Why I am supporting the #UpForSchool Campaign in Ireland

It’s a beautiful sunny morning in early April. The sun is streaming through the window of my car creating a dappled effect of light and shade on the dashboard, the car is full of happy chatting and giggles as I prepare to drop my three youngest children to school. A quick kiss and hug from my son and my two daughters before they bounce off in to school and I am off – rushing to make it to university for my Tuesday morning classes.

Life is busy but good. As I drive I switch on the radio to catch the latest news headlines. What greets my ears is shocking. The news that morning focused on the kidnapping of 276 teenage girls from an all-girls government secondary school in northeast Nigeria by a group of terrorists know as Boko Haram. Up to that point I had never even heard of Boko Haram.

I remember listening as the reporter explained that the chances of getting the girls back were slim, attacks on schools and kidnapping of students was not an unusual occurrence and that these young girls had been singled out simply because they had wanted to learn. I could feel  anger and disbelief consume me. Boka Haram was sending a message to all young girls and their families: ‘educate your girls at your peril’.

When did educating girls become such a threat? Malala a case in point. I thought of our own three precious girls all so happy in their schools, among their friends, listening, learning, playing and out thought of the parents of those 276 young students. What unimaginable grief had been visited upon them by the actions of madmen?

I also remember thinking how lucky I am. Not only did I have the opportunity to learn and attend college as a young woman but I was now in the exceptionally lucky position to be able to return to university – as a mature student – to complete a long held dream to study Journalism, already a wife,  mother of four and entrepreneur. I felt guilty at the educational blessings bestowed on me simply because I was born in Ireland, a country which encourages education and learning for all, regardless of gender. These girls did not even get the chance to finish their secondary school education never mind attend university. Their full potential stunted at the hands of terrorists.

When  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames invited me to join her in supporting the Irish #UpForSchool campaign petition I felt, as a mother of three daughters, I had an obligation to get involved. The aim of the #UpForSchool campaign is to put pressure on world leaders to realise the United Nations Millennium Development Goal to get all children into school and learning by 2015. At present it is estimated that 58 million children world-wide are denied the right to go to school.


While we may have our problems, economic and otherwise, in Ireland and have underfunding in our educations system, overcrowded classrooms and reduced resources, our children are able to go to school safely. Our girls are supported and encouraged to reach their full human potential.

I am asking all Irish people, but in particular Irish students, to sign the Irish #UpForSchool petition and to join with the 1.5 million others from around the world who have already pledged their support. We have an obligation to help these young Nigerian girls and to help and support all children all over the world who suffer so much in order to simply go to school.


You can sign the Irish Up for School petition on-line http://www.aworldatschool.org/upforschool/upforschool-upforlearning-join-the-irish-campaign.

Or visit the Irish UpForSchool Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/upforschoolireland

Caroline Duggan is Marketing Communications Manager for Education Matters and Volunteer Campaign Coordinator for the Irish #UpForSchool campaign.

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“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel

Last Friday I received the results of my Masters in Journalism from NUI Galway.  I was a nervous wreck opening the envelope. I knew I had not failed BUT I was not convinced I had achieved the high standards I always set for myself when it comes to education.

I always despair when I see really bright students just scraping by, really talented people just doing the bare minimum to get them over the line (barely).  I am afraid that type of lazy, non committed attitude, is  abhorrent to me.  If I am going to do something, anything, then I always want to do my very very best.

Doing your very very best is a lot harder when you a mum, a wife and you have a family business to worry about.  But I wanted to do this Masters so badly and with the support of really great family and friends I got though it. However I did not just scrape through it I got the  first class honours I really longed for.

I now have two first class qualifications both earned though a lot of hard work, grit and an enormous amount of determination. To all those who believed in me and who encouraged and supported me in every possible way I say a MASSIVE THANK-YOU.

I am now turning my mind towards completing my PhD and have decided to look at the area of Luxury Branding with an Irish twist. However, I have decided not to apply for funding this year but to spend this year really working and refining my topic idea.  I want it to be the very best PhD I can possible do and right now I feel I need a little breather and to spend sometime really thinking about and researching my idea. Also I feel my family also need a little breather and a little more mammy time.


To anyone  out there thinking about returning to education I say do it, but just don’t half commit, really throw yourself into it and BE THE VERY BEST YOU CAN BE.

I am seeking Irish luxury brands who would be interesting in being part of my research so please get in touch.




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Signs from Galway the recession blues maybe clearing?

Our economic fortune tellers and our political gurus have informed us that the RECESSION is over. The question is do the Irish public believe them?  Sure they have never got it wrong in the past? As someone  involved in Irish retail I always take these latest economic figures and surveys with a healthy dose of scepticism.  After all, if you really want to know what’s happening in the ‘real’ Irish economy, the one that affects you and me, then talk to a small independent Irish retailer.

So this weekend I did a little survey among some of my fellow Irish retailers and here is their take on our economic recovery.

car wash

The queues for the Car Wash

Last Saturday afternoon in Galway nearly every car wash had a queue of cars waiting to be washed, polished and shined.  Yes,  customers were not just going for the basic quick wash.  They were willing to pay that €2 or €3 extra for the deluxe option. It is a long time since  I have seen a queue at a car wash. Joe public was simply not prepared to spend that €6/€7 on a car wash. That was simply a luxury they could not afford. Now I am not saying people have really any extra money in their pocket but they do seem to be prepared to spend a little more on non essential services.

jewellery show

Suppliers back in the market

In the last four months I have noticed that the UK wholesalers are back in the market and are prepared to open new accounts and to offer lines of credit to these new accounts.  When the crap hit the fan six years ago UK wholesalers ran out of Ireland like the devil was after them. Their primary market, the UK, was suffering and they were not prepared to extend lines of credit to the feckless paddies.  This hit Irish retailers hard as a lot of the big wholesalers, certainly in our business, are UK based and we felt their loss keenly.  The good news is I have  taken a lot of calls from UK based sales reps. wanting to set up appointments to show me their wares.  This is good news for Irish retailers and their staff.



Customers are happier, less guilt around.

I know it sounds simple but its true.  Irish customers seem a little bit happier, a little less burdened and as any good retailer will tell you a happier customer is more prepared to spend.  For the last number of years Irish customers felt so guilty, particularly the mums, if they even considered treating themselves to something small.  Hence there was very little impulse buying.  Customers were budgeting to within an inch of their lives. There was no room for impulse buys. Again its only a marginal improvement but there is a lot less guilt around.  I think the Irish consumer is beginning to forgive themselves for the economic mess and beginning to treat themselves again but in small ways.

These improvements are marginal but because they come from the ground up  I put a lot more store in them than any statistics or figures from our economic and political mandarins.  Hopefully this pattern will continue, even after the October budget, and we will see a steady return to more normal customer spending patterns over the next 24 months.  It is not blue skies all the way  but there are patches of sunlight getting through to us on the ground.

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Mastering mum

It has been a very long, very tough academic year.  My return to full-time education last year was one of the biggest career decisions I think I have ever made.

I completed my undergraduate, a BSc. Management, in DIT in 1994. I then came to NUI, Galway to complete the postgraduate Diploma in Marketing Practice. I had always planned to return to full time education to complete my masters but I never imagined for one moment that it would take me twenty years to do it.

NUIGalway image 2


Last year I found myself perusing the NUIG postgraduate prospectus, only half thinking about returning to do my masters. Purely on impulse, I went along to one of the universities postgraduate open days. Initially I considered sticking with the business and marketing field and completing my masters in one of those areas. However I spent the last twenty years working in the business arena and having ran a small business through the boom and bust I was looking to do something a little  removed from the profit and loss side of things.

At the open day I came across the Masters in Journalism stand and I spoke to Bernadette O Sullivan, who lecturers on the programme. I was impressed with the content and the really practical aspects of the programme.  Journalism and the  media in general was always something I was really interested in so I decided to apply and see if I was accepted.

Much to my surprise I was accepted onto the programme. However even then the decision to return to full time education was not an easy one. I am a wife, mother of four and I also help my husband with the family business so I knew this decision would not just affect me but would also impact on my entire family.

I have to admit that in the first week of the programme I was totally overwhelmed and felt out of my depth. In fact in a state of blind panic I went to the course director, John Kenny, and told him that, ‘I was not sure I could do it’. But he was just so calm, told me to take a few deep breaths, and not to think too far ahead: “take it one day and one assignment at a time.”

Also in that first week the university notified me that I has been awarded a €1500 scholarship towards my fees so that was a really welcome boost. I still had moments of sheer panic and self-doubt but I enjoyed every second. One of the really rewarding parts of the programme was meeting and working with my class mates. To my surprise and delight I was not the only mature student on the course. My younger class mates were just a joy to be around full of creativity and enthusiasm.

As for my lecturers I found them enormously encouraging, committed and supportive. They were always there with a friendly word of advice. So to anyone reading this and thinking about taking the plunge and returning to full-time education I say: ‘JUST DO IT’. It is never too late and while the first few days and even weeks may well be a little over whelming if you face down your fear it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

It has definitely opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me and I am hooked on learning. I am now, much to my own surprise and my poor families dismay, applying to undertake my PhD.

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For the love of Gingers – The Redhead Convention

The Red Head Convention is a relative newcomer to Ireland’s extensive festival calendar. The first Convention was held back in 2010 and it has quickly gained a reputation as a fun, slightly mad, family friendly event.

The convention is the brain child of Cork woman Joleen Cronin.  Joleen is the epitome of a vivacious red head. Her infectious laugh, mischievous sense of humour and exuberance literally zings its way down the telephone line from Crosshaven, Co. Cork. She is a fire brand of energy, excitement and good humour. The perfect patron for a festival dedicated to celebrating “all things red haired”.

She gleefully recounts how the Red Head Convention started – a joke between herself and her brother Denis. “We both have bright red hair”. ‘We were sitting in the bar, (Jolene’s family own Cronin’s pub in Crosshaven), and we were planning my brothers upcoming birthday party and I jokingly suggested that we would only invite people with red hair and it started from that one throw-away comment.’

The science behind red hair is pretty amazing. In Ireland 10% of people are red heads. However up to 50% of the Irish population may carry the gene. For a child to have red hair, both parents must carry the gene – but neither have to have red hair – then there is still a 25% chance their child will have red hair. In Scotland 13% have red hair while in England just 6% are red heads. Considering that these numbers are higher than the rest of Europe scientists have concluded that the higher rates of the red haired gene in Ireland is down to the climate. As Celtic coloring is genetically programmed to work better in our sun-starved country.

To Joleen and Denis’s astonishment the festival just, “Seemed to capture the imagination of the media and the general public. We mentioned the event to our local newspaper, The Evening Echo, and they thought it was a wonderful idea so they wrote a small feature article on the event. Following that we were contacted by Today FM and again they did a short telephone interview with us. After that we were inundated with requests for interviews and information from the national media and the general public”.

The first festival was a simple one-day event and all funds raised went to the Irish cancer society with about 300 people attending – mostly locals.

Each year the festival has grown but it really flourished last year thanks to the support the Red Head Convention received as part of The Gathering initiative, spearheaded by Failte Ireland. The festival was selected as one of The Gatherings flagship events and received major international exposure.

Joleen is fulsome in her praise of The Gathering initiative and what their support has meant for The Red Head Convention. “Our involvement with The Gathering really bought the Red Head Convention to a new level.”

‘For me both events had a great synergy. The Gathering was about celebrating our culture, our heritage and helping people to reconnect with their roots (forgive the pun). The Red Head Convention is a celebration of the unique Irish trait of having red hair. Red hair is the rarest hair colour in the world and is very much part of our heritage and identity.’

The Redhead Convention received funding as well as marketing support from The Gathering “this extra push helped us grow from a small community event into an internationally recognised festival” said Joleen.

According to Louise Tolerton of Failte Ireland, the Redhead Convention “enjoyed considerable expansion in 2013. For the first time the festival was held as a weekend event. Visitor numbers increased 150% to 2,500 and for the first time the event was marketed to an overseas audience which helped expand the visitor base. In 2013, 28% of all visitors to the festival came from overseas. Local businesses and service providers benefited significantly over the weekend including accommodation, restaurants and cafes”

This festival is all about fun and zany ways to celebrate the Irish red haired heritage. There are many weird and wonderful ginger themed events held over the weekend. Such as red-gistration, where those in procession of the requisite red hair receive a “Certificate of Genuine Foxiness”.

Competitions include Carrot Tossing, Freckle Counting, Furthest Travelled Ginger, as well as the crowning of the King and Queen of the Gingers. For those who are not natural red heads there is optional red hair dying or some really bright wigs are also available, if you are so inclined.

The festival goes out of its way to poke fun at clinches, dorky red heads, and the festival turns that on its head – literally- so rather than people ginger baiting , the gingers take control, and poke fun at themselves.

One former UCC student who attended the event said that he “never felt prouder to be ginger,” likening the feeling of being in Crosshaven to witnessing the “collective moment of emancipation of an entire hair colour”. Kenneth Gordon, of Glasheen, Cork, said that he had suffered derogatory comments and insults on the basis of his hair colour in the past, and commended organisers for “making untold progress towards challenging the status quo.” “Awakening ‘Ginger Pride’ and creating a safe haven for red-heads at events such as these sends out a clear message that discrimination against people because of their hair colour, is as unacceptable as discrimination based on race, skin colour, or religion, and has no place in modern Ireland.” “Raising money for a great cause and having a bit of craic are added bonuses,”

For Joleen the positive vibes of the Convention are an excellent bonus. “I love to see young children with red hair at the festival. They are usually beaming from ear to ear because they have red hair and their sisters and brothers don’t, and all of a sudden having red hair is the coolest thing in the world.

While to date we have not dealt with the issue of ginger abuse the festivals focus is on empowerment and sending out a really positive message.”

Behind all the fun and banter there is an important message. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to stand out from the crowd. As a matter of fact it can be better than ok. IT’S GREAT. AWESOME!

This year’s Red Head Convention will take place from the 22nd to the 24th of August 2014 in Crooshaven, Co. Cork. So be a proud ginger, natural or not, and make your way to Crosshaven this summer and paint the town RED.






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The space between


James Brabazon

Source: Larry Busacca/Getty Images North America

James Brabazon, internationally renowned war correspondent and film maker, gives a vivid, frightening but hypnotic account of what it takes physically, emotionally and personally to report from a war zone.

 James Brabazon is dressed casually in jeans, black t-shirt, and boots. In appearance, he is tall, dark, and handsome. His personality is friendly, engaging and witty. Exactly how you would imagine an award-winning war correspondent. However, behind the self-depreciating laugh and quick wit there is an ordinary guy ready to admit: “reporting on conflict and war has consequences for everyone involved with you.”

James baldly states: “Half my friends are either dead or divorced.” Hardly, a good job recommendation? It doesn’t take long for the attentive audience to discover that James while very much alive, at least for now, belongs to the half who are now divorced.

James Brabazon is in Galway to promote the documentary film he made about his friend, Tim Hetherington. Tim, an award winning photographer was shot and killed while covering the war in Afghanistan in April 2008.     Or as James graphically and angrily puts it: “Bleed out while someone, who was unprepared for the reality of war, held his hand.” James begins his talk with three short film clips from various conflicts he has documented.

Despite the beautiful autumn sunshine streaming through the windows of “The Space” (the room hired for Brabazon’s talk) a definite chill descends. The final clip shows a young black boy, no more than eighteen, being unceremoniously executed. He is shot in the head. At point, blank, range. As the boys lifeless body lies on the brown earth James zooms in for a close up. The boy’s shocked, unseeing eyes steer straight into the camera lens. A frightening, vivid and disturbing image which stayed with me long after I left “The Space”. How James Brabazon was able to film that scene and the effect it must have had on him is beyond my comprehension.

In his brisk East London accent, James acknowledges: “Anyone can go to war. You can be drinking coffee in London one minutes and ten hours later arrive at the Syrian border with Turkey.” You can leave the space where coffee, a warm dry bed, relative safety and clean drinking water are taken for granted. And enter the world where scabies, dysentery, whizzing bullets, murder, death and mayhem are the norm. All for the price of a cheap airline ticket.

He calmly informs the attentive audience of aspiring journalists that: “If you report on conflict you live outside the law.” Every day in a war zone you make unethical decisions, tell lies, bribe people all to get the story. “You become embedded in the conflict”. It seems to survive and report on these conflicts you must learn to operate in the space between; right and wrong, good and evil, law and unlawful. There is no black and white. Just shades of grey and greyer.

Thus what are the consequences mentally, physically and emotionally for the reporter? Well we know James is now divorced. He spends vast tracks of his time away from his two young sons. He admits that after reporting on the war in Liberia he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had to seek counseling. He almost died from dysentery and has been shot at numerous times.

It would seem that to move between these two opposing worlds’ necessities a certain degree of emotional detachment. After all to be able to leave your family and friends behind not knowing if you will ever see them again cannot be easy. You learn to live in the space between war and peace.

So what drives a man like James Brabazon to take such risks? To put himself in such danger and discomfort to film images of unimaginable horror? He is unequivocal in his response. He is the “watchman.” He believes passionately that he has a moral obligation to uncover the crimes that others want to keep hidden.

James is no hero, at least not once in the conventional sense. He is a driven, ambitious individual. Perhaps some would say dysfunctional. But he has great courage and conviction. He believes passionately that what he does can help the plight of the ordinary person brutalized by conflict and war. He is the voice and silent witness for people who are all but forgotten in the struggle for power.

I am reminded of a quote from Bob Dylan: “I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.” James Brabazon understands that responsibility and is prepared to risk his own life to give hope to the forgotten. An in-between hero.

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2014 – The year of the reunions

Yes the twenty year anniversaries are rolling around and this September I will have two college reunions to attend.  The first, The Diploma in Marketing Practise reunion, which will take place on September 5th some place in Galway.  Details of this reunion have yet to be finalised but Ann Walsh at NUI Galway is doing an amazing job co-ordinating the event.  So make sure you connect with Ann to get all the details.

NUIGalway image 2

The second is the class of 1994 BSc. Management class  and the Advanced Diploma in Marketing Techniques, Dublin Institute of Technology, which will take place on Saturday 13th of September in Odessa on Dame Street, DublinBill Boucher and Conor Lynch are organising the event so again make sure you connect with them on LinkedIn to get all the updates.  Also please pass the word on to anyone else with whom you are still in touch.  It would be great to have as many there as possible.


So twenty years is a long.. long.. long time. I am really looking forward to catching up with all the old faces (less of the old please Caroline), and reminiscing about all the wild and wonderful days behind the famous red door on Mountjoy square.

Now I need to get back to writing my 15000 word dissertation for my Journalism masters Help!!!


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