Local woman Julie Nevin is believed to be the first member of the travelling community in Laois to have gained a third level diploma.
Now, though, it looks as if the county may lose the benefit of her skills - because she is finding it difficult to get a job suitable to her qualifications.
Julie’s diploma is in community and youth work. It was conferred on her at a graduation ceremony in Maynooth College recently, after she had completed her studies over a three-year course.
Currently residing at 7 Clonrooske View, Portlaoise, she is originally a native of Moate, Co Westmeath, but she came to Laois some 12 years ago.
An outspoken representative of Laois travellers, Julie gained valuable practical experience through her time as an outreach worker with Portlaoise Community Action Project (PCAP).
Much of her time has been spent in finding accommodation for travellers and in getting them back into education, she explains to the Leinster Express, and she acted as a mediator between her community and settled people on a number of issues.
Also a member of the travellers’ health unit attached to the Midland Health Board, Julie estimates that around six or seven traveller families are still living on Laois roadsides and she hopes this figure can be reduced through more involvement with the local authority.
“Over the last five years there have been improvements, but not as much as I would like to see,” she states, acknowledging Laois County Council’s efforts.
“There’s still an awful lot to be done,” she added.
Julie now hopes that her third level educational success will help to break down barriers for others in the travelling community, and could lead to more members of the travelling community seeking education.
“Many travellers don’t see the benefit of having an education,” Julie elucidates.
“There’s a lot of discrimination and they find it very hard to get a job. They ask, ‘What’s the point in qualifying if you are not going to get a job?’”
Her PCAP contract having been completed, Julie now fears that she may have to go outside Laois to get employment suited to her qualifications.
“This would mean my diploma would not benefit travellers in Laois,” she points out.
Portlaoise publican Mick Ryan and his wife Joan recently hosted a celebratory function for Julie, in honour of her many achievements. Town councillor Brian Stanley was among her many friends - from both the travelling and settled communities - who toasted her educational attainments.
Julie and her husband John have four daughters, Mary, Jean, Winnie and Catherine.