Family & Parenting

Leona O'Neill: I have shared everything with you for 19 years - but now it's goodbye

For her final Irish News column, Leona O'Neill looks back over almost 19 years of chronicling her family life, her own life, and life here in the north, through good times and bad, while receiving all shades of correspondence from readers...

Leona O'Neill is signing off as an Irish News columnist


THIS will be my last Irish News column after almost 19 years. I started writing this column when my middle son was just 10 days old. It's fitting that I'm sitting here writing it – as always, on a Sunday morning, before the house wakes up – and this afternoon we will deliver him to university. This column has existed alongside him for his entire life, marking almost everything. Something he can talk about over a pint in the Student's Union, I'm sure.

This column was positioned in the Parenting section and then the Life section of this paper, and it reflected both for me. When my kids were little, I charted their journey and mine, wrestling with new motherhood, the terrible twos, the tween years and life in our home.

The births of three of my children were marked here: the eldest boy missed out on that, but had birthdays and milestones, occasions happy and sad, recorded here forever. Our lives were on these pages, for all to see, for all to discuss, for all to pick apart, praise and criticise.

I have shared everything with you readers.

I wrote this column sitting by my father's hospital bed as he fought cancer. In the hospice, while he slept. I wrote about his passing on these pages and got so many letters of support that I still have in a drawer upstairs.

I was never anything but honest, even when it contorted my stomach into knots waiting for the paper to come out. On mental health awareness day a good few years back, I wrote about having anxiety and panic attacks, having never spoken about it to anyone, ever.

I knew it would make folks look at me differently, but also might make others feel less alone. I wrote about my son's dyslexia. The passing of loved ones over the years. Milestones. Disasters. The good and the bad.

Leona O'Neill and family

Read more:

Leona O'Neill: Let's hold politicians accountable and improve our children's future

Leona O'Neill: Let's make the north somewhere our kids want to return to


A few years back, I stopped writing about my children and turned my focus to life and society around me, the world outside my windows. The fact that my picture byline features our family and my children from 10 years ago is because of harassment that I suffered as a journalist and wanting to keep their faces private and them safe. I spoke about all of that too, here, garnering as much abuse as support when it was picked over on social media or in comment sections.

The first time I admitted I was navigating PTSD after the murder of journalist Lyra McKee and subsequent harassment was on these pages. It was almost therapeutic to admit publicly after masking for so long. I knew people would think of me differently once those words were committed to print, immortalised, but my fears were counter-balanced with messages and letters from those who cheered my courage.

Graffiti about Leona, painted on a wall in Derry. Picture: Leona O'Neill/ Twitter

I have often spoken about Northern Ireland and its quirks, encouraging people to see things from others' perspective, to try things a different way, to lean into the good and positive.

This column has started epic social media rows over everything from civil rights to Korean pop stars. I remember writing a column calling out Justin Bieber and being hounded by irate Beliebers the world over for weeks.

I've tried to encourage a different perspective on bonfires, flags and commemorations and endured mammoth pile-ons, even threats of violence, as a result.

I once wrote a column about a Korean pop group that caught the attention of global K-Poppers, who reported myself and former deputy first minister Mark Durkan – I genuinely don't know how he got sucked into that particular insane abyss – to the Met Police for being "Irish terror leaders".


Online trolls have had plenty to say about Leona's writing


I've connected with so many people through this column who wrote me the most beautiful letters of support and encouragement. I've kept them all. I've also connected with people who weren't huge fans.

I've been posted all kinds of religious paraphernalia over the years, booklets about 'Christian sex', instructions on being 'saved' and a Fifty Shades of Grey teddy, which wasn't creepy at all. A woman once took the time to cut out my picture byline from several weeks' papers. The postman handed me the envelope at my car, and dozens of 'little mes' floated up my street as I opened it and read her note saying she was "so sick of looking at my f***ing face!".

Life is full of ups and downs, and so was this column. It was an honour to connect with every single one of you over these 18 years, even those who didn't agree with my words or thoughts. And they were only ever those.

My heart was on these pages, sometimes full, sometimes broken, always just me. So, thank-you. Take good care of yourselves and each other.

Goodbye and see you around, friends.



Family & Parenting