“It gave me back my self-worth,” says Mary Devereux of the CWELL Diploma at the University of Limerick, which is nominated for an AONTAS STAR Award this week

6 Mar 2024
Mary Devereux, an adult learner at CWELL - the Community Wellness, Empowerment, Leadership and Lifeskills Diploma at the University of Limerick - featured on the Oliver Callan Show on RTÉ Radio 1 earlier this week talking about going back to education and the positive impact it had on her life.

Mary Devereux was featured on the Oliver Callan Show on RTÉ Radio 1 this week, speaking about her MS diagnosis and stroke and how returning to education “gave her back her self-worth”.  

Mary joined the Community Wellness, Empowerment, Leadership and Lifeskills (CWELL) Diploma at the University of Limerick, a course that is nominated for an AONTAS STAR Award this year.

The STAR Awards are taking place this Friday in Croke Park in Dublin, with a ceremony celebrating the very best in adult and community education across the island of Ireland.

CWELL is nominated in the category of adult learning organisations that support people to Third Level Access and Engagement. This category is open to adult learning initiatives that help people with access into university or promote partnerships between higher education and local communities.

Mary Devereux smiling at the camera
Based in the University of Limerick, CWELL helps people to manage their physical and mental wellbeing and empowers people to develop life skills to achieve their goals. To date, 55 students have graduated from the programme with a further 24 on it at the moment. Some people progress to further education and jobs. For other people, CWELL provides a grounding in better mental health, how to have a more active lifestyle and gain self-confidence and self-worth.

Speaking with Oliver Callan live on radio, Mary described how she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) at age 46. A couple of years later, she had an unrelated stroke, which had a major impact on her cognitive function. Prior to this, she worked for a group of creches and nursing homes, and was on the road around the country multiple times in a week. She loved her job and worked in it for over 20 years. But after the stroke, as well as the physical challenge she also lost a lot of confidence. She couldn’t drive and couldn’t work anymore, which meant she lost her independence.

“I lost my identity,” she said. “I was a mother, a worker, someone people respected. I wasn’t in a good place, for a few years. I went from being a doer to not being able to string a sentence together.”

She struggled with isolation and being constantly at home, having always been busy and on the go. Then, her community worker Mary recommended the CWELL course.

“I knew that I needed something,” Mary said. “I felt I had no choice. I knew I had to do something. To be honest, going into the course, I couldn’t tell you why I was going in there, other than to get out of the house. There wasn’t a day during that first year where I didn’t say, what am I doing here? The other people doing the course seemed to know so much more than me.”

But she said that everyone was very friendly and encouraging, and gradually her confidence grew.

“The first year of the course starts with building your confidence and skills. Looking back at what you’ve done and showing the value in it.”

She said the course then progresses to looking at community health and “being able to empower yourself”. Then, she said, people do “research with a community to see if we can be of any help to them”.

When she had to do a presentation as part of her course, she felt she could actually do it. She found that, “for the first time, I could recognise a piece of the old self in me”.

The course has made a huge difference to her daily life.

“I can recognise myself,” she said. “I have a worth. I am worth more than just sitting in the corner. And that wouldn’t have happened without the community worker saying ‘go here’, and the community in the college [at the University of Limerick]. They made me really look at myself and test myself, and that gave me a self-worth.”

When thinking about the CWELL course, Mary said “it’s about looking at your past, with your present, but it does give you hope that you will have some sort of a future.”

When this course is finished, she is “going to be able to go out and start up a conversation, I’m not going to be afraid of people and think I’ve nothing to say.”

When Oliver Callan asked Mary what she would say if she could speak to someone who was in her position before she started the course.

She responded that she would tell the person to “stop saying to yourself that you can’t do it. And small steps. Turn the ‘I can’t’ into ‘I must’ and then that will follow with ‘I will’.”

Mary’s CWELL course is shortlisted for a STAR Award, with the ceremony taking place this Friday 8th March 2024 in Croke Park in Dublin, with special guest comedian and radio presenter PJ Gallagher. The awards mark the finale of the 2024 AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival, ongoing across the country all this week.

Listen back to the interview with Mary here.  


Because the STAR Awards ceremony is focussed on the nominees, particularly the learners, it is an invite-only event. But we'll be sharing the ceremony as it happens on our social media, and spotlighting the winners.  

About the Festival 

The Adult Learners’ Festival, happening this year from 4th to 8th March 2024, is a nationwide celebration of adult learning. This year’s theme is “Everyday Learning Spaces – Find Yourself Here,” celebrating safe and supportive learning environments, wherever they may be.  

Visit this page for more details about the Festival 

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For more information, contact