‘We were all country convent girls’: the friends who changed my life

Mary Wilson, Vogue Williams and others talk about the friendships they can’t do without

Mary Wilson

Mary Wilson presents Drivetime on RTÉ Radio 1. The friendship that changed her life is with four college friends who met when they moved to Dublin aged 17

I have four close friends since I was 17; we have basically been though all of our highs, lows, ups and downs together, and I would call them my absolute rocks. They are the first people I turn to if I have good news, or bad news, and they’ve always been there for me.

Anne Flaherty now lives in London, Marese McDonagh lives in Sligo, Bernie Ní Fhlatharta is from Connemara, and Justine McCarthy lives in Dublin. Back then we were all convent girls from the country who had arrived in Dublin to study journalism. None of us came from a journalism background. We found ourselves together as a small group at college in Rathmines. I think we found each other because we had similar life experience; we were a little scared, a little worried, not sure if we were on the right path. We were hanging around in the evenings, eager to make friends and establish ourselves, because it was either that or run back home.

We shared a house together in Kimmage, and it was there when we were all 17 or 18 that those lifelong friendships were forged. We had similar aspirations: we all wanted to be journalists, to change the world. And then we dispersed through life; some of us travelled, some of us moved away, but the friendships endured. We stayed in touch in the days before mobile phones and social media.


With friends it's really important to have a laugh. A night out with a bunch of women is the best laugh: it's uplifting; it's energising

We have shared stories of boyfriends won and lost, relationships floundering, marriage, children, breakups, divorce, parental death, children growing up. We always share news with each other and seek advice. You know you’ll get sound advice from someone who knows you well, understands who you are and what made you.

With friends it's really important to have a laugh. Women are fantastic. A night out with a bunch of women is the best laugh: it's uplifting; it's energising. We might disagree around politics, events that are happening in the news – we'd have different perspectives on things – but we've never fallen out. The essence of good argument is that you can have a great argument and get up at the end of the night and are still good friends. We help each other with clothes, with ageing, advice on the best place to get your hair done, books to read, following something on Netflix, whatever it is.

I didn't have family living in Dublin when I had a young child, and I was divorced, so when I needed backup they were my backup. They have your back and there's no agenda. They were the first people to arrive at my door when my parents died. They were just straight away there, on the road, to rural Tipperary, which isn't an easy place to get to.

They have taught me kindness, forgiveness and constancy. That idea of being there. Showing up, being constant and not looking for anything, and the importance of that in our lives. We respect each other. They have taught me love.

Joanne McNally and Clodagh O’Hagan

Joanne McNally met the friend who changed her life, Clodagh O’Hagan, when she applied for an internship in Clodagh’s one-woman PR company

Joanne on Clodagh
I googled "PR companies in Dublin" and found this company called Blink PR. I emailed Clodagh and asked her for an internship. She brought me in for an interview and asked me to write a press release that night, which I was raging about because I was planning to go out. She said that when I left she found a picture of me on Facebook looking worse for wear at Electric Picnic, and said, 'That's the woman for me.'

Clodagh is a total hustler. She’s like a very attractive Del Boy. She hired me, and I ended up working for her for two years. We became firm friends. It was just me and her in an office all day. Neither of us has any boundaries, so I’d just go back to her house. I was falling into being riddled with bulimia, and when I got really sick it was Clodagh that I went to. Clodagh could live with it. She knew what was going on and was really supportive, always checking in with me, seeing that I was going to therapy and everything.

She was like a key that unlocked a life for me in town, and introduced me to loads of like-minded people and creative people.

One of my best memories is an amazing time we had at Electric Picnic one year. Really, you’re better off going down with one person. We met up with people, but we were glued together. We were also staying in a hotel, which was new to me. She definitely gave me notions. I was a total scummer when I met her. I would have slept in a bin at Electric Picnic. She gave me a taste of the finer things of life. Even though she was always hustling them, it’s not like she had loads of money.

Because we were both single we were in a pseudo-relationship for a long time. She was renting this gorgeous big house, and on weekends that we were 'being good', and staying in, we'd just be curled up on the couch, watching Sandra Bullock movies. It's sisterly love, really. I don't have any sisters. I remember saying to her that the reason we were so close was because neither of us had any sisters, and she was like, "Joanne, I have two sisters."

The pride of seeing Joanne perform was overwhelming. I had a stage-mom vibe. Having heard the material rehearsed so many times, I was almost saying it with her

Clodagh on Joanne
The main thing is tears of laughter. When I met Joanne she was all attitude. She was trying to impress me but putting it up to me at the same time. Very entertaining, really cheeky. We got on great. She came and sat beside me on our little corner desk for what was supposed to be a few months but ended up being two years.

Joanne has had a huge impact in lots of different ways. Starting a new business in the middle of a recession is quite a tough gig. It was hard to keep the spirits up. When she came on board it was a new lease of life. I had a partner in crime. It made the process and journey absolute fun. It’s the craic that you never forget, that craic when businesses are growing before things get too serious.

Joanne has always been a superstar. She brings everything to the table. Even if you wanted her to write a press release she’d write something completely brilliant and creative beyond what a client needs. I have absolute faith and belief in her. It’s no surprise that she has gone on to do amazing things. Apart from the spirit that she brings, she is hyperintelligent, an amazing writer – so, so talented.

The pride of seeing her perform at her first gigs was just overwhelming. I had a stage-mom vibe. Having heard the material rehearsed so many times, I was almost saying it with her – “This is a good bit, wait until you hear this!”

Joanne McNally's stand-up show Gleebag is at Vicar Street in Dublin on April 26th. Tickets, €22, from ticketmaster.ie

Vogue Williams and Spencer Matthews

Vogue Williams is a television presenter, DJ, model and author. Her husband, Spencer Matthews, is a television personality, founder of Eden Rocks Diamonds, and trustee of the Michael Matthews Foundation

Vogue on Spencer
We first met on the reality TV show The Jump. Spencer was wearing tracksuit bottoms and these slipper shoes for suits that he loves. I thought he looked ridiculous. I had my own preconceived opinions of him. But within an hour we were best pals, and hung out the whole time. We became friends really quickly. He's really charming, the kind of person you want to spend time with, just good fun.

I have never met anyone so positive. Nothing gets him down. He creates fun out of crappy situations; he puts a positive spin on everything. That’s infectious to be around. His mum is very similar: she’s not a complainer and a very hard worker. If I was describing him to someone who had never met him I would say he’s funny, he has so much self-confidence, he’s charismatic, kind, loyal.

Spencer has had a massive impact on my life. He’s helped me deal with my anxiety. He’s been a hugely positive influence. I used to care about what people say about me, which is really not a great thing when so many people are saying so much stuff about you online, but he has made me a more relaxed person.

He has taught me to see through all the bulls**t and not care, to be more confident in myself and not to worry about what people think of me. I think I’ve taught him to be more sympathetic and have more empathy for people, and maybe to be more organised, hopefully, although I haven’t seen that shine through at home yet.

Spencer is a very respectful person. We both have a lot of respect for each other. If he does something to annoy me I’ll say it to him straight away instead of storing it up and thinking, Oh, I must remember that and say it if he does it again. That’s what leads to arguments. We don’t have arguments: we have little niggles. Having arguments with your partner is a horrible place to be in.

Everything in my life would be different if I hadn’t met Spencer. I wouldn’t have a baby. I can’t imagine I would have settled down with anyone else. You really do get lucky when you meet somebody and you’re, like, wow, this is the best thing in the whole world.

I respect her in ways I've never respected anyone. I want to be the best person for her, and the best father to Theodore for her

Spencer on Vogue
We were friends to begin with, very much so. I joked on the first day I ever met her that we would get married. It was a joke at the time, but we just clicked. We were delighted that each other was on The Jump, because when you sign up for something like that you're going away for an extended amount of time and with people that you don't know whether you'll gel with. We realised that we would have a lifelong friendship even before we fell in love.

I love that Vogue is competitive. Her moral compass is extremely in tune, she’s extremely fair, she works hard, she’s hungry for success, and she’s a family woman. She’s the best mother I’ve ever come across and the best friend I’ve ever had. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like Vogue; she’s extremely personable and kind, with an undertone of ferocity.

We are very similar, but we do have differing opinions, like with music – she’s really into grime; I can’t be dealing with it – but we never differ over anything meaningful.

I respect her in ways I’ve never respected anyone. It’s not that she’s tamed me or made me grow up – those things happen organically – but I want to be the best person for her, and the best father to Theodore for her. I spend a lot of time thinking of how to make her happier. I see her with Theodore and she’s a very hands-on mother and highly organised, and I do my best to pull my weight to lighten her load.

Sometimes our favourite thing to do together is just not to do much. If we can spend an evening in on our own we love that. I’ll have a film on, she’ll be “getting her bits done”, as she calls it. We have a happy vibe in our home. We enjoy being around each other, which is handy.

My family think it’s hilarious; they feel like I’ve married myself. We love our families and each other’s families. I couldn’t think of anything worse than being married to someone where you don’t get along with their family; that’s a big burden. She sees my parents as really good friends of hers.

She’s an extremely supportive person. I gave up drinking last June, in search of the healthiest lifestyle I can lead. My mind is in a different place now. We’re always telling each other of how proud we are of each other. But the main focus is Theodore.

She has nothing but a positive impact on my life. I’ve learned responsibility from her. I did kind of grow up quicker when stuff started to get more serious. She’s up early in the morning training, working, going to meetings. She’s taught me how to be a better person. She gave me a bit of structure, I suppose. I would have been in no rush to settle down, and neither was she. She made a specific effort not to get into a relationship with me! But it just made sense. We fell in love when we were trying not to.

Ryan Hennessy and Jimmy Rainsford

Ryan Hennessy and Jimmy Rainsford are members of the band Picture This, formed after Jimmy saw a song Ryan had posted on Facebook. Picture This play five nights at 3Arena in Dublin from March 27th to 31st

Ryan on Jimmy
Our friendship was completely forged through music. I posted Take My Hand on my Facebook page, and Jimmy came across it and messaged me, saying, "I really like this song. I have a studio if you want to come look and flesh the song out." The next day I went and did that. I had never met somebody who was so easy to talk to and made me comfortable in a situation where I was uncomfortable, really, if I'm being honest.

What a lot of people don’t know is that Jimmy is the proper boss of the band in many ways. Obviously we’re equals, but his thinking, the connections he can create through music, how he can take songs I write maybe on acoustic guitar and just have a vision for those songs that I don’t have. If it wasn’t for Jimmy there would be no Picture This. I wouldn’t have a music career.

Jimmy has made me more tolerant. I’d be very quick to judge, or say I don’t want to have an interaction with a person, but he has taught me to be more open and give people a chance, and don’t just work with your own ideas in your head. He’s made me more open. I think he’s helping me grow up in many ways. He’s a couple of years older than me. He has a lot of knowledge in life in general. If I ever encounter a problem he’s always the person I turn to and ask for advice on what I should do. He’s helping me to grow up from a boy to a man.

It sounds weird, because all friends fights, but it’s scary how much we’re on the same wavelength. It’s something you couldn’t force. It’s been like that from the very beginning. We have the same goals, the same ideas, the same drive, the same passion. It’s very weird how in sync we are with each other.

You don't realise what the process of songwriting really is until you meet a natural songwriter. That's humbling

Jimmy on Ryan
When we started hanging out I would have described Ryan as quiet, really. We didn't know each other very well, and we were opposites: different ages, different interests. But that always makes for a good friendship: if you're very alike it's boring. The fact that we complement each other in different ways is important. Ryan is extremely good when it comes to anything to do with words or articulating things and portraying the simplest of things very vividly. I can describe things through music, so when we came together we had this dynamic that worked.

The best memories are on stage. When we first played the 3Arena I was standing alongside him, thinking, Jesus, we started this from nothing, and now we’re standing here in front of so many people. We saw the rewards for all the hard work and time we put in together.

He’s taught me good fashion sense – honestly. He’s taught me about songwriting. It’s funny, I was always trying to get into the music industry, but you don’t realise what the process of songwriting really is until you meet a natural songwriter. That’s humbling. It makes you realise you have to stay in your lane. Some people are natural at certain things.

Ryan has completely changed my life, I can say that for sure. When you look at your friendship and see what the other person brings to it, it’s a great thing. Find people that change your life positively. Embrace it. Cut out negative people. Look for the people who will impact your life.

MDRN LV, the new album from Picture This, is out on Friday

Cian O’Brien and Conor Hanratty

Cian O'Brien is artistic director of Project Arts Centre in Dublin. Conor Hanratty is a theatre and opera director, currently an artist in residence at Atlanta Opera

Cian on Conor
We met when we were 12, doing speech and drama. I remember being delighted that I met somebody who thought the same as me about the world. Neither of us would have been the sportiest; drama was the thing for us. I don't think Conor's personality has really changed. He feels like the same person, but maybe I just know him too well.

Over the years Conor has lived abroad a huge amount, so we would go for long periods of time without seeing each other. You know those awful Instagram quotes where it's, like, "When you make contact with your friend and you know you're thinking the same thing"? That's real.

The thing I have with Conor is that he’s always the person who will tell me the truth. Some people just don’t. He knows me from the beginning of my life, relatively, so he has a deep understanding of me. I trust Conor implicitly. I ask him for advice all the time. I can send him a text with one word in it and he knows what that means. It’s like a soulmate. When I was that age and you’re figuring out who you are, having somebody who was on the same page as you was brilliant.

I don’t think I’d have the life I have now if I hadn’t met Conor. He’s certainly my touchstone. He feels a bit like home. I probably wouldn’t be doing the things I’m doing without Conor. He’s brought lots of different influences into my life: music, art, travelling to the places he’s lived. If I had one word to describe him it would be “fierce”.

I think having a friend like Cian, and him having a friend like me, gave both of us the confidence to go out and do whatever we wanted in life. He's my rock

Conor on Cian
For starters, we can make each other laugh like nobody else. We have known each other over 20 years, and hardly a day goes by that we don't communicate. We know each other crazily well, to the extent that I can catch his eye across a room and know not only how long we have left before we leave but also where we're going to go next and who we're going to talk about once we get there. This is priceless to me.

We complement each other because, despite a great many common interests, similar tastes and shared hatreds, we do our own things, too. As such, there’s always something new to talk about. What’s great is that we both have particular areas of expertise and we can often help each other out, and we can trust each other’s input completely. And of course, even now while I’m working a few time zones away, there’s a constant exchange of funny pictures or new tunes. Cian is the only person I actually believe when he says, “You’ll love this.”

What have I learnt from Cian? More than I can say. One great lesson I learned was not to be too vicious. I filled in one of those questionnaires that were all the rage back when email was new, and managed to cram an unholy quantity of put-downs into a single message. He didn’t speak to me for a week, and was very upset. We laugh about it now, but I learned my lesson. I think having a friend like Cian, and him having a friend like me, gave both of us the confidence to go out and do whatever we wanted in life. He’s my rock.