Reeling in the Leaders – Orlaith O’Callaghan

Knockadoon Youth WeekLeadersReeling in the Leaders – Orlaith O’Callaghan



Reeling in the Leaders – Orlaith O’Callaghan


I’ve been asked to write a blog post about my Knockadoon experience to date, a task which sounds a lot easier than it actually is. I spent quite a while trying to think of what slant I would take on the blog and decided that an outline of my journey so far would be the best way to fit in most of what I would like to say.

I didn’t own a passport until the age of 15, so needless to say summer holidays abroad were never on the agenda for me. The trip to Knockadoon on the coast of Co.Cork in 2007 was the furthest I had ever been from home and from there it soon became one of the highlights of the year for me. I loved having the chance to spend time with my friends, while meeting new people and making new friendships. I loved the way someone who was a complete stranger at the start of the hour for shop and bank, could feel like a friend for life by the end of it. I loved being away from home for a few short days, and the freedom that came with it.

2010 was a memorable year for a couple of reasons; it was the year that we didn’t get to go to camp which left a huge gap in my summer. There was no pre-camp build up or excitement and there was no post-camp craic, sitting around for hours with my friends talking about our memories and favourite moments. On the other hand, it was the same summer that I was invited to join the leader group, and over 5 and a half years later I’m still grateful everyday that I was given the opportunity to be part of it.

As I walked into to my first meeting as a leader I was told that the best way to get the most from the leader experience is to give all the time you have to getting involved in everything you possibly can, not just in the beginning when it’s new and exciting, but for all the years you’re there. This has been, and continues to be, what motivates me to keep devoting as much as I can to the group.

Despite being invited to join the leader team at the age of 16, I was 18 before I wore the red jumper on camp in 2012. I enjoyed the experience, but at times I was nervous and awkward and overall by the end of the week I felt as though I hadn’t done as much as I had thought I would have. For the first couple of years that I was a leader for Knockadoon Youth Week, I’d leave camp happy that I had been a part of the week, but always feeling as though I had more to give, and unsure what I could do about it. Wanting to be as involved as I possibly could be, I concentrated on helping other leaders with their responsibilities, and gradually became involved in the administrative side of preparations for camp, since making lists and letter writing played more to my strengths than speaking in front of crowds or making people laugh did. I loved being involved in preparing for camp but for a while I felt slightly disappointed that I was not the type of leader who I most admired as a camper, who was fearless about getting up on stage to present an activity, or could spend an entire afternoon casually chatting to a group on the hill.

It took a while for me to realise that having different leadership styles is what makes the KYW leader group so effective. Every leader has something unique to contribute and our diversity is what makes the whole group more approachable to the different personalities of the campers, which I think is what makes the week run as well as it does. While some leaders are best suited to be in the middle of the activities, others are happiest when keeping a homesick child company for the evening. Once I realised this, I settled into my role and became more comfortable with what I could offer. Since I became a leader I have been striving to find ways to give everything that I can to the KYW and it’s campers, both on camp and off camp and in the course of this, I found myself taking on roles that I would never have imagined I could, and gaining skills over the years that I lacked in the beginning.

This takes me up to early 2015. The same leader who had given me the invaluable advice as I walked to my first leader meeting, and had entrusted me with a number responsibilities over the years, asked me to consider taking on the role of Assistant Senior Leader. My immediate reaction was no, mostly because I had a lingering perception of what makes a good leader, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone who feels most comfortable in the background should not be taking on a role like that. It took a lot of thinking, talking and tears for me to come around to the idea. Now, I think that the team consisting of myself, Niggs and Chris gives the KYW a beautiful balance, and the diversity in our leadership styles and experience is appropriately reflective of the wider group as a whole – we each have our strengths and areas that we’re constantly working on, but together we are a very strong team that is dedicated to making sure that the KYW continues to flourish.

I’m one of those people who will rarely cry on the last days of the KYW and that’s partially because I read a quote a few years ago that I’m always thinking about as we’re packing up and moving towards the back field for the buses:

How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.’ – Winnie the Pooh.

I’m incredibly lucky to be part of the KYW and it’s a privilege to be so involved in the planning and running of it, so I’m looking forward to those hard goodbyes in July – it means that the Knockadoon feeling is still as strong as it ever was.

So, I’ve been there and I’ve been back again and again. I spend almost (if not actually) every day thinking about and working towards KYW 2016. I can’t wait to see what this year brings, what challenges I will face and what memories I will walk away with.

See yiz soon.

Le grá,

Do chara,

Orlaith xo