My proudest moment... unloading nearly three tonnes of gym equipment into a refugee camp

In our Person to Person feature we catch up with Ainle Ó Cairealláin to talk about his successful Rebel Matters podcast, supporting refugees in West Bank and life in lockdown
My proudest moment... unloading nearly three tonnes of gym equipment into a refugee camp

Ainle Ó Cairealláin.

TELL us about yourself; 

I grew up in West Belfast in the midst of the political conflict and as part of a community that fought hard against political, cultural, and religious discrimination. I was immersed in the arts, theatre, the Irish language and hurling and played all grades with my club Naomh Pól and with Antrim. I attended Meánscoil Feirste on the Falls Road and St.

Mary’s Grammar School on the Glen Road and was very fortunate to have had great teachers and role models both in school and in the community.

I moved to Cork in 2010 after finishing a research masters at the Sports & Science Department in the University of Limerick and founded the personal training business ACLAÍ in 2013. 

Since 2017 I have been making the Rebel Matters Podcast which has really taken off since the start of the pandemic, and more importantly since Vicky Langan came on as the producer of the show. 

I am also involved in ACLAÍ Palestine which is a community gym based that we set up in February 2020 in the Aida refugee camp in the West Bank, Palestine.

Where were you born?

I was born in Belfast’s City Hospital in 1985.

Where do you live?

I recently moved to East Cork, just outside Midleton, and have been loving the peace of the countryside and the clear night skies we’ve been having recently.


I have two younger brothers, Cairbre and Naoise. Naoise is one third of the hip-hop group KNEECAP, and Cairbre is the current Strength and Conditioning coach for the Tipperary senior hurling team that won the All-Ireland in 2019. My Da Gearóid lives in Belfast with his wife Bríd, and we unfortunately lost our mother Aoife to suicide at the end of September 2020 which turned our world upside down. I miss her terribly and the only comfort that I can take from the situation at the moment is that we are there for each other as we go through the unthinkable experience of losing a loved one to suicide.

Best friend?

I am very fortunate to have a circle of close friends and cherish each and every one of them dearly so I couldn't pick one. I live right next door to two of my closest friends Darragh and Jess who have been very supportive since my mum passed away and I don't know how I would be coping with the latest lockdown without them, so I am particularly grateful to be in a social bubble with them right now.

Ainle Ó Cairealláin and Vicky Langan of Rebel Matters.
Ainle Ó Cairealláin and Vicky Langan of Rebel Matters.

Earliest childhood memory?

My earliest memory is being in the house that I lived in with my mum and dad and my brother Cairbre on the Ormeau Road. I recall that our parents were having a wee party in the house and I asked if I could taste the red wine and was allowed to have a tiny drop of it. I remember the wooden floor, the chairs and the atmosphere of the get- together. A loyalist murder gang was very active in the area at the time and we eventually had to move out partly because my three year old self was going around speaking Irish to everyone unbeknownst to myself which made it hard for our family to not be signalled out as Catholics. 

One day we came home from a walk and someone had smashed the window of the front door and we moved out shortly after that.

Person you most admire? 

Putting one person on a pedestal of admiration based on my own perception of them would be doing them an injustice so I prefer to let people just be themselves and do their thing. However, having grown up alongside my brothers Cairbre and Naoise I can say that I admire them deeply for the people that they have become, their unique character and creativity, and the respect with which they treat the people around them. I also have great respect for the ex-Debenhams workers who have been standing on the picket line for the best part of 12 months and throughout the whole of the pandemic in a fight for a fair redundancy package. If anyone in the Dáil is reading this, I would urge them to get behind the ex-Debenhams workers to help bring their industrial dispute to a fair and overdue conclusion.

Person who most irritates you?

Actions irritate me much more than people. Two of the main ones at the moment are student nurses not being paid while being on the frontline of defence against Covid-19 and the climbing cost of residential rents in Ireland. Both those things make it pretty obvious that those in the Fianna Fáil/ Fine Gael government are out of touch with the majority of the regular people of Ireland today, and it's no secret that the majority of TD’s are landlords themselves, so I guess the higher the rent the better in that case!

Who would you like to see as Minister for Finance and why?

Someone who has the courage to represent the rights of the working people of Ireland, fund better mental health services, and to make Ireland’s society one that shows it cares for its most vulnerable citizens by funding adequate and appropriate services for those living with disabilities, our older citizens, and the other sections of society that find themselves underserved and discriminated against. 

Ultimately we need a government that is willing to break the cycle of legislating for the benefit of the wealthiest sections of society, but I don't have any great hopes that this will happen anytime soon which makes me quite disillusioned with the political system in general.

Where was your most memorable holiday?

When I was about 10 years old we travelled around the Hebrides and other Gaelic speaking regions of Scotland on tour with an Irish version of Brian Friel’s Inis Chaoin. I had a part in the play and loved going on the boats to the islands, hearing Scottish songs and music, playing on the beach on Eilean Bharraigh and pucking around with the hurleys on the shinty pitches. It was a sharing of our mutual culture with the Scots that had a lasting impact on me.

Favourite TV programme?

I have watched the Sopranos from start to finish three times.

Favourite radio show?

That would have to be my da’s all-Elvis radio show that goes out on Raidió Fáilte every Friday at 3pm ( Our da set up Raidió Fáilte in the early 90’s as a pirate radio station broadcasting in Belfast and used to drop us off to school and zoom down to the station before 9am to read the morning news in between bouts of the British government trying to shut the  station down on account of it being an Irish language channel. Eventually Radio Fáilte were granted a license and Uachtarán Mary McAleese came up as the guest of honour at the official launch in 2006.

Your signature dish if cooking?

With all the lockdowns I have had more time to develop some cooking skills. Right now my favourite thing to cook is a hearty beetroot soup with homemade flatbreads from the Ballymaloe cookery school cookbook.

Favourite restaurant?

It's not strictly a restaurant, but I have to give Alchemy on Barrack Street the top spot here for its coffee, food, and lovely vibes. They have been very supportive of ACLAÍ and ACLAÍ Palestine throughout the years and we are in a period of time where sticking together is more important than ever before. I also love calling over to MyGoodness in the English Market for their nachos and other delights.

Last book you read?

I just read Manchán Magan’s latest book Thirty-Two Words for Field and enjoyed it immensely. It’s a great read that opens the Pandora’s box of our deep connection with the Irish language, and our inextricable link to the landscapes of Ireland, and ultimately each other.

Best book you read?

My favourite book is called Rotha Mór an tSaoil (The Big Wheel Of Life) written by Micí Mac Gabhann who was born near Gort a’ Choirce in the Donegal Gaeltacht in 1865. He was auctioned off at a market as a boy to work on a farm, and between the jigs and the reels he made his way to Alaska during the gold-rush, struck gold and returned to Donegal with a few pound to his name. 

The big lesson of the book is that life is like being on a big wheel. Sometimes you find yourself at the top and sometimes you’re at the bottom, but the wheel keeps turning.

Last album/CD/download you bought?

The last album that I got on vinyl was Four Tet’s album There Is Love In You. Two close friends Clare Sands and Síomha Brock are both in the process of making new albums so I am really looking forward to hearing them when they are released.

Favourite song?

My favourite song to sing these days is called ‘Amhrán na Scadán’. It's a sean-nós song about an old fisherman thinking back on the time he spent fishing on the open sea in his curach. The last verse is the old man coming towards the end of his life looking back without regret and grateful for the opportunity he had to do what he loved best in his life.

One person you would like to see in concert?

One of my most comforting pandemic activities has been putting The Gloaming on the record player, so I would love to be able to see them in concert one day in an auditorium full of people and think back to the times when I was listening to them alone with a glass of wine imagining the next time we could all go out and enjoy a gig together!

Do you have a pet?

I have never had a pet but would love to have a dog one day.

Morning person or night owl?

I am more of a morning person, and really treasure a bit of time first thing to practice gratitude for all the good things in life, do a bit of meditation and read a few pages of a book before jumping into the day ahead.

Your proudest moment?

My proudest moment lately was when we unloaded nearly three tonnes of gym equipment into an empty room in the Aida refugee camp in the West Bank early last year. There were a lot of challenges to overcome from raising the money to buy the equipment, shipping it, and getting it safely to the camp. 

It was a real team effort by a small group of committed volunteers with the support of many people in Cork and further afield, so when the gear landed I knew we had achieved something special together and felt quite emotional about it. 

ACLAÍ Palestine is now up and running as a community gym in the Aida camp providing a much needed safe space for the residents of the camp who are under constant threat and surveillance from the Israeli army.

Spendthrift or saver?

I got into the habit of saving a certain percentage of my wages each week in the Credit Union about 10 years ago but outside of that I try my best not to be too attached to money or material things.

Name one thing you would improve in your area in which you live?

I would make rents more affordable and make Cork a completely wheelchair friendly city.

What makes you happy?

I love sitting down to a meal with a friend and chatting into the night, and it's a bonus if we are beside a stove or open fire. 

The pandemic has really put into sharp focus the things that I love the most, and that’s sharing time with friends and family, being out in nature, and being around gigs and music. 

Having said that I am grateful for the extra time these days that I can spend reading, playing music, and recording podcasts with our great guests on Rebel Matters.

How would you like to be remembered?

I have never really thought about that before and it would feel a bit forced to come up with something now. I guess how I am remembered will be up to others and in the meantime I will just carry on being myself.

What else are you up to at the moment?

Right now I am spending most of my time between the Rebel Matters Podcast, building the online coaching element of our personal training business ACLAÍ, and learning new trad tunes on the flute.


Rebel Matters is a bi-monthly podcast for and with activists, artists, and scallywags, presented by Ainle Ó Cairealláin, a West-Belfast native now based in Cork city, and produced by sound artist/filmmaker Vicky Langan.

New episodes are uploaded every second Friday. From time to time, the show is in Irish, depending on the preferred language of the guest, and every now and again they abandon the interview format for something a little different.

Guests are varied, and each person brings their unique life experience and outlook to the show.

Previous musical guests include: Kneecap, Radie Peat, Gemma Dunleavy, TPM, and Stevie G.

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