Behind the Mask: Martin

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

My name is Martin.  I am a very kind person and I have a load of ambitions.  I want to be able to help people when I come out of studying if they have problems with reading and writing.  I love refereeing football matches and I love mixing with young children on the football pitch to help them do it the right way.  I played football all my life. I used to play for Capel Celtic. They were my first team when I was a young fella.  Then I went to play for Ballymun United.  I was a left full back.  I met lots of friends when I played there.  We all worked as a good team together. I still get in touch with some of the players.  We always talked about them days.  We used to go for a drink after the game even if we lost or won.  We always talked to the opposition after the game and maybe they would come for a drink with us even if we kicked each other during the game, we talked about it.  Fellas used to tell me I would kick my own mother to get the ball no matter what happens! 

I coped during Covid because I had my son, my wife and daughter in law and we all had good fun together.  We played games out the back, we helped each other through it.  One of us would cook, the others would help or watch.  During the first lock-down in March and April, we had a paddling pool out the back and we used to throw each other in the water.  We had a barbecue outside with sausages and had a bit of a laugh lighting the fire.  It reminded me and my son Kieran and my wife Marian of when we went camping years ago.  We went camping all around Ireland.  We went to Wexford, Kilkenny, Kerry. It loved Kilkenny because it was a little farm that we were on and Kieran was able to play with all the animals and there was a little gate so he couldn’t get out.  

I found learning online easy because I had a lot of help at home.  If I needed to get on Zoom or needed help with some words, I was able to ask any of the three at home.  I found the confidence to ask them. People who can’t read and write sometimes are afraid to ask some people.  Like I know people who have a son or daughter and they are afraid to even ask them.  They are afraid of what they might say to them, like “are you stupid or something.”  I think people do not understand the problem that we have because they don’t have that problem themselves and they never knew what it was like.  I said to a chap one day, if I gave you a Japanese paper to read, could you read it? That’s how I felt before I got to learn how to read and write.  I would never have had that confidence only I went to Mountjoy Square.  I have no fears now because I can do these things.  I can walk down to the train station and look at the board. I can go to the airport and see what planes to get.  It makes a big difference in your life. 

My hope would be that all students will be able to read and write.  I hope to get away on holidays next year.  I hope to be able to go back and sit in the classroom and study with all the other students, tutors and staff.  It makes life and learning easier because we can sit together and talk about what problems we have with learning.  It makes a big difference to be able to go to the canteen and have a laugh and a joke and a chat.  People will tell me what their problem is and I will tell them mine.  I hope all the students and tutors get back together in real life.  I hope we have a great 2021! 

Behind the Mask: Pat

I would describe myself as optimistic, practical and resilient. I’m quite a positive person most of the time. The first lockdown was definitely easier I think, we had the lovely weather and longer evenings. It was a novelty of sorts I suppose. My children are adults and the two boys live at home. My daughter lives with her partner and is outside my 2 and 5 k zones. It was difficult not being able to visit but at least we had FaceTime etc. and we spoke every day.

My mother lives alone in an apartment on the third floor so no garden to sit in and it was quite stressful early on. She can use FaceTime so we could talk every day but it’s not the same is it? In April she had a fall and ended up in a convalescent home for two months. It sounds odd to say but it actually worked out really well. It was nearer to us and we were encouraged by the hospital to visit and chat to her through the window. We saw her every day and she was very happy and comfortable there and it was a huge weight off my mind. It was also possible to see my daughter too without breaking the rules as she lived nearby and, observing social distances etc., she could visit at the same time.

As far as day to day life was concerned we tried to get out for a walk early every morning and got a few jobs done in the garden, stuff I’d put on the long finger. We still go for that 7am walk and while it’s definitely harder these dark winter mornings, it’s great to get out and see the sun rise when you’re halfway home. When it looked like the restrictions would go on, a spare bedroom was turned into an office and that’s working out well. I’m aware we’re lucky we have the space to do that.

It was difficult trying to engage with students during the first lockdown and I was surprised by the general assumptions that everyone can use or have access to technology. We know this is not the case and the same people were once again suffering most from lack of ability and/or resources to get online. We phoned or used WhatsApp to keep in touch and while some students were able to use technology with lots of support from both tutors and the students’ families, most were totally at a loss.

Since September we focused really hard on getting as many students as possible online, using Zoom, WhatsApp and Google etc. and lending out tablets. It’s been a learning curve for all of us but the students have been amazing and have worked really hard.

It isn’t easy and it’s exhausting at times but we have good fun and try not to get too stressed. They are also very supportive of each other and while it’s not perfect and will never replace the classroom, we’ve managed to work around the limitations.

I first became involved in adult literacy over 25 years ago when I came to what was then the Institute of Adult Education. I got involved in the Inner City Mothers’ Group, a group made up of local mothers who had approached the Institute about providing support to local parents around helping children with homework. Patricia Carroll was very much involved at that time and I was asked to step in to replace Patricia when she took some personal time off. My first class was teaching basic Numeracy. When the institute closed the Inner City Mothers’ Group became part of DALC.

One of my early roles in DALC was as a Family Learning tutor along with Miriam my colleague and we were involved in the early days of Family Learning or Family Literacy as it was called at the time and it still is something I’m passionate about. At the moment I deliver at QQI 4 level but over the years I have delivered courses in a variety of areas such as Numeracy, PIPS, History and Social Studies. It is never boring, always rewarding and I’ve met really wonderful people through my work.

I hate the phrase ‘the new normal’. It isn’t normal and it’s certainly not new, either historically or for other parts of the world. It brings it home how, even though Ireland is far from perfect, we’re very lucky to be living where we are. With a vaccine definitely on the horizon it’s given us a lift and there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully things will get back to the ‘old’ normal soon and we can look back on this time as a blip in our lives and we’ll have learned something about what’s really important…, friends and the simple things. Sounds corny but it’s so true.

Behind the Mask: Mary

My name is Mary. The person behind the mask is generally positive but finding it tough at the moment. To cope I try to live in the moment and take one day at a time.

Initially I did not find the lockdown too difficult. I enjoyed spending time with my family. They are all young adults and we all got along and enjoyed each other’s company. They kept themselves busy by keeping fit and, as they are all boys, they enjoyed playing football together. We also went sea swimming together which we had not done since they were children. We even started some 1000 piece jigsaw challenges. I cooked nice dinners and persisted at baking yeast bread till I perfected my pizza dough and focaccia bread.

My son came home from London and it was a great opportunity to spend time together. I enjoyed gardening and we invested in a hammock and a BBQ and enjoyed outdoor living. I enjoyed the slower pace of life. It was also a time of nostalgia. We looked through boxes of old photos and screenshot them on WhatsApp to family and friends. I was lucky to get to the west of Ireland and enjoyed lovely swims in Galway and Mayo. I even got to spend a few days in Inis Meain, my favourite place in the world.

Picture: Inis Meain

On a sadder note my mother was in a nursing home and we did not get to see her for weeks. Eventually when we did, it was through a window as we were not allowed to go into the nursing home. My mother had dementia and it was very difficult. We celebrated her 88th birthday on Zoom and it was very sad. If someone had told us that in 2020 we would all be wearing masks and we would not be able to see our loved ones, we would not have believed them. Sadly my mother passed away and her sister and two brothers had to say goodbye to her through a window. It was heartbreaking. Fortunately they allowed her immediate family to be at her bedside for her final hours. Myself and my two sisters were with her when she passed. 

Work was very difficult during the lockdown because it is very hard to run a centre remotely. We did our best to move as many classes online as we could. Some tutors and students kept the classes and the learning going, using Zoom, WhatsApp, phone calls and posting work to students. A lot of our students were not set up to work online and it was very challenging. We used the time to upskill staff in using different platforms in preparation for another lockdown. I enjoyed being a learner again and I really valued the Zoom meetings with adult education practitioners from around the country. It was a great opportunity to talk to people that you wouldn’t normally get the chance to. It was a great support during the lockdown. We also had weekly staff Zoom meetings and again it really helped us feel supported and connected.

Since opening at the end of August we have put all the covid protocols in place. We were busy taking temperatures, hand sanitising and everyone was doing their best to stay safe. There were lots of complaints about the cold. Tutors worked very hard to upskill students to enable them to go online. It is a challenge but we are really encouraged by the willingness of the students to embrace the technology. They are all helping each other and sharing helpful tips and ideas. While everyone would love to come to DALC for their class, since the level 5 restrictions were imposed we have had to move all the classes online. The centre is still open for students who need support or need to drop in to collect assignments or homework.

Lessons from the Pandemic:

We have all learned to appreciate what is on our doorstep and I certainly enjoyed my daily walks in the Phoenix Park. We have also reduced our consumption of things that we don’t need, reduced our travel and air miles and thus reduced our carbon footprint that is better for the planet. Neighbourhood and communities are very important and need to look out for each other.

My post pandemiC WISH LIST:

  • The pharmaceutical company that discovers the vaccine distributes it free of charge
  • Stop out-sourcing the care of children and older people to private companies to make big profits
  • Improve our  public services including health , housing and education. 
  • Continue to allow people to work from home
  • Introduce a 4 day week for everyone 
  • Develop local industries and economies 
  • Multinationals pay appropriate levels of corporation taxes. 
  • The return of all the things that bring us joy, live music, meeting family and friends, parties meals out and family gatherings.   

Finally, the pandemic has really shone a light on the inequalities in the world and it has widened the gap between the rich and the poor. I heard it said a number of times that we all might be in the storm but unfortunately we are all in different sized  boats and some are struggling to stay afloat. I would hope that we’ve learned that inequalities hurt everybody. At a local and global level we could work together for a more just and equal society.

Mary is the Director of DALC

Behind the Mask: Cathriona

My mask is Spandau Ballet. I am a die hard fan of the band for 40 years. Their music is really beautiful. They come from London in the UK. They are Tony Hadley, Gary Kemp, Martin Kemp, Steven Norman, John Keeble. Their hits are Gold, True and Through the Barricades.

I am an only child but I have cousins who are like my brothers and sisters. I am a very kind person who thinks of others. I am a very friendly person to people I meet. I see the funny side of life. Because of this, I am creative with singing and art. I have a stammer but music helps me to speak.

I sing at mass in our local parish in Dublin. My faith means the world to me. I love sharing the gift of my voice. People told me that when I sing, I sound like an angel. Music really helps me.

I am always thinking that the world is really beautiful. My favourite comedy is Only Fools and Horses. Walt Disney singing films are very good to watch too. It also like to see the news, the Irish and English news, to see what is happening.

I got very scared when I saw the news about covid. My mammy is medically vulnerable and she can be very sick.

I am very happy Dr. Tony Holohan is back. He is a good doctor to listen to the government guidelines. I trust all the doctors keeping us all safe.

My hope in the world is that they find a cure. We will be able to to back to countries we love going on holidays. Thank you to all the teachers and CE students keeping us safe in DALC.

Behind the Mask: Veronica

Hi. My name is Veronica Brogan. I am the community employment supervisor in the Dublin Adult Learning Centre. I have been working here for 22 years and I love my job. 2020 has been a very different experience for all of us. My washing line is looking very different these days, with lots of reusable masks from my husband, 3 children and myself. Who would have thought this time last year that we would be regularly wearing masks at anytime other than Halloween? Now it is a common sight and we feel safer if those around us are wearing a mask properly.

On March 12th this year our lives changed very dramatically when Leo Varadkar announced a lockdown. We were all told to stay at home, to prevent our healthcare system being overwhelmed by Covid 19. There was very little known about the virus at that time apart from the fact that it was very contagious, so people were naturally very anxious and afraid. For me, I was happy to have extra time to spend at home with my family and we were blessed to have exceptionally good weather and could get out for walks and runs to keep us physically and mentally healthy.

Now 7 months later there is talk of another lockdown as numbers infected by Covid 19 continue to rise. I hope that this will not happen. I hope that the children can continue going to school and that adults can continue learning in their classes.  Many people lost their jobs and businesses during the previous lockdown so I hope this does not happen again. For others the isolation affected their mental health and now with winter drawing in this could have devastating effects.

However, one positive I can take away from this is how technology has helped keep us all connected. I learnt to embrace new technologies in order to be able to work from home and to stay connected with my work colleagues, my extended family and my friends. Suddenly ‘zoom and web ex’ became buzzwords; WhatsApp, video calls, Kahoot quizzes were all new essentials.

I will still always prefer to speak face to face with people but I’m happy to know that I can always make a phone call if I want to speak to someone and a video call if I want to see their face.

No-one knows what the rest of 2020 will hold so let’s look out for each other, build each other up, and hope that 2021 will be a better year. Stay safe and stay well everyone.

Click to listen to Veronica reading her story below:

Students of Mountjoy Square: Glenn

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My name is Glenn and I was born and raised on Dorset Street, Dublin 1.  I’m a former boxer who once shared the ring with olympians such as Paddy Barnes and John Joe Joyce.

In 2012 I left Dublin for Australia with no educational background.  Since then, I set out on a journey I never thought would be possible.  I worked on crocodile farms in Darwin and travelled with carnivals through the west coast of Australia.  I worked in bars in Nicaragua, Barcelona and Cambodia.  I spent two seasons skiing in the French Alps and in the Rocky Mountains in Canada. I lived on Triple Island Lighthouse off the coast of Canada, while hitchhiking over four thousand kilometres to Alaska for Crumlin Children’s Hospital.

In 2017 I lost my best friend to mental illness.  It took losing my best friend to help defeat my own problem with alcohol addiction.

Since I have been sober on 21/07/2018, I have cooked and talked my way into some of the best restaurants in this world.  I have lived inside a castle wall built in the 13th century on an island known as Gotthard in the Baltic Sea.  I have also cooked in Wellington in New Zealand.

Finally, my journey brought me to one of the most secluded islands on earth in the Pacific Ocean.  Unfortunately, I found it was not what I was looking for.

I realised that my dream is to become as aspiring writer. That’s exactly why I am here in the adult education centre.

To get me ready for future education and a masters, I have one to one tutoring and history classes.  Both will benefit my future goals, going back to the fundamentals and basics of the English language before I take a degree.

I think education is key.  In an area where homelessness and addiction is at an all time high, we need to look further for the children of the future and the adults of today.  Education can guide them in the right direction and give them hope of a brighter future and a purpose for living, in whatever they are passionate about.

Written by Glenn, a student in DALC


If it’s not broken, no need to fix it.

dalc building

Not much has changed at the Dublin Adult Learning Centre after returning this year as a student teacher.

I walked up the steps for the first time in 2011. I was greeted with the usual friendly smile from the receptionist when I walked in and it wasn’t long either before I bumped into Mary Maher to say hello to me and the other students walking in too.

Back in 2011, my own journey into adult education was a kind of beginning. There were many gaps to fill with my education after leaving school early.  I was told that DALC is a great place to start. The centre which gave me the confidence to enjoy learning as an adult and I loved some of the courses that were available. History with Pat and Lisa, basic computers with Trish and Leaving Cert English with Ann were some of the classes that I took part in (Ann was one of my favourite teachers, ever!). I loved the whole atmosphere of the school and I could tell that all the tutors were very passionate.

One of the things I loved about the centre when I began there was listening to some of the other students over a cup of tea on the break. They told me how the skills they learned in the centre that they missed out on earlier in life has really opened up their lives and given them confidence and a new perspective .

My latest adventure in education this year was a Higher Diploma in Teaching Adult and Further education in Maynooth. Part of that course was that 100 hours of teaching practice was required in a certified school or learning centre to gain experience teaching in the field. As luck would have it, I bumped into Mary Maher. Mary was so kind in offering me a teaching placement position. This was really wonderful for me; to go back and learn to teach in one of the centres where I began my adult education journey. It was very humbling and rewarding and it turned out to be an amazing experience. Mary signed me up to train with two exceptional teachers, Fionnaigh and Angus. Fionnaigh’s class was Communications Level 4 and Angus was one of the ESOL tutors.  I felt really lucky having two such amazing and competent tutors looking after me and showing me the ropes. There were no flies on Angus either. He is such a great orchestrator of the classroom and a great guy to work with. All his colleagues held him in high esteem for the work he does with his students learning the fundamentals of English and it was a pleasure to learn from him.

Maynooth and DALC – both institutions had a close working relationship together and it was truly rewarding to be able to practice in DALC while I was being taught in Maynooth.

Needless to say, the year went so fast.  I could hardly believe that it was May already and it was coming up to the final classes of my time back in DALC. There was tea, cakes, cards and hugs in an emotional farewell in helping train as a student teacher.

The centre celebrated its 20th anniversary while I was there. Mary reeled in the years for us all, telling the packed audience about how DALC got started up in a response to a need for a literary centre in the heart of North Dublin.  It was lovely too see all the portraits around the centre of the students who learned at DALC over the years, plus it brought back a few memories from my first time there.

It’s a safe bet to say that the next 20 years will be the same at DALC too, which is great news for the students and for adult education too.

By Patrick Casey 

Now I Can Read

I can see things on posters that I’ve never seen in my whole life.  Like before it was just a blank wall. Now I look at signs. You know if you go into a shop and it says – buy one, get one free. They meant nothing to me. I wouldn’t have even noticed them, that’s being out straight. I don’t know how I didn’t poison my child!

I used to go by the labels on the tins. Now I’m seeing all these little things that I’ve never seen before.  It’s amazing.  Like a whole new world has opened up for me. A new window.

When I came in here first, I actually thought there was something wrong with my head.   My tutor learned me little words, small words and the alphabet.  I thought I could never read a book in my life and one day she brought in a book with all the small words in it. I read it. My tutor said “Now, I thought you told me you couldn’t read a book!”  I couldn’t stop laughing at the idea!

I can see things now I have never seen before.

When I came in here first, I couldn’t sleep all night. When I came here first I thought everyone was looking at me. It’s your nerves.  Now I don’t mind who sees me.

It is the best thing I ever done.


dalc resources


The Fear is Real

woman in black long sleeve dress screaming
Photo by Rene Asmussen on


When we are faced with a daunting task, when we have to complete something under pressure or in public, it can be the fear that gets to us first.

We may immediately think it is that the task itself that is difficult. We may adopt a ‘I just can’t’ attitude. Whether it is filling in a form, making a speech at a wedding, trying to use a new phone or tablet, called for jury duty, check in machines at the airport or completing an essay for a college course -we tend to hone in on the difficulty of the task rather then admitting to ourselves that it is simply one thing.  It is the fear of doing it.

But are we tying up our fear with the task itself?

In a number of our classes over the last year, we have been doing one of the most daunting reading and writing tasks of all – form filling.  Traditionally, we would start with reading of the form, putting up some words on the board like ‘surname’, ‘signature’, ‘permanent residence’ before moving on to the following;

  • writing the words up/pre-teaching them
  • putting them on cards and talking about what they mean
  • counting the syllables in the longer words
  • underlining or highlighting them on the form
  • looking them up in the dictionary/a dictionary app or on google
  • photocopy the form lots of times, practice and practice some more.
  • The tutor ‘scaffolds’ the task by highlighting the name and address before moving on to the more difficult bits of the form.

Yet this year in DALC, one group decided to completely change approach and they deliberately dealt with the fear and anxiety head on.  They did not even try to ignore the elephant in the room but greeted him like one the students and handed him at seat the table.   The students all felt fearful of forms and this needed to be talked about before any real learning could take place.


“A group of students and tutors are trying to grapple with the beast that is the HSE medical card form. First to understand it, its language, its meaning, the strange contortion of your personal details required to fill it in. They also struggle with the writing skills required, fitting things that do not seem to fit into boxes, spelling newly acquired addresses, putting unwarranted zeros in dates, losing track of familiar spellings when they have to be written in block capitals. We begin by discussing the emotional reaction to the form, illustrating words (panic, frustration, embarrassment) that we put up words to acknowledge the power of those feelings.

Then we read about the form and pick out the words for clarification – resident, spouse, gender, dependent, co-habit. In pairs the students and tutors mime or act out the words while the others guess which word it is and find it in the form. We talk about the meanings of those words and why they might be on the form. Back in a circle, the tutors ask a question: what did we do? We acted out the words, I can say that word now, it’s only a word but I thought it meant something different. We then make an attempt at filling out the form.”

(Explained by Lisa Kilbride, a tutor in DALC)

One man since told me he was much more confident with forms.  He filled out one in his local Intreo (jobseekers) office.  He was much more relaxed because he had practised  what it was to be afraid and had thought about ways of dealing with that fear.

Thinking about the things that are stopping you from learning can be a difficult but also a useful exercise.  It is something to reflect on over the summer months before tackling a course in September.

The fear is what stops you, but overcoming it is when real learning can take place.  Bring it on!

person signing contract paper
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Looking For The Story Inside



I have an album
where I keep photos
of places I have lived
places I have visited
people I have known
people I have loved
those photos
those films
are not in a book
not in a computer
not even on a memory stick
I keep them wirelessly
in my mind
By Paul Hansford


Every Thursday morning for the last number of weeks, a group have been looking at old photographs in the hope of writing about them.  The white walls of the basement in Number 3 Mountjoy Square are a blank slate, ready to be filled with these pictures, mounted beside the stories, the poems and the memories of the group. The plan is to produce a permanent exhibition of sorts, to bring life to the photographs and create a story from them.

The photographs are mainly of scenes, places and people of 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s Dublin, sourced from local historians, donated from people or taken from newspapers or publications where they have appeared.  For some in the group, they are a familiar picture of their childhood. For others, they know the people in the photographs and talk about what they remember.  For most a photograph inspires a time and a place that they had forgotten about.  We have heard stories of swimming in Spencer Dock, of going into a local shop for sweets like lucky lumps, a stick of rock, a chocolate cigarette.  We have heard about the tight knit communities of the past, how the city was theirs for the taking – collecting old wheels to make a trolley for spinning down hills and over cobblestones, collecting winkles at the beach.  We have heard about mothers hanging out washing and calling from balcony windows to children playing with hoops to ‘come in for their dinner’.

We have heard that our stories are at times different but mostly are all the same.

There is something about looking at an old photo.  There are no words, yet we read it. We make assumptions about the faces staring back at us. We imagine who the people are in it.  We wonder what life was like in the world of the photograph – the shoeless children, the aproned grandmothers smiling as the camera takes a snap. The shoulder-to-shoulder schoolchildren, the surprised old men standing on corners, one with a pipe, looking nonchalantly away from the camera. Or a group of children at the beach. Is the world in the photograph different to our world now and if it is, why?

Everyone has a photograph, people and places they know, of strange characters in the background or curiosities in the foreground. Or if not a photograph, everyone has a memory, a place that they want to write about or learn more from. All of us have questions to be answered – about our family, our community and about our world.

In a way, we ‘read’ photographs to look for the story.  We do the same with the words in a book or in a newspaper article.  We have questions we want answers to. We strive to link what we see to our story. Do we have a similar one? Do we have a different one? What is that about? What is that telling me? What do I understand?

The project has inspired many more questions and avenues of discovery.  What was society like then? How widespread was poverty in the inner city? Why has the area changed so much in the government of Leo Varadkar that has perhaps allowed investors to come in and build fancy new apartments? Someone mentioned that there was a local resident’s community to allow people to air their views. Another asked how much power do locals have anyway about what happens in their street or local area?  One man brought in an article about the housing crisis that we read in the group.

We also had unexpected learning too. Budgeting for one, as we had to work out the cost of buying frames in IKEA! One week a man in the group asked how to trace his family tree. He wanted to find to more about family history on his father’s side.  One woman wrote a story she had forgotten. A story from the dusty corners of her mind about the ballroom in Parnell Street that she frequented in her youth, the place she met her husband. She looked into the middle distance and remembered her youth with a sigh. Her grandchildren were now that age and she concluded that nothing ever changes.

The group have been doing something much more profound and unexpected during this project, having their questions answered and developing their voice and creativity in a supportive environment.  They have begun to unearth a world of possibilities to be read and to be learned about. The world of the personal, the public, a world of education. Learning can open a wealth of conversations – stories to tell and stories to read about. It is only the beginning.