Marie-Louise O'Donnell

Marie-Louise O'Donnell (born 5 September 1952) is an Irish academic, and later broadcaster and politician, who has served as a Senator since May 2011, after being nominated by the Taoiseach.[1] She played a key role in the arts at Dublin City University over a 23-year period, including in the launch of the Helix cultural centre.

Marie-Louise O'Donnell
Assumed office
23 May 2011
ConstituencyNominated by the Taoiseach
Personal details
Marie Louise O'Donnell

(1952-09-05) 5 September 1952
Foxford, County Mayo, Ireland
Political partyIndependent
Alma mater

Early life and education

From Foxford, County Mayo, O'Donnell is the daughter and second child of Frank O'Donnell from Foxford (relatives founded the Foxford Woolen Mills, in which her father and uncles worked) and Maire Cranny from Newry, a speech and drama teacher, still working in southern County Dublin as of 2018.[2] The family moved to Dublin but O'Donnell and her brother spent summer and Easter holidays in Mayo.[3]

O'Donnell studied education and English at the University of Nottingham, then took a Masters in Education at NUI Maynooth, and another, in Modern Drama, at University College, Dublin. Later she studied theatre, including direction, and voice and other acting skills, at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.[4]


Education and the Arts

O'Donnell became head of drama at the teacher training college, Carysfort College.[2] where she taught for ten years, until the college's closure in 1988, when she was appointed as a lecturer in the School of Communications at Dublin City University (DCU). At DCU for 23 years, she taught a range of communications and arts courses, including radio documentary making, storytelling and public speaking, and the university sent her for training at the BBC. Research interests included theatrical and radio voice performance, and ancient and modern chorus speech.[5]

She also became involved in building the arts aspect of campus life, including DCU Arts Week, the Writer in Residence Programme, Ford Society Awards and Children's Arts Days. She worked on productions including the Larkin Concert Series, Wilde Space Theatre, Open Air Opera, RIAM graduate concerts, and a performance at DCU by the Royal Shakespeare Company.[6] This work included a key role in the development of The Helix cultural centre, especially including its performance spaces. When the Helix launched, she took a role as Associate Director, and later managed the smaller of its two theatre spaces, The Space.[7]

O'Donnell has also lectured extensively in Ireland, Europe and the USA in the areas of education, and Irish culture, especially drama and language.[6] In the early 2000s she also spent six months as a touring actor across the UK and Ireland, in The Merry Wives of Windsor and King John with the Northern Broadsides company.[7]

O'Donnell served two terms on the board of the National Concert Hall in the 1990s and 2000s.[4][8] In 2004 she co-founded, with Andy Hinds, the theatrical company Classic Stage Ireland, which produced Shakespeare and ancient Greek drama.[2]


O'Donnell first rose to prominence in the media as a reporter on RTÉ Radio 1's Today with Pat Kenny in the summer of 2010. However, according to a friend who spoke to The Irish Times: ""It's one of those 'overnight success stories' that was actually years in the making. She trained in radio production and presentation with the BBC and presented programmes for BBC Radio 4." A colleague told the same publication "It's extraordinary the amount of people she knows and counts among her friends. Gay Byrne, Charlie McCreevy, many Fine Gael TDs – she's genuinely close to many people. I accompanied her on a trip to America at one stage and she even had a network there."[2]

Political appointment

In May 2011, Taoiseach Enda Kenny nominated O'Donnell to the 24th Seanad.[9][10] O'Donnell indicated that the appointment was a surprise,[3] and she did not enter as a member of any party. Kenny again nominated her to the 25th Seanad in May 2016.[11] She ousted David Norris from his role as leader of the Seanad's independent Technical Group on 29 June 2016; however she is no longer a member of the group.[12][13]

Recent years

More recently, in addition to her work with RTÉ and presence in the Seanad, she has appeared as a panellist on TV3's Tonight with Vincent Browne, often featuring in the section of the programme that reviews the following morning's newspapers. She is noted for her persistent and firm defence of Enda Kenny.[14] In March 2018 she sparked criticism after stating teenagers below the age of 18 should “stay away from politics”[15]

O'Donnell commenced PhD studies on university teaching at St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, now the DCU Institute of Education, in 2009.[2]

Personal life

O'Donnell has an adult son,[7] who studies medicine.[7][2][16]


  1. "Marie-Louise O'Donnell". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  2. Holden, Louise (21 September 2010). "The media's new darling". The Irish Times.
  3. McHugh, Willie. "Interview: Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell". Mayo News. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  4. "Profile - Marie Louise O'Donnell". MacGill Summer School. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  5. "School of Communications - Staff Research Interests - Marie-Louise O'Donnell". Dublin City University. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  6. "DCU News, May 2011 - Congratulations to DCU lecturer Marie Louise O'Donnell on Seanad nomination". Dublin City University. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  7. Molony, Julia (20 June 2004). "A drama, but never a crisis". The Irish Independent.
  8. "Seanad Debates - 3 Nov. 2015". Oireachtas - Seanad Eireann. The Houses of the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament). Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  9. Edwards, Elaine (20 May 2011). "McAleese appointed to Seanad". The Irish Times.
  10. "Marie-Louise O'Donnell". Retrieved 20 November 2011.
  11. Bardon, Sarah (27 May 2016). "FF leader selects three of Taoiseach's 11 Seanad appointees". The Irish Times.
  12. Lord, Miriam (29 June 2016). "Norris exit prompts wave of indifference: Senator loses out to Marie-Louise O'Donnell as leader of Seanad Independent group". The Irish Times.
  13. O'Donnell, Marie Louise (21 March 2018). "Electoral (Amendment) (Voting at 16) Bill 2016: Committee Stage". Seanad debates. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  14. "Bold Move". 23 February 2016.
  15. Halpin, Hayley. "'Young people should stay away from politics': Senator criticised for comments as voting age bill blocked". Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  16. Humphreys, Joe (2 October 2014). "Senator confirms son affected by medical student loans issue she raised". The Irish Times.
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