Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

No qualifications for 40 years, now the grans are graduates

Kate McGahey (58) from Twinbrook and Marion Malloy (57) from Dunmurry celebrate with their mother May Brownlee

They thought they would never see the day, but 40 years after they left school with no qualifications two Belfast sisters have graduated from one of Northern Ireland's top universities.

Grandmothers Kate McGahey (58) and Marion Malloy (57) were celebrating their university success just days after Marion's daughter Grainne graduated from the University of Ulster in occupational therapy.

Both women said they "loved" their university experience and would "recommend it to anyone".

After leaving school in 1969 and 1970 the sisters said they weren't encouraged to stay in education and went out to get jobs and start their families.

But once their children got older they thought they would give school another try.

They signed up for O-levels, and once they completed those they were "bitten by the learning bug".

Kate went on to do GCSEs and an NVQ before the pair took part in an access course.

From there, university beckoned.

The pair signed up for a part-time degree in modern history and social studies at Queen's in 2006.

"We worked part-time and we both have families, but we found the part-time study really suited us," said Marion.

"For me personally, I loved the classes and I loved meeting the tutors and the staff - I loved everything except the essays.

"They were a struggle, but being sisters we were great support for each other.

"If one of us was having a difficult time we supported each other."

But all the hard work was worth it in the end.

And as they celebrated their achievement, Kate said they still couldn't believe it.

"We never thought we'd see this day, and we're still sort of pinching ourselves," she said.

But the mother-of-four and grandmother-of-six said she would "recommend anybody to do it" and revealed she had inspired her daughter-in-law and her mother to start a part-time degree later this year.

"It's never too late," she said, adding that with the pension age rising there were more opportunities for people to pursue their interests.

"There's no problem now changing careers in your 50s."

And the sisters are not finished yet.

Kate is hoping to begin a diploma in Irish in September, building on her experience as a classroom assistant in an Irish-medium school.

"We'll keep going, this will not be the end of it," she said. "But we'll not do anything as tough again, it'll be more for pleasure."

Their 81-year-old mother, May Brownlee, was also there to share the day and was "delighted" to see her daughters in their gowns receiving their degrees.

"It was hard for them because they were rearing their children and working," she said. "So I'm delighted for them and they're happy themselves, and so are their children, they all appreciate it and so do I.

"I'm just sorry that their daddy isn't here to see them, but he's with us in spirit."

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