Top Cork barrister admits law was not her first love, and says work experience shaped her

Barrister Doireann O’Mahony remembers her teenage work experience with The Echo as a life-changing experience. She talks with Donal O’Keeffe about her love of Cork’s local paper.
Top Cork barrister admits law was not her first love, and says work experience shaped her

Barrister Doireann O'Mahony with the Echo Boy on St Patrick's Street. Picture: Louise Bennett

“DEAR Diary, As you can see, I have just had my first ever article published!” begins Doireann O’Mahony’s diary entry of 28 August 2005, and the then-15-year-old helpfully sticks an Evening Echo logo below her introduction.

“It appeared in Friday’s newspaper – I am so proud!” she writes, and the article is entitled “Get active, get moving”, its opening line being: “This week marks the first-ever Get Moving Week, a national drive to encourage us all to exercise more”.

All these years later, a Google search for “Get Moving Week” directs you to the website, while a search for “Doireann O’Mahony” reveals that a painfully shy young girl overjoyed at her first by-line has become a successful barrister specialising in medical negligence.

The Cork barrister's first love 

Chatting over lunch in the Good Day Deli at Nano Nagle Place, she says that although she is passionate about what she does, law was never initially her vocation, and her first love was none other than The Echo.

Barrister Doireann O'Mahony's first published article.
Barrister Doireann O'Mahony's first published article.

“When I was in transition year in school, I did my official work experience with the Irish Examiner,” she remembers.

“The Echo and the Examiner were in the same building at Academy Street, and I loved the atmosphere in there, and the camaraderie, and the joie de vivre. I remember lots of swivel chairs and desks, and lots of computers, and a lot of loud noises and stress, and everybody was bumper-to-bumper, it was really action-packed.

“I really enjoyed it, and I was so enthusiastic about the idea of journalism that I asked the then Evening Echo could I come in and work on a voluntary basis during the summer holidays.”

She recalls that the chief sub-editor, Rory Noonan, took her under his wing and was very kind to her, and Lisa Coughlan, nowadays marketing manager at the Irish Examiner and The Echo, used to bring her on adventures around town in an Evening Echo-branded VW Beetle, since – sadly - decommissioned.

She says English was always her best subject, and she loved writing, so she really wanted to be a journalist, “if being a novelist, or a playwright or a poet didn’t work out”.

An unrealised ambition is still to be published in the Holly Bough: “I know it’s finally Christmas when the Holly Bough is on the shelves.” (The Holly Bough editor has been informed.)

When her summer job with The Echo ended, Rory Noonan suggested she might still be a part of The Echo and contribute to the paper as a music reviewer.

She recalls that she was paid weekly in CDs. Her reviews were never less than forthright (“From an era in which only squares could have a ball, the record is London lollipop in its most tooth-decaying format”) but a glowing review of Cork-based English singer-songwriter Cliff Wedgbury’s Songs from a Soho Basement (“a genuine top-notch rarity”) brought a thank-you in the form of a signed book of his poetry dedicated to her.

Ultimately, journalism proved not to be her path in life (unless the Holly Bough wins her over), and she says she was “cajoled” into entering the family business, following in the footsteps of her father, eminent barrister Dr John O’Mahony, but she sees parallels in her current career.

“I always liked the idea of hearing people’s stories, of giving them a platform, and in a way the job I do now is slightly similar, in that I hear people’s stories, and I present that story when I’m presenting a case in court.”

The 'hotshot barrister'

Over the past decade, Doireann O’Mahony has earned a growing reputation for dogged and compassionate advocacy in the field of medical negligence, even though in conversation she laughs at the memory of being introduced as “a hotshot barrister” by the Two Norries.

In a remarkable interview earlier this year, she discussed with podcasters James Leonard and Timmy Long her passion for her career in the Bar, the three legal books she has written, and her own experience of coercive control.

The mutual affection she shares with the Two Norries was evident recently when the Hollyhill podcasters celebrated an important milestone and recorded their 100th episode in the Lord Mayor’s chambers.

Barrister Doireann O'Mahony with the Echo Boy on St Patrick's Street. Picture: Louise Bennett
Barrister Doireann O'Mahony with the Echo Boy on St Patrick's Street. Picture: Louise Bennett

Sneaking into City Hall, she sat quietly on the floor at the back of what Lord Mayor Councillor Colm Kelleher calls “the people’s sitting room”, to the clear delight of the Two Norries and their producer Rowan Meegan once they realised she was there.

As we finish lunch in Nano Nagle Place, Doireann says she will never forget the time she spent working for Cork’s local newspaper.

“I learned so much in The Echo from those who welcomed me and gave so generously of their time, and for that I’ll always be grateful. At 15 years old I didn’t realise it, but with the benefit of hindsight I can see that I was gaining analytical skills and research skills which helped me later on when I came to study and practice law.”

She says those noisy, fast-paced days in Academy Street have stood her in good stead in her later career, helping to prepare her for her work in law, an education for which she says she will always be grateful.

“I was learning to express a little bit of creativity with the writing, so when I came to the Bar I discovered that finding the best solution in a given scenario isn’t always as easy as you think it might be, and in order to outmanoeuvre your opponent it’s essential to be able to think outside the box and to be creative.

“I was quiet and rather shy when I was young, but the buzz of The Echo newsroom helped me to come out of my shell a bit and I think it equipped me with better communication skills,” she says.

“Nowadays I’ll always tell anyone who asks for advice about a career in law that ‘people skills’ are paramount. No matter how well someone does academically, at the end of the day a lawyer is a person who works with people, on behalf of people, and the decisions that are made affect people’s lives.

“Knowing that you can make a real difference for people is pretty special. It’s what motivates me to keep showing up and doing the best job possible.”

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