Ainna Fawcett-Henesy centre, with Liz Kelly and Professor Joseph O'Connor, UL
'WORRYING about being 70 in my class, and nearly 50 years older than my peers, was totally irrelevant,' said Ainna Fawcett-Henesy, who this Wednesday was the most senior graduate of the University of Limerick's Master of Arts in creative writing.
Her graduation, she said, marked the achievement of a life-long ambition.
“It was a dream come through," she told the Limerick Leader upon completion of the nine-month programme, carried out under teachers that included acclaimed authors Joseph O'Connor and Donal Ryan.
While Ainna was the oldest graduate from the MA in creative writing, a spokesperson for UL said that she was not their oldest graduate overall in their winter ceremonies, with 1,544 people graduating in four faculties this week.
Ninety-two people conferred this week are aged 50 or over, 13 of whom are over 60 years of age.
“I'm really, really happy," said Ainna, from the South Circular Road. "But it was a tough year, and there were times when I said 'I can't do this anymore'. And then you'd get a burst of energy again, and get re-motivated.
“The workload was phenomenal. You had to read a couple of books a week, and then go in and be able to discuss it and analyse it. It was full on. But I loved it. The camaraderie of the group, and being worried about being 70 was totally irrelevant. Age didn't even come into it.
“You were just part of a fabulous group of 12. It was just magical. I loved student life and going to The Stables bar.
“Most students were 25 or 30, and there was one who was 40, so I was nearly 50 years older than most of them, but they told me that they never saw me as anything more than a 30 year-old,” she said.
“Maybe I brought some life experiences to the class that 20-somethings wouldn't have had, and there was three Americans and one Australian in the class who added a whole other dimension.”
The All We Shall Know author Donal Ryan was, she said, “a great ally to us”, and he, in turn praised her as “brilliant”.
“We were really lucky to have him. He was just such a relaxed guy, and had a completely different approach to Joseph O'Connor. You could go in to his [Ryan’s] office and scream to him about your work.”
Some who critiqued their works were “brutal” in their appraisal, while she said Ryan's experience in getting published - after receiving 47 rejections for his first work - has helped build their knowledge of the world of publishing.
“I would recommend it to others, but there's no point thinking it's not hard work. It was much harder than I thought it would be. I was often up til 3am trying to get the work done, and weekends didn't exist for me.”
The former nursing advisor for Europe with the World Health Organisation (WHO) has written some of her memoirs as part of her 18,000 word dissertation, and is already in talks with a prospective publisher.
After completing a number of online writing courses, last year Ainna won the Bealtaine/Age & Opportunity creative writing bursary at UL.
To celebrate its 20th anniversary last year, Bealtaine, which supports creativity in older people, in association with the Creative Writing programme at UL and Listowel Writers’ Week, made available a scholarship worth €3,000 to applicants aged 60 plus.
She submitted some 3,000 words and was thrilled that Frank McCourt chair in creative writing at UL, Professor O’Connor, liked her writing. “He’s my inspiration really as a writer,” she said.
“Writing is in my bones now and it’s a completely different world to what I’ve been used to for the past 40 years, so it’s very exciting.
“I’ve always been an avid reader and vowed that when I retired I wanted to spend every single day, just reading, catching up on all the books I never got time to read when I was working.
“The world has been my oyster and I’ve loved every minute of it.
She said when she announced to friends to she was embarking on the course people thought she was “crazy” and said “At your age!”
“I said to Joseph O’Connor ‘Will I be the oldest person doing the course?’”
“He said ‘You’ll be the most experienced’.”