School’s out, work’s in… for summer

With many students spending the holidays after exams toiling to save for college, Ireland’s well-known faces tell Tanya Sweeney what they learned from their first jobs

Work experience: Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart get jobs for the summer working at a local amusement park in Adventureland
Work experience: Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart get jobs for the summer working at a local amusement park in Adventureland

When you’re young and carefree, there are several things that make up the quintessential Irish summer: the J1-Visa, your first festival, exchange students, al fresco drinking at Trinity’s Pav (even if you’re not a student).

Yet one often needs the coffers to enjoy such lovely rites of passage, which brings us neatly to the most hated of youthful staples: the dreaded summer job. With Leaving Cert results out today, many students will be fitting in celebrations around shifts as they save up for college.

It’s a time-honoured tradition, and if you were lucky, you got to enjoy making money in a dynamic environment, and in a job that taught you much about what life had to offer.

But for the rest of us, it’s good to know that at least we weren’t alone. And as they say, there’s no university like the university of life. Here, some of the country’s well known personalities recall their working summers.

Carmel Harrington


My parents owned a petrol station, so as a kid I was pumping petrol on Saturdays and summers from about the age of 11. The first proper job I interviewed for and got on my own steam was waitressing in a steakhouse in Wexford.

It was the busiest restaurant in the town so there wasn’t much time to watch the world go by. I got paid a pound an hour, you weren’t paid for your lunch hour, and you had to pay for your own lunch. I could never afford to eat there but the chef would often give us something without the manager knowing. I learned what it’s like to suck it up and do something you don’t like.

Work bearing fruit: Alia Shawkat (right) at the Banana Stand in Arrested DevelopmentWork bearing fruit: Alia Shawkat (right) at the Banana Stand in Arrested Development

Work bearing fruit: Alia Shawkat (right) at the Banana Stand in Arrested Development

I will always tip a waitress nowadays unless the service is particularly bad. When you’re earning £8 a day, a family giving you £3 was a huge deal.

Dave Fanning

RTE broadcaster

I think the crappest summer job I ever had would have been around the time of the Leaving Cert. My friend Mark and I went to a place called Ballivor in Meath. We got to the farmhouse where the farmer showed us the shared room we would be staying in. This is the weirdest bit: when he told us to come and get something to eat, we come down the stairs and there he is playing this massive organ like something out of Frankenstein. It was all very surreal.

The job we had was to walk in front of this huge thresher – a big piece of farming equipment used to till soil or something – as it made its way around a field, and get the stones out of the way so the equipment wasn’t ruined.

I think for the first 60 minutes I thought it wasn’t too bad, but then it felt like a month’s worth of work in one day. We got paid about 5p a week and the guy in charge went off to Dublin to the horse show. Mark and I messed about in some hay bales for two days before we left. I hope that machine is lying mangled somewhere.

Carmel HarringtonCarmel Harrington

Carmel Harrington
Dave Fanning
Joanne McNally
Celine Byrne
Johnny Ward
Louise O’Reilly
Aine Cahill
Tom Dunne

Joanne McNally


I used to clean the toilets in a hotel. Housekeeping staff is kind of the lowest rung in a hotel, but I was the lowest rung on that rung. I wasn’t even allowed to clean the rooms. I had to wear a pinafore that was about 12 times too big for me, and go from toilet to toilet.

A lot of weddings went on in that hotel, so you’d often find all sorts there – empty gin bottles, plenty of vomit… and me, down on my knee poking about with a toothbrush.

I did love getting the money at the end of the week, and when I was starting the shift and getting my products, I’d fill the front of my pinafore with the little chocolates they would leave on pillows. So it wasn’t all that bad.

I also worked in this famous pub in Dalkey and I had to pull pints. One guy said: “I wanted a pint, not an ice-cream.” I was that bad at doing them.

Celine Byrne

Opera singer

When I was in fourth year in school, I was cleaning houses during the day and working in a Chinese restaurant in the evening. Working in the Chinese was really tough as you’d be on your feet for most of the night, but I actually enjoyed cleaning the houses. I did it with my sister, who was 18. It wasn’t so much a case of, ‘if you need extra money, go out and work’, it was more a case of needs must. We had to contribute. My mum bought my school uniform and books, but I had to find my own pens, pencils and lunch money. I learned to be pretty independent and how to take care of myself. It was never the case that I thought I couldn’t do anything, so I was able to make my hobby my career. Many years later, I’m still a little bit OCD when it comes to cleaning. If I’m away for work, my husband knows to keep the place spotless when I return.

Johnny Ward


Because my parents were legends, they had me in acting from a very young age, so I was always doing adverts and plays. But at 15, there were no acting jobs coming in so I needed to build up some money. My first non-acting job involved working for the customer care division in Samba Soccer, which was huge at the time.

I was 15 and really shouldn’t have been let near the public. I remember some of the phone calls; a goalpost fell on a lad, or the coaches who were organising the games were scoring (each other) in front of the kids. I also worked one summer in Chartbusters (DVD rental company) on Patrick Street. That was misery – I thought it would be great craic watching films all day, but one day someone urinated into the drop box and I had to clean it.

It wasn’t the nicest job. If anything, I learned that I definitely wanted to be an actor.

Louise O’Reilly


I got my first proper job as soon as I was legally able to work, as my dad had insisted on teaching us a good work ethic. I packed bags in Superquinn in Sutton until I got upgraded to the tills. I was always very chatty, but I definitely came out of my shell a lot more. I remember spending my first pay cheque on my family – I was so happy to give something back to them. It taught me loads about being polite to people, and I’ve such huge respect for anyone who works in customer service. I learned that really, you can never be too kind.

Aine Cahill


One of my earliest jobs was working in a hotel in Cavan. I would work the weddings initially, then I was asked to do breakfast in the restaurant and set up all the buffets.

What I liked about it was that you got really close to everyone, mainly because you saw them more often than your own family – one August, I only got one day off. I always say working in hospitality is like the military – it should be mandatory to do it. It taught me the value of money and how to treat people who are serving you.

These days, I watch everyone and everything in a restaurant, saying: “I used to do that.”

Tom Dunne


For the summer of 1980 I worked in the forestry lab in Newtownmountkennedy. It might surprise you to know that there was an experiment called Biomass.

Its aim was to see if harvested trees – pine trees, in fact – would make a good source of renewable fuel. Well, someone had to separate the pine needles from the wood, didn’t they? And it wasn’t just laboriously picking them off with your bare hands.

It was labelling them and bagging them. Each year of growth represented a year in which the lab would have tried different fertilisers, or when the weather was exceptional for some reason. And they needed to know what worked. I took to wearing gloves.

David Bowie’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’ was out so I would wait patiently for each new show to play it as the radio passed from morning to lunchtime to afternoon. Each week when I had worn my fingers out bagging and labelling and picking off the pines, they would take all my work and burn it, for that was indeed the whole point.

Don’t talk to me about summer jobs.

Carmel Harrington’s latest book, A Thousand Roads Home, is out in October. Aine Cahill’s new single ‘Beauty is a Lie’ is out now.

Irish Independent

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);