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Volunteer Maureen Cullinane on the power of staying busy, learning the Irish language and life lessons from Steve Jobs!

Maureen Cullinane | Age Action volunteer | Trainer with Getting Started Computer Training
Written by: Maureen Cullinane
Age Action Getting Started Volunteer


Maureen Cullinane is 72 but instead of taking it easy, the Cork woman is learning the Irish language, making radio documentaries, hating housework and channelling her inner Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg to train her peers as part of Age Action’s Getting Started computer training. She writes about her experiences for the Age Action blog.

Maureen Cullinane | Age Action | Volunteering for charity in Ireland

The first real connection I ever had with Age Action was when I was on another programme to learn radio production. It was something Life FM were doing all over the country for over 55s. I was thrown in at the deep end - baptism of fire - on our second day of the course, the lady running the course, Terri Kruschke, said that anyone who wanted to volunteer could go and interview Age Action officials and staff at the opening of their office on Model Farm Road.

I got to interview Eamon Timmins and believe it or not, as I arrived, actually shaking with the nerves, when I saw Eamon I recognised him - I had done a training course for Cork City partnership 10 or 12 years before and he had run a workshop on ageing. I had been very impressed with him that day - I never forgot anything he told me!

When I interviewed him he was very generous. To be honest I had no concept of the extent of the work done by Age Action until that day.

I’ve done plenty of volunteering before and had experience with the V.E.C. teaching computers with Return to Education and in many different areas in hospital in Dunmanway, Kinsale Road Centre for refugees and in Rehab in Cuan Mhuire. So when I heard that Age Action were looking for volunteers for Getting Started, training older people how to use computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones, I had no hesitation there and then on the day to offer to help.

I wasn’t a computer specialist by any means but I was used to dealing wth people learning computers for the first time. Julie Oates from the Getting Started programme was adamant that I knew much more than I said I did - she was very kind!

I’ve had some pupils who had never used a computer before. The first thing I teach them is the difference between their right and their left - what I say is left click is to do it, right click is do what!

Over the last few years things have got a good bit more complicated. Now you have people coming in with iPads, and all the added apps. But I’m still able to help and I’m still enjoying it immensely. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been working with one lady. She wasn’t very good at using her laptop. She had just come back from holidays with her husband and she wanted to write about Greece while they were still in her head and give it to her husband for a Christmas present.

Within the space of two days she documented every single thing she did on her holidays and correlated them with dates and photographs, and not only that she has put them into a PowerPoint presentation. This was a lady I thought I’d be helping with simple things. So within the four weeks of the programme she has come so far. She’s walking on air. If I tell her a shortcut, she’ll make sure to write it down and take note of it. She says she has so many things going on in her life that she needs to know all the shortcuts.

I’m so proud of her. It’s like I gave birth to her - seriously, that’s the way I feel! People tell us their hopes and their dreams, and how nervous they are, and how they’re sorry about this phone, or they’ve got the wrong device. There is a lot of nervousness - people have an insecurity about being older and a fear that they won’t pick things up quickly. As tutors, we have a motto - whenever we hear someone talking themselves down we pipe up, “Only positive here!” I absolutely believe the support the tutors give each other is just as important as the support the tutors give the students.

Volunteering has been brilliant for me. In the past I volunteered with Cork Simon, the St Vincent de Paul and the Irish Heart Foundation.

I qualified in science and maths and did the Higher Dip [in Education] as a backup. I was planning on emigrating to Canada but I ended up falling in love with my teaching practice.

I got married then and at that time as a married woman you wouldn’t be employed very easily. I kept busy with family and we set up a family business too, so there was always plenty going on there. Then when I was about 40 I went back to college and did environmental science and social policy.

I probably got my values from my mother. She was a really good woman - she’s what you would call a lady in every way, except she had no money. I remember when we were children we had a beautiful heavy thick wool blanket with three stripes at the top. It was the most valuable thing we had in the house. But one day there was word that a baby was born down the road, “out of wedlock”, as they said at the time. Well she took a pair of scissors and she halved the blanket with them and brought half the blanket to the girl down the road. She taught us that no matter how little you have you can always give something.

I’m sure that’s some of the reason that I do what I do. I’m also a firm believer that when you do things, one thing always leads to another. That’s how I got involved with Age Action in the first place.

(continued below)

Maureen Cullinane | Age Action | Volunteering for charity in Ireland
Maureen at the new Age Action offices at Melbourne Business Park, Model Farm Road in Cork

The reason I was learning radio production was because I had got an interest in how media works from looking at NHK World Japanese news programme after the terrible Japanese earthquake in 2011. I was glued to the television, I saw that NHK World were looking for monitors to assess their programmes. So I did that - although I got a bit worried in the end because every change I suggested they make they did! Television led to the radio, and that led me to straight to the door of Age Action.

When I’m at home I don’t mind cooking - I know I have to eat good food to keep my brain healthy - but I absolutely hate housework. So I’d rather go out and do something else. If I’m not volunteering I might be doing theatre with the Pyke Theatre Group - I was Mrs Twomey in “Drinks for the House, Mrs Twomey!”. I’m part of a writing group too and have had a poem published recently in the 'Echo' and another thing I’m loving right now is learning the Irish language.

I fell in love with Irish one wonderful summer in Ballingeary in west Cork years ago. There was no money available at the time and if anyone gave you the offer of a job that was a golden opportunity. I went to Touirín Dubh in Ballingeary where they had students coming to stay for the summer. I was doing helping the lady of the house, Máire Ní Cárthaigh. I wasn’t the most communicative young girl back then and I wasn’t even great with making eye contact - I’ve changed a lot I can tell you! - but Máire taught me so much, talking to me in Irish all day long. Part of the deal was that we could go to céilís at night, so I had the best of Irish from morning till night.

So over the last while I’ve been trying to learn the language properly. I go to Gael-Taca on Sullivan’s Quay in Cork City, and I’m working on a small project to record a radio programme about Sean Ó Riordáin. I’m organising a Seán Ó Ríordáin event in Ballincollig Library on December 17th, and I’m going to be interviewing members of An Ciorcal Cainte about him.

You could say I’ve been busy, but sure I had years of doing nothing!

Now I try to make every decision count. I read somewhere that you can only make eight decisions a day - that’s why Steve Jobs wore the same clothes all the time so he wouldn’t be wasting one decision just to dress himself. I’d say it’s the same for Zuckerberg. He’ll probably still be wearing a hoodie when he’s 72!

Would you like to know more about Age Action's Getting Started Computer Training programme - including how to volunteer? Click the button below to get started with Getting Started!

Maureen Cullinane | Age Action | Volunteering for charity in Ireland
Maureen Cullinane as part of The Pyke Theatre Group in Ballincollig





Fantastic, Maureen

Maureen, I'm researching a new novel about a housebound 60+ (US) who seeks out internet Pen Pals to extend his reach. I'll be back at your site looking Irish points of view.

We've been to your beautiful country several times, and included a tour of the west country in one of our books.

I am 80 and it is folks like you who keep me thinking young.

Gil Stewart

You're an inspiration just as your mother was! A wonderful leader to inspire us. Thanks

Great story. Does you family come from Kilcrohane, West Cork?

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Age Based Analysis of Mortgage Arrears Released for First Time

We welcome the publication, by the Irish Times, of data released for the first time by the Central Bank of Ireland that shows the number of people approaching, or already at retirement age, who are dealing wtih significant mortgage debt. The information gives a clearer picture of the worrying situation for Ireland’s ageing population. Simply, a lack of evidence exists on the cost of ageing with less complete data collected about us the older we become. As a result, crucial policy decisions are made without the availability of disaggregated and representative data which can result in discriminatory outcomes. We need an urgent rethinking of how we gather evidence and inform policy that meets the needs of a changing Ireland.

While there has been an assumption that older people close to, and in receipt of, the State pension are generally mortgage-free home owners, it is clear that this is no longer true with many still carrying large mortgages, in mortgage arrears or living in precarious private rentals with no security of tenure in older age. We should all have a choice to age in place which means the creation of age friendly environments, including the provision of support services locally, which enable people to remain in their own homes and in communities for longer; but the changing nature of homeownership, rising cost of living, and the lack of a coordinated policy response to the housing crisis means many people will be facing a very difficult situation in later life. 

Many older people live in the most vulnerable situations in our society. An increasing number are struggling to meet the rising cost of living – in particular costs around rent and mortgages - in the context of a State pension that sees many surviving on incomes only just above the poverty line. Latest CSO EU SILC figures show 1 in 10 older people at risk of poverty. New taxes, and rising prices in recent years have a greater impact on older people generally living on a fixed income with limited opportunities to improve their situation. Budget 2020 saw the income of older person headed households increase by €1.08 per week for those living with another person, and by €6.08 per week for those living alone in older age. It did not offer the majority of older people the support needed to meet the increasing costs of living and it did not offer a concrete plan to support us to age in place.

Ageist attitudes towards working later in life still exist, for example many older people have reported high levels of discrimination during recruitment. Discriminatory mandatory retirement clauses are still in place forcing people out of the workforce earlier than they may wish. These two things undermine people’s ability to continue working in later life whether by choice or necessity. In the context of a buoyant labour market, we urgently need a fundamental shift in how we view and support older workers.

An increasing number of older people are experiencing fear about retirement due to worries about income adequacy. Less than half of those working have a private or occupational pension to support them in later life. While Age Action welcomes the publication of the recent autoenrolment scheme by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection which will see increased pension coverage for more than an estimated half a million workers, the current design will further drive existing pension inequalities unless there is a targeted intervention to include people in low paid jobs, particularly women and long term unemployed.

Our economy has been built on the backs of those already in, and approaching, older age: these are the same women and men who lived through the Marriage Bar, shouldered several recessions and are now dealing with the accumulated disadvantages. Successive government policies have failed to adequately plan and provide for an ageing population which will ultimately impact on all of us throughout our lives.