When John Mullan from Dungiven says it has taken him a while to graduate, he really isn’t joking.
At the age of 82, John is proof that it really is never too late to learn because this week he graduated from the University of Ulster with his daughter Maria and grandson Odhrán Mullan.
There is nothing that is impossible. You find a way of doing it. You just have to put your mind to it.Graduate John Mullan, aged 82
“The young people were great craic,” said John of his fellow students at Magee. “They never treated me like an old person.”
The trio graduated from Magee with a Diploma in Irish Language, and all with distinction.
For Maria, learning the Irish language from scratch was a struggle at times, but she found great support in her father.
“He was great, a really good leaning tool,” said Maria.
Odhrán, aged 25, said learning alongside his grandfather and his aunt was a special experience.
“I suppose I would be a wee bit lazy because when you get home from work, you’re tired and maybe don’t feel like you have the energy to do things, but they kept encouraging me and, so, we kind of fed off each other,” says Odhrán.
Last Tuesday they donned their gowns to graduate together. It was a proud and emotional day for the family, an occasion that would have filled John’s late wife, Anna with pride.
Maria is chuffed to bits about the family’s achievement, in particular that of her dad. She joked, however, her dad benefited a little more than she and Odhrán did as he got a free bus pass and a student card.
John said he has always believed that anything is possible, you just have to decide what you want, put your mind to it and make it happen.
“I was surprised I reached this point. I thought to myself, ‘I’m here. This is a wee bit special,” he said of graduation day, adding with a laugh: “I know, I waited long enough for it!”
Maria will make good use of her new qualification as classroom assistant at Gaelscoil Neachtain in Dungiven, and with her involvement in Glór Dhún Geimhin. For Odhrán, the diploma was a matter of improving his skills as he’d already picked up a lot of conversational Irish through his job as festival organiser and development and arts manager at Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin.
John, who defies his age looking at least two decades younger thanks to a healthy lifestyle and a daily walk at Banagher Dam, will continue to teach Irish classes at his home once a week.
John is, however, quick to say ‘teach’ is a bit of a stretch, and really it’s more conversation and craic, as well as an opportunity for him to learn.
John paid tribute to his lecturer Neil Comer at Magee and to his fellow students. He says his achievement has re-affirmed the one belief he has carried through life.
“The one thing I have always said is ‘there is nothing that is impossible. You find a way of doing it. You just have to put your mind to it’,” said John.
Full story in Tuesday’s Journal.