Local Faces: Sr Kay Mulhall

By Mary Dennehy

THERE’S not enough space in this two-page feature to cover the immense work of Sr Kay Mulhall since she came to Dublin from Ballyroan, County Laois, some 62 years ago.

After finishing secondary school, a young Kay moved to Dublin to enter the order of the Brigidine Sisters in 1958 with hopes of becoming a home economics teacher.

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A sense of community and belonging accompanied Sr Kay Mulhall from Laois to Dublin when she became a Brigidine sister in 1958

However, according to Kay, there was always something niggling her about community work and community development, and she began on a path that would, more than 40 years later, take her to Tallaght and the creation of the area’s intercultural drop-in centre.

Looking back to her early years, Kay, who is the eldest of four children, remembers how involved her parents were in the village of Ballyroan, and how the whole village was “very much a community”.

This sense of community and belonging accompanied Kay to Dublin when she became a Brigidine sister in 1958.

“My parents were doubtful about my decision, but it was something I felt I had a cause for”, Kay told The Echo.

“I told them I would try it out and if it worked, it worked and if it didn’t, it didn’t.

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Sr Kay Mulhall

“It did work, and I’ve had a marvellous life.”

Kay taught in secondary schools in the years that followed, binning home economics in favour of Geography, Irish, English and French.

However, Kay’s Spanish is now stronger than her French after a 1982 trip to America to do a Master’s in Theology resulted in Kay living in Mexico for 16 years.

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Sr Kay Mulhall

Kay moved to Mexico in 1985 and served as a pastoral minister in some of the country’s poorest areas until returning to Ireland in 2001.

“When I came back to Ireland, I knew I wanted to do something with refugees, asylum seekers and new communities”, Sr Kay said.

After learning that the then Tallaght Partnership had a programme that supported refugees and asylum seekers, Kay set her sights on Dublin 24.

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Sr Kay Mulhall

“There were five hostels [for refugees and asylum seekers] in Tallaght in 2001/2002”, Sr Kay remembers.

“I became involved with outreach work in the project… and worked alongside people living in the hostels.”

At the time, the project had a small drop-in space in Glenshane but through her work, Sr Kay regularly heard people talk of the need for a larger space and a more centrally based location for a drop-in, education centre.

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Sr Kay Mulhall

“I had gone around all of Tallaght looking for a place, I was living in Killinarden at the time so was familiar with the area”, she said.

“I knew [Canon] William Deverell and following his support, we got rented accommodation in [the parish hall] of St Maelruain’s Church of Ireland in 2003.”

This was the start of the Tallaght Intercultural Drop-in Centre, which operated out of the parish hall for close to 10 years before moving to its current location on the Old Bawn Road.

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Sr Kay Mulhall

She added: “The Tallaght Intercultural Centre is about creating a space for new communities and to listen to what their needs are and respond.

“We found that the teaching of English was one of the greatest needs.”

Alongside English classes, a team of volunteers provide a variety of classes, activities and support services, including advice, advocacy, friendship and a cup of tea.

The Intercultural and lifelong learning centre is now under the South Dublin County Partnership and is located in their hub in Mountain Park.

“New communities to Ireland must see opportunity and possibility into the future for them and their children”, Kay said.

“They want to make Ireland their home, their permanent home.

“I could name so many successes from the Intercultural Centre.

“People have gone on to make a life, get jobs, studied… their children are doing great.”

When asked what inclusion means to her, Kay said: “Inclusion means you don’t leave people behind, you give everyone the support they need to want to be included.

“Inclusion is key… and it’s a two-way process.

“It also means that you never lose your own identity.”

In relation to inclusion, Kay believes that Ireland has made strides forward, but that there’s more to do.

“As a whole nation, we need to work harder at inclusion…and I wouldn’t be in favour of Direct Provision centres, I believe that model has gone past its sell by date”, she said.

“I see social inclusion as being an enrichment for our country.

“We need to embrace the new Ireland and be positive about it.

“Life is about supporting and encouraging, we’re all in this together.

“It’s all for sharing and caring, that’s what the intercultural centre would promote.”

The centre has a team of volunteers who work together to create an inclusive place of learning and support. 

Thanking volunteers for their work, Kay said: “Our volunteers are very committed, sharing, caring people and those who come to the centre are happy, they know they belong.

“We’ve had our ups and downs over the years and were threatened with closure at one stage, but we all came together, and are still here.”

Kay, who underwent a year of treatment for cancer in 2009, continues to be involved in the Tallaght centre.

“I feel full of energy and life”, Kay, who now lives in Castleknock, said.

“I feel grateful for another lease of life and will keep going.”

For further details on the Intercultural Drop-In Centre in Tallaght, which is operating classes and support services by Zoom, contact the South Dublin County Partnership on 4649300 or visit www.sdcpartnership.ie.

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