not a member? click here to sign up
I life less ordinary
In the final months of his battle with cancer, TONY GREGORY sat down with Hot Press to discuss his life and career. Knowing it would be his final interview he was in a reflective frame of mind.
Jason O'Toole, 23 Jan 2009
What ambitions did you have during your youth?
I didn’t particularly want to teach, but my mother wanted me to be a teacher. My mother herself had almost got to the stage where she was going to train for teaching – but because they were in a large family she had to leave school and go to work at 16 years of age and earn some money for the family. In any case, I did the exam for St Pat’s in Drumcondra, oblivious to this university thing. And a Christian Brother – a very decent man – when he was talking to us in the ‘B’ class in O’Connell’s, which was the scholarship class from Saint Canice’s, about what would we do when we’d leave school, told us not to be thinking in terms of university, that it wasn’t for us. That we weren’t cut out for that – that was for a different class of person. And if we wanted to teach, apply to the training college in Drumcondra for primary teaching.
So, what eventually inspired you to apply for university?
I was told a few months before the Leaving Cert that some of the kids in O’Connell’s were going to London to work during the summer to pay for their fees in UCD, to be secondary teachers. So, I checked this out and decided to go with them to work in Wall’s ice cream factory. I did night work for three or four months of the summer. You’d earn a fair bit of money compared to what you’d get here. At the very last minute I applied for UCD to do a BA. Once you had the fee, at that time I don’t think there was a whole lot of problem getting in. That’s how I ended up doing a degree in UCD and became a secondary school teacher.
What type of character were you growing up?
In school, I was a very quiet type. I would describe myself as sort of shy. In UCD, I played no part – good, bad or indifferent. A lot of students, even then, used to go for coffee. I hadn’t got the price of coffee. That may sound strange now, but at that time it wasn’t. If I did have the price of coffee I’d be fucked if I was going to spend it on coffee! I didn’t drink at the time – I didn’t have any money to drink! To be honest, if you live in the centre of Dublin and you’re cycling to your lecture at 9am or 11am and coming home for your lunch, you had a totally different experience of university life compared to somebody coming up from Offaly or wherever. I simply went to lectures and, afterwards, went to the library to borrow books for studying.