A field for … Toby

Toby is a beautiful chestnut Bavarian warmblood gelding.  He came into our lives four years ago. His previous owner thought he had kissing spine, a terminal condition, and he was going to the factory. My daughter Georgina fell in love with him and refused to let him go. We paid the factory (ie meat) money for him and brought him home.

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It turns out Toby does not have kissing spine. We had chiropractors and vets examine him. However, what he does have is – well lots of things, most of them mental. He box walked, weaved, has herd separation anxiety and lots of other things hard to fathom. Georgina, who as you can guess is animal and horse mad, is also a T Touch student. Her friend and top T Touch healer Sarah Fisher was in Ireland and she came and worked with Toby. Georgina used the same techniques and soon Toby calmed down, relaxed and began to enjoy himself.

Of course, there is only one thing better than a rescue horse, and that is two rescue horses. So along came Deano. Deano is a top class racehorse. His sire is Flemensfirth, an American stallion and sire of many racing heroes. However, poor Deano was not very fast, at all. Paddy Last – truth be told and he was on the way to the great field in the sky when we offered him a home. He was ridden by my youngest daughter and while willing and sweet his show jumping is a bit hit and miss.

Time passed. My girls were busy doing their thing and the two boys had a great time in our rented fields. Best buddies, a true bromance, Toby and Deano are happy lads. They enjoy the freedom of the paddocks and wander in and out of the stables if the rain is too hard or the sun too bright.

A happy ending you’d think. Except while we rescued the horses, we were sadly not doing so well with the humans.

My home was repossessed by the banks in 2011. Prior to that we moved into our beautiful rented cottage in County Wicklow. The boys were joined by our rescue dog and cat. We were all set to live happily ever after – or at least until I managed to exit bankruptcy and get a job.

Read Here for the Human Story

Then disaster fell. Our lease was terminated. It officially ends on June 20, 2016. Right now, we are overhanging our lease. We are still paying the rent but we have to find another place for us and our horses.

That’s where you come in. We are trying to buy a field nearby. A field that will be ours. A field that we cannot be evicted from. A field that the banks cannot seize. We have found a beautiful spot. But we need help securing the cost.

We have been told over and over that horses are not as important as human beings. We know that but having rescued our beautiful horses we would not see them abandoned or worse. Possessions are not important but security is. We want the security of having a field to keep Toby and Deano safe.

We have found the field. It is beautiful. And we need help securing it.

A field. The Field. Our field – with your help.

Go on buy a cup of tea for Toby – Go on Go on Go on!  Just €3 will make a big difference to us.

When Viagra spammers switch to Alzheimer’s, it’s time to take notice

First printed in the Irish Independent June 1 2016

We have to help carer and sufferer break free from their prisons

When shoe shiners give you stock market advice, it’s time to sell your shares. When taxi drivers advise on where to buy abroad, it’s time to stay home.

But when your spam switches from Nigerian businessmen, cheap Viagra and belly fat pills to cures for Alzheimer’s Disease, then it is time to stand up and pay attention.

And none too soon. According to the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, the number of people living with dementia in Ireland is greater than 50,000 this year. And that is probably a serious underestimation of the problem, since there is no official register of people with dementia.

A large proportion are cared for by family members and it is generally acknowledged that family carers do not routinely get support from State services as a consequence. Add in to that mix the medical postcode lottery that persists across the country and it is obvious that certain black spots have huge implications, not only for sufferers of dementia but also their carers.

Unlike minding a family member with, say, cancer, caring for dementia is treated both as something the family can manage and also as an unspoken burden. Reaching breaking point is therefore a very real concern as it creeps up despite denial and the turning of blind eyes.

There is still a resistance to acknowledging dementia. We all know we age, deus volens, and we all know there is a heightened chance of dementia creeping in as we age; yet there is still something shameful about the condition. People with dementia are kept under lock and key and sometimes that is not a figure of speech.

What is even more worrying is some 4,000 of those are considered young, under 65 and living with early onset dementia.

Pat Fleming was one of those people, the early onset ones. He developed early onset Alzheimer’s living in the UK in his early 50s. A single man, his condition initially came to light when his family noticed erratic phone conversations before his diagnosis became apparent and they brought him home. Christy, his brother and long-time wellness practitioner, stood up for his brother. He refused to let him be pushed into the background even as Pat lost basic communication skills. Soon Pat was unable to tell anyone his name. He smiled and was happy but words eluded him like forgotten poems.

Christy assembled a powerful team of healers around his brother, from music to holistic healing, from drama to massage. He made a documentary about these treatments and the positive impact they had on Pat. At one point in the documentary, Pat lapses into conversation with an actor friend.

They speak no language known to man but a lively interaction ensues – indeed it is hard to consider the gobbledegook exchange as anything but real conversation. The beauty of being able to converse without racking his brain for words is powerful for Pat. Later in the documentary he sings too and his joy is very obvious.

Pat sadly died two years later but Christy is still fighting the fight – to help both sufferer and carer. He has planned a free seminar on June 25 in Dublin to help both. This has become his passion and cause.

Music is one of the last memories to go. Sr Bernadette Sweeney of St Agnes School in Crumlin recognises this powerful opportunity. Previously she was responsible for bringing strings into her school and forming an orchestra that featured in an RTÉ documentary.

This time around she has founded Memory Lane, a choir for those with dementia. When questioned if the choir might be a sop to amuse the members, she strongly denies that the choir is about tokenism. Her passion when speaking of the positive impact of music is persuasive and three days later I attend a rehearsal of the choir to see for myself.

The choir is made up of people with dementia and their carers. There is a song book with more than 100 lyrics. There is a professional music teacher and a pianist. This is certainly no gesture.

I am given a songbook and join in with the familiar songs, mostly taken from the last century.

The choir is very tuneful. I sit beside a potential new member; we met on the way in. He tells me I have a sweet voice. I am pleased; singing with this choir is a very happy experience.

Afterwards, I mingle with the carers and their loved ones. One woman in particular engages me in conversation. She is her mother’s full-time carer and her eyes rarely stray anywhere else. I suggest she attend Christy’s seminar but she checks herself. Can she bring her mother as there is no one else to mind her? I confirm her mother is also welcome, realising with a jolt how imprisoned she feels.

It is time to review the incarceration of both sufferer and carer and swap that prison for a prism through which both can experience some compassion and joy. To attend the free seminar on Disrupting Alzheimer’s, please visit www.disruptingalzheimers.org or email disruptingalzheimers@gmail.com.

Desperately seeking …Me!

First published in the Irish Independent on May 18, 2016

We are a nation of lost souls. We have swapped the security blanket of religion for the cold harsh light of truth. We wander like bewildered two-year-olds lost in a grocery store. What began like a moment of freedom has swiftly translated into a terrifying ordeal. We have three choices: stay out in the cold, embrace it even; return to our mother’s arms and the refuge that lies within. Or we can seek new truths, new comforts.

 jordan belfort

The latter choice, the era of self-enlightenment is truly upon us. It is the new drug of the thinking classes, the opiate we choose in the search for fulfilment. We had become a nation of fast food snackers and now we need substance.

The route to enlightenment has many paths. Last year, I attended a Jordan Belfort seminar – he of the Wolf of Wall Street fame. The seminar was aimed at making money but he caught the mood of the audience at an early stage.

Jordan scanned the crowd and sympathetically called us out. We were there to learn how to make money but he ringed our wings by calling on our pain. No one with a successful business attends a motivational sales seminar by Jordan Belfort, pictured below. Instead, injured souls seeking assurance gather to hear the magic patter. If the lottery is a poor man’s tax, then motivational sales seminars are an aspiring (or is that failing?) entrepreneur’s levy.

Jordan’s heart-spring moment was when he explained why some people were ducks and some were eagles. No one wants to be a duck, not even the ducks. Belfort told some funny stories about the duck mentality and in a move splendidly focused for the Irish audience, spoke movingly and compassionately about how a lot of the eagles in the audience had taken a beating in the recession.

How we had been flattened and lacked certainty. How we had begun thinking like ducks but that was okay because it didn’t mean we were ducks. The very fact that we were here today meant we were so, not ducks, oh no, but eagles about to get a new lease of life. And everyone clapped and everyone believed they had a chance to win the lottery.

Last month, I attended the Landmark Forum, a pathway to personal development and sometimes dismissively termed a cult, a case which it energetically rebuts. It may have some of the appearances of a sect; it focuses on obedience, it demands commitment and it extracts promises from its participants. It practises secrecy in some parts and full-on proselytising in others. It does not advertise its wares, but uses the Forum members to bring in new members.

Personal development is a different kettle of fish to financial development. For one, the end goal is a lot more significant and for another, it is possible without the intervention of external and random forces. It is possible. And this is the foundation of the Forum – the possible.

The course unfolds under three non-stop days of intense training. Then there is the sharing – the even more intense bonds formed through people sharing at the deepest level of their lives. It felt like being in the trenches; there was nothing too base to be shared and nothing too insignificant to be celebrated.

It may sound as though this is a transitional, gradual process but in fact it happens very fast. At 10.30 on day one, I shed my first tear. However, I had already laughed – big guffaws of laughter – at least an hour before. It had become a family event very quickly, only we moved from the trauma to the resolution at the speed of light.

Does that sound a little mad? It is a little mad.

Taking part in the Forum was a rollercoaster of a ride. Aside from the tears, the laughter and the sharing, there was plenty of anger. It is not easy to tear people apart without breaking a few long-held beliefs and opinions. But when the silence surged softly backward when the plunging hooves were gone, we looked at each other and we were all good. We were our word. We were made man, re-made man.

Just recently, I attended the funeral of my father’s best friend.

They are both now in the Summerlands, as they say in these parts, hotly discussing the politics of the day no doubt, going to the bookies or sharing a laugh. To my surprise, I found a resurgence of traditional comfort; maybe my seeking had re-opened a door backwards as well as forwards.

His son, a fine musician and lecturer in music, invited a Trinity choir to sing in the stalls. Being a Protestant service, we had many fine hymns. Being a Protestant service, the congregation all sang the hymns lustily, myself more so than anyone.

It has been some time since I was in a church and longer still with the benefit of a powerful choir at my right elbow. I reached back into the childhood of my beliefs and the comforts of hymns settled around me like a blanket.

Lame ducks, shared emotions, the endless possibility of humans, and hymns – all are beautiful and empowering and good – but the greatest of these are hymns.

Should he stay or should he go?

 

Even when @TheNotorious is not at press conferences he is still dominating them.  The curiously named Dana White looked sheepish at a press conference yesterday (April 23) when despite Conor’s absence he was still the centre of the questions.  His smile when saying he was not cross with Conor had all the authenticity of a Cheshire cat and was only from the teeth out. In all the not present not participating Conor was mentioned 53 times.

Do not be confused – this is a major battle of hearts and minds. It is a David with a Goliath-sized shadow pitched against the murkier side of UFC where finance holds sway and fighting rules are as clear and transparent as the Cat’s smile.

Other MMA fighters have joined the cause backing Conor’s decision not to be pushed around by the UFC.

However, there is an obvious difference between Conor and other fighters, he has the deep pockets to pick a fight. It could be argued he is also has more to lose if he doesn’t get his way but that is a moot point – he has picked the fight and the world looks on to see who will win.

It is more interesting given his last fight, his leapfrogging of classes and his loss. In that loss he gained more support from the nervous supporters on the fringe of acceptable society. He displayed grace, not an attribute much associated with Conor before. It also played into his emerging love for all things Irish and home: traits and passions obviously very close to his heart but only emerging into a wan sunlight after the fight.

Conor has dreamed big, bigger than his hope, and pulled it off.  In leapfrogging into his unsuccessful fight he set himself for not a fall but MMA immortality. We believed in his thirteen seconds of fame. We believed that he had fought all his life for that thirteen seconds of fame. Yet when he was defeated in the last fight he still emerged the winner. It is hard to pinpoint how but somehow Conor did better than Diaz in the subsequent publicity.

However, he had to do the next thing, whatever that was. We certainly did not expect him to retire on Twitter and thank everyone for the cheese. We did not expect him to say he was not retiring less than 48 hours later on his other favourite medium, Facebook. His coach John Kavanagh is echoing his digital footprints. Is this a digitally choreographed dance?  Is this thought out? It could be argued a moment of churlishness on Conor’s part has been skilfully turned into a righteous stance – hard to prove it either way currently. One imagines he will have to go all the way now to make a credible blow for fighter freedom.  This is the ultimate divisional jump – from fighter to protester – and we want him to win this time. A second failure is not likely to make the grade.

I hope he does win. I liked his passionate patriotism; it felt genuine. On principle I dislike the alickadoos profiteering and benefitting literally from the sweat of the players be it in rugby, football or especially in MMA.

Indeed, not only is he playing the UFC at their own game, he has just outgamed them. In a message on Facebook he hit it on the nail:

There had been 10 million dollars allocated for the promotion of this event is what they told me. 
So as a gesture of good will, I went and not only saved that 10 million dollars in promotion money, I then went and tripled it for them.
And all with one tweet.

Maybe it is time for principled decisions to make a comeback.  And for the little man to stand tall.

 

Homes for the Dead – 1916 – Holden Stodart

Art houses invoke the forgotten civilian victims of the Easter Rising
Public contribute installations to remember each of the 262 civilians killed in the Rising

First published in the Irish Times April 10,2016 

And also in a wonderful short video by Ronan McGreevy at the exhibition. Watch it here or below.

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A unique free exhibition celebrating 1916 is open in the National Botanical Gardens from this week until April 24th. The exhibition, called the 1916Sackville Street project, was developed to celebrate the largely forgotten and ignored civilian deaths in 1916.

Until this year, little was known about the civilian dead – indeed few people realised that the number of civilian dead exceeded that of the total military casualties on both sides. In all, 262 innocent men, women and children were slaughtered on the streets of the capital during the first week of fighting.

The 1916Sackville Street Art Project invited students, individuals and organisations to build art homes for the dead – to provide a final resting place. Indeed since many of the civilian dead were amongst the very poorest of the city some bodies were never claimed and to this day they lie in unmarked graves.

Former High School Dublin student Jillian Godsil was invited to assist in the project and with Laois public relations consultant Dave Delaney they voluntarily provided the PR and marketing expertise. This weekend project has featured on RTE news and Nationwide as well as the national press.

However, as both Jillian and Dave worked on spreading the word and finding people to build homes they became increasing interested in the personal stories of the project. Dave decided to focus on a young man called Paul Reynolds and during this research discovered that he had been twenty years of age and a journalist.

‘What really upset me was the fact that his body lay unclaimed in the hospital morgue until August when a Rev Reynolds claimed and buried him,’ says Dave. A journalist and artist himself, Dave built a house covered in newspaper. His house is now part of the exhibition in the Botanic Gardens – a permanent memorial to the young journalist.

Jillian too became more involved. As the names were claimed she saw one persistent name not taken. It was an unusual name – Holden Stodart.

Holden

‘I looked at the name and tried to imagine the man. I too have a strange name and I was drawn to him,’ says Jillian. ‘I decided to claim Holden and make a house, indeed a home for him. Imagine my surprise then when it turned out Holden had attended my old school in Dublin, the High School. I felt an immediate connection.’

Further investigation turned up that Holden had been a St John Ambulance volunteer. Holden was in his 30s, and was married with a small child. As the Rising began, rumours of the fighting spread across the capital. In response more than 600 men and women of St John Ambulance turned up to volunteer for service. Holden was a senior officer in St John Ambulance service and he was responding to the terrible battle in Mount Street on Wednesday when he was shot dead trying to rescue the injured. He was the only St John Ambulance member to lose his life in the violence.

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Padraig Allen, St John Ambulance volunteer and archivist, dressed in the same uniform as Holden Stodart would have worn with Jillian Godsil

‘I found it very sad that his sacrifice in saving the injured has largely been overlooked in the last 100 years,’ says Jillian. ‘I approached my old school, where I was a President of the Alumni, and a super bunch of young people in Transition Year agreed to make the actual house. It was finally modelled on the old school building in Harcourt Street and now lives in the exhibition as well.’

In total there are 262 art houses on display in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. Entrance to the exhibition is free and in time a book of the houses will be available for sale. The exhibition runs until April 24, 2016.

 

 

1916 Sackville Project: Holden Stodart – the Team behind the Project

Research

We decided to base our project on Holden Stodart, who was born in 1883 and was a post pupil of The High School at no. 40 Harcourt Street. He worked as a clerk at Guinness before he volunteered with the St. John Ambulance Brigade. Holden became St. John Ambulance’s superintendent and was put in charge of Baggot Street Hospital to look after the wounded after the Easter week. Holden Stodart was shot near Northumberland road where he went with a stretcher party and other members of the brigade treated the soldier. Holden was killed instantly. Holden Stodart lost his life on April 26th 1916, aged 33.

We decided to base the house on no. 40 Harcourt Street as this was where Holden Stodart went to school. It also became a temporary hospital, used by St. Johns Ambulance to care for wounded soldiers during the 1916 rising.

The Manufacture of the Project

The class were split into four groups with four pupils and each group were given a different task.

Group 1

First we spray painted the walls a red brick colour. We then cut out the windows using a Scroll saw after marking them out on a piece of paper. We then got a scalpel and carved lines to imitate the brick patterns. For the top of the gable wall, we cut and sanded it so that the roof would fit on top. We then cut the window sills from plywood, painted them white and glued them in. We also added a handle and a letter box to the door.

Group 2

We decided to base the ground floor on the High School to represent the start of Holden’s life. We made desks to represent the school classroom. We were going to put carpet on the floor but then decided against it because we thought the school might not have carpet and only have floor boards during this time. We put posters and other pictures around the room to make it look like a school classroom.

Group 3

We decided to base the first floor on St. Johns Ambulance to represent the next stage in Holden’s life. To decorate our floor we made stretchers and some miniature figures out of plywood and stuck them down with superglue. We also made a miniature ambulance and stuck that down. For the walls of our floor we got some pictures related to St. Johns Ambulance off the internet and stuck them on the walls.

Group 4

We decided to base the second floor on the 1916 Rising where Holden Stodart lost his life on April 26th 1926 aged 33. We cut out different figures and guns from plywood and painted them appropriate colours. We stuck a picture of Holden on the back wall as a memory of his life. The mirror on the top represents the fact that it could have been anybody, including you, that lost a life during the Rising.

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The students, led by Leslie Middleton, are William Anderson,
Sittha Bailey, Ben Chaloner, Alexander Chambers, Andrew Cloughley, Gerard Colman, Luke Diggins, Daniel Fagan, Oscar Higgins, Adam Lalor, Nikolai Leake, Alex Lin, Jude Lysaght, Sarah Morley, Jason Mullen, Loris Nikolov, Peter O’Leary, Alex O’Regan and Adam O’Rourke

On being an Intersex

In February I was invited to speak at my alma mater in a competition debate.  This was a bolt from the blue.

Thirty years ago I was an undergraduate in Trinity College Dublin. I read History and English, joint honours, and majored in the former. I joined various societies and clubs, but the one that possessed me the most was the College Historical Society, or the oldest college debating society in the world.

Prizes if you can spot me... 30 years ago

Prizes if you can spot me… 30 years ago

I joined the HIST as it is called and sat through many nights of debates, where the cut and thrust of speakers was thrilling. Parliamentary procedure was followed, with rules and bells and points of information from the floor. Imagine my subsequent disappointment when I first watched televised debates in the real parliamentary chamber in Dail Eireann – the speeches were nothing like the wonderful robust displays I remembered from my college days.  Politicians can disappoint is so many ways.

I became a committee member and from there an officer. I debated a little but preferred to witness rather than contribute directly, so I was very surprised to be invited back to speak in a competition last week.

It was the occasion of the honorary members’ debate. I was indeed an honorary member, or hon mems as we are termed, but I had not set foot back in the chamber since I graduated. Even as an HIST officer I had never debated in an actual competition and now I could barely remember the correct way to open my paper.  A quick run through the names speaking did nothing to allay my fears. Everyone else held a medal for debating, most of them were now professors or barristers and there was even a Supreme Court judge part of the adjudicators.

To make matters worse I was a TBC on the speaking order until the week of the debate.

I was allotted a debating partner, a former auditor, medallist and winner of several debating championships. I wondered what he had done to vex the committee to be paired with me. He did not know the answer to this either but was gracious enough to advise me on what to expect.

I had three days to figure out my speech. As part of my preparation, I had my hair cut and took extra care with my makeup. It was a black tie affair and I thought at least if I looked the part…such are the desperate stratagems of a middle-aged  hon mem.

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I was up second, presenting the opposition motion. I rose, I spoke and I died. I sadly did not debate. I finished too soon. I quietly gave up my arguments with all the vigour of a retired Sunday school teacher.  When I finished there was polite applause. Then I had to sit through the next ten debaters, blushing as I compared my offering to the subsequent polished contributions.

 

Afterwards I considered my attempt. I knew I could do better. While not a debater, I was also not such a wall flower. I put my request to the Record Secretary, the person responsible for inviting me in the first place. There was a another debate planned before term was over, this time on women’s role in fiction, and as I had written erotica, he felt I might something worthwhile to say.

I wrote to the Auditor and expressed my interest in returning to the scene of the crime. Her reply was classic – She thought my contribution would be most interesting as I was an INTERSEX.

This stumped me. This threw me. I puzzled over her email for hours.

My first thought was my desperate stratagem of looking good had been too good and somehow I had managed to slip into drag queen territory.

My second thought was that I had a good friend who is indeed Intersex (and probably unique in Europe)and maybe they had confused us.

My third thought was that I really only going to be invited back if I was very different and I had struck out again.

I wrote sadly to the Auditor saying I was boringly female, mother to two children and not even lesbian. I waited for her reply.

When it came I laughed out loud for a long time. Predictive text was responsible and far from thinking I was an Intersex, she thought I was interesting.  So now my only question is should I go for the drag queen look or au natural.

 

The jury is still out!

 

 

You can decide if I improved or not…

Inaugural debate (I’m on at 45 minutes)

or Hon Mem debate (I’m on second)

 

B(u)y the book!

Last week I made it into a book, a legal book, a proper non-fiction book about Electoral Law in Ireland. The author Jennifer Kavanagh is a lecturer in Law in Waterford IT and has just completed a PhD in law in Trinity College Dublin. Her book, Electoral Law in Ireland, is available from Bloomsbury Professional

It is quite an expensive book as paperbacks go, costing €150, but it is possible to write the cost against tax. I was advised that by the young barrister Ruadhán Mac Aodháin who was also purchasing the book just as I arrived at the book launch. Ruadhán was part of the legal team that made it possible for me to be mentioned in the book.

In 2014 when I became the first female bankrupt under the new Insolvency laws in Ireland, I was unable to run for public office. Those of you who know my story will remember that my own personal descent into financial ruin (divorce + home repossession + business failure + bailiffs) had created an accidental activist.

I became well known for ranting and raving on the airways domestically and abroad about the injustices facing ordinary people.

I was – and remain – very anti the stranglehold the banks have on the people.

I was – and remain – very anti the spin developed by the banks to say that people who fail financially have the moral integrity of Artful Dodger and then some.

I had had enough. I was tired of the system where being a good, law abiding, hard-working, honest citizen had resulted in one crushing defeat after another. I won’t bore you with my story here – there is plenty of that on my blog – but I wanted to stop being a victim.

So the law case, handled by the incorrigible Colm McGeehan and ably barristered by Dr Michael Forde, Richard Humphries and the aforementioned Ruadhán, led me to the High Court so that I could argue my constitutional rights were being infringed.

I blushed when I met Ruadhán again for I was a most awkward client. The sharing of reciprocal affidavits where nothing was ‘admitted’ by the Irish Government except that I might be the Artful Dodger in question reminded me too powerfully of my recent experience in the divorce courts.

However, the legal team sallied on undeterred by their emotional client. And as the government too decided that I was not for turning, the law was rushed through in time for me to run for the European Parliament in Ireland South in May 2014.

I am proud to say I left the electoral count centre in Cork with 11,500 votes under my belt build on nothing more than my character.

I had no money, no party behind me and only four weeks to run my campaign. So much for the Government ‘admitting’ that I was the Artful Dodger.

However, while my character may have passed the moral test, my financial status has not as yet recovered sufficiently for me to be in a position to purchase that rather nice book. So instead the kind lady at Bloomsbury scanned in page 71 and here I attach it proudly.

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I am proud to be Page 71

 

 

 

 

And I thank Ruadhán for his encouraging words to me as I entered the 2014 European race with all the experience of a church mouse. Ruadhán said that everybody should run in a political election at least once in their life. While at the time, that emotional, denying Artful Dodger cursed him for his enthusiasm, the post election, triumphant candidate is deeply grateful for his words.

Victories are more than votes.

I got to put my victimhood under the sword in the process. That, as the ad says, was priceless.

But you can buy the book here

jennys book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you’ve hung up your boots, can you still make it in the boardroom?

First Printed in the Sunday Independent 20/12/2015

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A career as a professional sports star is something that children dream of. But what happens to sportspeople when age catches up with them?

Last month, UFC fighter Conor Pendred announced his retirement, aged just 28, stating a lack of passion. “The time is right to close one door and open another,” he said. And making that decision may have been a tougher struggle than any of his cage fights.

Closing one door can be painful but making the transition to another career can be helped if the skill sets used in sport can be used in the next competitive arena. If sport is competitive, so too is business, and the will to succeed in one area will often lead to success in the other.

But are they directly transferable?

Aidan McCullen, director of digital innovation at Communicorp, suggests that not all sporting skill sets may not directly map onto business.

“I played 10 years of professional rugby and by the end I could do a mean spin pass off my left hand. I’m not sure that had deep resonance with the advertising industry.”

McCullen’s joke masks a modest approach to his sporting career but the same mindset that allowed him develop a solid spin pass also allowed him succeed in business.

“If I was going to do anything, I would do it with a passion,” he says. “I fell in love with rugby at an early age. Everything revolved around the sport.”

To illustrate this point, McCullen recalls a chore of chopping wood blocks into quarters as young boy. He had to load the sticks into a wooden shed with a broken window, but rather than carry the sticks inside for storage, he lobbed every one, all 300 or so, via the narrow opening to practice his passing skills.

“I don’t think I was the best player. In fact, many of my rugby contemporaries might have been surprised at the extent I was able to play professionally over the decade,” he says. “But I set goals and I hit them pretty much, with a degree of luck, on the sporting field.”

His sporting career continued in London and France, playing for London Irish, Dax and Toulouse. When an injury signalled the end of his sporting career, he cast around for a desk job.

“I was interested in advertising but knew nothing of the industry. I used every networking device possible to meet with people in this area and saw that digital marketing was the new area – no one really knew that much about it, which meant I could apply with a degree of confidence.”

McCullen was hired as an intern, aged 31. He worked every job, every admin role and every boring logistical task with the same intensity as he had lobbed the logs as a young boy.

“It’s all about the mindset,” he says. “That and support of other people, people who will give you a chance. Having worked hard but been given chances, I am very keen to pay it forward.”

Players on the pitch operate as part of a team, but what if your chosen area was in officialdom?

Alan Lewis played international cricket from 1984 until 1997 – but the following year he moved into referring in rugby, also at international level. Being a ref had a huge influence on his commercial career, running the family insurance brokers, LHW.

“I call referring the art of persuasion,” says Lewis, “and it is exactly the same in business.”

Over his 13-year career as a referee, Lewis says that preparation was the key to his success.

“I studied the two teams in advance, wishing to anticipate every eventuality that might happen on the pitch. It’s exactly the same in business. If you don’t prepare before your meetings, you may as well not bother.”

If preparation and anticipation were key elements of his sporting canon, then analysis after the event was his bible.

“I can’t get it right all the time, and in refereeing this is a very public platform. But if I did make mistakes, I needed to figure out where I went wrong, so as to avoid repeating them.

“In business, this is exactly the same. Not every meeting can be a win – but if we lose, then we need to understand why and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Sometimes the business of sport runs parallel.

Alex Butler is a national champion showjumper. Last September, he won the Premier Series of showjumping on Hallowberry Cruz; an honour he had won three years previously.

He has jumped at the top level across Europe, representing Ireland abroad and at home. Aged 28, he is in his prime – but he must also make a business from his passion, especially as he does not come from money.

“It is possible to make a living from showjumping, if you are good enough,” says Butler. “But I want to make a good business from my passion. I don’t just want to feed myself – I want to be successful.”

That same success at showjumping has been translated into his yard outside Staffan. He has 16 stables and a fully equipped yard – but that does not come cheap. His horses are a mixture of clients’ and his own, sometimes he has shares in both. He says he is lucky in his jumping.

“If I had not had the success, than it would be harder to attract good horses,” he says modestly. His business skills extend to picking good animals and producing them to the highest levels, but he leaves the admin to his partner. “I’d rather be on a horse than in an office any day,” he says.

For female athletes, the exposure is not as prominent – but the lessons are just as relevant. Jenny Byrne, a former international soccer player, founded SEIFA (Supporting Elite Irish Female Athletes) this year to highlight the discrepancies and increase support for female athletes.

An inaugural Inspiration Award went to Cork camogie player Anna Geary, who has a long list of awards and achievements. Her experience of working full time in HR, playing full-time for Cork and doing a part-time postgrad degree meant she had to learn to juggle her time.

“Sport taught me how to manage stress and my time,” Geary says. Although it seems even in sport, women must multitask…

Sunday Indo Business

Managing a creative career: how to make the figures add up for artists

First printed in the Sunday Independent 6/12/2015

A recent survey by the National Campaign for the Arts summed up the key issue facing the sector. It noted that “Ireland has long enjoyed an outstanding reputation for artistic excellence, at home and abroad, despite the fact that Government spending on arts and culture is just 0.11pc of GDP. This has placed Ireland at the bottom of the list of EU countries compared with an average of 0.6pc, surely something no country can condone.

“This unenviable position looks set to continue for the foreseeable future, given government commitment to the Department is set for cuts and standstill allocations into 2017.”

There are an estimated 4,915 professional artists in Ireland, with the latest income data suggesting that artists were earning 56pc less than those in the manufacturing sector.

Other statistics to come out of a recent Arts Council study show that 58pc of artist households find it difficult to make ends meet, 23pc were in arrears on a utility bill (compared to 8pc of the wider population) and 31pc of artists have made provision for a pension (compared to 54pc of all workers).

More than half of all artists are self-employed, with only 13pc paying tax on a PAYE basis. But considering the level of academic qualifications within the sector – 69pc of artists have a third-level degree or higher and 83pc a professional qualification, when compared to only 24pc of all workers – the figures do not add up.

Ian Oliver would have this condition turned on its head. Co-founder of the Centre for Creative Practices (CFCP) with art entrepreneur advocate Monika Sapielak, Oliver has worked on both sides of the artistic fence, both as a creative when he was a photographer and as an entrepreneur running his own business. He believes that artists need to be taught how to be entrepreneurs for the good of the artistic sector and society.

“Most people who follow the creative path emerge from fine arts degrees, creative courses or workshops knowing how to create product,” he says. “However, they are not taught how to sell their product. Somehow the end objective is in the creation rather than sale of their artwork. Without marketing, financial and logistical skills, how can people expect to be able to sell? After all, you would hardly expect a retailer or shopkeeper to offload product without basic understanding of commerce. So why not an artist?”

Oliver put this theory to the test in 2013 when CFCP in collaboration with the New York Foundation for the Arts set up and facilitated a boot camp for artists. This was supported by the Arts Council, hosted by the RHA, and took on 65 artists.

The four-day boot camp taught artists the basics of marketing, logistics, transportation and fundraising. From that, a cohort of 26 came together to form a co-operative called IDIR. They were then tasked with collaborating to create an exhibition. Using their new-found skills, the group successfully put together a show that ran for four months, from October 2014 until January 2015, in the New York Foundation for the Arts Centre and which was formally opened by Hozier.

“The boot camp and subsequent exhibition proved that artists were very capable of creating a commercial environment to display and sell their artwork,” says Oliver. “We now run seminars, classes and workshops along similar lines.”

He addresses core issues of public perception that somehow art is meant to be free: “One type of artist to believe in payment for their work are musicians. Most concerts tend to be ticketed and merchandise is available to purchase. But visual arts or performing arts have a much slower conversion to commerce.”

If direct sales are not the solution, then what about public funding? Again Oliver would advocate a wider view on how to raise funds. “With funding for the arts slashed by 30pc, there is not enough money to go around and artists have to think smarter,” he says. “There is also money available in crowdfunding, micro loans and, increasingly, related causes.

“We help artists look at the inspiration for their art – and often there may be a link to funding not traditionally accessible via the arts.”

Fiach Moriarty is a singer-songwriter. Now in his thirties he has managed to largely support his writing through gigging. Leaving school he had a choice between studying history in Trinity and going to Rock School in Ballyfermot and – to his mother’s dismay – he chose the latter.

“Life comes in circles,” says Moriarty. “My first love is songwriting, but my second is history and that has hugely influenced my direction and style in writing. I am fascinated by events such as the Arab Spring and 1916 – I like to look at things differently,” he says. Such is his creativity that he and his songs have been featured on RTE’s Arena and he has also sung with the RTE Concert Orchestra twice in events to celebrate the Rising.

Moriarty has translated his fascination with history into opportunity but he also feels there is little income to be made in Ireland. “The free thing is very strong,” he says. “It’s not uncommon to travel across the country to a gig only to receive €20 for your trouble. If I did that in Germany, the promoters would be delighted to have me there, would feed me and pay me an appropriate sum. It is hard to make real money in Ireland.”

Moriarty has a daughter – and an imperative to earn a crust. However, he also appreciates that part of the problem in Ireland is the excess of talented singer-songwriters. “It’s great being part of a strong and vibrant community. We are all very supportive of each other and I like that – but it does dilute the pot somewhat.”

As a result Moriarty turned to crowdfunding for his second album, raising €2,000 largely through presales. His first was paid for by his SSIA. “It’s a balancing act for a singer songwriter,” he says.

Ciara O’Keeffe is a ceramics artist specialising in stoneware clay. She did a fine arts degree in Limerick and then ran a framing shop and gallery. The recession closed those doors and the onset of a family pushed her into a PAYE lifestyle. O’Keeffe now works as a ceramics teacher for the Kildare VEC. She teaches young and sometimes troubled teenagers who have dropped out of school, and finds her job both demanding and incredibly rewarding.

“It would be my ideal job, except actually producing clay art is my dream job,” she explains.

Danielle Serpico, half-Italian and half-Irish, studied fine art as a student but found her confidence knocked by a lecturer who did not share her style – despite the that she had very successful career while in college.

She was in huge demand both in Bray and in Dublin for her distinctive window paintings, but the loss of self-belief led her to drop art totally for a career as a restaurateur. At one stage, she owned and managed two restaurants and employed 40 staff. However, the recession meant she had to close the business, and left her to examine what she wanted from life.

“I had a choice and I decided to believe in myself,” says Serpico. “I started painting again, especially in the summer, and I found I had a ready supply of clients. One accidental trick was to carry my large paintings around in the back of my car – I have subsequently sold several to people working in carparks where they viewed my work. The car as a gallery!”

Serpico retrained as a mind coach and uses the same confidence techniques that revitalised her artistic life to help others. “It’s all about facing fear and doing it anyway,” she says.

Sunday Indo Business

Former corporates pioneer the new breed of start-ups

First printed in the Sunday Independent on 15/11/2015

One might be forgiven for thinking that all start-ups begin in garages and offices set up in spare bedrooms, but many former employees of multinational corporations are also having a pop at world domination.

One might imagine that the new breed of entrepreneur would never have been corrupted by the air breathed in corporate offices or by the golden handcuffs of the corporate perks.

Yet increasingly start-ups are emerging from corporate – taking the best practice and applying it to a very much scaled-down business model.

Perhaps it is also a sign of a recovering economy to witness increasing numbers of entrepreneurs leaving the safety of the PAYE net and venturing out on their own.

One observer to see first-hand this new breed of entrepreneur is Richard Donelan, founder and chief presenter of IrishStartUpTV. An endurance athlete by passion and an observer by nature, Donelan found himself working in Dogpatch Labs as a mentor to new start-ups.

Dogpatch Labs is a co-working space and incubation facility. Originally launched by Polaris Partners in San Francisco in 2009 and with subsequent facilities in New York, Boston and now Dublin, Dogpatch Labs spaces have incubated such companies as Instagram which was sold to Facebook for approximately $1bn.

Earlier this year it moved from Barrow Street to state-of-the-art facilities in CHQ. It also moved from a free-to-play to a pay-to-play co-working space and is supported by Google and Ulster Bank.

It’s like a mini Silicon Valley where beer busts and pizza events are the norm. And the average age of the start-up founders is 25.

While Donelan began working as a mentor he swiftly began recording the myriad keen new companies crossing his path. Since founding IrishStartUpTV he has now interviewed in excess of 150 start-ups and increasingly finds the founders are coming from corporate life.

“I created the website to share the news about the amazing buzz that is happening in Ireland. In the beginning, I found most of the start-ups hailed from academia or techcamps like Dogspatch Labs – but over the past few months I’ve interviewed more and more founders who have come from the big multinationals, including many Googlers.”

In Donelan’s experience, engineers who have big corporate experience can hit the ground running.

“They know how to scale, and they know how to build a product quickly,” says Donelan. “They also know how to talk money – always a good talent in a start-up.”

If a start-up has to outsource its technical requirements, he says, then it’s a much harder and more expensive process.

“Also, despite working in a corporate environment, engineers are basically creative types. They want to build cool stuff – not sit behind a desk. So when they do break free to do their own thing, they are a force very much to be reckoned with,” adds Donelan.

Kevin Bosc from ReferMePlease is one such ex-Googler. Previously he managed the French customer services for Adwords and very much enjoyed the many perks of the job.

“I do miss that side of things,” he says. “Google looks after everything for its employees, right down to the free food and social life. It makes it very hard to leave.

“However, I have found that the skills I learnt at Google are standing me in very good stead. For example, Google is a data-driven business and I have applied that hard learning to my new start-up.

“In the first iteration of ReferMePlease I only allowed employers to seek out candidates, but it proved too static. I analysed the data, altered it so that candidates can also start conversations and suddenly the traffic went through the roof.

“As I am bootstrapping the new business I need to watch every cent I spend. Being able to analyse and amend based on data received is a lesson hard-wired in me from my time at Google. Now the downloads are starting to yield results,” he says.

Aonghus O hEocha is another example of gamekeeper turned poacher. He worked for Land Rover and BMW as a senior manager on new Mini and Range Rover projects.

He then obtained a master’s degree in engineering business management from Warwick University in the UK, before going on to form technology firm (OHD) which specialised in radio based solutions.

At one point, he developed a grab tune app, similar to Shazam, which pulled in significant revenue before losing the marketing campaign (similar to Betamax and VHS).

“It was a great project and we made money,” says O hEocha, “but we lost out to deeper pockets.”

He has worked on other projects since, but is very appreciative of his corporate past.

“I totally understand the corporate mentality. As an SME this is imperative. I can talk the same language from the get go,” he says. Today he is CEO of GIRT, a software house that specialises in developing apps.

His corporate past allows him to understand budgets. “It is radically different from start-up to corporate,” says O hEocha.

“While I may be working on start-ups now, I am selling to big corporates and it is important that I understand my buyer. Actually, it is imperative I understand my buyer.”

Pierre Denicolay is the new CEO of Bring4You, Currently he is still employed at Google as an account strategist. His role is to help people grow their businesses using Google products. He has been employed by Google for more than a year now, but he is looking to take the skills learnt and bring them to his new venture.

His new business is already getting traction and is another advance on social cooperation. His platform allows people move their possessions via other people: a sort of family delivery service.

His informal delivery service is low-cost and allows travellers to make money by carrying goods wanted by others.

Think of it as a transport version of Airbnb. For Denicolay, his experience working with Google has really informed his new start-up.

“I set up Bring4You with two other directors – from China,” says Denicolay. “The international experience I gained from Google was directly and positively impacted from that.

“I must also say the digital experience I learnt from Google was invaluable, and finally, I also benefited from all the start-up events organised by Google. It was like a bootcamp for entrepreneurs.”

It is not just software giants that produce start-ups, sometimes international law can produce entrepreneurs also. One such man is Peter Griffin from internationally-recognised London-based law firm Sherman and Sterling.

Griffin’s speciality is international litigation, which has seen him mediate between large organisations and even countries.

Griffin was involved at the highest levels of negotiations, including the so-called Velvet Divorce – where Czechoslovakia was divided in two in a bloodless legal split. As such, not only does Griffin have excellent negotiation skills, he also has many contacts.

“My network is very strong on many areas,” says Griffin. “From policymakers through to institutional investors, I enjoy a good working relationship with the shakers and makers in international markets.

“And having dealt with tricky negotiations, I know what works and what doesn’t. This is very powerful when working on projects that are very close to the ground. A start-up and a country share similar features in negotiations – the details are very important, if not critical, to both.”

Griffin set up his own consultancy in London and through contacts with an African country, is now working with Irish-based Yapping.

“It’s not just Ireland that has a diaspora – most other countries do too. I am working with Yapping to take a model developed for and in Ireland to mainland Africa. It’s a different kind of thrill,” says Griffin.

Dr Patricia Scanlon holds a PhD and boasts IBM and Bell Labs amongst her former employers. She is fully cognisant of the impact of these corporate names.

“While I was still employed and wore my nametag at events I could see people take notice. It is the same when I use the names now – having worked for these heavyweights confers credibility on me by default.”

While Scanlon was working at Bell Labs she relished the environment – a mix between industrial and academic research. However, she also found she wanted to push the focus of her research into more innovative forms.

Working for a networking giant, she nevertheless wanted to look into developments that were adjacent to their core focus, such as big data and the internet of things. She was not given the opportunity to pursue her interests and found she was pitching constantly back in 2008 but without success.

“It is hard to turn a massive ship,” says Scanlon. “However, it was a great experience. Despite my inability to change the R&D focus in Bell Labs I learnt how to pitch. And I learnt how large corporates listen.”

Scanlon can now slice and dice her pitches with military precision. Since she set up SoapBox Labs, a smart proprietary speech-recognition software to enable reading assessments and personalisation for young children, she has been raising money and speaking with big corporates to find business partners.

At a glance she can revise her pitch to suit accountants, financial heads, engineers or marketeers.

“We work in a B2B arena but being able to gauge the room is vital. I now head up a start-up but I can talk the same language as the corporate that we want to work with, partner with or sell to. Now that is invaluable.”

Sunday Indo Business