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:

Engaging with Ulysses in the Classroom

The superior, the very reverend John Conmee S. J, reset his smooth watch in his interior pocket as he came down the presbytery steps. Five to three. Just nice time to walk to Artane. (Episode 10, Wandering Rocks from Ulysses by James Joyce)



There is no doubt that Ulysses is often referred to as a ‘difficult book to read’, described as confusing, perhaps elitist, not for the everyday man but for the lofty professor. For this reason, the idea of approaching it with a group of adults who are gaining more confidence with their reading can seem a risky prospect. Yet sometimes engaging with the ‘hard books’ can be the most rewarding and liberating of accomplishments. What an achievement to wrestle the animal that is Ulysses, tame it and shape it into something of your own!

Since December 2018, a group on Thursday mornings here in DALC have been working on an art piece that illustrates Episode 10 of Ulysses. The group worked independently for the last few months on creating a map that shows Father Conmee making his way around Dublin in the afternoon and the various characters he meets. It details the street as mentioned in Ulysses, from Gardiner Street, Mountjoy Square to Newcomen Bridge.

The project began from a workshop on Pre-Texts delivered by one of our tutors Lisa Kilbride. Pre-Texts is a method of engaging active readers through finding creative or artistic ways of tackling difficult texts. Here are Lisa’s reflections on using Pre-Texts on this project:

“Much of my focus in teaching literacy is on reading functional everyday texts, but people also need to be able to engage with more complex texts in order to deal with bigger issues affecting them.

The literacy aim of Pre-Texts is to get people to engage with complex texts, ones that are perhaps too difficult for them to read without support, in order to make them their own.
The title Pre-Texts is mischievous. If, instead of treating “important” writers with great reverence, we take their work and engage with it creatively, the power is shifted. In the process of making something new, we can think critically about the text, about ourselves and about our world.

The process is very engaging for students, and the tutors are participants rather than instructors. Pre-texts is an attempt to have tutors and students act together to find meaning in a text.

The map making activity was greeted with great enthusiasm and the participants got totally engaged in making a quite large model of the journey. We are all connected with the places in the text. DALC is in number 3 Mountjoy Square, so the journey in the text begins around the corner and passes along the square. One of the participants lived on Mountjoy square as a child and they all live in the areas mentioned – Fitzgibbon Street, along the North Circular Road, near the Five Lamps and the North Strand.

The students have been interested enough to continue with the creative work without the project being led by a tutor. It is useful to know about Ulysses and James Joyce if you live in this area. We often get stopped outside DALC by tourists lost on the Ulysses trail. The students enjoy knowing a bit about Joyce and being able to give directions to North Great Georges Street, which is nearby and the location of the James Joyce Museum. One of my aims was to diffuse the power of Ulysses as a high status cultural object. It is seen as difficult and unreadable by the ordinary person. I think that we have seen that it is only ink on paper and that we need not fear it. The students may not read any more of the book, but they can certainly discuss the early pages of The Wandering Rocks episode. The purpose of the using Pre-Texts here was also to take Joyce’s story and to use it to make our own story. Just as Joyce did, we can also create a story about the landmarks and characters of our Dublin. I hope that we are on our way to achieving this.”



The group interpreted it as their own from the words and images used by Joyce, mapping out the journey Father Conmee took in the text. The map below illustrates Episode 10 to include the streets, Mountjoy Square Park, the tram, the barge, the shops and buildings, the characters from Ulysses, dressed as described by Joyce:


The group chose phrases and lines from the text and ‘layered’ it onto the piece:


The text was used to prompt more writing and discussion about their own memories of the area, the places and people from their childhood:


For more on pre-texts see:


Discovering Words

This is a story written by one of our students Paul.  He describes what it felt like to come to reading and writing classes.  Paul is a fantastic student and loves to do art, gardening and making things in his spare time.

His story powerfully captures what it feels like to come back to learning:

Paul H



Lasting Impression – Reflections of teaching practice in DALC

dalc building

My first experience in DALC was tinged with a certain degree of sadness as I instantaneously recalled my parents.  Both were born literally within a stone’s throw of DALC and in common with many of the current learners of similar vintage in DALC, the zenith of their educational attainment was, if fortuitous, to pass the ‘Primary Cert’.  Such ‘accreditation’ qualified them for employment in some of the precarious sectors characteristic of a bygone era where childhoods were all too swiftly replaced by transition to premature adulthood.  Given this, I introspectively speculated that I would be able to resonate with those endeavouring to improve their lives by attending DALC.  However what did surprise me was the extent of this resonance.

My first experience as a facilitator was in a communications class and it was a real eye-opener.  As biographies are shaped by our histories, being the child of immigrant parents and having experienced the life of a reluctant immigrant, I could again empathise with the plight and struggles faced by the new nationals attending this course.  It really impressed how much can be taken for granted, and I include myself here, regarding literacy issues.  What also really struck me was the candour and humility shown when some in the class revealed, each of their own volition, their experiences of the Irish education system.  On reflection and without exaggeration, I envisaged that the approach to those few steps leading up to number three must have been akin to embarking on a journey of Odyssean proportions for some. Particularly for those striving to overcome the fears and anxieties acquired in previous settings.  However once this small step was made, giant leaps abound from a learning perspective.

My other co-facilitation is in the internet skills class. On my third session, and due to unforeseen circumstances, I was required to facilitate ‘solo’.  It was now my turn to embark on a potential Odyssean journey.   This time I do exaggerate! The staff assuaged any concerns I had and advised me to let a roar if I was struggling with anything.  This particular ‘backstop’ option totally reassured me.   This was probably the best thing that could have happened and has stood me in good stead in my teaching practice since.  While it may have been a bit hectic to begin with, things soon settled down and all went well.  I was even asked back the following week!  This proved an invaluable learning curve as it has shown me the importance of being continuously cognisant of being able to deal with unanticipated situations.  A feature of adult education can be its unpredictability, be it in the guise of fluctuating class sizes or technological gremlins.  This reinforced the need to be able to adapt and cope at short notice and in the best manner possible.

Should I be effective to a grandparent garnering skills to help a grandchild with homework or allowing a better understanding of the ever increasing pervasive nature of the technological world we live in, my efforts will not be in vain.

The mother oft remarked “education, no matter what type, is no burden to carry”.  However without it, the burden can become overwhelming. Hopefully I can contribute in some small way to lightening the load.

By Thomas Moore (current student of Higher Diploma in Further Education, NUI Maynooth)

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