Our SHINE Festival in March 2021 was a roaring success, smashing all of our targets with 40,000 girls attending. Over 80 incredible, authentic and badass women joined us to celebrate being a girl for 3 whole days!
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be catching up with some of the speakers to share why we love them so much and why you should love them too. These women are joyful, smart, positive and hugely inspiring…
For today’s “Shona Meets”, here’s the coolest human you will ever meet, Orla O’Doherty.
Orla, for those who don’t know you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a larger than life 50 year old who has discovered that getting older is the best thing ever. I’m openly gay (although it took a while!) am a full-time writer, am my mom’s only daughter (she’s as quirky as me), I love all things ABBA, am learning how to swim, am an animal lover, and generally spend most of my time laughing.
You have had a very busy sports career over the years, could you tell us a little about it and your favourite part?
I began playing squash at an early age and quickly moved up the ranks (there weren’t many of us playing in the 80s) and represented the Irish National Junior team at three world championships. I played on the professional tour for a few years in the early ’90s and then began a 25-year coaching career in the US. 3 years ago, when I returned to Ireland I decided to compete again at age 48 and got selected for my first time on the Irish Senior team and played in the European Team Championships. My teammates were all half my age or younger. The same year, I won the European Masters Championships in Vienna. My favourite part was travelling and meeting so many cool people and knowing that wherever I go, the chances are I’ll have a place to stay and someone to have a sneaky beer with.
In your SHINE video, you mentioned your struggles with your mental health. What would be your advice to someone that is currently struggling?
I did struggle with mental health for many many years. I try to look at the big picture/grand scheme of things whenever I find myself slipping into my darkness. I ask myself if this will be important in 3 or 5 years from now, or if it will be a distant memory. I try to find something positive out of whatever it is, and more often than not, I try to make myself laugh about it. When all else fails, I turn to my incredible family and friends who understand me and appreciate my honesty towards myself. I’m not afraid anymore to tell them if I’m struggling. My motto is #nomorepretending. I spent far too much time PRETENDING I was fine when I wasn’t. It’s the best thing I’ve done lately, to accept and embrace, and just bloody well TALK ABOUT IT. It amazes me how many people will open up to me when I open up to them. So by sharing our troubles, we are actually helping/allowing/enabling others to share theirs too. It’s a fantastic rippling effect we can all have on each other.
Your coming out story wasn’t straightforward, could you tell us a little about that, and what advice you’d have for other young people wanting to come out?
I came out in 1992 when it was still illegal to be gay. It was a very difficult time and my father in particular took it badly, which is why I emigrated to the US the following year. I went to my FIRST EVER DUBLIN GAY PRIDE three years ago at the ripe old age of 47 and I cried. Tears of joy mind you. I saw my younger self everywhere. Young men and women holding hands so freely and openly without any fear. I reflected on how scared I was back then to be seen in public holding hands with another girl. Seeing these young people on O’Connell street, being free as birds, was extremely overwhelming for me. In a good way of course. My advice to younger people is to trust that you are always loved, no matter what. Since writing my blog, I’ve had some parents contact me about their own children who are teenagers, who have just come out, and how much they want them to know they love them. Your family and friends only want what’s best for you. They only want your happiness. They only want you to find your own joy. If being gay or bi or non-binary or trans or whatever tickles your fancy!…then just BE YOU. You are the only person in the world who can BE YOU.
Orla, you’ve recently dived into the world of blogging, could you tell us what made you take that step and how it makes you feel?
I started writing my memoir last year as I’ve had quite a colourful life. I realized early on that I was writing it with my friends in mind. A publisher loved my story but said to me that I needed to write it with EVERYONE in mind, not just the people who actually know me. So I changed my attitude and began writing as if I was a stranger, and questioned how it read. The idea of having a blog (which you can read HERE), which would go out in the world of strangers, encouraged me to test it out, and see what kind of reaction I’d get. Part of me wondered if my story was actually that interesting at all! So I’ve written several pieces on being gay, coming out, and my experiences in psychiatric wards. The response I’m getting is phenomenal. I’m thrilled it’s giving people some insight, making them smile, and also allowing them to dig deep within themselves. I absolutely love writing my blogs each week and have lots of subscribers now who tell me they just love getting a ‘jingle in their box‘ every Monday morning. (That’s the title of the email alert you’ll get each week). It’s a launching platform for my memoir. I love it.
Finally, what would be your proudest moment?
Can I share two? First, I got to carry the Irish Flag in the opening ceremony of the European Championships at age 48. I was the oldest woman in the history of Irish squash to be selected on the team. Second, winning the European Masters Championships in August 2019, three weeks after my cousin Mark had died. I almost pulled out of the competition as I was devastated at his loss, and ultimately decided to participate in his honour. I played every match with him in my mind and when I won it, I cried. Most people knew why, as they’d heard about my cousin. I went out the next day and got a tattoo that says Vienna ’19 which reminds me of Mark, and of my first European Title.
Be yourself; everyone else is already taken (Oscar Wild)
Dancing Queen by ABBA
Favourite person ever?
My cousin Maria
We were also very lucky to have Orla as a Sports Stage speaker for our SHINE Festival in March. Check it out below!
We don’t know about you, but we are so glad to have Orla in our SHONA Community! It’s mad to think of how many phenomenal women are on this little Island of ours! Stay tuned to see who else we got chatting to!
P.S. If you have a suggestion of who you would like us to chat to next and have some burning questions, why not let us know on any of our socials ( @shonadotie ) or pop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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