Tara Mooney

First Published January 2022

THE POWER OF THE POSITIVE

Part 2

Back at the beginning of November we featured Part 1 of our chat with as inspirational a woman as you’re ever likely to cross paths with, the force of nature that is TARA MOONEY

Not only is the Edenderry native a fitness instructor, personal trainer, one of RINKA Ireland’s leading lights, and – in what spare time she might have left – a model and brand ambassador (FitPink Fitness and Complex Wear) she’s also making a name for herself on the Irish and international powerlifting scene. In fact, since we first spoke to Tara a few weeks back, it’s been revealed that she placed Top Twenty in the ABS Series of competitions for 2021…across no less than NINE countries. 

It’s a list of reasons exactly like that, and the fact that Tara seems to be fuelled by positivity as much as by a healthy and carefully designed and prepared diet, that make her such an impressive and inspirational figure. This, let us not forget, is a lady who thought nothing of the fact that she had recovered from a broken back to eventually begin her career in the fitness industry, a fact that only came to light as an aside at the very end of our chat! This is also the lady who travelled to Berlin to take on one of Germany’s biggest fitness stars and social media influencers after only a few weeks of proper preparation…and came within a few reps of coming home victorious. That battle has been viewed almost 1.5 MILLION times on YouTube.

As magnificent as all of that is – and it is – the most admirable trait in Tara’s make-up is undoubtedly her positivity. It’s just impossible to sit and chat with her without laughter permeating the conversation, and feeling your energy levels rise simply by being in her presence. Not just the mark of a good fitness instructor or personal trainer, if you ask me, but the mark of a good soul as well. Tara is the kind of person you’d go into battle with. And definitely not someone you’d want to go into battle against! 

To begin Part 2 of our chat, I asked Tara how much her training routine changes – if at all – when she has a competition coming up? 

“It’s pretty much the same. If I’m doing a competition, that means I’m doing weight-training four days a week. I’ll put more effort into my cardio as well because I’ll need to drop weight for the competition, and I’ll obviously put more effort into my food. Food is major. I prep all my food. I walk around with my Tupperware when I’m in work, when I go to my parents house, everywhere. It’s the norm with me! That’s my lifestyle. I still have a meal here or there as well, I have to live as well, but I do prep my food, plan it, bring it with me, all of that. Food is probably more important than training. If you want to lose weight, it’s more important than going into the gym. Definitely.” 

Tara is also the lead midland’s instructor for the company Rinka, and just like powerlifting, it’s something that she’s  passionate about…

“I LOVE it! I would have loved it when I was a kid. It’s for kids who don’t fall into GAA, that don’t make the swimming team, that can’t kick the ball straight. It’s for them. Because what is there for them? There’s nothing. So, they fall off being active, they don’t enjoy sports because it’s so competitive. It’s for these kids. I do it everywhere, Athlone, Moate, different venues, sometimes birthday parties as well, schools, pre-schools, everywhere, you name it. We go in and make exercise fun. They’re in a sweat leaving! They’ve had so much fun. It’s so much craic. We’d do jumping-jacks, but for the little ones we’d get them to be like a soldier, so they have to be really serious. Or a star, and they have to have a big smile. They’re doing jumping-jacks and they don’t even realise it. Or it could be squat-jumps where they’re Peppa Pig jumping into a puddle, simple stuff like that. It’s really, really good for kids who don’t fall into competitive sports. It’s all about praise as well. If you have a child that missed nine out of the ten kicks, we focus on that one that they got and tell them how amazing it was, and how great they are. And if they can’t do something, you praise them for trying and giving it a go. They’re leaving the class after being active, and they’re feeling good about themselves.

Tara continued, “I adore it. I have kids who have nearly grown up with me, they’ve been doing it for three or four years. I get so much out of this kind of work. It’s going to be so interesting to see them as adults because they have this foundation in being active. We do mindfulness with them as well, so we talk about how if they’re feeling angry, they can calm themselves down with breathing [exercises]. We talk about healthy eating, we talk about how much water they should drink. In the space of fifty minutes, so much is packed in there, and I absolutely adore it. You can tell by me talking about it that I do [laughs]. I have a helper with me, because obviously for toilet-breaks and stuff like that to keep an eye on everyone, because we could have fourteen, fifteen kids in a class. And yeah, we do classes all over Ireland. RINKA have been on TV, on ‘Nationwide’, they’re an Irish company actually, based in Donegal. I’m the instructor for the midlands area.” 

So how did Tara become involved with RINKA? 

“I saw it advertised, and I was like, ‘Kids Fitness Instructor? Oh my God, I’d love this!’ [Laughs]. I’m nuts, I’m so on the level of kids [laughs]. We had a training day with RINKA, and they were just like, you’re perfect for it! I’m one of the kids, like!”

Although Tara herself isn’t the kind of person to even think of herself as being a role-model in a bigger-picture sense, for anybody on the outside looking in at her life and her achievements, there’s just no doubt that a role-model is exactly what she is. Through her work with RINKA, as well as being a Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor, and most importantly of all, of course, being a mum, Tara is more than well aware of the importance and the power of a positive example. But does it ever cross her mind how much of a role-model, whether she likes it or not, that she actually is for so many people? 

“I don’t really. I would like to think that I’m more relatable to people. I wouldn’t like somebody to look at me and say, ‘Wow, well I could never do that.’ I want the opposite of that. I want somebody to think, ‘If she can do it, I can do it!’ That’s what I want. I want to be relatable in that way. And that’s what it is. I mean, I WAS somebody who was never able to do a push-up. Or a pull-up! I always wanted to be able to do a pull-up! I always wanted to be able to do that. So that’s how I’d like to be seen, as someone who went out and proved she could, ya know. I’d never want to put myself on a pedestal. I’d be so embarrassed if I thought that! And I think on my Instagram as well, I think you can see that I don’t really put myself out there and… ‘sell’…this image that I’m whatever, glamorous, or amazing, or anything like that. I want to be very relatable. Because I am. I’m a normal person. I always encourage people to ask me questions. I’ve been from A to…, well, I don’t think I’m at Z yet! [Laughs]. I think I have more still to achieve [laughs]. But I’ve been every step of the way. I mean, when I started, I couldn’t run, so I was walking. I know how hard it is to get there, and how it has to be step-by-step. So people can come and ask me anything. It’s the same with my PT clients. Goals are very achievable things once you have the knowledge, and once you’re accepting of the fact that it won’t be a perfect and straight road as well.” 

Does Tara remember the moment when she knew or decided that she wanted to get into fitness as a career?

“I was actually working on reception here [in the Bridge House Hotel, where she now works in the Leisure Club], and I was powerlifting at that time, into fitness, and I was always training down in the gym. Damien, the gym manager at the time, would always be coming over to me at reception and joking, ‘You’re wasted here, wasted here!’ [laughs]. I had no gym qualifications at the time, but everybody knew how into fitness I was, so eventually we were able to arrange for me to make that switch over. And when I went over there, that’s when I went and got my qualifications so that I could teach as well. That was it. And I’ve never left! I’m like the furniture down there [laughs].” 

Who are the heroes or inspirations in Tara’s life? 

“There’s loads! I look up to all the girls on the ABS Powerlifting team. It’s a club with 150 members. And my God, if you think I’m strong, you need to see these girls! They’re incredible, unbelievable. When you train with them, man, they keep you on top of your game. They’re crazy strong. They’re travelling all over the world. When you train with them, they’re inspiring. ABS stands for Advanced Barbell Systems. It’s the biggest powerlifting club in Ireland. The guy that owns it is the Irish coach, he’s my coach when I’m powerlifting. The strongest people in Ireland are in that club. One of the guys there is squatting 430 kilos, that’s a LOT! It’s crazy! We actually had him down in the gym here for an open day. He might sound intimidating, but he’s really good craic, so he was entertaining. And my kids, of course! Daniel and Georgia. I always want to inspire them, and make them believe as they get older that they can achieve anything. And anything they want to be, that they can do it. And my partner, Carlos, he’s incredible. He’s bodybuilding at the moment, he’s very inspiring in his own right as well. What he’s going through [in his training], I wouldn’t have the self-discipline for. He’s from Spain, and we actually met through powerlifting. He’s extremely focused, way more than me, WAY more than me [laughs]. It’s inspiring to live with somebody like that because they can keep you on track. I’m a very boring person, because it’s all fitness orientated. So to be with someone who has the same interests, that’s great.” 

I wondered if Tara had a life-motto, or any piece of advice that she was ever given that has always stayed with her? 

“You get judged for being a woman and weight-lifting. You definitely get judged. But there’s a saying I love that goes, ‘To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.’ So women, don’t be afraid of weights. There’s a big misconception that you’re going to get bulky. Or a lot of people who I would have for PTs, they’d look at my upper body and be like, ‘I don’t want my upper body to get too big’, and I’m like, don’t worry, it took me a LOT of work to get this big. You won’t get that big. So don’t be afraid of lifting weights. It’s not gonna make you look like a man [laughs]. If anything, it’s very flattering, it’s a flattering look. When you go into the gym, don’t be afraid of lifting weights in front of guys, thinking they’re going to be judging you or anything like that. They should be in their own heads, and if they’re not, it means they’re not working hard enough [laughs]. That’s all important to realise. Things are changing now, strong women are seen as feminine.”

Anyone who follows Tara on Instagram will notice that she rarely posts a gym selfie or video minus her headphones. So what does she listen to to fire-up her work-outs? 

“You don’t want to know the stuff I listen to! [Laughs]. It’s f*&ed up! [Laughs]. It’s pretty heavy stuff. Depends on my mood. There’s a band called Neffex that I really love. The last competition that I had, they asked me which song did I want on my video, and I picked their song ‘Fight Back.’ I love that song, it’s very inspirational. I was training for something recently and I listened to the audio-book of ‘Relentless‘, it’s about a coach called Tim Grover who worked with Michael Jordan, and he talks about different athletes and their mentality, and how to be relentless. Some of the things in it are a bit too much, because you can’t just give up on family life, you need a balance to things. But it’s very interesting in terms of the mentality that the likes of Michael Jordan had, and how zoned-in they were on being successful. They’d win a whole tournament, and straight away be like, I want the next one! ‘Relentless’, excellent book!”

So for somebody thinking about trying to get fit but they’re worried about it, nervous about it, or they just don’t know where to start, what would Tara advise them to do? 

“If you’re a complete beginner, definitely get a coach or an instructor. That’s what they’re there for. And they’ll definitely be 100% on your team. Because it is, it’s scary at the start. A lot of women say to me that they’re intimidated going into the weights-room in a gym, but I’m like, girl, they don’t know what they’re doing either! [Laughs]. But if you have somebody with you who shows you the ropes, so you can have the confidence to know you have the correct form and everything, that’s important. So to start off anyway, and that’s not saying that you’ll need one all the time. And take it step-by-step. A lot of people, when they’re dieting, they’ll start where they’re eating whatever they want, but then they go to 1,600 calories, and for me that’s insane. You want to be losing weight on as much food as possible. I would always say start high and work your way down slowly, because you will plateau. And if you start plateauing at 1,600 calories, where do you go from there? If you go to 1,400, it’s just not gonna happen, you’ll fall off track. Then you’ll just beat yourself up about it. Slow and steady wins the race.” 

Do different diets – vegan or vegetarian, for example – affect how people can train? 

“No, I don’t think so. Once they’re getting enough protein in other ways, I don’t think it would affect things, definitely not. But Keto, and things like that, I don’t really agree with cutting back on carbs, especially if you’re training. Not a good idea! The girl that I went up against in Berlin, she was a vegan. And she was strong! [Laughs].” 

And what about advice for someone who might be really struggling with their motivation, either to get back to training or to stay training? What words of wisdom would Tara offer in those circumstances? 

“I would say that 80% is better than 0%. A lot of people go in and go hell for leather, 100%. But if you have one day of sitting on your ass and not eating chicken and rice, that’s ok. But people have this mentality where it has to be all or nothing. There needs to be a bit of consistency. If you put 80% in, that’s so much better than nothing. 20% is nothing. It’s like an overweight person eating one healthy meal and expecting to lose weight. If you’re keeping on track and you have one bad meal, you’re not going to put on weight. Just be fair on yourself. It doesn’t have to be 100% [all the time]. Don’t rely on motivation. Be disciplined. Have your structure. It will be difficult in the beginning, but eventually you will completely rely on it, and you’ll actually enjoy that structure. 

~ You can find, follow, and contact Tara on Instagram at @tinypowermum

ENDS

Niall McNamee

First Published January 2022

NIALL’S NEXT STEPS ARE ALL HE NEEDS

Part 1

“This is my ‘Willie McBride’ and I really hope fans will like it. I wrote it when I was eighteen, and finally recorded it in Belfast at Halfbap studios three years ago, so it’s been a long road.”

Dundalk’s NIALL McNAMEE is a singer/songwriter and actor, known for his passionate, thoughtful and full-blooded songs. And the one he was talking about in the quote above – and a perfect example of just why his work is so highly thought of – is his latest release, the very beautiful ALL I NEED.


A self-taught musician, Niall has been immersed in music his whole life. Throughout years as a struggling young actor, he supported himself by performing Irish folk songs, resulting in his knowledge of traditional music growing rich and deep. But all the while, he was writing his own material, drawing not only on his Irish heritage but also pushing into contemporary rock and pop territory, finding inspiration from artists as diverse and celebrated as Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, The Pogues, Christy Moore, and more recently, The Undertones as well. 


Niall has starred opposite Pierce Brosnan, fought with Jackie Chan, played comic foil to Bono, and even romantically duetted with Imelda May. He also landed a starring role in the feature film Love Without Walls – due for general release this year – which saw him performing his own songs. 

OTRT had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Niall ahead of the release of his superb debut EP, Step By Step, last year. And we recently had the pleasure of catching up with him again, this time to talk about his latest single, the aforementioned, All I Need. The song narrates the story of a man in his last moments before death, with the listener catching glimpses of that man’s life flashing before his eyes. As Niall remarks, “He sits in the pub of his mind and looks around at his friends – all going off to war soon – with the knowledge they’ll not return the same. But ultimately it’s about an impossible promise. To get home safe and make his way back to Edinburgh from London where his sweetheart waits for him.” 


Niall told us more about how All I Need came to be…


“I wrote this song when I was eighteen. The song is a love song mixed with what I wanted to be an anti-war song. It was definitely inspired at the time by a song that was definitely my favourite, which is ‘Willie McBride.’ I remember wanting to write something along those lines about the injustice of war. There’s obviously the mention at the end of France, that it’s ‘not so far’, which my mate – who’s called Francis – thought it was his mam shouting, ‘Francis, not so far!’ [Laughs]. He was like, ‘Why is that in there?!’ [laughs]. But anyway, it’s an anti-war song.”

Niall continued, “For the music video, I tried to get loads of different pieces of military or conflict gear, to represent loads of different conflicts. This is about working-men dying against other working-men, under millionaires giving the orders. The chorus are British towns now that  think about it, but that was more because I was having a romance at the time with a girl who lived in Edinburgh and I lived in London, so that’s just the train ride between the two [laughs]. One of the things that scared me the most about this song is that it could be interpreted as some sort of poppy or pro-British Army song, which is interesting because it’s meant to be the opposite of that. It’s about men who don’t want to go, and shouldn’t be going. It’s about the love they have in their families, ya know. Any working-men across Britain, Ireland, anyone who fought in the Great War who was conscripted, you wouldn’t need to go into politics to show that they shouldn’t be going and don’t need to go. I think loads of people have touched on that over the years. While there’s injustice in Irish soldiers going to World War One, or any war, there’s injustice in any working-man being made to fight. [So] this isn’t an anti-British Army thing either. I don’t want to disrespect anyone at all.”

As he mentioned, All I Need is a song Niall wrote when he was just eighteen. So it is a track that could have been in contention for a place on his debut EP, Step By Step, which was released early last summer. I wondered if one of the reasons why it didn’t make the cut for that selection was perhaps because Niall always saw this song as belonging to this particular time of the year? 


“It’s the first song that I can remember writing. I don’t have any songs in my repertoire that I play that are older than it. It’s been with me for so long. To be honest, it was really hard putting songs together for the EP because I had so many, because that was my first EP. I didn’t know which ones to put [out] first. And when you’re starting out, there’s a feeling that you have to put some of your best ones forward to get ya out there. But equally, you know that you’re sacrificing them a little bit. It wouldn’t be too different, I suppose, if you were in a fighting situation, or a war, you have to put strong people forward first. But also, you lose them first. So with ‘All I Need’, I was too precious about it, to be honest. That’s why it hasn’t been released until now. That’s why I waited. I tried to record the song loads of times. And as you can see, I’ve released two different versions of it as well, because I just couldn’t decide. I’d played it for too long, just me and a guitar. I played it for too long with different bands, with different versions of it. I was always thinking if I release this the music video is gonna cost me millions! [Laughs]. And I haven’t got millions [laughs]. I was thinking I need this to be absolutely perfect. But then I just realised, do ya know what? This is a song that I love and I just need to get it out there. I need to move forward. It was like getting a monkey off my shoulder, because it was so precious to me. It was like my first child and you want to give it a good opportunity in life. I felt, maybe, that I couldn’t give it the push that I wanted to. But then I thought I’m a songwriter! I need to release the songs that I’m writing. And that’s kind of why it all started a bit late for me. Not late, but I had enough songs to release an album probably six or seven years ago and I still haven’t done that. So I’m trying to be less precious, but still be protective and not be too naive, ya know.” 

Staying with Niall’s Step By Step EP, these last twenty or so months have surely been a strange time (to say the least!) for anybody releasing new music, let alone for someone sending their debut EP out into such a crazy world. Looking back on it all now, from the perspective of six or seven months on, what was that whole experience like for Niall? 


“It was strange…well, I say it was strange, but I didn’t know any different at the time. It was a new experience. It was like starting a new job in a new industry you’ve never worked in before, and during the pandemic. It would be more unusual knowing what it was like in real-life, when Covid wasn’t around. All I can say is that I found it far more difficult to get one single out when things have been a bit more opened up than I did to get that whole EP out during the pandemic. During the pandemic, I had time. I had people who were around and who wanted to do things. It could be that I’ve only just finished releasing ‘All I Need’ so it feels like I’m wrecked now. Maybe the EP was harder. Not to downplay anything about ‘All I Need’, because I love it and I’m delighted with it – and it’s actually doing far better than anything on the EP which is good, I suppose, because you want to see progress – but, I was very aware when I was releasing the EP that the industry always says you can only release your first stuff once. You can only release your first album once. You can only release your first EP once. There’s an industry side to that, but also there’s a spiritual side to that. The hope [laughs], when you’ve never released something before is that you can go, ‘Well, when I release this, this is it! This is gonna be brilliant. It’s gonna solve all my problems.’ It’s like when you start acting, you go brilliant, I’m starting out now, I’ve got my first audition, I don’t see why I wouldn’t get this part. I’ll get that, and then it will all work out!’ [Laughs]. You only get a couple of times like that before you get a couple of no’s, and you start going aaw f*$k, this isn’t actually as easy as I had hoped it would be! [Laughs].””If I’m being honest about it”, confessed the Dundalk man, “without being too glib about it, it was more scary doing this single, ‘All I Need’, because I knew the work that I had put in before. I felt like with the EP I really didn’t give myself a second to rest for months and months and months. And then here I am releasing a single at Christmas and thinking now I’ll have to work ten times harder than that [for the EP]. And it’ll be the same again next time when something else comes out next year. It gets harder, and harder, and harder. And you keep having to get better, and stronger, and try not to go mad! I suppose one thing that helped with the single this Christmas was I recorded it three years ago in Belfast. So I’ve had it there for a long time. It could well have gone on the EP. The difference with ‘All I Need’ and the songs on the EP is that some of them on the EP I had to record and get ready for release. Whereas ‘All I Need’, I could have just put it out at any point in the last three years. But I held onto it.” 

On the day we spoke, Niall had been supposed to play a show at the Water Rats venue in King’s Cross. Unfortunately, like so many shows in 2021, this fell by the wayside. I asked Niall if he would mind sharing what it’s like for an artist when this happens, both from a practical and an emotional point of view…


“Yeah, it’s strange. I remember the lockdown at the start, the last day I lived in London – with my pals and stuff – it was the day before St. Patrick’s Day. And we had a big sold-out gig ready to go and we had to call it quits. And that was very hard. It was almost harder cancelling that first gig because we didn’t know about pandemics, about what it was going to be like. It was disappointing because we were like, ah God, St. Patrick’s Day, sure it’s only once a year! What a shame [laughs]. We wrote a big message about it, and felt loads of guilt having to explain to people that we were cancelling it. I find it a lot harder when there’s not an official lockdown. Because there are gigs happening tonight. It is really hard, but I felt lucky that I’ve been on tour for the whole month of December. I’d overworked myself, to be honest. Imelda was saying to me that you’ve got to give yourself time to rest because people will put work in front of you anyway. I booked a tour; Glasgow, Dublin, Dundalk, and Belfast. But I was thinking about it, and I think most people were assuming it’s cancelled, when the restrictions started to come in and as Christmas started coming, I was getting messages from people saying, ‘Aw, I’m sorry about your gig’ before I’d even cancelled it [laughs]. So I decided to have a real think about it, and I spoke to my agent, and he said he thought I should cancel. Then we spoke to the venue and they were like ok, so then I was like well hang on, do THEY want to cancel it? And my agent said they’d do it if I wanted to, but it was up to me. Niall went on, “So I said ok, we’ll do it. But then I just thought to myself actually, how would I feel – really – if I found out someone got Covid at a gig? Or, if I did my gig, and took a test, and realised the next morning that I had Covid? How would I feel knowing it’s probable that someone would either not be able to go home for Christmas because of the gig, or, be going home for Christmas not knowing that they’d been made ill by someone at the gig? And I thought that would kill me. I wouldn’t deal with that well at all. I felt like people wanted to feel safe. It’s really hard. And especially when you’re building up to that last moment. I’m flying back to Ireland tomorrow – hopefully, I’ve got my test this afternoon – but that gig was going to be that final moment after a long time of non-stop work, so yeah, that was hard. But it just felt like the right thing to do. And that’s all you can go by really. I’ve got my vaccination and all that kind of stuff, and my family are kind of the same, we’re strong people, so if it came to it and I had to spend Christmas on my own, it wouldn’t kill me actually. I’d happily sit around on the sofa and do nothing! That’s my instinct anyway, I might be totally wrong [laughs]. But for everyone else, I don’t think I have it in me to risk someone else getting ill from the gig. So that was that.” 

“And in terms of how it feels cancelling gigs now”, continued Niall, “it didn’t need much of an explanation, just had to put ‘cancelled.’ It was like, you know what it is [laughs]. Having played a load of gigs in December, and looking at the industry, one thing that’s been really interesting is that a lot of people aren’t asking for refunds. They understand that the money still needs to go into the industry, and actually the twenty quid or fifteen quid or whatever it is they’ve spent, will go to helping whoever is on stage. About fifty-per-cent of people who had bought tickets were actually coming, so I thought, ya know, we can do this another time, in these circumstances.” 


ALL I NEED, the brand new single from NIALL McNAMEE, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. 

ENDS

Neil Delamere

First Published December 2021

LIFE’S A DANCE

“Yeah, we’re about a week or so in. It’s very enjoyable, I have to say. You’re being trained by a world champion. I mean, how often do you get a chance to be trained by someone who’s so talented at what they do? It’s great fun. You get into it, you really get into it. The thing about me is I have nothing to judge it off from the start. I haven’t done as much as a dance class along the way, of any kind! So there’s no frame of reference for how quickly I’ll pick something up or maybe how slowly I’ll pick something up! But it’s been great fun so far.” 

With his journey as part of next year’s DANCING WITH THE  STARS IRELAND class just getting underway, there seems to be little doubt that comedian NEIL DELAMERE is taking it all in his stride. With the hit show finally set to return to our TV screens in January, Delamere – amazingly – is one of TWO Offaly men who will be aiming to get their hands on that prized Glitterball, with rugby star Jordan Conroy also looking to impress on the dancefloor. And Neil – who brings his LIMINAL tour to the Tullamore Court Hotel on March 5th next – has already seen the signs of his new sequined self beginning to emerge, as he explained when we caught up for a chat about DWTSIrl, and more, last week…

“Some things are coming easier than others, but it’s incredible how quickly you get into it, in terms of you’re doing steps when you’re walking around the house…or, I said this on The Late Late Show…I’ll put on the indicator of my car, and as it goes tick, tick, tick, I’m goin’, ‘One, two, three, four, five,six, seven, eight…!’ So the patterns are getting into your brain!” 

I suspect that Neil has a competitive side to him. Will we see that in this competition?


“Haha, well I have a competitive side to me IF I have the ability to compete! If it becomes evident very quickly that there are some people who are amazing dancers and the rest of us are just making up the numbers, well then you’ll just kind of enjoy it on that basis. But ah yeah, listen, I’ll give it what I can, and after that let the chips fall where they may!” 

Somewhere else I didn’t expect to see Neil showing up in the coming weeks was on Ireland’s Fittest Family. But sure enough, he’s taking part in the show’s Celebrity Special at the end of December. Also taking part is someone else I’m lucky enough to know pretty well, Grainne Gallanagh, who was Miss Universe Ireland in 2018. I put it to Neil that this – no more so than Dancing With The Stars – was definitely a different kind of show for him…


“Well, it came about because of Covid, and because my normal schedule wasn’t what it normally is. I was asked to do it and I said I’d love to. You have a couple of months lead-in time, about six weeks lead-in or whatever – and then you have some degree of focus, ya know. You know you have to get this done or otherwise you won’t be fit enough to do the show. It was as much about me saying this will give me some sort of structure on my weeks, because as you know, because of Covid we were restricted in what we were allowed to do and what we weren’t allowed to do. Comics, without a deadline, we tend to not be massively creative! It’s not like writing a book or doing a TV show, so you need something where you have to have a show done by X day. So, I had a lot of time, and I also didn’t have the usual structure on the year that I’d always have, so I went yeah, absolutely, I’m gonna do it. I got a team together, and it was us against Grainne, Sinead Quinlan, and the Happy Pear as well. We did it for the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland. I can’t tell you who won, but if you look at who’s in and judge the fitness of people on sight, you’ll probably be in the ball-park of who did! [Laughs].” 

In Dancing With The Stars and the Celebrity Special of Ireland’s Fittest Family, we’d already touched on two huge upcoming events in Neil’s life. But never a man to do things by halves, there’s something even bigger coming up in 2022. In fact, it’s Neil’s biggest solo show ever, and it’s happening at the SSE Arena in Belfast in March ??? 


“Biggest solo show I’ve ever done, yeah. I’ve done gigs to ten thousand people before, but on mixed bills. Can’t wait to do it. I was up having a look at the Arena the other day, the Belfast Giants Arena, and it looks spectacular. And again, that sprang from Covid, from wanting to give myself something to aim for in these weird times when we don’t know what’s going on, ya know. So ya kind of force yourself into, ‘Oh God, this is happening…write jokes, write jokes, write jokes!’ I can’t wait for it. I think it will change the way I do the show in some ways, because a big, big room might not have the usual messing and interplay that I would have with the front row if people can’t really see the front row! [Laughs]. I know from playing the really, really, big rooms that you have to do it in a different rhythm, you almost have to wait for the wave of laughter to come back. It’s a slightly different technique. And I’m very grateful that ‘The Blame Game’, which we’re doing at the moment, is allowed a small ‘live’ audience, and that kind of keeps the name out there in the north still.” 

Neil’s current tour is called Liminal (relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process) and from the meaning of the word, my guess was that it’s to do with the place the world finds itself in with Covid, amongst other things as well. I wondered if I was correct in that assumption, and if I was, where, in fact, does Neil think we – as a country and a planet – are with Covid at this stage? 


“I think overall Ireland has done very well. Our vaccine roll-out has been amazing, and I think our vaccine uptake has been amazing. Smaller countries in Europe tend to do better than their larger neighbours in terms of social cohesion. In terms of how many people passed away, our figures were much lower than say the UK. I don’t know how far we are into this. My worry would be that we may not be as far in as people think. And selfishly, I suppose, for people in the arts, we’re wondering what’s going to be left at the end of all this. My worry wouldn’t be for the people that are going ten or fifteen or twenty years, that they’ll be removed from the scene. My worry is for the younger people – either younger in age or in experience – doing their respective music, dancing, comedy, whatever it is. They may well have been washed out of the system by Covid. So we could lose all these important and exciting new voices. The rest of us will be fine. If we’ve built up enough touring, and enough TV shows, and enough radio, we can afford – almost – to take a hit. But my worry is that we would lose the next generation of people, ya know.” 

Neil mentioned how the way he performs his show in a bigger venue might have to change slightly, but I wondered if how he writes his material had to change over the last twenty months or so too. So much of what he does is observational, comes from being out in the world, around people and with people. Did the lockdowns, and Covid in general, change his creative process much? 


“That’s a very good point. I suppose it didn’t change the observation as much as much as it changed the anecdotal stuff. A lot of the time you’re telling stories and you’re animating the stories with observations and characterisations and stuff. But you are still telling stories about what had happened to you. If you haven’t done anything [laughs] – because most of us didn’t do anything for a fairly protracted period of time – what do ya talk about? ‘Dancing With The Stars’ and ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ have given me ten minutes of material sort of thing. It’s not why I did them [laughs], that’s a beneficial extra from the two of them. But it’s such a strange world to be thrust into, that you can’t fail to get some stuff out of them. Also, I probably have a decent closer for the SSE Arena and for the Tullamore Court Hotel and everywhere else, because I know Des [Bishop] when he did it years ago, I think he used to bring his pro dancer and they’d dance at the end. So, ya know something…I wouldn’t rule it out! I haven’t talked to my pro dancer about it yet, but it seems like a cool way to end a really big show. It’s something I would definitely consider if I was any good anyway [laughs].” 

Looking at everything that’s happened since March of 2019 when Covid kicked in – and even going back a little bit before that to when Neil and I last spoke – there’s been so much absurdity. From almost everything to do with Boris Johnson in the UK, to Trump and January 6th in the States, to the whole anti-vax movement here, and more. From a comedian’s perspective, what’s been the most absurd moment of it all? 


Well January 6th was completely off the wall, I thought. I almost couldn’t believe that was happening. If a couple of things had gone a different way, maybe if Mike Pence had made some decisions in another way, it could have been much more serious. That, in terms of one day, was bizarre. The Dominic Cummings thing and how he was supported by a Prime Minister who has since completely removed his support. I mean, Cummings driving to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight was so absurd! Boris Johnson is the gift that keeps on giving. All I’ll say is his testicles are as fertile as his imagination! As good as he is as a comedy source, I wouldn’t wish him as a Prime Minister on anybody. We criticise politicians in Ireland, but there’s a lot to be said about a steady, seasoned hand at the tiller, both in terms of Michael D. Higgins and some of the members of the government. I think we can be overly harsh on them in a very difficult – VERY difficult – scenario for them.” 

Going back to events on the horizon for Neil, he’s also filmed Pointless Celebrities


“I did! I love a quiz. Since we last spoke, I did Richard Osman’s ‘House of Games’, which is the big one, you do five episodes and you’re on for the entire week. I managed to nip a victory in that at the last minute. So you’re paired with somebody else in ‘Pointless Celebrities’, and all I’m saying is I DID ok! My partner, however…may be a different story [laughs]. So people can look out for that fairly soon as well [laughs].” 

Between getting himself ready for Ireland’s Fittest Family, and now for Dancing With The Stars, Neil – certainly from a fitness point of view – will definitely have been seeing some positive changes in himself over the last few months. Indeed, this whole period of humanity has changed many people, some in good ways, but some more – unfortunately – in bad ways. In a general sense, has Neil noticed any changes in himself and maybe how he sees life? 


“I’d be more inclined [now] to do something that’s a bit off the wall. Like, I have been approached about doing ‘Dancing With The Stars’ several times before, and either I couldn’t do it or I wasn’t ready to do it in some ways. This is the year where I kinda went, well listen, who knows what’s gonna happen next year in terms of what we’re allowed do ‘live’, but another part of me – that’s kind of the legacy of this last eighteen, twenty months – is just do something that scares the hell out of ya! Why not?! Life is too short. Particularly in the western world, we go through periods of thinking we can control things. If you get sick, you get antibiotics. If something goes wrong, well you can pay someone to fix it. If it’s something with your health, you can get an operation. We tend to think we can control things, but actually, every so often, God/ the universe/ whatever you believe in, throws a curve ball at us. And that’s what Covid has been. And there’s a freedom in relinquishing that control in some ways. Covid has made me more likely to take risks and do something brand new because who knows what the future holds really?” 

Neil has his huge show at the SSE Arena coming up next year, and he’s also had some gigs in gorgeous churches – of all places – in recent times. But, if he was to plan his perfect show, here’s what I wanted to know. Where would his venue be, what three guests would he invite along to chat to, and what musical act would he choose to close out the night? 


“Hmm. Let me see. I think in terms of places I’ve played before, I’d say Vicar Street. It’s a fantastic venue, and I’m playing there again soon. It has the roar of a thousand, eleven-hundred people, which is a great roar. But it’s physically intimate enough for everybody to feel connected to what’s going on on stage. So it would probably be Vicar Street as the venue. The three guests that I would like to interview, off the top of my head…David Attenborough would be one. I think he’s absolutely fascinating. There’s nearly a hundred years there of wisdom, and he’s such a brilliant communicator. I think he’d be first on the list. Second on the list, would be Mark Rylance who is an actor people would know from ‘Bridge Of Spies’, and from ‘Wolf Hall’, and ‘Dunkirk’. I’m actually going to see him very soon in the West End. He’s one of those magnetic presences on the screen, that you cannot take your eyes off. I’m hoping that he’d be able to replicate that if you were having a chat. I think he sees the world in an interesting way in his work. So I wonder would that be the same if you met him in person, ya know. I’ll come back to the third person, but a musical act to close the gig off entirely? I would reform Oasis! For one gig! Because first of all, nobody has ever got them to do that. And secondly, the music of when you were a teenager holds a special place in everybody’s heart. I think that would be…oh my good God! [Laughs]. What a night that would be! Just for one night only. And my third guest…let me see…I think I would pick somebody like Orla Guerin, the BBC war correspondent. I think she’s seen a huge amount of the world and what people do to each other, great heroism, great sacrifice, and great cruelty. So, assuming that the gig has been great fun, and assuming that at the end of it it’s going to be lifted in an amazingly unique way by the reformed Gallagher brothers [laughs], and assuming that David Attenborough is going to give us some wisdom, and Mark Rylance is going to give us some laughs and some wisdom, I think we can go fairly deep about humanity with Orla, knowing that that’s the light and the shade. I think that would be an unbelievably good night out!” 


Finally, and we didn’t know when we spoke that there would be another address to the nation only days later, I asked Neil to put himself at that lectern outside Government Buildings in Dublin. If either Micháel Martin had called on Neil to don the green jersey as it were, face the cameras and deliver a message to the people of Ireland ahead of 2022 getting here…what thoughts would he have shared with a weary nation? 


“I think we should be proud of ourselves and how well we’ve done so far. We do, as a small country, tend to compare ourselves to other countries, and broadly speaking, if you look at the figures, we have done very well. And we’ve done well because we’ve looked after each other. That’s what I would say. And let’s all continue to look after each other. The country is a much better place when we [all] consider other people. That old Irish phrase, ‘Ní neart go cur le chéile’ (There’s no strength without unity) is the thing that comes to my head. That’s all I’d say. The country doesn’t need me to preach to them. That’s the thing about comedy gigs. People go to them to get away from life. They go to get away from their troubles for a while. And when we have been allowed to do things, you could see that people were going to escape the news-cycle. So let’s just stick together, and this too shall pass.” 


DANCING WITH THE STARS returns to our screens in January. Before then, on December 29th, you can catch Neil in the Celebrity Special of IRELAND’S FITTEST FAMILY. Neil brings his LIMINAL tour to the Tullamore Court Hotel on March 5th, with tickets ON-SALE NOW. For more details, check out www.neildelamere.com 

ENDS

Chasing Abbey

First Published December 2021

BACK IN THE GAME

I was working away at my desk last Friday when I decided to turn off the news for a change and add some music to my day instead. Tapping into my Apple Music account and scrolling through my options, the playlist Today’s Hits caught my eye for some reason so I made it my selection. And a quick glance at what was on offer soon brought a smile as wide as the Shannon to my face. 

Right there in the middle of it all, keeping company with international superstars like Ed Sheeran and his recent gems Bad Habits and Shivers, Adele with I Drink Wine, boyband giants Westlife and Starlight, and Driving Home From Christmas by Dermot Kennedy…were three dudes from Tullamore and their newest banger, Close To You. What these guys have already achieved is immense. And the mind-blowing thing is that in terms of both their creative and commercial potential, they’ve barely even begun to jog yet. When they start running at full-speed…world watch out!

A few weeks back, before Close To You officially became CHASING ABBEY’s new single, I had the pleasure of catching up with the band. 

It was the afternoon after their first real-life gig in a long, long time when I sat down in the Brewery Tap for a catch-up with Bee (Jonathan Byrne) and Ro (Ronan Bell). Unfortunately, the previous night’s triumph had taken its toll on the vocals of lead-singer Ted, who wasn’t able to join us. The funny thing was, having viewed the band’s stories on Insta the night before, Ro was the one I didn’t expect to see! To say he enjoyed the band’s first night back doing what they love would be an understatement! And that was the note on which we began. 

What was it actually like for Bee and Ro to be back in the game again?

Bee: “It was…an adjustment. When Covid started, we were so used to gigs and being in front of people. Then when we had to start doing all the Zoom things, that was so strange. We had no clue what we were getting into and we weren’t able to feed off anyone. But then we got used to that. And now that’s been flipped on its head last night, trying to dust off the cobwebs. That was the feeling beforehand, but once we got into it, it was like we’d never left the stage…”

Ro: “It was carnage! [Laughs]. Even being back doing sound-check, being back on-stage, first time with a PA, just going through all those things, there’s a certain feeling that comes with all of that. And I hadn’t felt that in a long time. It felt special. And it was weird, because going into the gig, I thought it was going to be like a normal gig was before Covid. But once it started, with the crowd and everything, it felt like we were back to years ago. It was savage!”

Were there any nerves in the build-up?

Bee: “Yeah, but not nervous about being in front of people, more so remembering all the little things that you used to do, that would have been second nature to ya when you were gigging a lot. But now we had to start thinking about those all over again!”

Ro: “I think that was just before the gig, though, because halfway through the first song you kinda started shouting all the same stuff you would have done before, and jumping the same way [laughs], and we kinda slid back into what we always used to do. And I think we did that pretty early in the gig, which was fun.”

Bee: “A big thing for us as well, is that in the last eighteen months we’ve obviously been making a lot of music. Usually we’d make maybe five or six songs, pick our favourite one, and maybe try that one out at our next gig. But we had no gigs to try out any songs for eighteen months. And we had literally nearly a hundred songs to pick from. We played four or five of them last night, and just to feel the new songs ‘live’ was just…,  THAT was something we were really missing. Because you get to feel the way it went down with the crowd. And that’s a way you’d nearly pick what your next single could be.”

There’s always a certain performance high that comes with taking to the stage, but had the high of the previous night been a little bit higher than ever before?

Ro: “Yeah. It was the best we’ve felt since Covid began. We got off stage and we just said we feel alive again, ya know! It was just nuts.”

So does that mean the comedown is that little bit lower too?

Ro: “I think we’re still a little bit high! [Laughs]. Spirits were still high this morning!”

Bee: “You get a hangover from drinking, but there’s this thing called a ‘gig hangover ‘as well, where you’re just so drained. I’d say last night will go down as one of our favourite gigs for a while.”

Like everybody else, back in March of 2020, the world came to a very sudden halt for Chasing Abbey. I asked Bee and Ro to take me back to where they were as a band when that happened…

Bee: “We had just finished ‘Lately’…”

Ro: “’Lately’, along with three other songs, we had four songs ready to go.”

Bee: “And we had picked a release date for ‘Lately’, at the end of March, beginning of April, and we were going for it. Then all of this started to come up in the media and it was happening elsewhere…”

Ro: “Yeah, happening elsewhere, so we were like, won’t affect us…”

Bee: “Then it got a little bit closer to home and we were like, well maybe we’ll push out the release by two weeks, that should do it! Just until this dies down. But then it looked like we were gonna be in this for a month, so we pushed it out for another month. And we had been soooo busy up to that, for nearly two years, so in the beginning we were kinda like, well, this is kind of a nice rest [laughs].”

Ro: “Especially in the few months before that, because we’d been working on those songs, and writing all the time, and we had shows as well. So when that first hit, we were like, this is kinda…grand, like! [Laughs].”

Bee: ”Yeah, we couldn’t leave our homes, but that was what we needed”

Ro: “But then it set in with us – with everyone – that this was gonna be here for a while.”

So that time of suddenly being apart, having been together so much and so intensely for so long, what was that like?

Ro: “At the beginning, it was ok. We went home to our own families, and that was lovely because we wouldn’t always be at home with our families all that much. So, that was nice for a little bit, but then it definitely got weird [laughs], not seeing the other lads.”

Bee: “We have a group-chat and stuff, so we all kinda kept in touch a good bit that way. But sometimes then, there might have been a day or two without any message going in, and THAT was strange because…”

Ro: “…if we’re not all together in person then the phone is always just hoppin’!”

Bee: “I think we all found it difficult at different times. At the beginning, I think we were all fine. But then it hit us about how real it all was. Like, one of us might have been down for a month, but then you’d pick yourself back up again. And then someone else might feel that way for a while. But I think that was normal, I think everyone was like that.”

Ro: “I think everyone was going through that. Even with dad in here [Paul Bell, proprietor of The Brewery Tap in Tullamore], there was just so much uncertainty. As a band, we didn’t know what to do in terms of releasing, we didn’t know when we’d have another gig, or IF we’d have another gig. You didn’t even know if you were going to get Covid and die. There was that, never mind music! We all went through different periods where different emotions were the main ones.”

Bee: “And there were a few lockdowns as well. The first lockdown was fine. But then the second one came, and we had started to make plans before that one. Then those plans all had to be pulled again.”

Ro: It was that little bit of hope…gone, ya know.”

Having seen everything that they’ve worked so hard for, and everything that they love so much, taken away in the blink of an eye by something completely out of their control, has that changed everyone as individuals in terms of what they’ll bring back to the band now? Has it, indeed, even changed the band? Whereas previously, 110% was given to every show, from now on will that be 210%?

Ro: “There was a bit of that last night! When we were walking to the stage, we were just like, let’s just go nuuuuts out here [laughs]!”

Bee: “Just before we went on-stage, we said let’s see who can go the craziest!”

Ro: “I think there’ll definitely be a bit of that, but once we got back working we slipped back into a normal studio routine again fairly quickly.”

Bee: “But it has made us – and it will make us – appreciate the moments. So we will be a little bit more present, I think. Say with gigs, you’ll take out your in-ears maybe, and just listen to the crowd, really take it in. Rather than just going, that’s unreal, you might just take a minute to go…wow, this is incredible! But ya know, we did also realise a song during Covid and it’s one of our most popular songs, ‘Lately.’It wasn’t all bad either.”

Ro: “That was like a test release, because we had to really think outside the box, and it was actually exciting to do that, to do a release completely different to how we normally would. Like, we couldn’t go to a radio station. We couldn’t sit down with people. We couldn’t do anything!

Bee: “We did it all from a room!”

Ro: “Yeah, and it went so well that it’s become a very proud thing for us, that release. And I think it impressed a lot of people, too. We hear that a lot.”

Bee: “Even the music video, we had a period where the first lockdown lifted…”

Ro: “It was in between them.”

Bee: “Yeah, and inter-county travel was allowed. So we had one week to get the whole thing done. And we did. But, oh my God [laughs].”

Ro: “I think we were up in Dublin with one of the videographers, and that was just a day or two days before we couldn’t travel again. We JUST got it all done in time!”

Considering how much the band were able to write during lockdown, I wondered if the different conditions for writing – not being around each other, not being around people, not being able to gig – if all of that had affected them creatively, and changed how they write?

Bee: “All the music kind of stayed within the normal [way that we’d write]…”

Ro: “Yeah, it did. The only thing that would have changed was the inspiration aspect, because you’re just going through the same kind of mundane thing every day. That definitely made a difference, compared to coming off the high of a gig, when you could write ten songs! In lockdowns at home, well, myself definitely, we upskilled a lot, in terms of production. In that way, we’ve come on an awful lot in the last two years or eighteen months. That’s changed the way we go about things in the studio. Some things are done quicker, easier, and end up sounding better.”

Bee: “We can literally do everything just from a room now.”

Ro: “Yeah. Whereas before, it was at ‘a level’, ya know, but it wasn’t at THAT level. But having the time, and when there was no pressure of writing songs to release them, we were able to get lost in learning different skills.”

So if upskilling might have been one of the ways that Ro got through things by becoming something he could focus his attention on, what filled that role for Bee or even Ted?

Bee: “Initially, I suppose, because I don’t live with my family, so just coming back home to them. That took up a couple of months because we got to spend a lot of time together. I also got into cooking! I did a lot of that, and explored a lot of different diets, all that kind of stuff.”

Ro: “I started running as well. We all went through a bit of a running phase. Our house is down by a canal, so I used to do quite a bit of running around there, which I never did before. We’d meet up outdoors and go running.”

Bee: “But mainly, I think, what we did was just chilled out through it all. Just took a breather.”

At this stage of their careers, Chasing Abbey is a brand, a machine in a way. How do the lads plan on bringing that machine back to life after a lay-off like this?

Bee: “Well we have loads of music there. And we didn’t put any pressure on ourselves to release the next song, because we really want to find the one that can bring us to the next stage. That’s why we wrote so much. We have a few contenders now, so when the right one hits we’re just gonna put everything into it.”

Ro: “New music will really help with that, and then the introduction of more gigs as well. One thing we’ve all loved from the start of Chasing Abbey is the ‘live’ shows. So that mix of new music, and playing those songs at ‘live’ shows will ramp it back up pretty quickly.

Bee: “And once the music is out, we’ll go back on tour.”

Aside from what the band had done online, was there anything else they’d done to stay connected to their fans over the last eighteen months?

Bee: “We started making Tik-Toks, not music related ones, more kind of sketch based.”

Ro: “At the very, very beginning of Covid, Tik-tok was really taking off because everyone was at home, it was the new app. We jumped on that with ‘Lately’.”

Bee: “And it’s funny, we have our most social media followers on Tik-Tok.”

Ro: “And that’s mad, because that’s a lot of new people. Obviously it’s a mix, a lot of people did know of us, but we’ve definitely made new fans as well. It’s a different way of interacting.”

Bee: “We went through a stage with it where it was all music, then it was all promoting ‘Lately’, then a stage where it was all sketches where there was really no music involved.”

Ro: “For our next release, we’ll definitely have a Tik-Tok campaign, because it’s huge. Huge!”

So what is next for the band?

Ro: “I think right now, we’re just looking at singles. So a single, and then the next single. We’re not even thinking too far ahead. Just the next one that feels right.”

Bee: “And feels right in every aspect, the timing, the story, the sound of it. Is it gonna take us a step forward to what music sounds like now? Will it be fresh? There are so many different things to consider. But we think we’re nearly there…!”

CLOSE TO YOU, the brand NEW single from CHASING ABBEY, is OUT NOW, available to stream and download from all platforms, and to request from radio. 

ENDS

P.J. Molloy

First Published December 2021

(Main Interview First Published in the Tullamore Annual 2019)

IN MEMORY OF OFFALY’S MAN FOR ALL OCCASIONS

Like so many, I was stunned by the sad and sudden passing of P.J. MOLLOY last week. A young man, seldom without a smile, always with a few minutes for a chat, a well-known face and much-loved character around Tullamore, and indeed – thanks to his love of music and Offaly GAA – far further afield as well.

The thought that we won’t be running into him again at a concert in the Tullamore Court Hotel, or an event at The Well – to be honest – it hasn’t sunk in yet. I write that as someone who moves mainly in the world of music, but I’m full sure that anyone who knew P.J. through his love and support for Offaly’s football, hurling, and camogie teams – and of GAA in general – will feel the exact same way.


To simply say that P.J. loved music wouldn’t do him justice. It was, I believe, one of the things that he lived for. And he had a lovable, cheeky, rogue-like way of making himself a part of things, so much so that he was pretty much an official part of the Irish country scene himself, as much as any artist could claim to be. If, as an artist, you had P.J. looking for a selfie with you, you’d arrived. And once P.J. knew you, he wouldn’t forget you. I can still remember his excitement at Alex Roe’s journey to the final of Glór Tíre, and how much he enjoyed those ‘live’ shows down at The Quays in Galway. And he’d been the same way a few years before when John Molloy also did the midlands proud on the same show.

And, if you take a close look at the cover of Colin Kenny’s latest release, Rockin’ and Rollin’, you’ll see that it’s P.J. right there in the middle of the scene, captured forever on the dancefloor of The Cherry Tree in Birr supporting Colin and a host of other country artists at a charity event a few years back.

Two Offaly lads, you see – Alex and Colin – so P.J. wouldn’t let them down. And what his support of John – a Westmeath man by God’s grace – proved, was that if P.J. found a place for you in his heart or in his life, even the colours of your jersey wouldn’t get in the way of that. And while P.J. had a soft-spot for many of Irish country’s female stars, he was never shy about telling anyone that Olivia Douglas held a place all of her own in his affections. An Offaly lass, you see, so P.J. was always on Olivia’s team, too. 

But Alex, Colin, John, and Olivia are just a few names on a long, long list of artists and people – from near and far – who P.J. would always find time for, a list too long to even begin and probably impossible to bring to a close.

But this week, as P.J’s story on this earth came to a close, how proud he would have been to know that Alex, Colin, John, Olivia – and the immensely talented Majella Killeen – took the time not just to be there to bid him farewell, but to sing him into the next life. Music brought a smile to his face so many times throughout his life, so it was only fitting that it was such a beautiful part of his funeral service in his native Walsh Island, too, both in the church and at his graveside. I have no doubt that P.J. was somehow looking on, and smiling brightly…


And, God knows, P.J. himself brought smiles and laughter to so many different nights, in so many different places over the years. What a way to live, and what a way to be remembered. 


If P.J’s passing has any lesson in it, it’s that life is short. Too short sometimes. We need to sing while we can. That’s what he did. And that’s what he’d want us all to do now, and in the days, the months, and the years to come when we remember him.


I had the pleasure of interviewing P.J. for a special feature in the 2019 edition of the Tullamore Annual (published by the Tullamore Lions’ Club). And in P.J’s memory, I’ve decided to share that chat here in OTRT today…


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First Published in the Tullamore Annual 2019


If you don’t know who P.J. Molloy is, that immediately tells us something about you. For one thing, you’re obviously not a G.A.A. fan, and definitely not an Offaly G.A.A. fan. And for another thing, it’s probably a safe bet that you’re not on Facebook. You see, if you’re even remotely aware of anything to do with the G.A.A. in the Faithful County, then you would most definitely have heard of , seen – or probably had a pint with at some stage – the bold P.J! 


Wherever there’s an Offaly team in action, you’ll see and hear P.J. somewhere in the crowd, cheering the team on as if his own life depended on the result. And even if there isn’t an Offaly team involved, the chances are P.J. will still be there, proud as punch in his Offaly jersey, almost like an unofficial ambassador of sorts! 


But if the G.A.A. fills up his days, then it’s all about a sing-song when night arrives. And P.J. is never one to shy away from his turn when it comes. And if there’s an audience, all the better. And the bigger the better. And if there’s no audience? Well there’s always Facebook ‘live’, and a concert straight from P.J’s kitchen or bedroom. And sure you’d never know who’d be listening in, as P.J. discovered last year!


When I sat down for a chat with Offaly’s man for all occasions, we began by talking about where P.J’s love of all things G.A.A. comes from… 


“Well, it’s from coming from Walsh Island, which is the heart of Offaly football really. So I was brought up with football from a very young age, going to matches when I was seven or eight. And the love that started then hasn’t left me since.”

P.J. is often affectionately referred to as Offaly’s number-one supporter, how does he feel about that? 


“Well I suppose there’s a lot of people who could be called Offaly’s number-one supporter, because there’s a lot of great supporters out there, all over Offaly. But if anyone wants to call me the number-one, then I suppose that’s what I am [laughs]. But I’m happy enough just goin’ to matches. I’m not looking for any attention. I just love everything that’s Offaly.”

But when the attention comes his way, does he enjoy it?


“Ah, sure we all do, don’t we, like! [laughs]’

Taking everything into account, all of the big matches, occasions, and events that P.J. has been involved with in some way, what’s been the most memorable highlight for him so far? 


“Probably singing for Jennifer Byrne at her Rose of Tralee homecoming. That has to be one of the highlights for a good few years! Jennifer won the Rose of Tralee, as you know, and the night she won I made a ‘live’ video [on Facebook], tryin’ to sing! I won’t say I was very good, but I tried [laughs]. I sang the Rose of Tralee and the Offaly Rover, and it was shared all over Offaly News and everywhere. And sure didn’t Jennifer see it herself, too. So she asked me would I sing both songs for her in Ballinahoun, and I said I would. So that’s one of the highlights of the career, so far anyway! [laughs].”

Was he nervous singing for Jennifer at her homecoming? 


“A little bit, yeah. But we still gave it a good shot anyway. It mightn’t have sounded too great, but we did it!”

To narrow it down to just sporting moments, what was the one that made it hardest to keep his heart in his chest?


“Probably Ireland winning the Grand Slam in rugby, that has to be one of the best moments, EVER, the last one, against England in Twickenham on Paddy’s Day. That was brilliant. God was Irish that day anyway! [laughs]. And Offaly winning their All-Ireland in ’98, and ’94, which I can just about remember. But definitely ’98. I wasn’t there at the final, unfortunately, but I was at the homecoming. That was a good night! [laughs]. Unfortunately I’ve yet to be at an Offaly senior football or hurling match that’s an All-Ireland final, but that’ll change. We’ll be back in an All-Ireland someday.”

When I asked P.J. about who he considered to be the best hurlers and footballers in the country, his response was as much a declaration of loyalty and a demonstration of his passion for the cause as it was an answer…


“I’m not going to make that call for Offaly hurlers or footballers, because I have great time for them all. And everybody, all of them, are equal on my playing field, so they are. But looking countrywide, Joe Canning has to be up there. And Gearoid McInerney, another great hurler.”

His passion for hurling was evident again in his answer to my next question. When I asked him what it was about Joe Canning that seems to make him such a special player, without even pausing for breath, to think, or to blink, P.J. relived the moment that made Joe stand out in his eyes…


“His ability to take scores under pressure. I think back to last year and the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipp, out under the Cusack Stand, straight over the bar from about sixty-five yards out. One of the best scores I’ve ever seen. Just brilliant. I have my few selfies with Joe, too, and I have his autograph as well. Somewhere!”

P.J. doesn’t just like to meet as many famous faces as he can, he likes to get his own face into a picture with those famous faces! And at this stage, I remarked that he must have selfies with nearly everyone except the president…


“Oh yeah! Well, that’ll be the next one you see. Actually, I have one with Michael D, come to think of it! [laughs]. So Donald Trump now might be the next one!”

While the G.A.A. is undeniably the love of his life when it comes to sport, if you see him out and about in a soccer jersey it’s probably going to be that of the blue half of Merseyside, Everton. P.J. explained his soft spot for the Toffees…


“Yeah, I am, not that we have too much to shout about. I actually don’t know how I became an Everton supporter, to be honest. I was jumping all over the place once, I was even a Swindon Town fan for a while. But I eventually settled with Everton. I’d be happy with a top-ten finish this season, but it’s hard to know. But I won’t lose much sleep over them, it’s G.A.A. all the way for me.” 

After from selfies, jerseys are probably the next things that P.J. is famous for.


“I have…wait ’til I think now…eighty-eight jerseys, between soccer, rugby, football, everything. Mostly G.A.A. There’s a few strange ones in there now, that people mightn’t recognise the look of! Bantry Blues is one example. There’s a few that wouldn’t be too well known at all. Anywhere I go, I buy a jersey. I’m always on the hunt for them. I probably have eight or nine Offaly jerseys at this stage, and that’s not counting clubs in Offaly. I have probably twelve or fourteen of those.” 

But does he have a favourite? He surely does.


“Dan Currams sent me his Offaly jersey from when he captained Offaly, for my 30th birthday. And it was signed by Dan, too. That’s one of my prized possessions now, to be honest. It was a lovely thing to do. There’s a few more like that. I have a Rhode jersey signed by all the Rhode lads, I have an ’82 jersey signed by eight or nine of that team as well.” 

It was the day before the All-Ireland hurling final when we spoke, so the hurling season was just about to reach its climax. And naturally, with P.J. right there in the middle of it all. But how many matches would he actually get to each year? 


“Let’s see, tomorrow is the All-Ireland final, so that’ll be fifty matches so far for this year. I go to club, county, minor, ladies, everything. Basically, from January to September I’ll be at G.A.A. matches, if not every weekend then every second week. I went to eighty-nine (yes, he said 89!!!) one year, and still couldn’t get an All-Ireland final ticket. Every week a match! Sometimes two or three a week! And I still couldn’t get a ticket for Clare against Cork, the first game. But I wrote off to the President of the G.A.A. and duly got an offer of a ticket for the replay. I still had to pay for it, mind! [laughs]. But I didn’t mind that. At least I was going to be there.”

So when he goes to something like the All-Ireland final, when Offaly aren’t involved, is he going along to support one of the other teams or just to enjoy the atmosphere and the experience of being there? 


“I’d like to see Limerick win it tomorrow, because they haven’t since ’73. Galway won it last year. Now, I wouldn’t begrudge either team an All-Ireland, but just for the sake of hurling, I’d like to see Limerick win it. And to be honest, I think they have the players to win it as well. I’ll be up there for the atmosphere anyway, in my Offaly jersey on the Hill! [laughs].”

As a matter of interest, I wondered was there anyone who P.J. would really love to meet still, but hasn’t managed to cross paths with to date? 


“There’s probably a couple. The likes of D.J. Carey, I haven’t met him yet now. Eddie Keher, as well.”

Out of everyone who P.J. has managed to nab for a selfie, who was he the most nervous about asking for one? 


“I think Jennifer Byrne! I met her first the night of the Offaly Rose selection, and we got a photo on that night. Then she won the Rose of Tralee itself, so I was fairly nervous asking for another. She wasn’t goin’ to say no, like, I know that [laughs], she’s too nice. But I was still nervous. And with Michael D., too, I suppose. Maybe it will be the Pope next, if I can corner him in Knock! [laughs].” 

Now, being a man who takes in so many matches each year, P.J. is probably as qualified as anyone to throw out some ideas about what might be done to improve the games. So, if it was in his power to do so, what changes would P.J. make to how hurling and football are played at the moment? 


“Oh scrap that black card! I don’t think there’s any need for it. If you’re gonna be sent-off, you should be sent-off. But with a black card you’re allowed to bring someone back on. It doesn’t make any sense. And I’d cut out this short passing altogether, too. Just kick the ball, lads! Get it into the forwards and hope for the best. And leave hurling the way it is, cos’ there’s nothing wrong with hurling!” 

The other big love in P.J’s life – and it might even be the equal of the G.A.A. in his heart – is country music…


“I started to listen to it when I was young, Big Ed, Country Roads on Radio 3, if you remember him? Big Tom was one of the best singers ever, I saw him ‘live’ two or three times. And I’m a big fan of Mike Denver as well, and Lisa McHugh, and our own Olivia Douglas, of course! There’s very few of them I don’t have selfies with, either [laughs]. I love goin’ out to The Well in Moate for a dance, or to the Ballymore Festival each year. Anywhere you can get an aul’ jive goin’! And Sabrina Fallon, Colin Kenny too, and Alex Roe, there’s a lot of great artists out there these days. Country music is just the heartbeat of Ireland really. Like, I don’t see any conversations in night-clubs, because you can’t hear a thing anyone is sayin’! So where’s the point in even being there? Country is the music a lot of us would have grown up with. Now, I don’t mean to sound like I’m eighty or anything [laughs]. But it was country music. It wasn’t rock, or any of that feckin’ night-club stuff.” 

As we came to the end of our chat, I decided to put P.J. on the spot for the following day’s clash between Galway and Limerick, and then the Dublin and Tyrone battle for Sam. And I might be paying a bit more attention to his predictions in the future! 


“I’m gonna say Limerick. They have a savage bench to bring in, Dowling, Casey, and two or three more great players. So yeah, it’s Limerick for Liam for me. By two or three points only, I’d say. It’ll be close. And Galway will win the minor, they’ll beat Kilkenny. And there’s not even any point in asking about the football. Dublin will win that by about ten points!” 

~ Rest in peace, P.J…you’ll be missed by many…and fondly remembered by all who knew you well.

ENDS