On track

Saturday was, by all accounts, one of the worst mornings of the summer for going out running (in a particularly strong field).

Before the Frank Duffy 10 Mile, organisers said there were 5000 people signed up – and I’d say at least half of them were huddled under the trees that run alongside the start line just before the Military Cross or sat waiting in their cars thinking “I’ll just wait until I see other people walking up to the start”. It was the kind of rain that made your eyes hurt when you blinked.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have moments there, under the trees, shivering, when I wanted to just go back to bed. Still, I had committed to doing the race – and I had committed to doing the Dublin City Marathon – so I made myself go to the start line about 5 minutes before the start time (normally I’m at the start line at least a half hour before the start, so this made me fairly nervy).

The first mile saw me running at a much faster pace than I had intended to, a pace closer to my usual 5k pace. This was probably due to the fact that I was so cold, but I knew I had to slow down if I wanted to finish the race in any sort of fit state. I got comfortable at around 5:10/km, with a few slower splits thrown in, and finished in a solid time of 1:18.

This puts me on course for my revised target time for the Marathon, with the Dublin Half Marathon coming up in a few weeks. After missing almost a month of training through an IT Band injury, I’m delighted to be back.

I’ll be running the Dublin marathon (along with a few other races) to raise money for CanTeen to mark the 11th year since the second tumour came out. I’m hoping to raise €1000 and I’ll be annoying you all to donate from now until October – DONATE HERE



This Saturday saw me do my first Parkrun, in Tymon Park.

I had been going out on 5k runs most Saturday mornings at around 8.30am before – so I don’t really know why I never did a Parkrun before. Particularly the Tymon one- the 150 or 54a bus will leave you with a straightforward five minute walk to where the race starts.

I entered by the main gates at St. Jude’s GAA club and found myself wondering where the run started. I asked a man in shorts, who was running by, and he pointed me to the top of the hill. A hill.The only hill I usually build in to my training is the big bollix of a hill at Bushy Park (for anyone who hasn’t seen this hill, it’s the kind that you look at and think: ‘give me a sled and some snow’). This hill at Tymon isn’t that bad, but still – for some reason I thought the parkrun route would be totally flat.

The parkrun crowd were very friendly, I got talking to another first timer on the way to the start and spent the warm-up yapping about foam rollers and all kinds of guff. If you’re nervous about doing a parkrun, don’t be. Even the club runners who look super-serious in their singlets are all really friendly.

On to the run itself then. I was setting out to run a time of about 24:30, which was close enough to my PB. The first three kilometres flew by, and I was running at paces of 4:31-4:20 so I stood a great chance of actually beating that PB. There was one steep incline early on but I managed it quite well – once I got over that it was relatively flat.

I eased up for kilometres 4 and 5, wary of burning out ahead of a long run the following day. But I still somehow crossed the line in 22:57 -I blitzed that PB! That placed me 14th overall, and second for my age group – that’s the best I’ve ever done in any solo sporting event.  The dreaded hill didn’t even phase me, so the Tymon parkrun may be a regular feature of my training from now on.


My marathon

I’m running the Dublin City Marathon this year. I’ve been battling with this for the last while – well, I haven’t been battling with the question of if  I should run the marathon, I’ve really been battling with why  I’m running the marathon.

On one hand, I love running. I’ve wanted to run the Dublin Marathon since I first stood watching it on the Cromwellsfort Road when I was about 9. Until last year, I didn’t think it would ever be possible – however, having run the Dublin Half Marathon last year I’m now fully confident that I can run the marathon (and run it well).

So, I want to run the marathon for the sake of running it – as a personal thing. But then, there’s something else pulling me to do it too.

Eleven years ago I was diagnosed with my second brain tumour. Last year marked my tenth tumour-free year. I want to celebrate that milestone. I also want to pay tribute to the people who have helped me most since diagnosis – my family and CanTeen Ireland.

Joining CanTeen was probably the most important thing I have ever done. It restored me to the outgoing, confident person I was before diagnosis. It showed me that I could be a normal person, doing normal things, rather than a person with a massive scar on his neck and balance issues.

I’d love to give something back to CanTeen. As an organisation which doesn’t receive much in the way of state funding (they only have one full-time staff member, and rest assured her salary isn’t topped up), it seems natural that I’d fundraise for them.

For a while, I thought that these two reasons for running the marathon were irreconcilable. “You’re either a fun runner or a serious runner,” the negative voice in my head said. I read some similar comments online from “serious runners” too.

But, guess what? I’m going to be both. I’m going to run the marathon and raise money for CanTeen at the same time. I’m going to train like any athlete would – in fact, I started training last Sunday when I did the Terenure Five Mile.

You can donate to my fundraising drive here – for the moment, I could really use your support. Particularly welcome are any tips from people who’ve ran this distance before. I’ll be writing here about various aspects of my training – the idea is primarily for myself to track how I get on each week.

I’d love your support on this.

Some things I learned from being unemployed

A year ago I wrote an article here, On Unemployment. It detailed my situation at the time: I was unemployed and frustrated with that fact, along with all that surrounded it – people’s attitudes to work and the social welfare system being chief among those frustrations.

I have since found a job which is stable, pays well enough for me to live well and has a great group of many friendly, outgoing staff whom I am glad to call friends. It’s taken a year of working in that job, while observing the situations others find themselves in, for me to find out what I learned from unemployment.

Not working leaves a gaping hole in your day
During the first month or so after I lost my job, I dived into things. “Oh look, now that I don’t have to work anymore – I can just play games all day! I can spend the day lying in bed, eating noodles and hitting Random Article on Wikipedia! This is incredible!”

After a while, though, I realised that days are longer than I thought. The time from waving my partner off at breakfast to making my lunch stretched out before me. I tried to fill it. I’d go online and search for ‘good hobbies for the unemployed’, ‘hobbies for men’ or (later on) ‘hobbies that can make you happier’. This led to me trying many different things, not all of them completely worthless. For example: my bookshelf has language courses for Mandarin, Russian, French, Arabic and Japanese on it. Every few weeks I’d become infatuated with a new language, either through consuming media in that language or through my rationale of the language in question being useful to my job hunt.

None of them were. I usually dropped each language after a few weeks (although I still have the odd phrase from all of them – and that’s not really a bad thing.) Although doing this wasn’t necessarily ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, I can see now that it was a clear sign of my lack of focus. I wasn’t really interested in learning these languages – if I was, I would have stuck with them once they got hard. I was just grasping for something to boost my self confidence, to make myself feel useful again.

People, not things, are what’s important to me
The months went on and this pattern continued, with my mood getting worse. It was only in the last month of my unemployment that I started to make contact with a few friends. We went for coffee or just rambled around town – what we did wasn’t important.

I’m an extrovert – so for me to be cut off from human contact for eight hours a day just wasn’t good. It was only once I started meeting people again that I remembered who I was and what made me tick. I’d like to think this re-discovery of my own natural confidence played a part in finding employment, too.

This realisation rang particularly true at Christmas. I’m considering asking relatives to not buy me physical gifts anymore – I think I’d rather just spend time with them. I’ve taken a look at my own day-to-day life and changed a lot of the things I do to focus on contributing more – adding value (term de jour though it may be) is the main focus for me now.

‘Get-Up-And-Go’ is completely relative
In the aforementioned post, On Unemployment, I spoke about the things people often said to me when I was unemployed, and how they made me feel. Perhaps the most galling comment to hear was that I should ‘pick myself up, put myself out there and everything would eventually be grand.’ In lieu of being able to actually give someone guidance, people often just feel like giving reassurance. It’s a completely human reaction to someone being in trouble, so I’m not bitter about it. But sometimes people veer into judgmental tones when talking to (or about) the unemployed. ‘Scrounger’, ‘dosser’ and ‘doler’ are all terms I hear too often.

You really can’t judge the situation someone else is in. Having been unemployed, I understand that it’s not just a matter of handing in CVs to shops and jazzing up your LinkedIn profile.Still, everyone is different. My experience will have been completely different to someone else’s. There are huge structural barriers to obtaining gainful, stable employment in Ireland today – whether they are young people, refugees or Travellers. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so there’s no point preaching to (or about) people – you only end up patronising them.


Failed journalists

A former boss of mine used to refer to people who had done journalism degrees and hadn’t ended up working in journalism as ‘FJs’: failed journalists. These were people who the boss had chosen to make snide remarks about in the office (behind their backs, naturally) for various reasons. I, being fairly naive, chuckled along.

Thinking about it now, of course this ‘FJ’ label is completely ridiculous. Not doing the thing that your first college degree prepared you to do is no real mark of shame (see Radamel FalcaoBrad Pitt and others). But this ‘FJ’ business sort of stuck with me.

Back when I put journalism in DCU down on my CAO, I wanted to be a journalist for two reasons. The first was that writing was one of the few things I was good at, and the second was that I genuinely thought that I could change things through being a journalist. By ‘things’ I’m talking about society as a whole. I had tough teenage years – with two brain tumours and an assault that almost left me dead by the age of 16 – and I think I wanted to stop that sort of injustice happening again.

I had wanted to be a doctor, then a radiologist, then a politician and then a lawyer. I had harboured an ambition to become a journalist, but I was always told that there were no jobs in it. After missing out on my top two choices, I ended up doing the course anyway. That was when I developed this idea of journalism as a vehicle for change.

Journalism isn’t like that, for the most part. It has perks, but they come with pitfalls. There’s no denying that there’s a real buzz about breaking news, and seeing how stories progress. There’s also no denying that there are country-sized egos in newsrooms – although you get these in every walk of life, in news organisations their ego often becomes magnified many times over through their work.

Therefore, this ‘FJ’ label – or, the fact that it still plays on my mind because I *am* an ‘FJ’ now – does my head in. Just because you work in journalism, doesn’t mean that you’ve ‘made it’ in life. In fact, I’ve come to realise that the vast majority of journalists can never hope to affect societal change. The media probably overplay their importance in western society and democracy.

There is no such thing as an ‘FJ’. I may not work in the media now, but then neither do three quarters of my former class. Maybe there needs to be a more accurate reflection of this in journalism degrees – it’d be a start of they gave you more transferable skills, such as broad marketing and communication modules (which come in handy as a journalist anyway).

On unemployment

This is a response to my friend Úna-Minh Kavanagh’s post on the same topic.

“Any news on the job front?”


“Ah well. Best of luck with that. Have you tried…”

This is a conversation which I have almost every day. Family and friends mean well when they ask the initial job question, I know that. But the word job is, at the moment, a dirty word in my mind. I have applied for dozens of posts in various industries since I became unemployed in September. I haven’t been successful, but have got to the interview stage twice and am in an ‘ongoing interview process’ (in effect a waiting list) for another.

Unemployment is awful.  Viktor E Frankl describes ‘unemployment neurosis’: where being jobless makes you feel useless, which in turn makes you feel as if you have a meaningless life.

If I was talking to another person who was unemployed, I would always try to reassure them; maybe by telling them that something was bound to come up, and to keep applying and trying for jobs. But with myself, I’m not as forgiving. Each day is a struggle to not waste time, or at least to not feel like I’m wasting time.

I’ve spoken to other unemployed people and these are common feelings. A US study showed that unemployed people are over twice as likely to be depressed compared to those who have work. The difficulty with unemployment is that it is very difficult to find a meaning in what you do.

I think part of the reason that people can feel so worthless while unemployed is that society puts such an emphasis on work. The field of economics – which dominates public discourse – probably drives this emphasis. In the capitalist economy, work is king. In Ireland, ‘a good worker’ used to be one of the highest compliments you could pay someone.

Government press releases – and therefore news stories on these announcements – are dominated by one word: jobs.

Now, I’m not saying that we should devalue work. I’m not saying that ‘jobs’ should be a dirty word. All I’m saying is that people should be a bit more understanding when a friend or relative becomes unemployed.

It’s OK to be unemployed. Often it’s a stopgap – a stepping stone between posts. But a lot of the time people are unemployed for longer periods. They face a tough jobs market and a constant barrage of ‘jobs’propaganda – not to mention the Social Welfare system.

Next time you talk to an unemployed person, try to remember that being unemployed isn’t their defining characteristic. They have other interests, and they may be fed up with being asked about their search for a job. Then again, they may appreciate being asked about their employment status- I can’t speak for everyone.

But it’s best to err on the side of caution, I think. Consider asking ‘how are you?’ first instead of ‘how’s the job search?’ It might be the difference between that person having a good or bad day.

An interview with Niall Burdon

Shelbourne have a history of producing good young talent. Think Wes Hoolahan. Think the hundreds of kids playing in red every Saturday and Sunday morning. It’s a wonder, then, that at under-21 level Shels have been a bit under-represented. In recent years only a select few – Weso chief among them – have broken through to the highest level of Irish underage football while playing for Shels.

So when Niall Burdon arrived over the winter, it was like mana from heaven for Reds fans. Here was a player who was already in the under-21 squad, having been a stalwart of Irish underage teams for several years previously.

With a burgeoning reputation, you might have forgiven the young ‘keeper for showing nerves. Yet in his first few performances Burdon has excelled – showing exactly why he continues to be
watched by Noel King and his staff. So how did the French-born ‘keeper keep his cool? “I was so focused on my game, but the lads (at Shelbourne) helped me settle in really well” said Burdon.

“There wasn’t really any pressure,” he continued, “you’re focused on your own game but you want to show the players, manager and staff that you’re worth it.” Born in a Parisian suburb, to an Irish father and a French mother, Burdon signed with Stade Rennais at a young age. After being released by Les Rouges et Noirs in the summer, he began to look at clubs in his homeland.

Burdon ended up at Shels – but did he know anything about the club before he came? “I knew of them beforehand because of the European nights,” said Burdon, “I did the Fás course in
Ringsend too, which is obviously very near to where Shels were founded.”

“Coming here was really the best decision I could have made.”

Beyond the present, Burdon also has a historical link. His grand-uncle on his father’s side played for the Reds “some time in the fifties”. Although Christy Burdon didn’t quite make
the impact that would have made a mark on the club’s history, the fact that he was also a goalkeeper surely bodes well for his descendant Niall’s future at Shels.

Having been raised in a different footballing culture in France, Burdon’s quick adjustment to Irish football has impressed many. “The football is faster here, it’s goal to goal, a bit like in England.
In France people always say how quick English football is, and Irish football is similar,” he said. “The standard here is pretty good overall, it’s great for a young ‘keeper like me to be able to get first team football.”

This season, Shels are still without a win from their six matches at time of writing. But according to Burdon, “heads haven’t dropped”.

“We’re getting closer and closer,” Burdon said. “There’s 14 new players so it was always going to take time for us to come together as a team. We’re sticking together though and working hard
in training.”

“You can feel that there’s more to come from this team.”

An open letter to Lance Armstrong

Dear Lance,

You saved me. As a 13 year-old boy, recovering from cancer, I needed a hero. I had to stop playing sport, I could barely look at myself in the mirror and I was convinced that any time I went outside people would stare at my scar. Then, my aunt gave me your book. I read it in two days. It changed my life. There you were; Tour de France champion, father, survivor. Your message to me was simple- there is a silver lining. Cancer made you stronger. I believed you wholeheartedly. I preached your gospel. If I beat cancer, I can beat anything, just like you. I told all my friends with cancer about you. We all wore your yellow wristbands. I’d tell people, still going through treatment, about your story. It inspired everyone. It inspired me to accept myself, and go on to university. I volunteered with younger people going through treatment. I even volunteered with your organisation, Livestrong. At the Global Cancer Summit in 2009, you walked past me and waved. That’ll be something to tell the grandchildren, I said.

I defended you, even in the face of what seemed like conclusive evidence that you doped. I went on forums, waded into discussions about you and would not accept any of the doping allegations. In my head, I knew that you doped all along. But I just wouldn’t let my hero, the person who made me believe again, be destroyed.

But you lied. You lied to me and everyone else. You needed EPO to win. You said on the Oprah interview that you didn’t think it was possible for anyone to win seven Tours without doping. On top of that, you bullied journalists, fellow cyclists and anyone else who dared question you. You were ruthless and relentless, as you said to Oprah, but to blame that on a failure to adapt to life after treatment is sickening. Stop using cancer as an excuse Lance. You made us believe in you, made us part of your egotistical madness. You admit that you were an “arrogant prick”. But you still try to cultivate sympathy around you. I can never feel sympathy for you. I can never understand why you chose not only to cheat, but to give millions such false hope.

Give it up now.

Yours in sport,

Niall Farrell

Where has disability and development featured in the Irish parliament?

For a subject with such broad effects, it appears that disability and development has seldom been raised in the Oireachtas. Particularly in parliamentary debates, there seems to be a potential space for discussion of the issues raised by disability in development policy. This blog highlights where disability and development has been raised to date in Dail and Senate debates.
Until this month, disability and development has been predominantly discussed in the Seanad. On April 18 2012, Minister Joe Costello appeared in front of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade to discuss Ireland’s priorities in the context of the White Paper review. Several participants of the committee raised disability as a priority issue during this period of review. Deputy O’Sullivan was first to raise disability stating “a focus on mental health and disability must be part of each of the millennium goals. Whether we speak of hunger or gender equality, there are particular issues for people with disabilities and mental health issues and Irish Aid can play a strong role in that regard.”

Later, Senator Jim Walsh placed disability as “a key issue in the context of poverty in many areas.” Deputy Bernard Durkan also asked: “to what extent is the Irish aid programme focused on those with disabilities or those who have serious health problems such as HIV to alleviate the burden on the people themselves and on the administrations dealing with the huge problem of HIV, which has affected several countries? He stated “We need to know what the experience has been”.Deputy Dan Neville further stated that sometimes areas like disability and mental health “are left aside” when framing policy.

Deputy Gerald Nash later welcomed a “considered and thoughtful” submission from the disability sector, this submission can be found here. Minister for State Joe Costello also outlined disability as a “central issue” ahead of the review process. He commented “Over the past couple of years, we have spent approximately 6 million to 7 million on disability programmes abroad as part of our overseas development aid. I consider and will make this area a priority. We have some issues to sort out ourselves in that we have not ratified the convention on disability. We have to put our own house in order first.” With regard to the review process of the White Paper, the Minister stated that he intended to make disability a central issue, see here.

The discussion by Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade is very positive progress to see disability raised by so many members. Prior to this meeting, disability and development had been raised by the following Senators/TD/s.

Senator Ivana Bacik has raised the issue on two occasions. In 2007 during a Seanad debate she asked that Ireland “make disability and development a priority in development aid”. In setting out the rationale, Senator Bacik stated “disability and poverty have been inextricably linked. In order to tackle poverty and development we must make disability a priority.”

Senator Bacik also raised the issue on a separate occasion in a Seanad debate. Senator Martin Conway echoed Senator Bacik’s call in a 2011 Seanad debate. Senator Conway stated that “This Government has an obligation to ensure that we invoke the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in all the work we do, and that includes development aid.”

Previous Ministers for State, Jan O’Sullivan and Peter Power, have also spoken about disability in response to specific questions. Minister for State O’Sullivan responded to a question by Senator Conway on the amount of the overall Irish Aid budget channelled into disability (see here). The Minister for State said that more than €6.5 million since 2008 was provided to disability-focused NGOs.

Minister O’Sullivan’s predecessor Peter Power also responded to a similar question in 2010 from Deputy Billy Timmins. Ireland’s aid budget, according to Minister Power (see here), makes “a substantial contribution to prevention of disability.”

Originally featured on the CBM Ireland blog.

Game (Gab)on:The African Cup of Nations and China’s Growing Influence

In just over a month’s time, Africa’s two finest teams will step out onto the pitch at the Stade d’Angondjé in Libreville, the capital of Gabon. It will be the crowning moment of the 2012 African Cup of Nations- two African teams playing for African football’s greatest prize. The new 40,000-seater purpose built Stade d’Angondjé is also symbol of something else entirely African at the moment- Chinese investment.

The stadium, which will also host a number of group stage and knockout matches, was built by theShanghai Construction Group at the behest of Beijing. In 2010 Gabon’s autocratic president Ali Bongo received Chinese officials including Vice Minister Fu Ziying- who put down the foundation stone.

CAF- the African governing body- had threatened to take the competition away from Gabon because of a delay in the construction process. So Gabon invited the Chinese in and they duly completed the stadium in 20 months, instead of the planned 26.

And as if that wasn’t enough, China paid for the entire stadium project and also announced a €2 million ‘aid’ package to fund Gabonese health and educational facilities. This ‘aid’ is, of course, free money, as opposed to the conditional loans often given by Western donors to African states.

The investment in the Stade d’Angondjé (or, to give it its official title in French, “Stade d’amitié sino-gabonaise”) is just one of a number of stadiums China has agreed to build in Africa- a 50,000 seater stadium (a €38 million project) in the Guinean capital Conakry is another example.

Football stadiums are among the most visible manifestations of Chinese investment in Africa, but Chinese forays into the continent go far beyond the pitch. African roads, schools, hospitals and colleges are all being funded by China.

But why? The most popular answer lies in China’s attempts to displace the USA as the world’s dominant superpower. The kind of ‘soft power’ friendship that Chinese money buys in Africa is an invaluable public relations device for the booming nation. Where America’s reputation is on the slide due to financial turmoil and the ongoing war on terror, China has astutely built up its reputation as a benevolent and stable force.

It’s quite easy to view their investment as part of China’s plan for world domination. But is it fair? Africans seem quite happy with all this investment- a recent Afrobarometer survey (see the full paperhere) shows that most Africans view Chinese investment as very positive and see China as one of the countries which help them the most.

The Sierra Leonean ambassador to Beijing summed up the feelings toward Africa well when he said“The Chinese are doing more than the G8 in making poverty history. If a G8 country had wanted to rebuild the stadium, we’d still be here holding meetings. The Chinese just come and do it.”

Originally posted on Cardboard Shinguards.