A lib­eral dose of hon­esty

GP turned ra­dio pre­sen­ter Ciara Kelly tells Pa­trick Freyne about be­ing a late bloomer, Ire­land’s drink prob­lem and the first time she told a pa­tient they were go­ing to die

The Irish Times Magazine - - COVER STORY -

Ciara Kelly re­cently au­di­tioned for a part in the Dún Laoghaire Mu­si­cal and Dra­matic So­ci­ety’s pro­duc­tion of Jekyll and Hyde. She had never done any­thing like that be­fore. “It was hi­lar­i­ous and ter­ri­fy­ing in equal mea­sure,” she says. “I was re­ally, gen­uinely, madly anx­ious in a way I would not be go­ing on air.”

What was the part? “It was the part of this pros­ti­tute who gets killed.”

She can’t stop laugh­ing and cring­ing as she re­calls all of this. She tells me one of the songs was called “Bring on the Men. I was al­most cry­ing with em­bar­rass­ment try­ing to sing it . . . I’m brave in some ways – I’m brave enough to give an opin­ion – but stand­ing up and singing Bring on the Men is very chal­leng­ing for me.”

Ac­cord­ing to Kelly, all of the other women au­di­tion­ing were 25 years younger, highly con­fi­dent, highly skilled and, in some cases, fully cos­tumed. In con­trast, she messed up the tune, man­gled the words, did a Cock­ney ac­cent, shim­mied and ac­ci­den­tally printed out only ev­ery sec­ond page of the script so she didn’t quite un­der­stand what was go­ing on. “My kids said, ‘ Did they think you were sim­ple?’ ”

Why did she do it? She al­ways wanted to be in a mu­si­cal, she says, “And I de­cided I wanted a hobby be­cause I work a lot but I’m not go­ing to join a golf club.”

She’s go­ing to stick with it, she says. “I don’t think I’ll get that part [ but] there’s an old bat woman who is the gover­nor of an asy­lum or some­thing, so I think I might have a chance of get­ting that.”

As she was leav­ing the au­di­tion, she says, she called out, “I would take any of the lesser pros­ti­tute roles as well.”

Kelly clearly has a strong de­sire to get out of her com­fort zone. The au­di­tion came al­most one year af­ter she left her GP prac­tice to be­come a full- time broad­caster on New­stalk’s Lunchtime Live. “I do think there’s some­thing late bloomery about me, in that an aw­ful lot of things I would prob­a­bly have liked to have done when I was young, I’m do­ing now,” she says as we sit up­stairs in a Dublin restau­rant.

Apart from a short spell liv­ing in the city cen­tre in young adult­hood, she has spent her life in Grey­stones, where she now lives with her hus­band and four chil­dren and, un­til last year, worked 100 yards from her house.

What was she like at school? “I was ter­ri­ble. I was a lit­tle cheeky thing, al­ways gobby. I used to like de­bat­ing and civics class. It of­ten got me in trou­ble and I was talk­a­tive and that used to get me de­ten­tion.”

She de­picts her­self as a young Lloyd Cole looka­like with pud­ding- bowl hair, a polo neck and a suede jacket. She had strong views, she says, many the same lib­eral ones she holds now. “I al­ways felt it was im­por­tant to have opin­ions and for them to mean some­thing and to have a mo­ral com­pass . . . The ide­al­ism of be­ing a teenager!”

She wanted to study drama but she failed to get in. She makes her in­ter­view at the TCD drama de­part­ment sounds a lit­tle like her more re­cent am- dram au­di­tion, with her be­ing a lit­tle over­whelmed by more as­sured and flam­boy­ant con­tem­po­raries.

Her next steps couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent – three years study­ing com­merce in UCD, which she hated – fol­lowed by a much more plea­sur­able pe­riod study­ing medicine. “I liked that in­stead of writ­ing a semi- waffly es­say on lo­gis­tics or busi­ness strat­egy, in medicine you’re ei­ther right or wrong. ‘ Does the kid­ney do this?’ ‘ Yes it does.’ And I liked the peo­ple. It’s a bit like be­ing in the trenches. Be­ing a ju­nior doc­tor is like mil­i­tary train­ing. I’ve had jobs where my week was 120 hours long.”

Did she feel like there was a chang­ing of the med­i­cal guard with her gen­er­a­tion? “Most d o c t o r s were d r a wn f r o m mid­dle- class or up­per- mid­dle class back­grounds,” she says. “So there was a con­ser­va­tive – and in Ire­land that of­ten meant Catholic – bias that flowed through the pro­fes­sion. There were def­i­nitely con­sul­tants [ who were] pa­ter­nal­is­tic and pa­tro­n­is­ing, who could never even start to get their heads around what it meant to be a young woman or a work­ing- class per­son . . . There was a lack of aware­ness that maybe you would be a bet­ter doc­tor if you were able to em­pathise dif­fer­ently with your pa­tients or gave them more of a role or a say in their own care.”

A lot of the older school of doc­tors let peo­ple down, she says. “I re­mem­ber, in UCD in the late 1980s, the con­ver­sa­tions in the bar among girls,” she says. “You didn’t know which GP would pre­scribe the pill or the morn­ing- af­ter pill, and I re­mem­ber talk­ing to a friend of mine who went to a GP who more or less threw her out of the surgery


I re­mem­ber the first time I told a pa­tient they were dy­ing. You never for­get. I re­mem­ber her name and I re­mem­ber the room. I re­mem­ber all of it

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