Jacqui Hurley: ‘I’ve had serious sport accidents that were nothing compared to childbirth’

Parenting in My Shoes: The broadcaster on motherhood, family and her brother’s early death

Broadcaster, author of Girls Play Too and mother of two Jacqui Hurley has always believed in chasing the dream – a trait shared by her husband, Shane, whom she met when she was in fourth year in college. The couple, who Jacqui says had "grand visions" for their lives, moved in together after nine months and moved to Dublin to chase their respective dreams once their college days were over.

“Parenthood was always on the cards,” Jacqui says. “From very early on we were both focused on what we wanted and we both wanted decent careers for ourselves and we both knew we wanted children.”

The pair married in 2012 but tragedy struck just six months before their wedding when Jacqui’s brother Seán was killed in a car accident at the age of 25. It was a hugely traumatic time, Jacqui says, but her brother’s death spurred the couple on to experience a year of travelling and doing what they wanted, before starting a family.

It's not the natural life order that the youngest person in the house dies first. It's deeply traumatic for everybody involved

"We went to the Super Bowl in America. We went to the Lions' tour in Australia and just did all these bucket-list things that we knew we wanted to do. We knew we wanted to have children and I didn't want to not live our lives first or feel that we didn't give ourselves an opportunity to be married and have the craic. I suppose we'd just had so much trauma."


On returning from the Lions’ tour, Jacqui discovered she was pregnant with their first child. “I don’t think there’s a love out there that’s stronger than the bond between a child and a parent and I think I’ve seen it now from the other side,” she says. “I don’t know how my parents got over it, because I think if I had to live without one of my children, I don’t know how I would cope.

“It was very dark. When you have a death in your family, particularly when it’s a sibling who is the youngest in the house, it’s not the natural life order that the youngest person in the house dies first. It’s deeply traumatic for everybody involved.”

Fresh hope

The pregnancy news gave the family hope again. “I think what it did for us was it showed our family that there are things to live for and there’s so many more lovely, happy moments out there to be celebrated.”

Jacqui opted not to find out the sex of her baby and says when her son was born, “the biggest decision for us was actually, ‘what do we call the child’”.

“I knew my mam and dad would really have liked me to call the child Seán,” she says. “I remember one of the midwives saying to me: ‘Just make sure that you’re comfortable with it. I would just recommend that you try it out. Try calling him Seán, just wait a couple of days before you tell people what the name is, there’s no hurry, just wait, but just make sure that you’re comfortable. Call the name and when you call the name see how it makes your heart feel.’ And I tried a couple of times calling him Seán and I just broke down so many times. I just couldn’t do it.

“I knew that my mom and dad would find it hard. He was this beautiful, blonde, little baby with blue eyes and a big smile and I just thought I can’t put my mom and dad through this, I can’t have them calling another little blonde boy Seán when he looks so like their Seán. I couldn’t do it. That’s when we went for Luke Seán.”

Jacqui’s birth and labour were without complication, but she says “it was very long and it was crazy. Nobody prepares you for childbirth either because people tell you, ‘oh God, it’s really painful and it’s really sore’, but you’ve no idea what the level of pain is like. I’ve had very serious accidents playing sport where I’ve broken several bones in my body. Nothing compared to any of that.

“It’s the ultimate test of how much you want to kill your husband,” she jokes. “I remember when I was in that holding pen, in Unit 3 [Holles Street], and Shane was there watching movies on the iPad and he was after bringing a snack pack for himself. He was there eating and I was like, ‘I want to murder you.’ There he was living the dream, having snacks and I was in the pain of my life and he was like, ‘can I do anything for you love’ and I was like, ‘Get out! You are not helping me. You are breathing too loud. You are eating too loud.’ Funny now when you look back, but I’d say I was murderous at the time.”

Parenting challenges

Jacqui found breastfeeding to be one of the biggest challenges of early parenthood. “I was a contractor at the time at work and I knew I was going to have to go back to work at six weeks and 12 weeks on each baby, so obviously a lot goes into that when you’re trying to plan so much. You want to make sure they’re happy and healthy, but it does mean you’ve got to get up and running pretty quickly.

“I probably put myself under too much pressure and then when it wasn’t working I would be cross with myself, when really babies will feed when they want to feed. I was just stuck to the couch all day. I was trying so hard to get him into a routine – ‘I’m going to try this now and then we’re going to get out for a walk and then we’ll do this’ or whatever. But then inevitably a feed would take longer and then you’re knocked back and you only have 20 minutes instead of half an hour and you have to eat and that was really challenging.

“I found the biggest help was actually other mums,” Jacqui says, praising the breastfeeding group she was part of and the enduring friendships made at “boob club”.

Although she works in what is traditionally a male-dominated role, Jacqui says her children, Luke and Lily, are oblivious to this. “I would have thought it would be important in showing them that you can be anything you want to be, but they don’t get it, they don’t see it. All they think is mum is on the radio, mum’s at the match. They genuinely couldn’t give a hoot what I do.”

Jacqui, on the other hand, admits she might give a hoot about whether or not her children are interested in sport. “In my head the principled part of me would be like, ‘no, of course, I want them to do whatever they want’, but in my heart, yeah, I really want them to be sporty. Mostly because my life and Shane’s life revolves around it and I would like that it’s something we do together.”

Her son, Luke, has started training with a local GAA club where Jacqui is involved in coaching. She says she’s aware of the challenges of keeping children and young people engaged in sport: “This is the hardest part of coaching. Coaching the elites is always easy because they have the application, the drive, the skill set to go with it. The problem is the ones who are standing on the sideline because they were not good enough to get on the team or they were not encouraged enough. I think that’s really hard. I’d be a big advocate of having access for all.

We have an issue in this country because if we only classify team sport as sport we are ignoring a huge percentage of the population

“I’d have grown up in an era where I was lucky enough that I was always playing, so it wasn’t me that was affected, but I had a lot of friends who didn’t make the A team and then they might have been playing on the B basketball team and then the B team was disbanded because they couldn’t get enough numbers or there wasn’t a teacher to coach it.

“Why would you continue with sport if your relationship with it is standing on the sideline and not getting to play? Then you hear other people speaking glowingly about their experiences. Well, of course, their experiences of it are different, because they’re playing.

“I think trying to find your level and being able to play at that is hugely important and I honestly think it’s the biggest challenge. I think we also have a problem where we only classify sport as the top three – if you don’t play GAA, rugby or soccer, you’re not sporty. Whereas, I think people who go running or do yoga or go swimming in the sea – I class that as sport. We have an issue in this country because if we only classify team sport as sport we are basically ignoring a huge percentage of the population who feel completely disenfranchised by the whole thing. I think by redrawing the boundary and showing people that if you want to do dance class or zumba, whatever, that is sport. But you decide what your sport is and you do that.”

Being organised is Jacqui’s key to juggling it all, something she credits to her accountant husband’s love of spreadsheets. She also feels it’s important that both she and Shane have time to do the things they love too. “I’m a much better mum to the kids when I get to go basketball training or go to the gym because then my headspace is better and I have more patience for them and Shane is the same.

“The biggest high is just watching them laughing, having the craic and smiling. I don’t think there’s a better feeling than seeing your children get enjoyment out of something.”

And though she concedes there “are days when your kids are driving you crazy and there’s days that everything is just chaos in your mind”, Jacqui lives by a quote that hangs on her sitting room wall: “Life is for living.”

“Life has taught us lessons that it’s very, very precious. It has made us go, well, you wanted this, so make it work.”

Parenting in My Shoes
Part 1: Vicky Phelan
Part 2: Lynn Ruane
Part 3: Keith Walsh
Part 4: Victoria Smurfit
Part 5: Billy Holland
Part 6: Joanna Donnelly
Part 7: Eileen Flynn
Part 8: Matt Cooper
Part 9: Hazel Chu
Part 10: Ciara Kelly
Part 11: Dil Wickremasinghe
Part 12: Alison Curtis
Part 13: Dáithí Ó Sé
Part 14: Brendan O'Connor
Part 15: Anne Dalton
Part 16: Gary O'Hanlon
Part 17: Paula MacSweeney
Part 18: Stephen McPhail
Part 19: Michelle O'Neill
Part 20: Jacqui Hurley