I was afraid to say I was gay. Even at 44, I was afraid what everyone would think

Orla Doherty found sex, drugs and rock’n’roll in San Francisco. She also rediscovered squash

Proud to be a Northsider, I was raised in the gorgeous seaside town of Portmarnock. I’ve had three running away stages. In 1989, fresh off a secretarial course, I headed for England and tried my hand at playing professional squash. This lasted three years. I returned briefly to Ireland in 1992 and at the tender age of 22, I announced to my parents that I was gay.

Given that homosexuality was illegal in Ireland at the time, it didn’t go down well. My mam initially thought it was just another phase and I’d get over it much like my Cure-head phase, or that time I wanted to be a nun. My father on the other hand, worried about my future in an intolerant and prejudiced Ireland and nudged me gently to apply for a US Green Card in the Irish Lottery.

Winning said card in August 1993 I set sale for San Francisco, a city with the largest gay population in the US. Murphy’s Law meant that three months later, homosexuality would be legalised back home!

With £300 in my pocket, my eyes remained wide open for about six months. Propelling myself onto the streets of the Castro, which is still one of the most prominent areas of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ+) activism and events in the world, nothing was taboo. Everyone was accepted, regardless of race, gender, sexuality or musical tastes. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Donning a lovely little hairnet for my job at Mrs Fields Cookie Factory, I was able to keep myself nourished with Southern Comfort. I also discovered sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll.


My budding squash career was put on hold as I immersed myself in a world that had once been a fantasy. Several girlfriends later, while working as a Pinkerton Patrol Officer at Hewlett Packard, I moved to Las Vegas. During a short stint as a private investigator in the casinos, I stumbled upon a squash facility.

Thanks to a woman who saw me play and who dragged me to the courts daily, I unleashed myself back into a squash career. Holding positions as head coach at Cornell University, Tufts and MIT, I was also heavily involved in urban squash programmes for disadvantaged youth. I began competing again, winning five Irish titles in my age group. I spent 22 years in the US, 19 of which launched my professional coaching career.

Mental Health challenges came knocking on my door in my late 20s, leading to surprise but welcome visits to psychiatric wards. I attribute many of my struggles to the fear I had of being myself as a kid. Being afraid to tell anyone I was gay, being afraid of what people might think, what Holy Mary might think, what my dad might think... Even at age 44, when I got married for the second time, I was afraid of what everyone would think.

After the death of my father in 2009, followed by the sudden death of my aunt in 2014, I decided to come home. Arriving in Dublin with my then-wife, I continued a career in squash coaching. Strangely, I also discovered stand-up comedy, and performed at Electric Picnic in 2018. At age 47 I had a mini-stroke. No better time to decide that I might want to represent Ireland at squash. Training like a twenty-something, at age 48 I became the oldest female to represent a National Squash Team.

The same year, attending my first ever Gay Pride Parade in Dublin, tears of joy flowed over my cheeks when I saw two young girls holding hands, with not a care in the world. I recalled how 30 years earlier, I’d be skulking sneakily around The Parliament or The George, petrified of being caught. I often wonder if I would have left Ireland in 1993 if it had it not been illegal to be who I was born to be. Would I have stayed?

Then Covid hit, my source of income disappeared and my marriage broke down. Inexplicably, I found new love in the midst of it all. In September 2020, I moved to Prague, where I now spend half my time. The other half is back in Malahide. I can’t let go of my roots.

I love Ireland. My partner and kids laugh at me when I well up with tears watching the rugby and the National Anthem comes on. I often play a bit of Christy Moore in the morning while I’m writing. Ireland is in my veins.

Just before my 50th birthday last year, I began writing and I haven't stopped. I have been published in several on-line magazines, all memoir pieces. Best of all I started a blog. I talk about my life adventures, splattered with comedy. I share the deepest parts of my life, my challenges and my shenanigans. Readers are laughing, people are relating. It is a joy and I can't stop writing.

Living between Prague and Dublin, I am blessed to have inspiration all around me. Prague with its glorious culture and magnificent buildings. Dublin with its music and laughter and stories and secrets. Dublin whispers to me, and I breath her in every time I step off the flight.

I’m currently working on my first novel and my memoir is on-going. It should be finished circa 2042.