Six O'Clock Show host, Muireann O’Connell, chats to Janice Butler about overcoming self-doubt, her passion for Limerick and family, and falling out of love with radio.

Muireann O’Connell always struck me as a sound individual. I didn’t know too much about her apart from seeing her occasionally on Virgin Media’s Six O’Clock Show with her co-host Martin King. Her Instagram account is also great entertainment. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, a rarity in the media; she adores her native Limerick and she’s humble in her approach to her job.

We chat just after the long weekend; she laughs that it’s hard to know what day or month it is in this annus horribilis. I catch her before she heads into the Virgin Media studios. Over the course of an hour, we discuss careers, relationships, setbacks, lockdown, family and a hatred for running. She confirms my suspicion – she is sound. 

The Six O’Clock Show kept things rolling for Muireann during strict lockdown and like most TV shows, it was a virtual experience, with guests returning to the studio only recently. Even Muireann, a self-confessed 'disaster’ in the kitchen, had to take on the show’s cooking spots, with chefs relaying instructions via Skype.

"I think there were two things I cooked that anyone tried," she laughs. "It was insanity at times but you know what, people enjoyed it." 

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She knows people who were left without work because of the pandemic, so she feels extremely grateful to have a job in the last few months, if nothing else, for the mental health benefits.

"I’m so aware that so many people in the country are out of work and don’t know when they’ll get back to it. Being able to work was a huge help mentally for me; there was focus there in the day. I can’t tell you how lucky I felt to have it."

Anyone following Muireann on social media will have noticed that she also took up running during lockdown to help clear her head, giving herself the goal of 5km, which she achieved, but a love for pounding the pavement it is not.

"I needed something and it definitely helped to get me through lockdown, but I will never be someone who loves running. It’s never going to happen. I hate putting on my runners, hate it, and then halfway through the run, I start to feel a little bit better. I will always hate it but I’ll do it because it’s good for me."

The Six O’Clock Show recently came live from her home city of Limerick and she was incredibly proud to show it off. "It went really well. It was so nice being home and getting to showcase a place that I love so much. For
generations, Limerick has been the whipping boy of Ireland so it was fab to be able to show it o in all its glory."

She loves getting home, something she missed during lockdown. The youngest of four, she laughs that her siblings call her "the mistake" due to the five-year gap between her and the next in line.

"I’m the baby and a typical baby, completely spoilt and got away with murder because they didn’t expect me to come along. Which led to me being incredibly independent at a very young age."

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She has one sister in Limerick, a brother in Madrid and a sister in Sydney. "We’re all over the place". In a way, their separation helped during lockdown as they were all used to having to organise video calls. "We’ve been spread to the four corners for a long time so our parents are very good with Facetime."

She adores her parents, Brendan and Marie; often sharing the banter between her and her mother on social media. "The one opinion I probably do care about in this world is my family’s," she says.

"They’re very proud and that’s a lovely thing to have because I don’t think you ever stop caring what your parents think – they are at the fore of my mind with everything that I do because I adore them, they’re brilliant humans and I want to make them proud and want them to be happy."

Working in media was never the grand plan for Muireann. In fact, she says she’s not a planner at all but she always loved talking and finding out about people. She went to college in Galway and afterwards, her father tried to convince her to do a HDip for a steady career in teaching.

However, a job in radio was calling her. She had attempted to join the NUIG student radio station during her time there but admits to being so totally intimidated by the people that she just walked back out.

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She says she has a big case of imposter syndrome and, surprisingly for someone who seems so outwardly confident, she has always doubted her own ability. "Not being from Dublin, I never thought there was a chance I’d get a job in Dublin in media. That has a lot to do with my own psychology though," she says.

She started off in Live 95 in Limerick as part of the promotional team and when Spin Southwest opened, she took the opportunity to work on her first ever talk radio show. "I was a bag of nerves," she recalls of her first days. "I think everyone has impostor syndrome, regardless of who you are; there’s very few who don’t."

"I was a bit of a slow burner at the time. I probably should have pushed myself more when I was younger. It was a mental thing of ‘Oh God, I don’t know how to do this, I don’t know how the game’s played’. But once you realise there is no game, just go and talk to people, that helps a lot."

Despite her insecurities, her talent was spotted by the powers that be. From Spin, she went to 98FM in Dublin, before joining Today FM in 2016, where she bagged the much-coveted lunchtime slot, after Al Porter stepped down. The show was a huge success, with Muireann building a loyal listenership. She is smart, funny and relatable, just what the airwaves needed. 

However, that love affair with radio was to end abruptly last year, when she announced she had been fired from the station with little explanation and replaced by Mairead Ronan.

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At the time, Muireann tweeted, ‘Hello lovely people! I have been fired from @TodayFM. It’s all good. Like, it’s embarrassing and I’m a bit sad but I love almost everyone in that station and wish them all the best in the future.’’ 

Being axed in that way has left a sour taste and, sadly, she doesn’t see herself going back to her roots in radio. "I think I’m done with it now. If I was that good what happened wouldn’t have happened. It’s done and I’m happy the way things are now," she says, adding that an experience like that leaves you questioning your abilities.

"I’ve been very lucky but I also have been one of those people that have experienced that hammer blow where you end up questioning your worth, your life, who you are and it’s not a nice thing."

Thankfully, her TV career had also taken o while she was working in radio, with regular slots on Seoige & O’Shea for RTÉ and Elaine on Virgin Media. When the Six O’Clock Show was looking for a replacement for
Lucy Kennedy’s maternity leave, she covered every Friday night until it turned into a full-time role. "Now Martin is stuck with me," she laughs. 

"I really enjoyed it from day one. But I remember on my first full day of hosting I made a mistake and I thought ‘That’s it, I’m done’ and of course no one had noticed. Now I mess up regularly and it’s something you just become comfortable with."

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She can see an improvement in her hosting skills since she began and she’s come to terms with the fact that not everyone will like you, especially when you’re on TV. "I’m much more comfortable in the job than a few years ago. Once you get your head around the fact that there’s people in the world that will like you and people who will hate you for no reason, once you’re at peace with that, it makes things a lot easier.
You can’t please everyone." 

While she shares a lot of her life on social media, she does keep certain aspects private, especially her relationship, remarking that "I’m the one who’s in this world, not the other person. I’m the one who has decided to talk, be on television and social media, so it’s not fair to include someone else in that if it’s not their thing. I share a lot but I think I’m still quite a private person. Social media for me is an outlet to have a laugh."

She plans to do a podcast in the next few months with her good friend Joanne McNally, admitting they have put it off long enough. Apart from that, as she said earlier, she’s not a planner; "I just try to be good at what I do every day and to get it right." Dublin is home for the foreseeable future with hopes of buying her own home...but of course, with Limerick in the rear-view mirror all the time."