Posted 20 hours ago

Poor: Grit, courage, and the life-changing value of self-belief

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Katriona's book is a must-read for anyone interested in education or social work, for anyone who works with children, for everyone. Ignore the housework, any and all responsibilities and read 'Poor'. One of the best [books] I have read about the complexities of poverty . . . one of the most remarkable people you will ever meet' Guardian What I found most refreshing was that Katriona didn’t claw her way out of her council estate with the aim of becoming a middle class suburban housewife.

Coming from poverty dreams aren't sky high, most of the time they barely go past the ceiling of a council house. And being 'better' meant having a job or not selling drugs Poor is the moving, inspirational and brave story of a seven year old girl who needed love and care and found it with her teachers. Of a teenager whose English teacher believed she was fantastic. Of a young mother who had a caring nurse who encouraged and supported her. Of a woman who becomes a doctor of psychology and works to increase diversity in education. Quotes like "Poor cuts through lots of jargon, words like disadvantaged, underprivileged, deprived or under class. Words that have their place but don't capture the visceral truth of what it is to grow up the way I did. The way thousands of children are growing up right now.The individual, she says, “is small in the decisions of their life, and we don’t like that because it suggests we’re powerless. But choice is a myth that’s perpetuated by the middle classes – only a few people really can choose.”

We love a rags-to-riches story, and we love to see someone triumph through sheer determination. But the story is rarely that simple. My story isn't, anyway.'


Growing up in a working class community in Coventry to Irish parents, Katriona O'Sullivan dealt with far more trauma and poverty than any child should ever know. In her book Poor, Katriona speaks about her hardship growing up as a child of parents who were drug addicts, and how ofttimes it was school and kind teachers that first taught her that she deserved more than what she had, and instilled a love of learning and education within her. It’s Not Where You Live; It’s How You Live: Class and Gender Struggles in a Dublin Estate by John Bissett. Bissett’s book is a mix of theory and storytelling, taking us deep into the lives within a public housing estate in Dublin. Clearly, O’Sullivan didn’t want a world where she would be the only one that found solid ground. We see this in her efforts to place her experience within her parents’ experiences and her parents’ experiences within their histories. O’Sullivan expertly gives us an insight into the genuine harm of her parents’ addictions but by no means defines them by it. She beautifully and lovingly tells the story of two whole people. Two people who struggled and fought, who lived a life shrouded in pain and poverty, but also in song, loyalty and books.

The @kildarereadersfestival hosted a talk with Katriona last night @riverbankartscentreie and she spoke about her book, her life now and her family. One take-home point from that for me was that children in poverty need more than just 'hard work' to make their way out into a better life. What use is hard work at school if you're not eating dinner at home? What use is 'hard work' if your parents' main priority at that time is drugs or alcohol? What use is 'hard work' if no one cares enough to keep you clean and wash your clothes? Poor] is moving, funny, brave and original - just like the author . . . an absolutely incredible read' Roisin Ingle, Irish Times' Women's PodcastKatriona survives because she met a few good people along life’s path that turn out to be pivotal. These people saw her love for learning and inspired her but it was down to Katriona 100% to walk a different path to the one being modelled by her parents and maintained by the system. It takes a special person to see beyond the wrongs that one has endured and then use one’s wounds as the basis to create something big. As you follow the story beyond O’Sullivan’s early years, she keeps doing big things: overcoming big hurdles and traumas, achieving huge dreams, and creating changes and challenges to the status quo. I think O’Sullivan would have made it anyway, but you can’t ignore the moments along the way that helped.

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