Jennifer O’Connell: What I read this week

Things grabbing my attention this week include camogie elbows, sideline parents and how ‘woman’ still seems to be the hardest word

What I read this week Jennifer O'Connell
Jennifer O'Connell: 'It feels like the Paris Olympics are starting to have a whiff of Italia ‘90 energy.' Illustration: Paul Scott

Hello from a distinctly Junevemberish Dalkey, Co Dublin, where I have decamped from The Irish Times to take part in the Dalkey Book Festival this weekend. Other than books, politics – and the question of whether to pack sandals or ski gear – the stories that have been grabbing my attention this week include camogie elbows, sideline parents, Smarties explainers and a striking map of Germany.

Here is a selection of what I have been reading over the last few days.

1. It may be just me, but it feels like the Paris Olympics are starting to have a whiff of Italia ‘90 energy. The Irish athletics team, but especially the Irish women – Rhasidat Adeleke, Ciara “you don’t box a camogie player in” Mageean, Sharlene Mawdsley and Sophie Becker– glided to glory around the track, bagging multiple medals and turning a nation into overnight experts on the big timing question of the week. Not when to hold the election but the question of when to “taper”, now or during the Olympics.

If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and watch the video of the mixed 400-metre relay, featuring Chris O’Donnell, Adeleke, Thomas Barr and Mawdsley.


Our sports writers have been covering it as it unfolds – and by “it”, we mean not just those medals but three Irish records, 12 season’s bests and three further personal bests. Ian O’Riordan captures the magnitude of the Irish achievement: “In the 90-year history of the European Athletics Championships, first staged in Turin in 1934, no Irish team could ever have aspired to breaking into the top 10 nations on the final medal table, certainly not ahead of some continental superpowers such as Germany and Sweden.”

Interviewed after her second medal win, Adeleke wanted to pay tribute to the person who made it all possible: her mum Ade. “Ever since I was growing up, she put me first every single time. She would swap out shifts at work, she would take annual leave to come and watch my meets … I just feel so grateful to her because I definitely wouldn’t be here without her.”

2. Johnny Watterson notes that her success – and I suspect her power, confidence and air of unstoppability – is proving triggering to a small and “shouty but determined” rump on social media. The “impact on those Irish kids who look like her and have walked a mile in her shoes is immeasurable and permanent. As she prospers in the sport, other mindsets consumed by victimhood and resentment will continue to see a 21-year-old woman athlete as an existential threat.” I doubt Adeleke is losing too much sleep over them.

3. It wasn’t just Adeleke giving thought to the unsung heroes on the sidelines this week. So too was Dave Hannigan, who took to his column to tackle what may be the last remaining parenting taboo. Let’s just say Dave probably won’t be taking annual leave to spend even more time at his kids’ soccer games.

“It’s been too long since my last confession but bless me father for I have sinned. I am a sports dad, and I don’t really enjoy watching my sons play competitively. I know I’m supposed to. I just don’t. At all.”

Instead, what he wants is “endless games of HORSE in the driveway as the sun goes down. Our own bastardised hybrid of Olympic handball and water polo in every swimming pool we visit. Sacred spaces for this father and his sons, boys who, following the loss of their mother, learned too young time is the only currency that really matters and every second of these interactions are treasured possessions”.

4. In all the excitement, you may have missed the other intense showcase of sweat, tears and blisters happening over the last few days. It’s all over now, but soon – maybe very soon, possibly far too soon – we’ll have another election to look forward to. Miriam Lord’s comprehensive guide to the key symptoms of election fever to watch out for is a characteristically entertaining read.

“Everything is shovel-ready.

Government TDs are fizzing around the place.

Junior ministers are giddy.

Their main opposition is wounded.

And Simon Harris is positively spewing projectile decisiveness.”

No tapering here so.

5. In her Friday column, Justine McCarthy writes about how “woman” still seems to be the hardest word for too many Irish people, especially in politics and sport. “Two of the silliest words in the English language are “ladies” and “football” when they are joined together at the hip,” she quite rightly points out. “Lady members”, “the “ladies’ committee” and “ladies’ day” at the races are as antiquated in the 21st century as crinoline hoops and horsehair skirts.”


The In The News podcast team tackles the issue of XL bully dogs, something I’ve written about recently. It looks almost certain these dogs will now be banned, and while banning them won’t stop breeders creating other hybrid pitbull breeds, we either simply resign ourselves to the fact that a number of people every year – 16 in the past 18 months – will die in the jaws of an XL bully, or we do something.

Graphic of the Week

In Germany's western regions, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian CSU allies finished first on 30 per cent. Election wins in the former territory of East Germany almost exclusively went to Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Black is the CDU colour, turquoise the AfD.

In the aftermath of the European elections in Germany, Derek Scally writes that “newspapers on Monday morning carried a striking – and stark – political map of Germany in 2024. The Berlin coalition colours – red, green and yellow – are almost nowhere to be seen. Instead, with staggering clarity, we can see the old West and East Germany once more”.

Best of the rest:

Beyond The Irish Times, worth a listen is the Good On Paper podcast from The Atlantic, featuring the Financial Times’s chief data reporter, John Burn-Murdoch: The Truth About Immigration and Public Opinion. In it, Burn-Murdoch makes the point that it’s not helpful when different types of immigration are “smushed together … We only have this single word, ‘immigration,’ to talk about this enormously varied phenomenon,” he tells host Jerusalem Demsas. “I think [this] is really unhelpful for the debate.”

Most read this week

1. Local and European election results: Fine Gael poised to be biggest party, Sinn Féin ‘disappointed’ and Independents make gain

2. European Election: Ireland South results

3. Local election results: Hundreds of seats yet to be filled as FF and FG set to battle it out to be largest party

4. Local election results: Hundreds of seats yet to be filled as FF and FG set to battle it out to be largest party

5. Midlands-North-West: Battle for final seat could end with a small party making a breakthrough

  • What I Read This Week is a new weekly column featuring Irish Times writers selecting stories they enjoyed.