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My Slightly Tenuous Connection to Seamus Heaney by Fran Tyrrell

Writing.ie | Magazine | Mining Memories | Tell Your Own Story
Fran Tyrrell

Fran Tyrrell

I gave Seamus Heaney a grant once.  At least I think I did.  If I did my job right.

I started working in the Department of Foreign Affairs in November 1985, and after six months in the Passport Office, where I actually ‘handwrote’ a few hundred passports, I then started working in Cultural Section from May 1986 until November 1986, shortly after I left school.

I worked with great people, but I was a shy eighteen-year-old.  Part of my remit at the time was giving grants to Irish people to promote ‘Irish Culture’ abroad.  I am sure I was just in the filing application process, but I do remember that I had to phone applicants to chat about the process and I remember that one of these applicants was Seamus Heaney.

I had started working as a Temporary Clerical Trainee, a new initiative from the Civil Service to employ 1,000 trainees, at a grade just ‘below’ the then Clerical Assistant.  I had completed my Leaving Certificate in June of 1985, earning enough points for a place in the National Institute for Higher Education (now Dublin City University) for a Biotechnology Degree but for various reasons not least of all that I wanted to ‘escape’ the education system, I opted for completing a one-year secretarial course.  The various reasons for doing this were – this was a good option for ‘women’ in those days.  I hadn’t got a clue.  I loved learning but wasn’t really a good student.  I was clever but also wanted to be part of the ‘crowd’ so I messed a bit more than I should have in school.  I also had an older sister who was a good student, and I was constantly compared to her, so I guess I rebelled a bit too – maybe my first (unbeknown to myself at the time) rebellion.

Two months into the secretarial course and one of my friends, whose dad worked in the Civil Service at the time, said that there was a new initiative for recruiting new trainees.  They were taking on 1,000 trainees and paying them £60 per week, I think the entry-level rate for a Clerical Assistant (similar grade) was around £85 per week.  The idea behind the initiative was that at the end of the year, 10% would be kept on as Clerical Assistants.  Of course I went for the job.  I wanted to be able to by things for myself.

The secretarial course was good, but again it wasn’t me.  We learned shorthand – I still have all my notebooks – yeh right!  We also learned typing – which obviously was part of my journey, and I am very proficient on the keyboard now.  At the time we had the big monstrosities of typewriters – the letters were covered, we had to focus our gaze above the blackboard where there was a large poster of a keyboard.  We needed to know where the keys were without looking down.  I still remember the typing drills – ‘frfvf   jujmj’ etc. and as I say it was a great skill to have.  And it helped me later on when I moved to the Department of Social Welfare and spent most of my days on ‘data entry’.

Yes, I was one of the ‘lucky ones’ and after a year as a trainee, I was employed as a Clerical Assistant.  I remained in the Civil Service for eleven years; when I resigned, I was a Senior Computer Programmer.  At the time I was also studying for a Degree in Information Technology at Dublin City University – where I had initially got the place after leaving school.  If I had stayed on in the Civil Service, I would be due to retire in five years after serving over forty years.  Slightly scary!  But sitting at a desk all day wasn’t my favourite part of the day – not at that time.  I had a great time in the Civil Service, I met so many wonderful people.  But I was also very quiet.

Most of my day now is sitting at a desk but it is my choice, and I am doing what I love.  Writing.  A beautiful Irish culture!

(c) Fran Tyrrell

About the author

Fran Tyrrell is a writer who writes in many genres, both fiction and non-fiction. Fran is also a sports, lifestyle, and wellness coach who is currently working as a personal trainer. Fran was a finalist in the Woman’s Way summer short story competition in 2004. She lives in Co. Meath with her son, two cats and puppy. On most days, Fran can be found in the garden, creating her oasis at home. She also dabbles in painting and other creative pursuits. In her free time, she loves reading and walking in nature.

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