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Spotlight On: TV presenter and Gossies 2023 host Muireann O’Connell

Muireann O’Connell is one of the top TV presenters in the country. 

The Ireland AM host is our latest Spotlight On cover star and in this exclusive interview, she reveals how she “accidentally” landed her dream job, what it’s really like working with Tommy Bowe and Alan Hughes, and why she feels like “the luckiest person in the world”. 

The Limerick native landed her first presenting job shortly after returning home from Australia, working in a local radio station. She later went on to land her own show at Today FM, which was a huge hit with listeners. 

Muireann O’Connell | Brian McEvoy

The 39-year-old was devastated when she lost her job at the station back in 2019, and previously admitted she struggled to get out of bed for months afterwards. 

“It was a bit like going through a break-up. you do your wallowing and then you just have to keep on going.”

Thankfully, Muireann got through the difficult time with the help and support of her friends and family, including her beloved father Brendan – who sadly passed away in March 2021

2021 was a very eventful year for Muireann both personally and professionally, as she also moved from Virgin Media Television’s The Six O’Clock Show to Ireland AM that August. 

Not only that, but the presenter also announced her engagement to her longtime love, who she jokingly refers to as her “housemate”, in November of that year. 

Ahead of the 2023 Gossies on March 4th, which Muireann will be hosting, she spoke exclusively to about the year that changed her life forever.

She also spoke about dealing with grief, why she keeps her relationship out of the public eye, and shared the best piece of advice she’s ever received. 

Read the full interview below:

Firstly, you are about to host the 2023 Gossies – how are you feeling ahead of the awards show? What can we expect from you as the host? 

“I’m feeling nervous, because this is a big deal! I’ve never had so many people talk to me about something. Everyone is onto me about who is going, what they’re wearing, there’s just so much chat about it. So the nerves have definitely kicked in I would say.

“I just want it to be a bit of fun. I hope that everyone has a great night. It’s nice when people just have a bit of craic, and I like that about the Gossies. It’s cool and it’s fun, and it’s great to be able to get dressed up and have the chats.”

Muireann will host the 2023 Gossies – which take place in Dublin’s Convention Centre on March 4th

You are now presenting Ireland AM with Tommy Bowe and Alan Hughes, who you have described in the past as your work family. Do you guys really get on as well as it seems? 

“Yes we really do. They are such great fun. Going in in the morning and knowing Tommy and Alan are there, and that Deric [Hartigan] is going to be looking for a leprechaun somewhere in Ireland… They are a joy to be around.

“The whole team are just amazing. There are people who have been there, getting up at 4 in the morning, for 19 years. They come in every day, ready to go, and they’re just an amazing bunch of people.

“I can’t explain how important it is to get along with the people you work with. If you get along with the people that you work with, and you get to have fun at work, that’s the job done. So I feel so lucky.”

Alan Hughes, Muireann O’Connell and Tommy Bowe | Brian McEvoy

What do you think is the most challenging part of the job? 

“I think the early mornings are getting harder as time goes on. They were easy for the first six months, but I do feel like I’ve aged 27 years from the early mornings now! But again, I love the job, and the mornings being difficult is my own fault. It’s like a toddler with a feed schedule, I need a sleep schedule.

“I stay up for all the awards show as well, as that has messed up with my sleep schedule so much as well. I’m trying to have naps on a Sunday so that I can stay up until 3 in the morning for the awards. It’s ridiculous!”

“There are earthquakes happening in Turkey and Syria, and there’s a war going on, so who cares if random people hate you?”

You have quite a big social media following, and are not afraid to hit back at trolls. Does it ever get to you when you read these mean comments about yourself?

“Of course it does, it can’t help but get inside your head unfortunately. But once you realise that there are people in the world that hate everything about you without actually knowing you at all, I think it makes it an awful lot easier to handle the mean comments. I feel very lucky that my following isn’t too big, and that there are a lot of lovely people there.

“You just have to have a bit of perspective on life too, because there are earthquakes happening in Turkey and Syria, and there’s a war going on, so who cares if random people hate you? In the grander scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter.”

Muireann tells us: “Of course trolling gets to me…”

Muireann announced the death of her father Brendan back in March 2021.

In a heartbreaking Instagram post, she described her dad as “the most wonderful man I have ever known”.

To mark the first anniversary of his death last year, Muireann raised over €52k for the hospice that cared for him – Limerick’s Milford Care Centre. 

Ahead of Brendan’s second anniversary, Muireann opens up the incredible support she received from the public during one of the most difficult times in her life…

You have won a lot of praise for speaking so openly about grieving the death of your beloved father. How did it feel to get such an outpouring of love from the public during such a heartbreaking time in your life? 

“It was so unbelievably lovely. I’m the sort of person who has to say things out loud. It’s just the person I am and it makes things an awful lot easier. It’s coming up to my dad’s anniversary, and I just found a big envelope full of cards from lovely people that I wasn’t able to look at at the time. It’s a weird time. It’s like an out-of-body experience, and you don’t really know what’s going on. But people are so lovely.

“Grief is a collective experience”

“Everyone has gone through something similar in life, and I felt particularly affected by the amount of people in the country who had lost someone during the Covid-19 pandemic. They didn’t feel like they were able to grieve the way they wanted to. They didn’t get to give their loved-ones the send-off they deserved. So it was a weird time, but grief is a collective experience. It was very beautiful that people got in contact with me during that time.”

Muireann and her beloved father Brendan – who sadly passed away in March 2021

Eight months after Brendan’s death, Muireann’s longtime boyfriend proposed to her in her mother Marie’s kitchen. 

He popped the question with a “joke” ring, and her mother then stepped in to give her a “placeholder” ring – which has a special connection to her dad. 

Brendan gave Marie a ruby ring on their 40th wedding anniversary, and Muireann admitted having the ring made it feel like her dad was a part of such a huge moment of her life. 

Despite being a public figure and sharing a lot of your life with fans, you keep your relationship with your “housemate” out of the limelight. Why is that? 

“It was never a conscious decision. Back when we first started dating, I wasn’t a big social media user. And he’s still not into it at all. So it just wasn’t a thing.

“I think people think I have him locked away in a room and that he’s not allowed out ever! We have a very lovely life, and all of my friends, family, and work colleagues all know him and have been out with him. I promise I don’t keep him captive! (laughs)

“It’s just that it’s his life as well. And I don’t think people actually care anymore, at this stage. But we’re grand, we’re happy out!”

You got engaged back in 2021. Have you started wedding planning yet?

“I haven’t planned a thing! I don’t know if there’s something wrong with me, I’m just like: ‘What’s the rush?’ I’ll probably still be saying that at 75, if I make it that far. So yeah, it’s not really on the agenda at the minute. Maybe getting engaged was pointless, but I quite like the jewellery. There’s just no plan yet.”

Do you think you’ll have a big wedding day, or celebrate with a more low-key ceremony? 

“I hate the thoughts of something big, which people might think this is weird because of my job, but the thoughts of being the centre of attention in front of like 150 people makes me want to throw up.

“We haven’t made a decision yet though. The parents are pushing for one, so maybe if the three of them are in a room together they might demand something. If they want to organise it, they can go crazy! Because I have seen the organisation that goes into a wedding, and I just think couples are so brave because it is a lot of work.

“I do think people should just enjoy the engagement ‘bubble’.”

You said recently that you’ve been having an “existential crisis” about whether or not you want children. Do you feel there has been a pressure put on you to make that decision ever since you got engaged? 

“No. I think it’s something that was always a hard no for me because I never felt that maternal instinct. I think there’s a pressure that I’m putting on myself now as I get older, it’s just a question that I didn’t realise biologically was going to pop up. And by biologically, I mean my biology of my aging connected to my brain, and that was unexpected.

“I didn’t realise that it would be a question that I would ask myself, and that I could even ask the question. I have no idea if I could even have a baby, like not a clue. So that’s a whole other thing…

“I think the Peter Pan in me has never really grown up and been ready to ask these questions to myself, and I don’t know why that is. I probably should be seeing a therapist to get to the bottom of that (laughs). But no, I don’t think there’s any pressure coming from anyone else.”

“I think the Peter Pan in me has never really grown up,” Muireann tells us. Picture Andres Poveda

Let’s take it back to the beginning – was your dream always to become a presenter? How did you launch your career in the industry?

“It was all very accidental to be honest. It was definitely something that I’d always have loved, but it never felt like it was something that was achievable because it always felt like you had to know someone in the industry to get into it, and it always felt like a Dublin thing. And it wasn’t, it was always just my own insecurities thinking that way. But then I got into it, and it was completely accidental. I needed a job when I got back from Australia, and a radio station was looking for drivers, and that’s how it started.

“It wasn’t a conscious thing, but I was delighted because this is what I’ve always loved.”

What career path do you think you would’ve went down if you didn’t get into presenting? 

“I haven’t a clue. Genuinely not a clue. When I came back from Australia, my father kept leaving applications for secondary school teaching around the house. I’d wake up in the morning and it would be at the door of my bedroom. I’d come home from meeting my friends, it would be sitting at the kettle. So he knew what he wanted me to do, but I hadn’t a clue.

“It all worked out in the end, and I absolutely adore my job. It’s lovely to be able to say that I genuinely love my job, because I know that’s not the case for a lot of people. So I do feel very, very lucky about that.”

Muireann admits: “I absolutely adore my job, I feel very lucky!” | Picture: Andres Poveda

Prior to your job at Virgin Media Television, you worked as a radio presenter at Today FM. What are your fondest memories of working at a radio station?

“It was just the best craic. Being of that age where you’re young, single, have no responsibilities, and are not worried about getting a mortgage… It was just so much fun. Every day going into work was fun. I was into going out, having a laugh, going to gigs, so I really enjoyed doing that for work. Festivals were always the best fun, because you’d be working but also going out and meeting the acts… They were the best times.

“I got to live a few years without any sort of responsibilities, and I probably stayed that way for far too long, but it was just really fun. I look back on those early years and I really, really enjoyed it. It’s something that I’m very happy I got to do.

“I always tell my niece now that there are fun times ahead, and to try to find those few years where you don’t have responsibilities or think about career plans or saving. I know that’s important, but when you’re in your 20s you should just have great craic.”

Would you ever go back to radio if you were given the opportunity?

“I’m very happy where I am now. I’ve never been a planner, I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But I’m very happy where I am now. It’s good fun, it’s challenging, and I love it.”

“It’s important to ask for help, and to have people that you can turn to during these difficult times in life.”

You previously admitted that you couldn’t get out of bed for months after losing your show. How did you get back on your feet and pick yourself up after that difficult time? 

“I was lucky because I was working in Virgin Media at the time. So I still had a job that I had to get up and go to, so I was very lucky. It gave me something to concentrate on in the evening. I still did my wallowing. It was a bit like going through a break-up, you do your wallowing and then you just have to keep on going.

“Having proper friends around you is the most important thing. Having a community of people who are there for you no matter what. My dad always said, ‘What is this all for?’ You shouldn’t be living to work. The most important thing is the wonderful people around you, and spending time with them. And that’s what got me through that time, the people around me.

“For anyone who is stuck in a situation like that now, it’s really hard. You could be sitting there with a crappy job or in a really crappy relationship or you could be trying to have a baby, and you’re in the trenches. And it’s all well and good with people saying ‘you will make it through’ and ‘you’ll look back on this in a year’s time and everything will be different’, but that doesn’t stop it from being hard in the moment.

“It’s important to ask for help, and to have people that you can turn to during these difficult times in life.”

As our interview with Muireann comes to an end, I ask what the future holds for the charismatic, energetic, and hard-working presenter. She also shares the piece of advice that her father offered her that she lives by every day… 

What are your plans for the coming months? Have you anything exciting in the works? 

“I’ve never been a planner. I’m someone who is pathologically late for things, so planning is a bad idea for me! I love Ireland AM, I recently started a podcast with Emma Doran which I’m really enjoying, and I’ve started writing for Irish Country Magazine which is something I’ve always wanted to do. I was actually blown away and gobsmacked that I was asked to write something. So I’m very happy right now.

“I feel like the luckiest person in the world, I really do. I’m absolutely delighted with my life.”

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

“I think it’s what my dad said: ‘What’s it all for?’ He said it to me many a time before, and about three or four years ago I was running around and doing a pile of things, and he asked me again: ‘What’s it all for? Why are you doing all this?’ It took this big lump of a Kerryman to say stop me in my tracks and ask myself, ‘What am I doing this all for?’ And it’s definitely put things into perspective for me.

“My parents lived such a lovely life together, and it was very much about their friends. They worked to live, and they had a great social life. And that made me realise that I had to start making time for the people I love more. We all think we’re so busy, but what’s busy? After the pandemic, it was all about making time, seeing people and having fun.

“So I think that’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten, and it’s a question. What’s it all for?”


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