In conversation with Hilary Fennell
I was a late bloomer.
I didn’t discover my passion for psychology until I was well into my 20s.
At school in Portarlington I lacked confidence. I tried to fit in by becoming a bit of a messer.
Whenever I give talks to school leavers, I always emphasise the point about my late development. My message is one of hope. I realise now that I grew up with a constricted world view, I did a very poor Leaving Cert and I believed I was not very bright. I judged myself harshly. I went to the UK, where I lived for 12 years, and trained as a nurse. Things changed when I discovered psychology and when I learned about good study techniques. The fact that I was older also helped, a simple case of maturation. I completed a master’s in health psychology in City University London and then became a clinical psychologist.
I’m a pragmatist and a very determined person.
The television work came out of the blue when I was asked to screen test for Operation Transformation. I’d specialised in health psychology so I suppose they saw me as a good fit for the show. Being on television certainly did not come naturally to me. I asked for some media training but the producers said they’d prefer me the way I was!
My idea of misery is doing the laundry.
I met my wife Carol at a friend’s wedding when I was doing a disability placement in Limerick. She is a social worker and we live in Portarlington with our two boys, Oisin and Darragh.
My biggest fault is that I can retreat into my head too much. And I tend to take on too many projects - although that is how I get enthused about things. Besides my work, I’m very involved in Pieta House and cystic fibrosis.
I’m an active relaxer. I’m not a Slim Jim or anything, I’m a plodder, but I’m fit enough.
I’ve done six marathons over the last five years and I just did a triathlon. My sister Jean is my motivator, she schedules our runs together. I need the support of a group to keep me focussed. I also coach soccer and Gaelic - for the Under 9s.
The trait I most admire in others is enthusiasm and positivity. I steer clear of toxic people.
If I could be someone else for a day I’d be Stephen Hawking. I’d love to experience what it is to have a mathematical mind that can understand the cosmos. I’m fascinated by science and space. Staring at the night sky; I often wonder if there is life out there. And are all the activities with which we humans occupy ourselves with down here on earth simply a distraction from our death? Just something to keep ourselves busy?
If I could change one thing in our society I’d change attitudes to mental health. I stood for the Seanad on a mental health and wellbeing platform and will do so again. I believe we are not serving our children well and we need a new focus on this entire area.
I struggle with the question of whether or not there is an afterlife. I have written against religious doctrine as it has done incredible damage. Yet I have a type of faith, which presents me with a type of paradox. I believe the church would be vastly improved if they had women priests and if all priests could marry.
The lesson that life has taught me so far is that persistence pays off and that hope is incredibly important. A full life is one where there is meaning, engagement and passion.
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