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.


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

image (5)

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

Stand back, there’s a new kid in town – hail the rise of the sidepreneur

First printed in the Sunday Independent on 1/11/2015

Sidepreneurs have all the hallmarks of more mainstream entrepreneurs – except they also have to keep going at their day job while doing it, writes Jillian Godsil

They say the best business is grown in a recession – where labour, rents and expectations are cheap, but equally venture capital, support and credit is short. To straddle that gap comes the new sidepreneur – someone who has the idea and drive to create their own business, but is not quite ready to quit the day job yet.

Eoin Costello, CEO of Start-up Ireland, has a burning passion to turn the island of Ireland into a start-up hub – attracting entrepreneurs and venture capital in equal parts. His view is to create a global hub in Ireland, attracting the best ideas and providing the best supports. The first Start-up Gathering that ran last week has created a huge groundswell of interest, with hundreds of events in the ‘5 Cities, 5 Days’ island-wide convention.

However, for every 100 entrepreneurs taking their first brave steps, Costello reckons there are at least 500 waiting to find the right time, the money or the opportunities to put their toe into the water.

“There are three main impediments to people becoming full-on entrepreneurs,” says Costello. “The first is the lack of incubation space or co-working areas. For every one mom-and-pop shop that broke out the garage, nine others did not. Working at home may be a safe bet in terms of rents, but it means start-up entrepreneurs miss out on the gregarious nature of an incubator or shared facility. Ideas breed ideas.

“The second major impediment is a lack of knowledge about resources available through regional bodies and organisations such as Enterprise Ireland and Local Enterprise Boards.”

Finally, Costello reckons that we might also be overlooking an important resource in ‘breakout’ start-ups. This is where individuals working for large corporates have reached their optimum levels of success and are looking to branch out into entrepreneurism. Costello says large corporates would benefit from encouraging sidepreneur-swayed staff out into full entrepreneurship, often becoming suppliers to their new enterprises.

Costello quotes Patsy Carney, co-founder of EirGen Pharma in Waterford, who did just that ten years ago – by forming EirGen after a career with IVAX pharmaceutical. Last year, Carney sold it for €135m, which surely beats a monthly pay cheque. Costello argues that corporates need to help sidepreneurs leverage their corporate skills into start-ups.

The movement from sidepreneur to entrepreneur often happens at the point when second-round investment arrives. David Willoughby is just on the cusp of making that move following 18 months of sidepreneurship, which involved his extra time and his own money in creating a new networking product aimed at the Irish community here and abroad. He is launching Irish Yapping at the Web Summit and hopes to be able to transition into a full-time CEO as soon as finance allows.

Willoughby is a former entrepreneur who came a cropper during the recession, when his engineering firm collapsed. He witnessed creditors repossessing equipment and machinery and swore he would not be exposed again. He returned to education, worked in Africa, and returned to Ireland – where he found work with a software company as business development officer.

“Around that time, I saw the text-based alert system in my local community,” says Willoughby. “Then I watched a programme about young people emigrating, found parallels in my own life, and the idea for Irish Yapping grew from there.”

Irish Yapping allows individuals sign up and put a pin in their home and nominate the radial distance, up to 50 miles, that they can connect with fellow Irish Yapping members. There is a further option to put a second ‘current’ pin for when users are abroad. It is free to use for individuals, though in time a business programme will be offered allowing promotions and advertisements to fund the ongoing development.

As part of that commercial growth, a partnership agreement has been signed with FCR, the owners of the Golden Pages. The product is geared at multiple diaspora groupings and has significant scope to scale globally.

“We are also in extensive talks with a potential CFO in London,” says Willoughby. “The international business plan is being developed and we are aiming for between €2m-€3m worth of investment. At that stage I will give up the day job and become a full-time CEO.”

He is optimistic this will happen early next year, if not before. For breakout sidepreneurs like Carney, or start-up sidepreneurs like Willoughby, there is light at the end of the tunnel. For other sidepreneurs, the chances of migrating to full entrepreneurship are unlikely without support.

Legal secretary Valerie Coleman began a business in traditional crafts, creating bespoke knitted apparel. As soon as she finished one design, it was sold directly off Facebook. Her business ‘Other Mammies’ was formed and named for forgotten domestic craft skills. For the first year she became so busy she could not keep up and forged a partnership with another colleague – and then began looking at factory premises.

“We looked long and hard at the figures,” says Coleman. “But to take the leap from working my business outside my day job would have meant giving up the safety net of my salary – it was just too risky. I could not afford to take the risk.”

To this day, Coleman produces bespoke clothes and personalised kitchenware and sells it piecemeal over the net and through local shops. Her dedication to creating unique quality products ensures she has a steady supply of customers, but she will always remain a sidepreneur.

“I am resigned to doing this as a side business and I do like the sanity of my day job,” she adds, “but I will always wonder what might have happened if I had made the leap.”

Sunday Indo Business

Focal’s Open Mic Night

Listen here to a pre recorded version (without tears)

Presentation Arts Centre in Enniscorthy is the most perfect building. An old convent, the conversion to secular building retains the stained glass windows and ornate carved wooden beams arching overhead. When one walks into the hall it is breath-taking, literally, in its beauty. And, as with all ecclesiastical architecture, the acoustics are impeccable. This was the venue for the ‘Open Mic’ run by the Wexford Focal Literary Group and I had been very kindly invited to read. It was my first public reading (unless one counts a reading at EroticaUK of a slightly different nature) and I was relaxed as a newbie on their opening night which is not very much at all. Still a glass of red wine and a lovely welcome from guests already assembled soon calmed those incipient nerves.

focal pic

I had another practical reason to feel nervous. My youngest child had just begun college in Dublin and had, it seemed, emptied her bedroom lock stock and barrel to her digs in Dublin. The tidy bed at home did not look lived in, at least not the way it was normally strewn with clothes, books and electronic devices. She had taken other items from around the house, in a weekly drip drip loss of goods. On the last return to Dublin the printer had been the official casualty and now resided snug in her new digs. As a result I had to ring her and ask her to print out my reading. I am pleased to say my daughter has become parsimonious in her new student life to the extent that she managed to fit my 2000 or so words onto just three pages by using tiny fonts and carefully printing on both sides.  I was less pleased that I would now have to read the tiny text on stage and had resorted to digging out a pair of random reading glasses – the thick, cheap kind you find at shop tills – with which to tackle my work.

focal pic 2

I was up first which was, like the curate’s egg, good and bad in parts. I was glad to kick off the evening but I was also uncertain how to behave. I opted for standing at the mic rather than sitting as I was wearing my brand new shoes. They were bright red in colour and never worn before. I had driven the forty minutes to Enniscorthy in them so that they were settled in but I think I miscalculated. By two hours they were killing me with a passion. I reckon I should have waited until I arrived before wearing the murderous duo.  I am familiar with the term ‘car to bar’ shoes but I am not sure how I managed to buy a ‘killer heels’ with the emphasis on killer.


The second thing that happened to me was on stage, mid reading. I was reaching a part of my narrative which talked about the bonehead banks and how they were responsible for my being bankrupt. I had received an offer on my house but they refused consent to sell, preferring to repossess my home and sell it for a tenth of the price. The escalating results were catastrophic and while they certainly resulted in the loss of my home, my income, my business, my belongs – they almost certainly resulted in the loss of my life. I know this part of my story, I have written and told it before, but as I reached these lines I found emotions wellsprung in me and I faltered, my voice broke and I almost cried and pulled up in my reading. But I found the courage and the voice to continue. I got through my emotion and carried on reading.  What was funny was afterwards I spoke with another writer and she complimented me on my reading but it transpired she thought I had cried for effect. I am not sure whether this is a compliment or not.

Finally, yet another writer and speaker told me she had gone bankrupt too – at the early age of 21 in Australia. Afterwards I pondered was it better to go bankrupt early or late. I thought about this for a bit but I reckon early is better – it gives more time to recover, less hurt to be felt and less loss to be suffered. Young people know there are invulnerable, older folks are less sure.

Until the next time …

Wexford’s Focal Literary Festival





You put your dick WHERE?



You’d have to have your head under a rock to miss #piggate. It signals the return to parliament and the end of the silly season. You’d almost be forgiven for thinking that the Tories had something to hide, some big scandal coming up along the way or perhaps they do. Perhaps this is the latest detraction story from their abysmal record on the refugee crisis. Cameron is up there with the most militant, entrenched Hungarian politician with his rhetoric and actions. ‘The swarms of migrants’ are not gaining traction in the UK. ‘Build higher fences’ and keep them out. Cameron is right on cue when he marshals the xenophobic excesses in ‘Great’ Britain into ‘Fortress’ Britain. He is guilty of pedalling the myth that multicultural societies do not work. They do. The proof is in London and he just must just try harder.

It is interesting in this day and age that the vile accusation is a matter of one man’s word against another. Neither had the benefit of a smart phone and camera to record the incident. I presume the publishers of Lord Ashcroft’s autobiography must have had a team of lawyers swarm all over the claims. And that by the way, My Cameron is the correct use of the verb swarm. It relates back to the subject and while wasps and lawyers are fair game, fleeing families risking death are not.

Of course, while smart phones did not exist in the last century, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram do today. In fact, we can dispense with the formalities of truth and imagine up any number of memes with Cameron and pigs. There is even a song out already with Mr Cameron ‘getting piggy with it’. The jokes are very funny, as long as you not the prime minister of the UK. Of course, it could be worse, he might have been the president of the greatest Western Super power inserting his phallus into a living receptacle. And then be grilled by Grand Jury as if it were a matter of state.

Which is an interesting point. Why should we be concerned about where the prime minister put his member while a student, especially as the object was dead? It is pretty gross and not really a vote getter but does it diminish his ability to lead his party? I would argue his actions regarding the refugees, or rather his lack of proper action, is way more damning.

Of course, this propensity to insert dicks into objects has been covered at length before. Back in the 1997, Fiona Giles, feminist and scholar approached dozens of well-known female artists, poets, authors and scholars and asked them what they would do if they woke and found themselves genitally altered. The resulting book ‘If you had a dick for a day’ provoked funny, witty and sometimes sad responses from the 50 or so women selected to reply. But I don’t recall anyone suggesting sticking their dick into things, just to see if it fitted (insert urban myths of vacuum cleaners stuck here). Although Germaine Greer bucked the trend and said if she was given a long enough one she might try having sex with herself.

Still, women tend not to engage in such merriment. In fact, I don’t seem to recall, ever, hearing about a sorority game that encouraged women to insert their bits into dead animals. I could be wrong of course. On the internet much strangeness can be found.

There were two interesting fallouts from this account. The first is the dark dystopian TV series Black Mirror by Charlie Brooker which featured the prime minister having carnal relations with a live pig. Mr Brooker has been interviewed all over the media, and indeed went live on Twitter as soon as the story broke, to confirm that he had no knowledge of the prime minister engaging in such an act. One wonders instead did Lord Ashcroft watch the series and did it jog his memory? Art influencing life in reverse perhaps?

Or the second, more cynical approach lies with a repeated story about US president Lyndon B Johnson in an early congressional campaign. Johnson apparently told one of his aides to spread the rumour that his opponent had sexual congress with pigs. His aide rebutted the idea, saying they could not spread out and out lies, to which Johnson replied: ‘Of course it ain’t true but I want the son of a bitch to deny it.’

And right on cue Mr Cameron has come out to say that he will not dignify the accusation with a denial. Which is a rose by any other name.



Get up and Go – Some Blabs in Advance

Sligo October 17, 2015  #GUAG2015

LIsten to Breifne Earley talking about his Pedal the Planet and whether or not he is a YAMIL (Young-Aged Man in Lycra) in advance of the Get Up and Go Conference in Sligo on October 17



Get Up and Go – Inspirational conference to come to the NorthWest

Motivational Team includes Puttnam, Breen and Gates


An Inspirational Conference aimed at people wanting to make their dreams a reality is being hosted in Sligo on October 17th. The theme is For your dreams and pays homage to Yeats’ home and poetry. The Get Up and Go team have pulled together an amazing and inspiring range of motivational speakers creating a momentous conference in Sligo and the Northwest.

The speakers are all trailblazers, role models and people who inspire. They have had the courage to step outside their comfort zones and followed their dreams into new areas of self-expression, contribution and power. Labour Peer and Filmmaker David Puttnam, Entrepreneur and Secret Millionaire Jim Breen, and life changing, mountain climbing heroine Teena Gates head up a speaker list that will challenge, motivate and change your life. This is one event that you cannot afford to miss.

The Get Up and Go conference is the second annual event organised by the providers of the popular Get Up and Go Diaries which have sold almost 200,000 copies over the past eight years. Up to 500 participants are expected to attend.

We invite you to register and come listen to the following motivators:

Lord David Puttnam – founder of Atticus Education which has been operating since August 2012 and is based in Skibbereen. . Among the institutions to which seminars are being delivered are Griffith Film School in Brisbane, LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore, the University of Sunderland and University College Cork.

Jim Breen  – founder and CEO of PulseLearning. In 2012 he took part in the televised ‘Secret Millionaire’ where he learnt about mental health issues and a Suicide Awareness Group. As a result he set up the Cycle Against Suicide. This year the charity will involve 7,500 cyclists in a sea of orange cycling around the island of Ireland over 14 days.

Padraig O’Maillie – creator of Smacht, an executive training business that motivates people to realise more of their potential. He is the author of the best selling book, Rocking Horse Sh*t which applied coping strategies learnt from a serious illness.

Teena Gates – is a best-selling author, journalist, radio and TV presenter, magazine columnist and adventure blogger who lost 13 stone during a year long journey to find herself. Her belief that you can achieve the impossible if you Dream, Dare and Do has dramatically changed her life and the lives of those around her, as she urges everyone to walk their way to a better future by putting ‘one foot in front of the other’.

Damien Brennan – has a background in hospitality, holding senior positions with Failte Ireland in the NorthWest. Although now retired, he has taken up a new career, that of being a Yeats expert. An immediate past president of the International Yeats Society, he brings coachloads of poetry tourists into his home to talk about Yeats.

Teejay Dowe – is an experienced, energetic and enthusiastic motivational speaker, published author, international coach, Master Neurostrategist and NLP Trainer, TeeJay not only has the right qualifications and credentials to make a difference to you as an individual andyour inbusiness, she will captivate you with her style and leave you feeling inspired and ready to take action for yourselves as individuals and the teams that you work within.

Miriam Byrne – is a true entrepreneur. Told by her teachers not to aim too high, she managed to get an interview with Department of Biochemistry in Oxford – not only did she get the job without a degree, they insisted she studied for one while in the job. Returning to Ireland she worked at UCD before setting up City Analysts. Now in business 17 years, City Analysts has grown to become a leading environmental analysis company. Twenty three people are employed in two laboratories based in Dublin and Shannon.

Breifne Early – is a true example of how going for your dreams can save your life. Five years ago he was suffering with depression, lonely, single, overweight, unhappy and contemplating giving up on life altogether. However, through a series of serendipitous events (and dates) Breifne not only decided not to go through with ending his painful life, but to set about designing a new one and gave himself a target of 10 life-altering challenges to complete over the next 13 months. From there it was but a short hop to pedalling 18,000 miles through 27 countries to raise awareness of Suicide. He is now writing a book on the experience.


The conference is MC’d by Claire Rowan – broadcaster, columnist and public speaker.

Claire presents the Consumer Show on Ocean FM every Tuesday, She also presents Sligo County Matters for Irish TV and has contributed on Marian Finucane Show and Ray Darcy’s Show and Newstalk. Claire has been doing the Newspaper Review weekly on RTE’s Morning Edition for the last two years and is currently working on a 7 piece radio documentary which will be aired after Christmas.

In this event you will:

– discover what it takes to make your dreams a reality

– understand that dreams are necessary and valuable as guideposts to our future

– learn how to have your dreams not only survive but thrive in today’s fast moving world

– find out that your dreams may have simply gotten lost in the busy confusion of life

– have an opportunity to reawaken and explore some of your most precious dreams

– get clear on what fears might be stopping you going for your dreams

– see beyond current obstacles to new opportunities that will make your dreams come true.

This one day – ticket only event – will take place in the Clarion Hotel Sligo, on October 17th 2015.


Early bird tickets (until the middle of September) are €55.

For more information, please visit http://getupandgoevents.com/







Twitter = The Modern Machine Gun

The speed at which moral outrage can circle the world can be measured in mouse clicks. Six degrees of separation is all that divides us from Cecil the Lion; that and a few million tweets. For a story that barely grazed the pages of the Zimbabwean newspapers, it had generated an angry online mob complete with death threats within hours. It had swiftly mutated out of social media and mobilised into an on-the-ground band of protestors complete with placards and news cameras. It had even become the source of Jimmy Kimmel’s normally comic opening to his show.

The dentist is in hiding with US police checking out the death threats. There are calls for him to be extradited to Zimbabwe to face criminal charges. He won’t be looking at too many dental cavities for the next little while. His five seconds of fame with Cecil might have put him out of a job permanently.

This is not the first time Man versus the Twitter machine loses. In fact, the solitary human being is no match for the thousands, nay millions, of bullets from self-righteous online activists.   I am reminded of world war one when the machine gun emerged as the deadly killing machine. Even the terrifying cavalry was rendered vulnerable as a single machine gun could take the place of 80 rifles.  Like Twitter the early machine guns often overheated, requiring water or air cooling to stop them from jamming. It was not unheard of for machine gun operators to resort to urinating on an overheating gun in the midst of battle to keep the gun running smoothly. Yet another similarity with mass social media mobs.

It is also interesting to note that the most modern machine gun available at the start of world war one was the Maxim. The inventor, Hiram Maxim, offered his design to the British Army but the British High Command rejected it; officers even felt it to be an inappropriate form of warfare. Sadly for the British Army, the German government had no such qualms and inflicted severe carnage on the British troops as a result.

Twitter can certainly be called an inappropriate form of social discourse.  Like the early machine guns that grouped together for maximum results in impregnable points on high ground, the Twitter crowd gathers together on its high moral ground before launching its deadly attack.

At the end of the day, Twitter relies on its moral superiority for it power. It dispenses with legal rights, principals of fair trial and even the basic rights of an individual caught in the cross hairs. It is akin to a bearded Old Testament warrior claiming an eye for an eye. There is no due process, only moral outrage, and carnage, plenty of carnage.

It can be argued that Twitter is a power for democratising society; it can take down monoliths, behemoths and corporates. Yet, increasingly it seems to reserve its ultimate anger for individuals who break the code. Individuals who are hunted for days without letup, punctured and wounded and if the more extreme edge of the crowd had their way, killed in an even more barbaric manner than Cecil died.

I am against Cecil’s death but I would not see Twitter do the same to the dentist. One is a lion and one is a human being and two wrongs do not make a right.

For where does the outrage stop? First for a lion, then for a giraffe, then for a fox, then for a salmon, then for a fly?  And why not for a human being – can we not reserve some emotion for the thousands of human beings dying in terrible conditions as the world witnesses more displaced people on the move than at any other time in our history.

Twitter as a machine gun is deadly. Twitter as an advocate of change can be even more powerful. It is all about the target.



Trial by Social Media

This article was written on July 9th. It was a tough article to write.


Trial by Social Media

A recent high profile video of a young woman with a black eye and her child in the background has gone viral. The young woman, tender and vulnerable, talks movingly about her decision to go public on her beating. She introduces her small child who is playing on the stairs and informs us that she also has a seven month old child by the same man.

Her video has gone viral and she has received widespread praise from women’s groups, individuals and the majority of media outlets. Her injury was allegedly received at the hands of her partner, a man who she tells us that she loved with all her heart. It is a very emotional and moving video.

However, and here I almost hesitate to write, I feel uncomfortable while watching this video. The first reason is that she talks about their life together and the affairs he is said to have had and even the fact that he has fathered other children. These affairs and additional children while horrible to the woman, are not hanging offences. It is not against the law to be unfaithful or indeed to father another child. I feel as though I am in a peep show, watching the intimate affairs of a couple, and it makes me shift uneasily in my seat.

It is enough to know that she has been beaten and was beaten in the past. This is unforgivable and is an offence. The why he allegedly beat her is not important, her coming forward is.

Abuse can only survive where shame and silence prevail. This woman, Emma Murphy, is reaching out to help other women who feel trapped in a violent relationship. She is right on many counts, not least of which is the emotional and mental abuse visited upon her. We know from many reports that domestic abuse victims do not leave for many reasons –fear, worry and often total lack of confidence. Often the direct result of the mental abuse is this inability to leave. The victim over time believes they are in part the cause of the violence, that somehow they are to blame for it.

In direct contrast, victims of domestic violence are often the most resourceful, strong women (and men) you can ever meet. To remain in a place of sometimes daily violence is stressful to a degree equal to that of soldiers on active service. Do not underestimate the power and strength of survivors of domestic violence.

People often ask why don’t the women leave. Why do they put up with it? Ironically this can also come down to strength. Women (and men – I am not neglecting men) do not enter into a violent relationship willingly. Often the violence begins subtly and with large gaps, only over time to become more frequent and more violent. Before the woman knows it, she is in the middle of a crisis and she cannot see a way out.

It is ironic that often the women in this situation do not leave from love. How mad is that? They think that since they once loved their partner that if they stay they can ‘fix’ them. Then a mixture of terror and fear and perhaps babies arrive and their escape routes are destroyed one by one.

In the same way, domestic abuse is accompanied by mental abuse. How else can one human being routinely be violent against another without fear of police intervention? Domestic abuse is rarely about violence or loss of control, it is all about maintaining control over the other person. The same man (or woman) who routinely hits his wife is unlikely to be out fighting with his mates in the pub on a Saturday night. He is not interesting in controlling them – just his wife.

So, I am a big supporter of women who come forward and talk about their experiences, who are strong enough to leave. Who are strong enough to know they cannot fix their partner and that only by leaving can they find a new and safe life for themselves.

The scariest fact is that leaving is often the most dangerous time for women. A study of domestic homicides shows that 75 percent of women were killed as they tried to leave or after they had left.

But I am still uncomfortable about Emma’s video.  I do not doubt that she is telling the truth but I had rather she did it in a format where her ex partner had been tried in a court of law and not a court of social media.

The fact that he raised his hand to her is enough – I believe her. The fact that she is strong to leave – I congratulate her.  The fact that her children will grow up with a violent father – I support her. But I wish she had not tried him on social media where he could not reply.