We recall Linda’s story of struggle and success on International Women’s Day. If anyone knows her, please contact us as, if it is possible, we would love to re-interview Linda for ‘Changing Ireland’.
In 2001, we featured an interview with Linda Walsh from The Liberties in Dublin and she appeared smiling on our front cover. At the time, other publications portrayed anti-poverty work in a bleak style. By contrast, Linda’s smile showed what winning was like.
Originally from Clondalkin, she had been written off by her headmaster who told her family, when she was an adolescent, that she was never going to go far. I remember to this day Linda telling me how she felt about that.
Linda faced poverty, gender inequality and class division. She grew up without many opportunities, left school early, worked in what we now call the gig economy and became a lone parent when she was 22. Though she became depressed when pregnant, she never stopped working and the birth of her daughter (Niamh) spurred her onwards.
She rose above it all to become an empowered and inspiring leader in the historic Liberties area of the capital.
In fact, she was the ideal person for her leadership role. She had real-life experience of the issues people faced, she lived in the area and she had volunteered locally and studied community development. Many others have followed a similar path.
Her realism, her cheery outlook and her belief helped us to reach out to readers with a story that conveyed what is so good about community development.
I remember clearly0 meeting Linda in her office on the second floor of a block of flats, shortly after she was appointed project co-ordinator of School Street Family Resource Centre.
The day I met her she was still pleased to have proven her former headmaster wrong. That man had demoralised her at a pivotal time in her life, but she proved him wrong.
The story was published in our second edition and in recent years we made calls and googled, but without finding Linda. She may have moved abroad. School Street FRC is still going strong.
If anyone knows her, please contact us as, if it is possible, we would love to re-interview Linda for ‘Changing Ireland’.
In the meantime, in honour of International Women’s Day, we reprint Linda’s story below. You can access the full 2001 edition (which includes a half-dozen more pages on women’s struggles) via our archive.
– Allen Meagher
An early school leaver who proved the head wrong
Linda Walsh loves the job she has today. She strolls to work in two minutes, her colleagues care for each other, she is on a career path and the work is of benefit to the people in her community. She works in a flats complex
“I just landed on my feet when I started here,” she declared. “I thought I would end up in a job like factory work. I have surprised myself with what I can do. But I wanted to learn.”
From Clondalkin, Dublin, Ms. Walsh left school at the age of 14, worked in a variety of low-skilled, poorly-paid jobs – including on a building site – then became a lone-parent in her 20s. Feeling the weight of her new responsibilities, she turned her fortunes around by applying herself to doing courses.
Six years ago, she started on a Community Employment scheme and soon became a dedicated staff member of School Street Family Resource Centre (FRC), based in a flats complex in The Liberties, Dublin. The area was known a decade ago as “the chemist shop of Dublin”, though that is all changed now, and Ms. Walsh’s story epitomises the road taken by numerous community workers who come from a background of personal experience of exclusion and/or poverty.
Ten weeks ago, she started in a new position at School St. Family FRC and she is still glowing.
“I love my job. I love the people I work with, they are like friends. … At the beginning I was just an employee. I started part-time on a C.E. (Community Employment) scheme, became full-time with the J.I. (Jobs Initiative) scheme and now I’m project administrator. It’s good that it works that way – people from the community working in the community. I am still learning every day. At the moment, I’m doing the Community Development Leadership Course, Level 2.
A bookie might have given good odds against Ms. Walsh going far when she was an adolescent and started mitching from school, “The inspectors came looking for me. I’d go to school again, but I wouldn’t learn.”
When she was 14, at the end of first year in secondary school, Ms. Walsh left.
“I wasn’t interested in school. When I was in 6th class the headmaster told my mother that I had a brain but would never use it. That did knock my confidence. My mother had six girls and one boy and I was more trouble than all of them put together. I had a friend in secondary school and we were both giddy, we were more often in trouble than anything else.
“After I left school, I worked in sewing factories, then hairdressing. The money was terrible. I even worked on a building site for six weeks to make money. I did waitressing – I have a cert in silver service waitressing. I worked in Memorex (factory) but just left there, I don’t know why. I worked in a toy wholesalers. I had 14 jobs in all and I wouldn’t put all of them on my C.V.
“And then I got pregnant at 22. When I became pregnant I was very down and depressed. I worked through my pregnancy – if I didn’t work I think I would have been suicidal. When I had my baby something changed for the better. I knew then I would have to get a good job. At first being a lone-parent was hard, but I got loads of support from my family.
Ms. Walsh’s daughter, Niamh, was one-and-a-half when she started work part-time in School St. Family Resource Centre as a receptionist/secretary – except she had nearly no secretarial skills.
“I couldn’t do nothing, I lied my way in at the end of the day. But I did every course I could because I wanted to work. I got Niamh into a crèche. After two years, the C.E. scheme was up, but my assistant supervisor left her job. I went for it, got it and did it for three-and-a-half years. And now I’m the administrator.”
“At the end of the day I matured, I knew I wasn’t stupid. And I knew I could teach other people things.
“From eight years ago to now, I see a big difference in myself. My confidence was very low, but it has built up over the years when I was on the Community Employment scheme. And people gave me the chance… I got working with Leo (Scales) and Elaine (***) and I’m assistant director for the FRC, a limited company.
“The teamwork here is great, you meet a lot of new people in this job. Residents come to us with all kinds of complaints. If the Family Resource Centre wasn’t here, a lot of good things would never happen. Even simple things – like people leave their keys into us for minding if a delivery van needs to drop something off in their flat during the day and they’re at work. We provide a lot of social welfare information. A lot of people in the flats know me now, though I keep to myself after work.”
“In my spare time, I swim, go to the pictures, go to pubs and clubs. And I go to England three or four times a year because I have three sisters living in London. It’s a very active life I suppose, now that I think of it.
“Community Development is great – it encourages people to go back into education and boosts their confidence. I’d encourage anyone to get back into education, just because you might have a child you shouldn’t let that get to you.”
Linda Walsh has proved her point.