Martha Flanagan: A New Life In Ireland

MARCH 2001 - Retired Teacher Mentor To Disadvantaged - Most
of our members, who move to another country after retiring, have some
tie to that country other than their own ethnicity. Usually, it's their
birthplace or that of a spouse, parents or other family connection.In
the case of Association member Martha (Baldwin) Flanagan and her
husband Bill, other than Bill's surname, neither had absolutely any
connection with Ireland, a country which has become their home.

"Our
love affair with Ireland started in the summer of 1971 when Bill and I
spent several weeks with a friend in Cork," said Martha. "From that
point on, it became an annual trip. We'd save our money and skimp on
luxuries so that we could afford the cost. It slowly grew on us that,
as much as we loved America, we wanted to try living year-round in
Cork. We made the move while relatively young and have no regrets."

Martha
and Bill both were born and grew up in the town of Sharon, 15 miles
south of Boston. Martha went on to attend Bridgewater State College and
landed a job teaching in her home town at age 22. She and her husband
Bill, who worked for a trucking company and also drove a school bus in
Sharon, settled down in neighboring Foxboro.

"I
started teaching in Sharon right after graduating from Bridgewater
State College... taught third grade at the Cottage Street School for 30
years, before taking an early retirement in 1996. Some of my fondest
memories were my years when I was teaching youngsters in Sharon. Joe
Bruno was our principal during most of that period, with Doreen Kelly
taking over after Joe retired."

Works With Disadvantaged

Martha's
love of teaching did not end with her retirement from Sharon. In fact,
it has extended to a new level in Ireland. She has taken a job with the
title of "support teacher." She works with disadvantaged boys who
attend the Nagle Community College which, despite its name, is actually
the Mahon High School. The school is located in Mahon, the town in
which the Flanagans live. Mahon is a suburb of Cork City.

"These
are youngsters who come from what is known as disadvantaged
neighborhoods and are struggling with both their academic and personal
life. My role is both of mentor and teacher. Importantly, I try to keep
them from dropping out of school. Whenever possible, I meet with their
families and on occasion act as a surrogate mother. And yes, drugs are
the same problem here as in America.

"Discipline
is strong in our schools and it's important that these kids learn to
accept this discipline. Each school has it's own uniform which is a
standard sweater, shirt and tie. This dress code puts every student on
the same plane and builds self-esteem and pride.

"I
really become part of the lives of my students. At times it can become
heartbreaking, but I don't allow myself to become discouraged. I want
them to know that they can count on me for help with their personal
lives as well as academic assistance. Encouragement is a constant
theme."

Life in Emerald Isle

Martha
acknowledged that life in Ireland, aside from Northern Ireland, is more
tranquil. "Life here is more laid-back and slower paced. There is a
greater sense of tranquillity. However, it's slowly changing," she
said. "Because of the cost of housing and other needs, a greater number
of mothers are working. Two-income families are on the increase. There
are many good paying jobs available to both men and women."

An
area of concern to all retirees, regardless of their domicile, is
medical coverage, a question we asked of Martha. "I belong to VHI
(Voluntary Health Insurance Plan). It's much cheaper than my coverage
back in Foxboro and is open to all residents of Ireland. There are
small co-payments and I can be treated by any doctor or go to any
hospital. Residents, who don't belong to VHI, are usually treated at
public hospitals at no cost. The doctors and medical facilities are
equal to those in the States," she explained.

"Politics
is very big here... signs and posters all over the place prior to
elections. The pre-election campaigning is much shorter than the U.S.,
about six weeks. Every candidate has his or her photo on the ballot.
It's sort of a throwback to times when some people couldn't read very
well and they could check the box next to the candidate's photo. And
no, we've had no hanging chads. We followed the Bush-Gore race the same
as the people back home. There was tremendous interest in Ireland.

"We
have up-to-date TV and movies here... many of the same programs you
have back home. We don't have cable, but get shows such as the Sopranos
on a regular channel without any language bleeps. But we do have an
annual TV license fee of $85."

Pubs Important Part Of Social Life

"Our
real social life evolves around our pubs. People sing and have a grand
old time. Almost everyone has a favorite pub. Ours is the Family
Squire. We have cold American beer such as Bud and Coors, but Murphy's
and Guinness Stout seem to be the most popular drinks. It's almost
impossible to go to a pub and not feel at home."

"We
rent a neat bungalow-type home with a good piece of land for about the
equivalent of $400 a month in American money. To buy a house would cost
about $100 thousand. We have a car but don't drive that much... Gas is
$4.20 a gallon. Food is about the same price as in America. We buy nice
fresh milk from a neighbor who has some cows."

"Christmas
is much different here. Everything, including stores, shut down for at
least three days. It's not a great commercial event but rather a time
for families and friends to get together. I must say that I've never
enjoyed Christmas as much as I have in Ireland."

The
Flanagans are saving their money for a trip back to the United States
in 2002. "We are planning on staying at least a month." Martha said.
"It will be in the fall when the weather is just right. We don't have
hot summers nor severe winters in Ireland and wouldn't really enjoy a
vacation during those seasons back in Massachusetts."

In
the meantime take care of those youngsters in Mahon, Martha. You may be
retired from teaching in Sharon, but we'd have to say you've taken on
an even greater mission in Ireland, a mission of which you can be proud.

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