Life after the Leaving: ‘There are many paths to the same destination’

Oonagh O’Hagan opted for pharmacy over medicine and is now managing director of Meaghers Pharmacy Group

Oonagh O’Hagan studied pharmacy and is now managing director of Meaghers Pharmacy Group.

Oonagh O’Hagan studied pharmacy and is now managing director of Meaghers Pharmacy Group.


First and foremost I am a pharmacist by profession, and after qualifying from Trinity College Dublin, I went on to intern for Pierce Meagher in his family’s business on Baggot Street in Dublin.

From the moment I crossed the threshold of his pharmacy, I fell in love and dreamt of owning it one day. Four years later I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to acquire it, and am now the owner and managing director of the Meaghers Pharmacy Group. I have grown the business to a group of eight pharmacies and an online shop.

I went to grammar school in Strabane, Co Tyrone, so I went through the A level system rather than the Leaving Certificate and so we studied fewer subjects but in much greater depth.

I really wasn’t that good, nor interested, in English at school but I absolutely loved all the science subjects and maths – I think I just loved figuring things out, and as a result I choose biology, chemistry and maths as my A level subjects. I think if you are really interested in something then it doesn’t feel like work – I would have happily read a biology book rather than a novel any day and I think that this passion is the reason I managed to get three As in my A Levels, or the 600 points.

As I was totally drawn to science subjects, I was always going to pursue a career in some field of science.

I applied for a number of degree courses including medicine, pharmacy, biochemistry and microbiology. I really didn’t know what I wanted to study but I absolutely knew that I wanted to study at Trinity College in Dublin.

There was just something magical about the college, from the old buildings to the cobblestones and the Front Square – you could almost feel the spirits of all the scholars who attended there before.

When I received my results I was accepted into medicine but I changed my mind at the very last minute as I am absolutely terrified of needles and I was really worried that this would hold me back in some way.

So, after a “heart-to-heart” with a lovely lady in the admissions office I opted for my second choice, which was pharmacy.

Fear of needles

I often think it’s funny how my fear of needles led me to where I am today. If it hadn’t been for my fear there is no doubt in my mind that I would have studied medicine and I’m certain that my life would be very different today.

At that time I was very confused and in some ways disappointed with myself but now I am so glad that I had the courage to trust my own gut and to change direction as I would never have discovered the world of business, which has turned out to be my real passion.

If I had enrolled in pharmacy in Belfast or any other college in the UK, which would have taken me a year less to qualify, then I would never have interned for Pierce Meagher and I certainly would never have been afforded the opportunity to acquire Meaghers.

It’s funny how life places all these challenges and opportunities in front of you and in my experience you just have to tackle them as you go and see what enfolds – I never would have imagined owning or running my own business as it is today when I was filling in my CAO form all those years ago.

It is very easy to say not to worry about your results and much more difficult to do!

I know from experience that it used to drive me crazy when people said that to me. However, now I am a firm believer that life has a very funny way of presenting challenges and obstacles to you and they might seem like the most difficult thing at the time and the most upsetting – just like my fear of needles.

If you can just believe that these things are put in your path to force you to change direction – it’s like it’s the universe’s way of telling you that there is a better path for you, in a different direction.

You can rest assured that it doesn’t matter what results you get – it may mean you have to change direction but guess what, that’s possibly the best path for you all along and you will only realise that with hindsight in years to come.

When I was choosing my college course I felt immense pressure to make the right choice, almost as if my whole life and happiness depended on it. It seemed that there was only one route to a particular profession at that time.

Today, I realise that this is so far from the truth. There are many paths to the same destination and your A level or Leaving Cert results and the college course you decide on is just one stepping stone in a whole life of experiences.

Today, there are so many choices and so many ways for you to ultimately end up in a chosen career, so there is no need to put yourself under the pressure that I put myself under. What is much more important is to really love what you decide to do, no matter what it is, because then you will be naturally really good at it and success will always follow that passion, no matter what it is.

In conversation with Áine McMahon