Domhnall O’Donoghue's School Daze: ‘Luck favours the prepared’

I attended Gaelscoil Éanna in Navan. In senior infants, I was cast as the mayor in The Pied Piper of Hamelin — a greedy, shady figure!
Domhnall O’Donoghue's School Daze: ‘Luck favours the prepared’

I attended Gaelscoil Éanna in Navan. In senior infants, I was cast as the mayor in The Pied Piper of Hamelin — a greedy, shady figure!

I thought he should have a big belly and proposed wearing a pillow under my jumper but our teacher, understandably wanting to keep things simple, assured me that my acting skills would be more than enough to create the character.

Looking back, it was an early lesson about making suggestions in the rehearsal room and not getting upset if they’re rejected. It’s a skill every actor needs — some ideas will land, some won’t. But keeping making them.

I wasn’t so magnanimous in secondary school, however. When I was in second year in St Patrick’s Classical School, our art teacher tasked us with composing a picture that featured our name on it.

I drew a naked Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, my name emblazoned across a half-eaten apple, using a snake as lettering. As someone who can about draw the curtains, I assure you, it sounds much more impressive than the end result!

I was hauled up in front of my class head, year head, and eventually, the school principal. I was unrepentant, brazenly likening my efforts to Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus! They were having none of it!

I’m the youngest of four, so I was counting down the days until I was able to join my siblings in Gaelscoil Éanna. I remember things being a little manic in the classroom — there were teachers and parents and lots of crying children. If I shed any tears, they were tears of joy!

Funnily enough, my siblings and I were always good and bad at the same subjects.

We were accomplished in languages and subjects like history, geography, and business. But when it came to science or maths, we were a disaster — I could barely count even with the help of a calculator! According to my mother, our grades were secondary to our behaviour in class.

She always insisted that the measure of a person is not how many As or Bs they receive, but how kind they are to others. I live by that.

My best friend is Ruth Keane, and we met in playschool. I was just three at the time, but I fell in love with her immediately. After playschool, we both went to Scoil Éanna and were inseparable. We’ve been a two-person army since 1986.

As for any lessons I learned during my school years that apply to my life today: Do you know that expression, “Luck favours the prepared”? That became evident to me early in life. Work hard, and opportunities will present themselves.

I was curious as a child — and, thankfully, still am. People might have accused me of being overly sensitive at times — although I prefer the word “gentle”! It’s true — I’d often get upset on behalf of others if I saw an injustice. That hasn’t changed to this day, and I’m not sure if it should be seen as a weakness.

I think human nature encourages us to look back with rose-tinted glasses, but it would be remiss of me to say that my school days were incident-free. As a lover of drama and dance, I was an easy target for ridicule. As a result, I had to develop a sharp tongue to protect myself, which saw me survive my school days relatively unscathed.

I still have a sharp tongue, on occasion — but I’ve it trained to come out only in emergencies!

Today I would say to the child I once was: Be clear in what you want but be flexible. And be kind — particularly to yourself. There will be enough people in the world ready to criticise you; don’t be one of them.

The teacher who influenced me the most was Richie Ball — although he never taught me a subject but directed the fourth-year school production of King Lear. St Pat’s has always enjoyed a strong reputation for sport, so Richie was a saviour for those of us more interested in the arts. The production was a turning point for so many of us in secondary school, where we finally found our tribe, creating lifelong friendships in the process.

His wife, Mary Ball, was my Irish teacher all through secondary school.

Today, I work on Ros na Rún — a job where I combine both acting and Irish, which the Balls nurtured in me in St Pat’s. I hope they know how grateful I am.

I don’t quite recall a disco in school, but as teenagers, my friends and I regularly attended Buck Mulligan’s in Athboy — along with the rest of Co Meath. Those four walls saw plenty of shenanigans over the years!

I always wanted to be an actor — my speech and drama class every Saturday morning with Patricia Molloy was the highlight of my week.

I began writing professionally about 12 years ago — first as a screenwriter, which then led to journalism.

Now, I’m about to release my third novel, Crazy For You. Much of my writing as an author involves travel. I’ve been blessed with numerous opportunities to visit some of the world’s most beautiful destinations on behalf of national magazines and newspapers.

I’m proud that I’d the wisdom to diversify. Acting can be very overwhelming at times; it’s imperative to seek out other creative opportunities for yourself. It’s also very empowering.

I think this current situation with Covid-19 is reminding everyone of the importance of the arts and journalism.

Billions of people across the world, forced indoors, are getting so much comfort by watching their favourite show or reading a new book — and of course getting regular and crucial information and updates from the media.

Domhnall O’Donoghue is as an actor and journalist. He plays Pádraig in TG4’s Ros na Rún and writes a monthly column in Woman’s Way. His third novel, Crazy For You, is published by Mercier Press and available digitally on Amazon, iTunes, Kobo etc, with the print copy to follow later in the year.

- Interview by Eve Kelliher

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