89-year-old Liam is a computer whizzkid

Liam Harkin with his City and Guilds qualification. (3012PG65)
Liam Harkin with his City and Guilds qualification. (3012PG65)

Liam Harkin brings a whole new meaning to the term mature student.

The Oakfield pensioner is living proof that age is no barrier in the pursuit of education by achieving top marks in his City & Guilds examinations.

Liam, who turns 90 next summer, has just received confirmation that he has secured credits in various computer-related skills including proficiency in using the internet, e-mail and word processing.

Liam, who left school at 14, achieved his City & Guilds success after attending classes at the North West Regional College (NWRC) - or, as Liam refers to it, the ‘Tech’.

Liam - who’s planning to resume his studies at the NWRC in the New Year - has experienced more of life than most of us can imagine.

From working in a shirt factory to pulling pints in the Don Bar, Liam has seen many changes in Derry over the years.

Born in 1922 - the seventh of 16 children - Liam is a native of Howard Street in the old Long Tower district of the city.

“I left school when I was 14 and moved on to the local Tech,” he recalled.

“My mother was always insistent that we were well educated and, even after I started work in a shirt factory, she made me take night classes.

“At night time, my mother would make all the children sit around the table together and the older ones would have to help the younger ones with their homework.”

After years working in the Derry rag trade, Liam - a proud father of six children, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren - decided to start up his own family business.

The Strelma Factory on Abercorn Road was a small but, in its heyday, a thriving operation, with around 60 staff and 20 outworkers.

The business operated for 25 years but, eventually, was forced to close as a result of cheap foreign imports.

Liam, of course, is synonymous with the Don Bar on Creggan Hill, working as a barman in the famous pub for more than 20 years.

Once asked why he was still working in the ‘Don’ aged 80, Liam replied: “To me, working in the bar is not just a way to pass time - I love the buzz of the place.”

The 89-year-old is now looking forward to the New Year and having a look at the NWRC’s prospectus to see if there are any courses that tickle his fancy.

“I think it’s important to keep the mind active,” he says. “I just enjoy learning new things.”