A Day in the Life: Úna Quinn


LIFE LESSONS Retired Westport teacher, Úna Quinn. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

I am a busy retiree so I always have little notes of my plans for the day. They could involve anything from reminders about an exercise class to Italian lessons, a Bridge weekend or, indeed, a night at a choral or orchestral concert. I always ensure I have a good breakfast every morning. It could be anything from smoked salmon and homemade brown bread to porridge with lots of those healthy seeds and my neighbour, Henry Horkan’s honey, or eggs in all sorts of shapes and forms. That is usually around  9am on winter mornings, although if the skies are grey and the rain is beating a rhythm on my bedroom window it is nice to cosy up with my book for an extra 15 minutes.
If it happens to be a Wednesday or Friday morning, I head off to my Fitness Sixties Joint Mobility class at Westport Leisure Centre. It is run by physiotherapist, Julie Moore, and she is a brilliant teacher. The gentle exercises are geared towards older people and awaken every part of your body without being overly vigorous. The classes are so popular now that they are considering starting a third one. The Latin term comes to mind: Mens sana in corpore sano – a healthy mind in a healthy body. As you get older you can lose confidence in your ability to move, this class energises you and restores this confidence.
I’m usually ready for a good lunch on my return home. I always ensure I have a healthy meal too and prefer to eat at home usually. I make homemade vegetable soup and brown bread and when the season is right use some produce from my raised-bed in the back garden.
Myself and my friend, Evelyn Reilly meet regularly in the afternoons to do online classes and practise our Italian. The meetings are the continuation of an Italian class we attended some years ago in GMIT Castlebar. I suppose my interest in this beautiful colourful language comes from my passion for music and opera. It is over a decade ago since I completed a PhD on the subject of old Irish songs. While it was a labour of love for me researching this subject, my conferral was tinged with sadness as my beloved Paschal was ill in Galway at the time and died a month later in January 2007. We were great companions and as I had also retired from teaching in Scoil Phádraig here in Westport too at the time, I knew I needed to embrace these new circumstances with a positive  attitude.

Passion for music
Music has always been my passion and I still teach piano to my grandchildren and recently retired from directing Harmonica, the Mayo Retired Teachers’ Choir. Our rehearsals took place in Swinford as it was central to members who came from Ballycastle to Louisburgh, Ballinrobe to Ballina.
Before Christmas I went to Handel’s Messiah in the Basilica in Knock. I was very proud of Cór Mhaigh Eo’s involvement alongside Our Lady’s Choral Society, Dublin, and the Ballina Chamber Choir. The music and performances were exceptional and they had that wonderful Director, Prionsías Ó Duinn.
No matter how busy I am, I will ensure I have my potatoes, two veg and meat or fish in the evenings. Last night , for example, I was at a  committee meeting of Muintir Cathair na Mart. We meet in the evenings and chat in Irish; there are no rules and we could talk about anything from religion to politics. Sometimes we organise a  formal talk by an invited specialist and it is so stimulating to share their scholarship. We went to Inis Meáin last year and it was magical as we gathered at Synge’s chair and read one of his poems.
I’m very interested in politics and, of course, I am following all the Brexit twists and turns as well as Donald Trump’s theatrics. I definitely think that there is a shift towards breaking the political mould – whether that is being over-exaggerated by the media is a point worth discussing. I am uneasy about what is happening in the US and Europe because I don’t know where it is going to lead. Trump frightens me but I believe the inherent goodness of the American people will prevail.
If I am not out at my regular Bridge game and have had enough of the political dramas of the day, I love nothing better than to take my book to bed with me. I read for both information and relaxation and have a Kindle as well as a house full of books. I’m reading Albert Einstein’s ‘The World as I see It’ at the moment but am also dipping in to ‘Kindling the Flame: 150 Years of the INTO’ by Niamh Puirséil. Once a teacher, always a teacher!      

In conversation with Áine Ryan

Name: Úna Quinn
From: Westport
Occupation: Retired primary school teacher, choral director, gaeilgeoir and grandmother

Quickfire questions

If money was no object, what would you do all day?
I don’t think I would change my life but I would probably do more philanthropic work.

Where is your favourite place in the world?
The Benedictine church in Monserrat, listening to the choir chant the Liturgy of the Hours on a May day

What makes you angry?
The dishonesty that is integral to hypocrisy.

Who was your first hero?
When I look back on my life, I realise my parents, Kitty and Owenie had strong values that I still hold dearly to this day. They were both primary school teachers and we were reared through Irish which has been an important thread throughout my life.

Name three things that are always in your fridge?
Milk, my homemade bread and nice cheese.

What makes you nervous?
Sitting in the passenger seat of a car beside my daughter, Brídín, who continually waves her hands and comments nonchalantly on various topics.

What is your favourite TV show?
Christiane Amanpour’s CNN International’s nightly interview programme, Amanpour.

What do you miss most about being a child?
The joy of unconditional freedom  and not having a care in the world.

Best advice you ever got?
Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Describe yourself in three words?
Gregarious, positive and energetic .

How do you unwind?
Binge watching The Gilmore Girls on Netflix.