Mary O’Farrell, Midleton Holistic Health Centre: “Sometimes People just don’t know what they are looking for”

A blog by @mircwalsh

Mary O’Farrell, Midleton Holistic Health Centre: “Sometimes People just don’t know what they are looking for”

Published – East Cork Journal, Thursday, September 4th, 2008. 


Leaving school there’s college and then a job. It is likely that you will remain in that same area of work for the rest of your life. This week I met one woman who made a change in her career path. After working in a pub for many years she decided that she had had enough. She opened up a Holistic Health Centre and is now involved in many community activities.

At the age of 21 Mary O’Farrell was in her own words “marched into the bank” by her father to get a loan to buy a pub. After nine years the loan was paid off. Shortly after this Mary knew that this was not what she wanted to do with her life. Owning a pub in your twenties maybe a dream job for a young person these days but Mary recalls “I felt like I had no goal to work for and I automatically lost interest in the job.” Of course it was a big decision to change her life after so many years but she knew she would really like to study massage. It took 16 years for this change to happen. At first Mary decided to rent the pub for a few years while she was training in holistic therapies. She rented a room in another premises in the town and was practicing massage there whilst travelling at weekends to Dublin where she learnt psychotherapy and qualified as a nutritionist.

Mary said: “when id all that done I decided I was definitely not going back into the bar so I decided to sell the licence.” She sold the licence to the bar and renovated the building. She has been running the Holistic Centre in the current premises since 2000.

It all seemed perfect. Mary had changed her life and was now living her dream. She was running her own business and got enjoyment out of the work she was doing. Unfortunately a year after this Mary got very sick. She was diagnosed with a condition that affected her senses and muscles especially those in her neck and head. She suffered a complete burnout and it took her a couple of years to recover. Mary was advised not to keep working in massage as it was doing to much harm to her health. It seemed like her dream career was doomed but this is not how Mary saw the situation she recalls “I had had this plan in my head that when I retired that I would cut down a little bit and open the place up to all the other therapists.” This is exactly what she did in Easter 2002. There was just one therapist to start with but now there are 26 working out of the building.

At this stage I was curious as to whether Mary had any regrets leaving the pub since things hadn’t worked out as she had planned. When I asked this question I was faced with a very confident and certain “absolutely not” from Mary. She said that she has been asked that question many times. At the beginning she said she found it very difficult as she missed the noise of the people.

“The house was so quiet after closing down the pub. But now there is a great buzz around the house again and they are here until late at night so it’s great again.”

I was also curious how Mary would compare her life now with working in a pub. Mary’s answer was interesting, she said that when she went up to Dublin to train as a psychotherapist she realised that she was in fact doing psychotherapy every day in the pub. She said “all you have to be is a good listener I was a good listener listening to all their little worries and troubles.” She also added “I loved the pub it was a great education, I loved working in it because I am big into people but I really love what I am doing now.” Mary is now trying to further educate herself so that when people come in she knows what they are talking about. “Sometimes people don’t know what they are looking for and I just have to sit down and talk with them.”

Opening up her business to other therapists has given Mary more time on her hands to participate in other activities. Mary got involved with the Irish Guide Dogs Association a few years ago. She remembers spending years thinking that she would love to have a dog. Then one day her Sister in Law saw a sign for puppy walking and it all began from there. She took on a puppy called Grace for 12 months and when Grace failed to graduate as a guide dog after her training Mary was “thrilled to get her back.” She has continued to do work for the guide dogs. For about a year after getting Grace back she was taking puppies at the weekends and now she is heavily involved in the fundraising side of things. She adds that she would encourage people to get involved in the Irish Guides Association as she gets “a great buzz out of it.”

Mary’s community involvement doesn’t stop here. She is social secretary and treasure for the Midleton District Lourdes Invalid fund. Since she was a child she had wanted to get involved in this. She “loves helping the invalids” and “enjoys the fundraising.”

Mary is also a lector in the church, a member of the parish choir and head co-ordinator of the Eucharistic chapel in Midleton.In the past she was also involved in cooking for Meals on Wheels but now she focuses all her energy on organising the tours in the summer and the Christmas Party.

Mary’s life appears especially hectic so I asked her to describe a typical day in her life. She responding with “Busy busy busy” and laughed. She added that she “looks forward to coming down the stairs every morning for the simple reason that there’s no two days alike.” She said that there are usually messages on the phone in the morning and they lead her from one thing to another. “There’s a lot of things going on in my life,” she smiled.

I ended the interview with a final question. Just making sure that she hadn’t changed her mind I asked if looking back she was glad she made the change from working in the pub. The answer was the same as before and as confident as ever when she replied

“Absolutely no regrets what so ever.”