Monday, October 5, 2015


We headed north in August for a wonderful weekend in Belfast.  Can't believe I left it this long to visit.... I found a proud and friendly city with a great sense of humour.

My travel piece appeared in the Irish Examiner last weekend and you can read it here.

Here is a short photo essay of our time in the city which I thought you might enjoy too.....

The SS Nomad - tender to SS Titanic

Lovely spot for lunch just across from Titanic - Cast & Crew

A cool spot for dinner.... HADSKIS


The wonderful St Georges Market

Hours of gorgeous browsing










All photos by Paul Sherwood.  www.sherwood,ie

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Back in April, The Media Show on RTE had a segment about the shocking level of sexism that exists in Irish Media.  Dr Tom Cloonan and freelance journalist Alison O Connor presented research and personal experience to back up this fact.

I have written before about the appalling state of Irish radio with regard to women's voices but the fact is that sexism exists across all media organisations in this country.

Therefore not only is our political system totally skewed so also is the media that reports it.

Gender balance in media is not some lofty aspiration to be achieved by a slow change of mindsets and culture, it is an urgent problem that needs to be fixed NOW.

You can listen back to The Media Show here  and below is the transcript of the broadcast.

Transcript of Media programme Sunday 19 April 2015
Presenter Conor Brophy

Are women getting a raw deal in the media?

Debate: Alison O Connor (Freelance journalist) and Dr Tom Clonan (Security correspondent with the Irish Times)

Is there sexism at play in the how women are treated within media organisations?

Q. Tom, do you think there is particular macho or masculine culture within the media?
A. I suppose I am coming from military background. As an army officer and as a captain I did my doctoral research (PHD) on the experiences of women in Ireland’s armed forces. The military would be constructed as a very hyper masculine environment with a very robust canteen kind of culture in it. Unfortunately the research I conducted revealed unacceptably high levels of discrimination, harassment and particularly bullying and sexual violence against women in the army.
After I retired, quite by accident, with the twin tower attacks and so on, I found myself working in the journalism space and, I suppose, coming from the military, I had expected or I suppose I had this idea that media would be progressive and would have an equality friendly environment and would be very different from the military. In fact I found and find that many workplace settings within the media would make the army’s eyes water in terms of the masculine, casual sexism and quite a lot of bullying in this environment. That was both an unexpected and disappointing finding on my part.

Q. Would that be your experience Alison?

A. Absolutely Conor. To put it another way the media is a big Mickey industry. It’s so male dominated. I did an informal ring around today. If you take, for instance, each day a news conference takes place to decide what sets the agenda what’s important, what’s setting the agenda for the next day-80%-90% of the people at that are male. These are also the people who would be writing editorials lecturing politicians or others in industry for having a poor gender balance or for not doing their bit and I suppose the worst is that they would often consider themselves to be pretty right on and if not a feminist a friend to the feminist or to  the female. I think it comes from the fact that the media is a very competitive industry. It is quite a selfish industry in that in many ways you are trying to get that scoop, you are working on your own; the hours are very anti social. I work freelance now and I work from home so I’m observing it a little bit from the other side. There’s very little effort, from what I can see, to accommodate women with children who want to stay in their jobs. It’s part of the macho culture to stay late and being seen to stay late. It doesn’t make it easy and I see friends my age who really want to stay in their jobs and who are immensely talented and would be a huge loss to the industry and I see no effort whatsoever to accommodate them in any way in terms of trying to mix both work and being a parent.

Q Tom, you had a point to make there

A. Sure. I’m a journalist in practice but I also do a lot of radio and TV so I have a footprint in all the major Irish media organisations. I have observed the workplace culture in each of those settings. The other thing I will say is in my capacity, I am now regarded as a whistleblower. That was not a term in use when I did my PhD. Over the years, whenever I appear in the media, like when there is a TV documentary or a radio documentary as there was here in RTE on the series Whistleblowers I have been contacted by female journalists in Ireland who have repeated similar stories of harassment, sexual harassment and bullying. I think in relation to the status and role of female journalists within the Irish media. This is a particular Irish phenomenon. I think there is a requirement for major investigation and further analysis in order that we remove those obstacles.

Q, There is an issue there Alison that you referred earlier-if these sort of allegations were made, if this sort of thing was to happen in any other sector it would be very much seen as and would be the duty of the fourth estate to hold the powers that be to account.

A. It’s something funny to do with journalists. I do not know if we see that journalism is a vocation or something. Even if you walk into the average newsroom it’s been my experience that a lot of the time even the desks and the chairs and the computers are pretty crap. Journalists don’t collectively look for better conditions. It’s as if we are being Superman or saving the world. It extends a bit to that, to do with the conditions. A particular thing in relation to Leinster House- It’s like a boy’s boarding school. It’s overwhelmingly male. We have such a poor representation of female TDs. The majority of women you see in Leinster House are either parliamentary assistants or catering staff or ushers. It is testosterone laden. There are very few places where you could replicate that. There are very few institutions that are so absolutely and immensely male.

Q. Even at a low level Alison and I hesitate to use that term, in preparing for the programme I contacted some female journalists who are prominent within the media. Some have never experienced sexism. Some have but say they take it on the chin. You put up with it.

Alison: If you have an exclusively male environment, if decisions are taken at a level where it is testosterone driven with no oestrogen feeding in then the balance is all wrong.

Q What needs to be done then Tom?

A. If you look at the arm forces, an organisation that operates in very difficult circumstances in Golan Heights and Syria and so on. After my research was published and investigated by an independent government enquiry they developed a mission statement with regard to equality. They also have a very strong dignity in the workplace charter. It’s incumbent on the NUJ and all the media organisations that they put in place very clear and explicit policies, goals and objectives that are measureable with regard to the participation and promotion of women and female voices at all levels in our media. That would be a start.

Q  Alison?

A. I know it would be difficult to implement but I would favour quotas for current affairs panels and for the experts- the people that programmes bring on to tell us what we should think about an issue on any given day be it domestic or international. That’s the way things will change Things have improved. There is now more awareness. An argument you will hear from senior people in the media  and which is trotted out is that listeners don’t like female voices. I have never seen that research. They are not used to listening to women’s voices. On certain radio schedules on certain stations you can go for hours without hearing a female voice

Tom: Research in International military scene shows that women’s voices are actually the most compelling and attractive voices. In cockpit prompts in fighter aircrafts they use the woman’s voice as they believe we are more genetically disposed and hardwired to listening to our mothers. There is no research that shows that female voices are not attractive but there is plenty of research to show that sexist men will often quote false science to support sexist misogynistic views.

Thursday, July 9, 2015


I remember well the first bottle of wine I ever bought.  Well I didn’t purchase all of it.. I had shares in it, so to speak.  I was about 16 and with a few girl pals walked over a mile (no – we had shoes and it wasn’t snowing) to a shop where we had heard they weren’t very fussed about proof of age when purchasing alcohol.  We could afford one bottle between us.

As we neared the shop it was decided that I alone should enter the premises since I was the tallest and so surely must have looked the oldest.  The girls waited around the corner while I completed the transaction without any bother.  Then, nursing our precious purchase, we trudged all the way back (well, it was uphill) to the friend’s house whose parents were away.  Once there, we sat around the kitchen table and after a long struggle with a corkscrew managed to get the wine open and carefully doled it out between about five of us. 

We were all staying the night and so went to bed convinced we were all drunk and relishing the thought of hangovers in the morning.  Oh the innocence of it all.

Since those heady schoolgirl days I have dalliances with various other tipples.  There were the Bacardi & Coke days, the (brace yourself) Malibu & Pineapple days (I feel nauseous just thinking about that) and indeed I still am partial to an odd Hot Port or Pear Cider depending on the weather. 

But wine... sigh.... wine and I have never fallen out of love.  Wine has been there.. every step of the way.  From that first bottle of what was most likely Black Tower or Blue Nun to the bottles of Merlot and Shiraz languishing in my wine rack as I type.

Languishing you say?  Yes languishing.  Because, dear reader, I never saw it coming.  I thought we still happily involved in a beautiful relationship; a relationship that I will admit it had its ups and downs.  There were some nights (or indeed afternoons) when we overdid our love for each other.  There were dawns when I should have been in bed rather than struggling home from a neighbour’s house.  There were times when the day after the night before was a bit of a struggle as a result of my overindulgence.  But in fairness after well over three decades together we know each other fairly well and like a good marriage, we generally got on pretty well. 

In fact it was better than that.  We had some great laughs down the years.  The early days of cheap plonk and dodgy corks which disintegrated into the bottle as I struggled to remove them and then had to strain the wine through tights....  What?  You never did that?  The days spent in Spain drinking rough local vino from earthenware jugs.   The cosy, winter nights, me and my wine, together by a roaring fire.  All the celebrations, the birthdays, the Christmases...  we did them all..happily together. Not (necessarily) getting drunk you understand but just enjoying each other’s company.

But over the last few months something changed.  At first I assumed we were going through a rocky patch.  Two glasses of wine of an evening was starting to result in a horrible headache which often woke me in the middle of the night and lasted for most of the following day.  As a sufferer of migraines I do tend to get a bit panicky at the onset of a headache.  These weren’t migraines but did leave me feeling pretty awful and very, very tired. 

I persevered, as one does when a relationship has a wobble.  I tried to drink water along with the wine. I thought that was helping for a while.  But I was only fooling myself. 

So I bought a bottle of white.  It’s not the same.  We just don’t have the same chemistry.  There were fewer headaches but there was no spark.  No deeply satisfying sigh at the first taste on my lips. 

The bottles of red sat sadly looking at me from the rack in the kitchen.  So I decided to risk a glass the other night.  Spaghetti bolognaise tastes better anyway wish a dash of red so I opened a bottle and poured a glass. I inhaled deeply its spicy aroma.  Glass to lips and that first taste... oh it was sublime.  How I had missed it.  But I was sensible – I limited myself to just a glass.. and a half. 

Next day, I woke at six am with the familiar feeling of my head thumping on the pillow and my day went south slowly.  I cried bitter tears at the realisation that our relationship must end. 

Later I went downstairs and addressed the wine rack.  “It’s not you” I sobbed, “it’s me. I am so sorry, but it’s over.”

Let me tell you something, it’s a man’s world and the menopause is a bitch... with teeth.  But I am holding onto my bottles of red... because this can’t last forever, right?

Monday, June 15, 2015



In the last few years I have become a right pain in the ass about The Dalkey Book Festival.  “It’s great,” I enthuse to all and sundry, “brilliant events and the town buzzes with energy and the sun always shines”.  Most of those I know who visit will book one or maybe two events.  But me... with my addictive personality... I book way too many and end up tearing about the village from tent to town hall and back again.  I try to build in gaps where I can venture home just so my kids don’t think I have actually gone away for the weekend.  Although every year I wonder should I book into the B&B in the village if there is such a thing – and that’s another mystery – why isn’t there a boutique hotel in Dalkey?  Staying onsite would enable me to not miss a thing... I could completely immerse myself in all the cleverality.  Like the old days back in Dunelles pub in Dun Laoghaire where even if you weren’t smoking a joint yourself, you could get high just breathing I could absorb more just by being there.

Dalkey is a perfect location for a festival.  It’s small and retains the feel of an Irish village, but it also has lots of great places to eat and drink.  And boy is it scenic.  Even for me, a Dun Laoghaire woman (2nd generation, I’ll have you know) who misspent much of her youth around Dalkey, the festival allows me to glimpse the location through fresh eyes, especially this year with the addition of the The Seafront Marquee in Dillons Park overlooking Dalkey Island.

But what makes the Dalkey Book Festival so compulsive is that it provides much of what is missing in Irish media today.  A chance to sit and listen to some great speakers discussing big questions, philosophical questions... the kind of stuff that makes you think.  There are great panel sessions too where various topics are debated.  But not debated in the polarised way we have become used to seeing on TV where the extremes are encouraged to contest the issue in sound bites with the facilitator constantly chiding them to hurry up.  Dalkey Book Festival is many ways is reminiscent of the heyday of the Late Late Show.  Long conversations liberally sprinkled with anecdotes and humour.

It is a perfect way to hear your favourite journalists (Fintan O Toole, Olivia O’Leary and Dearbhail McDonald featured this year) as well as writers and thinkers on a wide range of topics.  And that is the key to understanding the Dalkey Book Festival – it’s not just about books, it’s about much more.  And at its heart are the long philosophical conversations that Irish people love to have on topics that are important to us.  This year there were sessions titled ‘Economists, What Are They Good For?’, ‘New World 2020’ and ‘The Next Billion’.  My own favourite was ‘Who Owns 2016’.  And again, unlike the debates we are normally subjected to in Ireland on radio and TV, there are no winners.  No conclusion – but plenty of food for thought, plenty to mull over for days afterwards.

Oh - and it tends to remarkably free of politicians.  What's not to like?

Well, there is one thing... I would love to see more women on the various stages.  From quick count I did on the adult events (there’s a great kids programme too) there are almost double the amount of men on stage than women.  And historians - although I like Diarmuid Ferriter, I sometimes wonder is he our only historian.  I would especially like to hear someone like Mary McAuliffe discussing Ireland’s revolutionary decade.  Mary has done lots of interesting work on women’s involvement... perhaps that might be something the organising committee would look at next year.

Either way I will be there.  I’m saving already... are you on their mailing list? 

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Dinner table discussions are one of the best things about family life.. and like good wine they get better as the kids get older.  I had the rare experience of gathering my three daughters and my husband around a big roast dinner last night in advance of my eldest’s journey back to Perth after a short visit home. 

The last day with her is always awful.  Emotions are raw and all just below the surface.  We  are all walking on eggshells like Basil Fawlty in that famous episode of Fawlty Towers afraid to ‘mention the war’ or in our case ‘the parting’.  We usually make lots of nonsense small talk to avoid opening the floodgates of tears.

But last night was different as the talk turned very quickly to the Marriage Equality referendum.  My emigrant daughter found it hard to believe that there was a concerted campaign for a No vote.  However it was my other two daughters, aged 16 and 14 who were most vocal on the issue.

They had both recently discovered a number of families known to them who are voting no. This stunned them.  

But what upset them most, was that in the majority of cases, the off spring in these families are very angry at their parent’s stance on this issue.  Living, in Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown in supposedly one of the most liberal constituencies in the country, I was also stunned at this revelation.  One of my daughters told us of her friend who is gay and his parents are also voting no. 

Conversation continued as I recounted my rather surreal experience of debating the issue on air on East Coast Radio earlier in the day.  I talked about the misinformation and fear being spread by the No side which is very difficult to counter.  Then my youngest who is 14 exploded. 

“In this referendum we should be allowed to vote.  This is an issue that will affect our lives and the lives of our friends.  It will have no affect whatsoever on these parents who are straight and already married. They also grew up in an era when homosexuality was illegal and under the radar.  It was OK to look down and judge gay people.  And now they might be the ones who may get to decide on this very issue.  It is not fair that we cannot have our say.  That our voices will not be heard.”

And she is right.  Once again we in this bloody country are doing a disservice to our young people.  Not only can they not vote on this issue but we are not even hearing their views.

We finished our meal almost more depressed than if we had visited the issue of saying goodbye to the eldest. 

However on a more positive note, the girls also told us that their school, which is a former convent school with a very Catholic ethos, is festooned with Yes stickers and they are not being removed by the staff.  This cheered me somewhat until I realised that only a small minority of the school population will have a vote!

The clarity with which our teenagers view this referendum, seeing it clearly as an issue of equality and not one of parenting is also making me rethink my stance on the other issue we vote on on May 22nd.  Maybe a young President is what this bloody country needs?

Sunday, April 12, 2015


It was Coco Chanel who said that a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.  This may or may not be true.  But what is very true is that a woman’s relationship with her hair goes way beyond the obvious.  It is a deeply intense bond that proclaims something to the world about the woman’s inner life.

I remember well my first proper hairstyle.  The first time I ever went to a hair stylist.  I think I was about ten.  Before this my dear mother, who is gifted in many things but not hairdressing, used to give me the classic pudding bowl cut complete with wonky fringe that was de rigour for children in Ireland in the 1970s.  So it was a big deal to be given the two pence ha’penny or whatever it was to take myself off to the local hairdressers for a proper hairstyle.  A bob. A heavy fringe and curtain of beautifully styled hair with a turn under for added bounce.  I was gorgeous.  I didn’t just think I was gorgeous I FELT gorgeous.

The early 80’s ushered in the era of the perm.  I achieved my own unique version of the poodle, with a straight hair on the top of my head (because I was – and still am - very tall) and full curly sides.  This look involved spending hours with foul smelling stuff on my head (it did actually make my eyes water) in a trendy salon on Baggot St.  I knew it was trendy because Gillian Bowler, who was then selling sexy holidays to Greece was also a regular client – although she never went for a perm as far as I know!  Her long, luscious locks cascaded around her face from the permanent sunglasses perched on her head, winter and summer.

By the end of that decade I was a single parent and decided I required a kind of ‘don’t fuck with me’ hairstyle which was a short back and sides.  I hoped it would make me look like a strong woman.  In reality I looked like a lanky boy.  

In the 90’s I met a man I liked and got married.  My look softened along with my heart and I splashed out on blonde highlights. This marked the first time I tinkered with the colour of my hair  – well unless you include the dabbling with Henna in the late 70s.

The wedding highlights were just beginning to fade when the grey hair started to be an issue. Marriage, huh?  Anyway I added a box of Clairol that looked vaguely similar to my own colour, to my supermarket shopping and did a home job.  But the toll on the bathroom was immense; splashes of brown on tiles, on the loo, on the sink and not to mention to ruined towels. 

In spite of my efforts the grey continued its relentless march.  Tougher action was called for.
So began the visit to the local salon every two months to ‘have my colour done’.  Two hours to read trashy magazines and wonder about celebrity life styles after which I bounced back out to my life with a shiny ageless head of beautifully blow dried hair. 

Then two months become six weeks and now we are down to one month.  And I am beginning to fear that I am losing this battle. 

Now let me state clearly the obvious.  And that is that while my hair has been succumbing to my great age – so has the rest of me.  I have lines on my forehead and wrinkles around my eyes and mouth.  My chin has trebled and my jaw line is slack.  And that’s just my face.  But somehow I can live with all of that.  In fact I come close to believing that my face now has character.  My lines and wrinkles speak of tears shed through both sorrow and sheer joy.  And in the right light – fairly dark light, let it be said – I look, well, kind of reasonable.  No siree - no botox or fillers or any of that rubbish for me. 

But my hair lets me down every time those grey roots start to appear.  Immediately I look (with all due respects to her) like my 80 year old mother. 

The recession hasn’t helped.  There have been months when I have taken pity on the dog whose nails are scraping on the floor and who trips over his own long hair and taken him to the groomers with my hair money.  Sure what will another couple of weeks matter, I ask myself. Oh but it does matter.  Once those grey roots appear all around my face, I notice people talking to my hair rather than to me.  I keep catching sight of myself in shop windows or mirrors and wondering why my aforementioned mother has joined me.

Last summer my hairdresser gently suggested that I might like to start to lighten my hair colour a little.  This would make the appearance of grey roots a little less obvious.  But I wasn’t happy.  My hair had never been light brown.  It didn’t match my eyebrows.  I didn’t feel like me. 

So I decided that I should do something radical with my hair.  Purple, I thought to myself.  I’ll dye my hair purple.  Deep Purple – not that Kelly Osborne washed out purple... but proper purple.   That would be very rock ‘n’ roll. 

So next visit to my beleaguered hairdressers I informed them of my wish to go purple, proper purple.  They tried to politely dissuade me.  But I insisted.  They said they didn’t really have the purple I wanted in stock.  Sure maybe I should think about it. 

I did.  I asked them just to give me a trim and blow dry and on the way home I picked up a colour from the supermarket.  My first attempt turned out a bit red rather than purple.  But I preserved – for the last six months I have been various shades of red and pink – usually at the same time.  I never achieved the purple I envisaged.  My hair was a bit of a mess.

But here’s the thing about one’s hair.  Unless you really, truly care, you only really pay attention to what’s framing your face.  So I was pretty unaware of how weird my colour was until I travelled half way around the world recently to holiday with my emigrant daughter whose first job was in a hairdressers.

“Jesus Ma, you’re hair’s great craic – it’s brown, grey, pink and red.”  To make matters worse, the climate in Bali is very humid and so my multicoloured barnet also frizzed out in all directions.  I finally realised I did indeed look a holy show. 

In desperation I sent a message to my long suffering local hairdressers begging them for an appointment on the way back from the airport. 

“I think I might lighten my hair... “ I muttered sheepishly.  “For the summer, like.”    
The colourist looked at my poor sun bleached, dry, multicoloured hair. 
“We didn’t do this, did we?” she asked.
“No.  I did”
“Right.  Well there is no quick fix.  Killing that red tone is going to take a bit of time.  We will have to go a bit darker before we can lighten it.  Otherwise you will just have pink highlights.”

Pink highlights?  For a minute, I wondered.   
But I think I am over my hair proclaiming my personal mid life crisis.  I am ready to move on!   I think.....

Monday, February 23, 2015


Feminism is a funny old game.  It is a classic case of two steps forward and one backwards.  As women move forward in our quest for full equality there seems to be an equal counterweight which balances this progress by reminding us that we still aren’t really that equal.  Just in case we get ahead of ourselves like.

Nowhere is this more clearly evident than in the media and entertainment.  Take the movies, for example.  While there seems to be a feeling abroad that things are improving for female lead roles, research recently published by the Centre for the Study of Women in Film and Television showed that, in fact less than 12% of the lead protagonists in the top grossing 100 movies in 2014 were women.  Less than 12%.  And women only represented 30% of all speaking characters in these movies.

But along with these dismal statistics are the facts that most of the women in film are younger and usually identified by their social roles rather than their careers.  In other words they are portrayed as far less powerful than their male counterparts. 

At this juncture can I just give TV3 a shout out for their superb new soap drama series ‘Red Rock’ which is liberally sprinkled with strong female characters, who operate in their own right.  It’s very refreshing and they are every bit as compulsive as any of the male leads.    

Anyway, back to Hollywood and the fact that we might think that Disney putting a princess into a blue dress means that things are changing.  The reality is that they are not. 

Of course one of the main ways to reduce a woman’s power is by subtly reminding her that no matter what her accomplishments are, she will still be judged first and foremost on her appearance.  And no where will you find this illustrated more elegantly than on these ‘Red Carpet Shows’ that precede all the big awards ceremonies.  In one fell swoop these shows have managed to reduce some of the most wonderful actresses and female performers in the world to beauty pageant contestants. 

E! Fashion Police (yes, an actual programme which used star the late Joan Rivers) leads the charge in this regard with their vacuous presenters, Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic who line up female stars to ask “so.... who are you wearing?”  E! has also championed two new technologies to help them in their task of reducing the actresses to clothes horses.  The Glam Cam rotates an image of the actress round and round and up and down so we can judge her from all angles and then we have the mani-cam.  Yes, you guessed it.  A mini red carpet so the actress to walk her fingers towards the camera so we can view her manicure and her jewellery.  

However the good news is that the fight back is on, it seems to be working and it began on the much maligned medium of social media. 

The Representation Project grew from the success of a film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom called ‘Miss Representation’ which examined how women were portrayed in across all media, from film to news and current affairs.  The mission of the project is to highlight and challenge the limiting depictions of women in media. 

In response to the inane questions that female actors are subjected to on the red carpet they began a hashtag called #askhermore.  This allows users of social media, particularly Twitter to urge broadcasters to ‘ask her more’ than just what dress she is wearing.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like a nice frock and wearing too much make up to a ‘posh do’ occasionally.  And yes, I watch these Red Carpet shows and love to see the style.  But I would also love to hear about how the actress felt about the role, or what she was doing next. 

The website Buzzfeed sent a reporter to cover the red carpet at the recent BAFTA’s in London who only spoke to male actors and gave them the ‘who are you wearing treatment’, along with requesting Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton to ‘do a twirl’.  You can guess who did and who didn’t.  But it was the look on the mens’ faces as they were faced with such trivial, banal questioning that was the best.

At the Screen Actors Guild Awards in January actors Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Julianne Moore all refused to parade their fingers for the mani cam. 

But to borrow from Mr Dylan, “the times they are a-changing”.  Last night, as I watched the first hour of E!’s Red Carpet Show the change in emphasis was obvious.  Men and women were both asked who they were wearing – but that was it.  They were then asked more.  And for the time I watched anyway there wasn’t a mani-cam or glam cam in sight. 

The fight goes on but at least the battle to #askhermore seems to have been won.  

You might like this story on the Oscars From My Table Archives