I had… you can do that you’re well able. 

My work was a very big bonus  when my brother died because I didn’t go back to work for two weeks. After it happening at least I could feel normal.  I had friends around me. I didn’t feel isolated. But as I said without having my job, at the time, I’d have too much time for thinking; God knows what would have come out of it.

 But when I had my daughter I wanted so much for her that I never had. And when I heard about the classes in family learning, I think that’s what made me hunger. Embarrassment and everything else went out the door when I put a foot through that door. All I wanted was to achieve so much to prove to her, that if I could do it at my age there was nothing to stop her… so that was the most thing to get me going. I knew I could do more. I know I can do more.  I will be doing more. .  It’s a whole lifestyle for yourself as well.

I have six sisters and six brothers, two deceased. None of them actually work. Actually none of them worked. My father is going through his seventies. My father sat down a few weeks ago, and he said ‘I’m proud of you. You’re one out of the lot that made something of yourself. I never got the chance when I was young. We were reared outdoors, living from house to house, waiting for handouts to survive. I done as much as I could with you,’ he said, ‘from what I had, but you went on.’ 

So that, without the family learning we wouldn’t have the courage to be honest with you. I got on and done that and it was from here that I got the courage to do my driving test.  My daughter got a seizure in my home one year. And there was nobody here driving, …and I said I’d never be caught like that again. Within six months I had applied for my driving test. I failed the first time round and came back and applied the day I failed. I sat the test six weeks after.  I passed my full driving test and that was six years back (and I haven’t) and there’s been no end to me after that

Aw, look some Travellers say to me ‘Aw you’re too big in your boots. I say ‘No you are never too big in your boots.’ I’ll want for my daughter what I never had. Now that I have ambition, I’m going to pass it on. I’m not afraid to work, not afraid to learn, and I have great support. So there’s no point in excuses ‘O , I can’t do it, I can’t do it!’ You can do it if you want to do it. I always keep telling Lily and I mean, why wouldn’t I tell her, she’s my priority, she’s my daughter, she’s my responsibility.

But as I said without the family learning, none of this would ever be achievable, not to my family anyway. If I wasn’t in these classes, I’ll tell you what I’d be doing at the moment, I’d be home scrubbing the tables and putting on the dinner, and I wouldn’t be out working and I wouldn’t be involved in community. I’d be half scared to mix with the community


But, it felt like just walking into part of your family, from stage one.   Everyone introduced each other and there was no pressure on anybody. Everybody discussed their own kids, there was confidentiality, there was nothing taken away from it. And even if you wanted to talk about a personal  problem,  with a child, it was just like family bonding. You didn’t feel like you were alone, and that was a good thing. As I said I moved into the county, I didn’t know anyone in the county and it was  a great step for me personally.. to understand that I wasn’t the only girl in the county that was struggling.

If something happened in class, and the class had to be cancelled, you’d be kinda disappointed that you couldn’t go, didn’t meet my friends this week,

The first classes that was ran, achieved so much for so many families in the parish…without that I don’t think a lot of those families would reach a quarter in their life. It’s been a very very big bonus to us…

You’re involved in a whole community. Even at times myself and my daughter,  we actually went and done fund raising for other members of other communities, other parts of this community. There’s no way in the world going back,  I’d get involved in this. I just wouldn’t.  I wouldn’t have the courage.  I was on a Board of Management of the Family Resource Centre for four and a half years. I’ve only stepped down in the last few years. I’m involved in other bits around, it will keep me busy. I’m involved in any fundraising that comes up, for the school my daughter is going to, anything that I can help with, if anyone wants to they can ring me.

You know I‘ve been involved in meetings with Clare County Council on behalf of Travellers. I spoke up for Travellers. You know going back to me fifteen years ago … I never thought that it would ever, ever happen, the experience or having the inspiration or having the self esteem to do something like that.

Now my daughter is eighteen and she’s still in school. She is doing her Leaving Certificate next year.

She has done work experience in Childcare up where I work. And I want her to go down that road, only if she likes it. And if she falls back on anything, I know there is support here for both of us.

Lilly is finding it difficult, she’s like me as well;  she has dyslexia and is getting special help in school. She get’s stuck at homework and there are always two or three friends you can ring.


Really and truly I think health is your wealth but your education is the biggest thing in life. Because without education you know nothing, you can go nowhere.

To have the confidence to step in and do the work, for me without my qualification I wouldn’t be able to do anything. So I’d be there depending on the husband coming home with the Social Welfare, Lily still inside in school and I’d have no independence. So from this I have gone on I’ve done Level 5 through the strength and support of family learning

From being an ordinary parent, to teaching kids as a childcare worker in a crèche, (I knew I had to have a Level 5 and Level 6 before I could step in to take up a full time position or part time position.)

I’m fifty years of age next February for God’s sake. I started late in life to learn. But I tell you I’m not sorry. It still is wonderful to be able to go out, do a day’s work, learn, meet your friends…

Financially, I’m able to save a bit more. I appreciate what I’m earning because I’m doing it for myself. I can go home and I feel, I feel  I know but that’s how I feel as well that my family are looking up to me because I’m going out and doing it.


I’ve got a lot of inspiration from my family learning classes from day one. And every day I get up I push …and I’m glad I got the opportunity.

Because the overall picture has been very beneficial to me, very beneficial to my lifestyle, very beneficial to my daughter, to my husband to my family. My sisters can ring me up, they’ve, most of them have got kids, there’s something going on with the kids, I can actually discuss that and give them advice on it. I’ve done special needs and I’ve done training in child behaviour and all that.

As I said we took up art classes under this programme, and I actually sold one of the pictures I painted here to a local, and that’s actually hanging in her hall. And it’s those kind of things you never forget.

Without them it wouldn’t have been possible. You know , they, they actually believed in me.  They saw more in me at the time, than I saw myself.





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