“Paul O’Connell Made Me Feel Like It Was Okay To Be Ginger”
SELF-CONFESSED ginger Killian Dermody speaks of Paul O’Connell’s legacy to the ginger people of Ireland after the rugby legend’s announcement that he is to retire.
I was, for much of my life, a ginger hater, which was made all the more complicated by being a raging ginger myself. I couldn’t help it.
Cutting edge medical technology couldn’t catch up quick enough. They had developed a liquid you could buy and apply to your hair, but even today as ginger hating Ireland stocks these medicines on their shelves, they’re only good for a few weeks. The ginger gene is too strong, it fights back and turns whatever blonde, brown or black hair formula had been used to keep your secret back into vibrant red, strawberry blonde…whatever way you spin it, it’s ginger.
Then, fate intervened. As a teenager, in my most impressionable years, a great hulking behemoth emerged on the horizon, his name: Paul Aloysius Ferdinand O’Connell.
To others his fiery red mane said nothing, to me it had grown some sort of mouth, bizarre I know, but for me, a ginger child growing up in an Ireland that refused to treasure its gingers, I needed every Paul O’Connell hair utterance I could get. Each time he appeared on TV playing rugby I was transfixed.
His hair spoke in much the same way he spoke, and it said ‘Killian, you know, being ginger is actually alright like’. I ate up every word while ignoring the more troubling facts relating to visions of an Irish rugby player’s hair communicating with me.
As he excelled as a player and leader in the great Munster sides that grabbed success by the ginger pubes, I myself became emboldened. I ventured out of my house more regularly, and occasionally stopped covering up my hair with the usual eight hats. Slowly, but surely, I was accepting my gingerness and embracing it until tragedy struck.
Paul shaved his head. Paul shaved his fucking head.
He had abandoned his gingerness, and as a result abandoned me. Whose fiery locks would I talk to now? I was so incensed I began cutting off locks of my hair and over weeks I put together a ginger wig and sent it in the post to Paul with the message ‘wear me you ginger denier’ but wear it he did not.
I was back hitting the peroxide blonde bottles pretty hard, 15 more trips to the doctor resulted in 15 more ‘there’s no cure’ diagnoses, and the inept GP was more interested in talking about the conversations I was having with other people’s hair. During these dark times, one small but important detail eluded me: Paul O’Connell was still rugbying the shite out of everyone, ginger mane or not. Irish rugby success was his. A shaved headed hero.
Then, at last, it finally dawned on me. Paul’s gingerness wasn’t just in his ginger locks, it was in him this whole time. And so, it must be in me too. It’s in my pale skin, my freckles, even in my forest of ginger bum fluff hair. Cut me and I bleed ginger. Cut me and I proudly bleed ginger. Without Paul, these feelings would never have been possible.
You know, I met him once, well, I saw him from across the road, at least I think it was him, my eyesight isn’t the best. But, we did lock eyes, I’m sure of that, and the look said it all, with only his eyes he said ‘you’re a ginger? I’m a ginger too’.
Thank you Paul, thank you.