Cork youth worker: 'I am constantly learning from and inspired by young people who come through our doors...'

Youth worker Aine O’Callaghan talks about everything from her family, to childhood memories, and why she loves her work, in our weekly Person to Person
Cork youth worker: 'I am constantly learning from and inspired by young people who come through our doors...'

Áine O'Callaghan Senior Youth Worker Cork City Youth Space Cork YMCA.

TELL us about yourself;

My name is Áine O’Callaghan and I’m a Youth Worker in Cork YMCA for the last 16 years. Youth work can be hard to describe - it is about making relationships with young people which support them. It is about listening to and being led by the young people you work with and enabling young people to advocate for themselves and for others to bring about positive change in their own lives, in their communities and in the world. There are many different forms of youth work but the most important thing is not what you do but how you do it.

I love it and I am constantly learning from and inspired by the young people who come through the doors of the YMCA.

There is also something really powerful about being part of a worldwide movement of young people in the YMCA which was founded in 1844 and now operates in over 120 countries around the world, reaching 65 million people a year.

Where were you born?

I was born in Knockainey, Co. Limerick, the home of Áine, Queen of the Fairies, beside the beautiful and ancient Lough Gur.

Where do you live?

I live in Douglas with my husband Seán and two boys Ciarán and Diarmuid. I love all three of them to the bone.


I am a middle child, and yes a mediator! My younger brother lives in Croatia with his wife and two boys and we can’t wait to see them after three years apart, damn you Covid! My sister lives in Limerick with her husband and two boys, close to my ever wise and patient mother. They are still celebrating Limerick’s All Ireland win.

Best friend?

Oh, I couldn’t name one but I would love to spend more time with my Sunday coffee little gang, preferably on a dance floor!

Earliest childhood memory?

Being locked in a wardrobe by my big sister.

Person you most admire?

Nelson Mandela, I have always been in awe of his ability to lead, to love and to forgive. He tells his own story brilliantly in his book Long Walk to Freedom. 

I visited Robben Island when I was in South Africa as a Youth and Community Work student on placement, which was a really formative experience for me.

Where was your most memorable holiday?

I loved my time in beautiful Connemara this summer - sea, lakes, mountains and glorious sunshine for seven entire days. It was a great feeling to be out and about after all the restrictions.

A road trip on a hippy bus called the Green Tortoise to Yosemite National Park, followed by a trip to LA and onto Mexico after the J1 summer in San Francisco was definitely memorable. Four months of sleeping on the floor of a one room studio apartment with five others in San Francisco felt like a rite of passage.

Favourite TV programme?

The Wire - I love a good crime drama and I don’t mind watching Dominic West either!

Favourite radio show?

Young people in the YMCA are producing some amazing podcasts at the moment, available on Spotify. I’m listening to The Sustainable Sleepover Club, which is a fun and informative podcast about the Sustainable Development Goals and Cork’s Brave Youth podcast featuring brave stories from young people, showcasing their creativity and connecting communities and young people in Cork.

Your signature dish if cooking?

Moroccan Lamb Tagine.

Favourite restaurant?

Our house - I’m lucky to have a husband who is an excellent cook!

Last book you read?

A Ghost in the Throat. Doireann Ni Ghriofa beautifully pieces together the life of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill while telling her own story. I love the way the author highlights the ‘wilful erasure’ of Ní Chonaill by male translations of Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoighaire and how she pays tribute to the ‘many shadow-women doing their shadow-work’.

Best book you read?

Eat or We Both Starve, Victoria Kennefick’s beautiful first book of poetry is my book of the year.

Favourite song?

Hard to name just one here. If it is dancing in the kitchen during lockdown then it has to be Daft Punk’s Lose Yourself to Dance or Patti Smith’s Horses. You can’t beat the lonesome touch of Martin Hayes’ Marbhna Luimní. 

I love Mná na hÉireann whether it is Kate Bush or Seán Ó Sé singing it and any song by Joni Mitchell... I really can’t pick just one.

One person you would like to see in concert?

Bob Marley at the Lyceum in 1975....I think I have missed my chance!

Your proudest moment?

It is a great feeling when you see a young person grow in confidence, overcome obstacles in their lives and start to reach their goals, and to know that you played some part in supporting them.

Spendthrift or saver?

Saver...rainy day and all that!

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

Traffic, but I try to walk as much as possible.

What makes you happy?

Being outside, sunshine, family, friends, dancing.

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who put their heart into what they did.

What else are you up to at the moment?

We are getting very excited about the Theatre Making and Citizenship Cork Programme, which is an innovative collaboration between The Everyman working with YMCA Cork in collaboration with Graffiti Theatre and with the support of The Abbey. It is a fun, free and youth-led programme of weekly workshops on Wednesday afternoons for 15 Young People, aged 15-25 in Cork YMCA.

Participants will be supported to become theatre makers themselves – explore writing, devising, designing, technical craft and performance as well as attending theatre shows as guests of The Everyman and other venues! At the heart of this project is the role of theatre and how young people can shape the future of accessible theatre in Ireland.

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