Aghamore native Louis Gunnigan decided to become a carpenter after his Leaving Cert but it did not stop him becoming Head of Construction in DIT
Much is made these days of the Leaving Cert being the be all and end all and how ten days or so in June can decide the rest of your life. At 18 years of age you are supposed to know what path in life you want to go down but in reality the majority do not know what to do.
Louis Gunnigan from Aghamore was in the same boat when he sat his Leaving Cert in St Jarlath’s in Tuam in 1978 but unlike the rest of his class mates university was not on his mind. Instead he became an apprentice carpenter and thirty years later now holds a PhD and is the Head of the School of Construction at the Dublin Institute of Technology.
“I started off as a carpenter and ended up with a PhD which is a bit unusual,” he told The Mayo News. “I got three honours but decided to be a carpenter and over time worked in both education and the construction industry. I’m now the Head of Construction in DIT but I never used my Leaving Cert.
“There was a points race at that time and I was the only one in my class not to go to university. I was just not interested and did not know what I wanted to do. The only thing that really interested me at the time was carpentry. I couldn’t be bothered [going to University] to be honest,” he explained.
Louis served his apprenticeship and one of his first jobs was building the after for Pope John Paul II’s visit to Knock in 1979. He worked on several jobs around the west of Ireland before deciding to become a woodwork teacher and went to Thomond College in Limerick in 1983.
However when he finished, there were very few permanent posts available and Louis went back into construction but realised if he wanted to go further in his work he needed to get more qualifications.
He went to England and sat his exams with the Chartered Institute of Building and in the early 1990s decided to come back to Ireland and give teaching ‘a lash again’. After a few years teaching in Dublin he admitted he was ‘messing around and wanted to get a proper job and make decent money’ so he decided to sit his Masters in Trinity. In 2002 he got a job in DIT where he became the head in the Department of Construction Management and Technology and in 2007 obtained his PhD and is now Head of Construction in DIT. Not content with just that, Louis is very actively involved in several professional bodies and is the current President of the prestigious International Construction Project Management Association.
From his job in DIT, Louis feels that the Leaving Cert in its current format in outdated and does not prepare students for the courses they study at third level. His advice for students who may not have got the points they needed or are not sure what they want to do is to get out there and do something they enjoy and opportunities may come from that.
“People say I am very lucky but like what the golfer Arnold Palmer said, ‘the harder I work the luckier I get’. There is still a lot going for people who get 250 points and while they may not go to university there is plenty of work out there. There are jobs out there even if the money’s not great. If you get out there opportunities can open up for you but they won’t if you just sit around the house.”