Mary O’Rourke’s de Valera memory features in new book

Athlone’s Mary O’Rourke features in a fascinating, new book ‘When I was your age’ which set out to interview the grandparents of Ireland, and to hear both their memories and their words of wisdom.

Grandmother to six children, Mary relays a fascinating account of her youth in Athlone and tells how her determination to go into politics sprang from a visit to the O’Rourke family home by Éamon de Valera.

The highlight of her career was, for Mary, her five-year stint as minister for education. “I held different ministries and that, but I really loved education. I felt like you could really do some good with it,” Mary said.

Like many of the interviewees, she thinks things are tougher for kids nowadays than when she was young.

“Our world was simpler,” she says, recalling things such as cycling in from the Hodson Bay to play with her friend in town; attending tennis club dances, and attending the annual drama festival.

Mary is not the only Westmeath voice that features in this fascinating book: Bernadette McDonagh gives an amazing insight into life as a young Traveller, sleeping in tents, or with a sister and two aunts, in the back of her grandfather’s Escort van.

Born in Westmeath, and reared mostly in Finglas, Bernadette said she spent summers travelling Ireland: “It was a wonderful childhood,” she recalls, describing the innocent thrill of exploring “big green fields” and little streams; playing among bales of straw while the adults would sell radios and watches and sheets and grey blankets at the side of the camps.

Though the 50-year-old is a grandmother, she will be remembered as one who enjoys trampolining with her grandchildren!

Another high profile interviewee is former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who speaks surprisingly about his love of gardening and his bond with his grandchildren.

Holder of an allotment in Malahide, Bertie has it divided up into sections, each named after one of his grandchildren: “I was determined that my grandchildren would not think that food grew on supermarket shelves, already wrapped!” he tells journalist Valerie Cox in her latest book which is available now in good bookshops.

The now-71-year-old Bertie uses the allotment to show his six grandchildren how and when to grow cabbage, potatoes, lettuce, onions, scallions, and even tomatoes and grapes.

In return they figure out his phone for him!

There are many interviews in the book, each with a fascinating story. Some of the interviewees are public figures, some are not, and the author has done a tremendous job in tracking down such a variety of people and drawing such great reminiscences from them.

'When I was Your Age' is published by Hachette Books.