Careers rarely develop the way we plan them. Our career path often takes many twists and turns, with particular events, choices and people influencing our direction.

We asked Paul Dowling from Teagasc to give some advice for people considering this job:

Paul Dowling



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Paul Dowling
Ideally, try and get a job in the industry for a summer, or get a bit of experience before you go into it. You have to be happy with working outside, and doing physical work. If you are not prepared to work hard or are looking for a soft job, don't go into Landscaping. Design is very sexy at the moment, everyone wants to be a designer, a Landscape Designer. It's different on the ground, you have to be out there on sites in all weather and you have to make sure projects are managed well and you're able to muck in with everyone else. Biology is most important for anyone going into Horticulture or Landscaping as it covers propagation and helps with the identification of plant names, species and families through the universal use of Latin. Chemistry is also helpful as the use of various chemicals is a constant in horticulture. The chemical content and dangers of fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides in use in Amenity Horticulture needs to be understood anyone going into this business. Geography would be a relevant subject as well. Also, the simple things like having a full, clean driving licence, which can make you a lot more employable if you are trying for a job with a Landscape Conractor. This indicates that you are more mobile and can also drive a company van if needed. Be sure you're happy with the outdoor life. Having taken a Horticulture course will give you an advantage. However, it's possible to take a job first and study later, e.g. in IT Blanchardstown it is possible to study at night. I think you cannot beat doing the Diploma Course in the National Botanic Gardens because it is a good practical course which also covers all the theory and is invaluable for gaining plant knowledge.

The Investigative person will usually find a particular area of science to be of interest. They are inclined toward intellectual and analytical activities and enjoy observation and theory. They may prefer thought to action, and enjoy the challenge of solving problems with clever technology. They will often follow the latest developments in their chosen field, and prefer mentally stimulating environments.
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A Theological Career Journey

I was seventeen and in Leaving Cert. year when I was thrown out of Religion Class. The teacher’s pathetic attempts to answer (or evade) our questions left me bored, frustrated. I laughed. Ended up in the Headmistress’ s office … I don’t remember a punishment but I do remember swearing that I would do something about the way Religion was taught in schools.

Before the days of the CAO we could apply to many colleges at once and I had picked UCD to study English and French, St Patrick’s College Drumcondra  to pursue a career in Primary School Teaching and now added the Mater Dei Institute of Education to study Theology and the accompanying subjects that would qualify me to teach RE.

I was nervous about it really. Friends said things like “Are you going to be a nun or something?” And I thought “something” but wasn’t sure what it meant. My father thought those kind of studies better suited to men who were to become priests and besides it might lead to a nervous breakdown. It didn’t. In fact, quite the opposite.

Studying theology gave me a language for my own heart’s journey, helped me to understand what was really important to me, and gave me an interpretative framework for understanding life and the place of religion in human consciousness over time. My initial Diploma in Religious Education led quite naturally to a Masters in Religious Studies which I had completed by the time I was twenty-three and saw me defending my thesis (the Viva) less than six weeks after the birth of my daughter.

What kind of person would study Theology?

I have asked myself this question many times. My answer always brings me back to the idea of searching. Traditionally theology was understood as faith seeking understanding. And I guess I have always wondered what’s it all about? Whether that meant life or faith or my own human existence, I have always sought answers to life’s deeper questions. “Oh No! The seekers are here again” my nephew would moan when his mother and I got down to the serious business of conversation about what really mattered.

Theology which means the study of God (theos and logos) would expand over the years for me and become a study of the God-Human-World relationship. My understanding would change as I encountered the critiques of Liberation theology inspired by Latin America’s quest to see justice as inextricably linked to the study and praxis of theology.

Feminist thought would radically challenge me to re-consider theology as thealogy - where the image of God was seen as female (theas), and ecological theology would bring my thinking into a world that saw the divine embodied in the natural world.

Further studies in theology would help me understand the importance of hermeneutics - (the philosophy and method of text interpretation) - a word that my students joked about for years - so much a part of my vocabulary and teaching would it become in the decades that followed.

After more than forty years I can say that what I learned in those early days of studying theology has been hugely influential in my life and career. Learning to understand and appreciate the importance of ritual, symbolism, interpretation, narrative, sacred poetry, meditation and celebration are elements that I have continued to study all through my life. And they have taken me in many different directions.

Beginning my Career

As a young graduate I taught for three years in a large girls ‘secondary school in North Dublin, and when my second child was born I worked part time for a couple of years in community and adult education giving occasional classes and seminars, supervising teaching practice with students studying theology or training for teaching at second level.

Appointed lecturer in Religious Studies in St Patrick’s College Drumcondra - I would work there for almost thirty years, lecturing in feminist theology, liberation theology, Celtic spirituality, sacramental and liturgical theology. I also spent time working on curriculum development and was largely responsible for developing the theology modules for the BA in humanities, and also contributed to developing and teaching the curriculum for a Masters in Religious Education.

Find out more about Theology Courses here

A career in theology encourages one to develop many different aspects of oneself - both at a personal and academic level. I completed further Master’s degrees in Theology in Maynooth, Drama Studies and Creative Writing at UCD. My PhD thesis through NUI Galway was an exploration of the soul in contemporary Irish theatre, and was later published as the book Sacred Play.

Alongside this academic work I also found time to pursue personal development and training in Naked Voice work, Meditation, Poetry and Sacred Clowning. All this work fed naturally into my teaching life and I am sure enriched both my students and myself - and of course influenced those conversations with my sister where poetry and buddhist meditation teachers became part of our soul dialogues.

Where can theology take you?

Friends and students of mine who studied theology have gone on to variety of careers. Teachers became principals, others became guidance counsellors or psychotherapists. Some became involved in curriculum development, were appointed diocesan advisors or went into journalism.

Postgraduate studies (whether at home or abroad) took them into the fields of theology, religious education, community development, inter-religious dialogue, ecumenism, psychoanalysis, human rights. Some left the priesthood, some joined - including one woman who became a minister in a different religious tradition.

Other career paths my peers have followed include mindfulness teaching, chaplaincy (in schools, colleges, hospitals), working in retreats and with National Government Organisations. 

High profile people whose initial studies were in theology include Dr. Linda Hogan, Vice Provost of Trinity College Dublin and Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan and Dr. Katherine Zappone who spearheaded the national campaign for Marriage Equality in Ireland - Ann Louise and Katherine, who are both theologians, met while pursuing Doctoral Studies in Theology in Boston College in the 1980s.

(Both St Patrick's College and Mater Dei are now colleges of DCU)

Poetry Doc ~ 

Article by: Dr. Anne F. O'Reilly