Agony brings hope

Magazine+ agony aunt Maura O’Neill reveals how she rebuilt her life after loss in a powerful new book

Maura has written a memoir about the tragic loss of her beloved family

When I was offered the Agony Aunt column in the Sunday World my first question was could I use my own life as a manual for responding to readers’ problems. The answer was a resounding ‘yes’ and since 1999 I have been writing replies sharing my own experiences as support.

I was a contributor for the Gerry Ryan Show on 2FM and I had been offered the job of reporter when the show was broadcast from Capetown, South Africa, sponsored by this newspaper. On return I was offered the role of Agony Aunt.

During my time on radio, I was often asked to open up about my family’s tragic accident when I lost both my parents and two of my brothers, Sean aged 23 and Noel, aged 16. There was never a time I felt comfortable enough to talk about the 2nd of January 1984 when a tree fell on their car during a storm outside Arklow town. We had been celebrating the New Year in North Wexford where my mother grew up. I had often thought about writing a book to help me make some sense of this loss but discovered that I hadn’t yet healed or worked through my grief to even begin to describe that time.

My determination to live life to the full, to honour my parents and brothers who died, brought me into a challenging and exciting career in radio. First, in pirate stations, then independent radio FM 104, later to 2FM and Radio 1. I covered a broad range of roles in RTE from fill-in presenter for Gerry Ryan and Marian Finucane, to reporter on Five Seven Live. I also had a very rewarding career as a secondary teacher.

Meanwhile, my personal life brought me other challenges: divorce, single parenthood when my baby, Kate, was three months old, taking a chance on marriage for the second time, building a house and focusing on making a home.

Some years after the loss of my family I found the courage to talk through the trauma and found my voice to write about those years and I found the strength to write my memoir ‘Leaving To Go Home’.

I wanted to give my daughter, Kate, an account of the accident, to help her understand that difficult time in my life, to give her an insight into how wonderful her granny and grandad, Uncles Sean and Noel were. The book is all about holding memories for the generations to come.

What have I learned? Even if you’re struggling keep moving forward and always look for support.

  • ‘Leaving To Go Home’ is available at

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