O’Donovan a proudly woke voice for the vulnerable

Social Democrats mayoral hopeful Elisa O'Donovan proudly dons her Limerick colours. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

SOCIAL Democrats’ mayoral candidate for Limerick, Elisa O’Donovan, is proudly woke. When I met up with the sitting councillor on the campaign trail, she greeted me with a big smile, positively beaming after picking up her new election leaflets. She tells me she’s feeling positive about her chances in the mayoral race.

Passionate, capable, hardworking and empathetic, the City West representative wants an inclusive Limerick and tells me that she absolutely opposes any sort of extremism, racism, or transphobia. A fearless voice for minority groups, Cllr O’Donovan makes no apology for standing up for those who need her assistance the most.

“I am very proudly woke. For me, being woke is about championing vulnerable groups who are marginalised and under threat in Limerick. It is about fighting for social justice and that’s something I will always do,” she tells me as we stop for photos along O’Callaghan Strand.

“I am extremely proud that I will standby those vulnerable communities and champion them as much as I can.”

Elisa, who lives on O’Connell Avenue and works as a speech and language therapist, was raised in Cricklewood in London by her Limerick family. The family moved to Rathkeale when she was 16, and she later spent a number of years in Dublin before returning to Limerick — a city she is intensely passionate about.

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“I moved to Limerick about 10 years ago, I moved back home, and I really think one of the things that made me fall in love with Limerick was the river. When I moved back I was like, ‘why is nobody swimming in the river?’ We’ve got a river here, why is no one swimming in it?

Cllr Elisa O’Donovan on the campaign trail for her directly elected mayor bid with Alan Jacques. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

Making a splash

It wasn’t long before she met a group from the Limerick Masters swimming at the slipway by St Michael’s Rowing Club in the city and got to take her first Shannonside dip.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Thomond Swim, but I remember seeing it and thinking, ‘wow, I’d love to be able to do that’ and feeling like there’s no way I’d ever be able to do that — it’s a two-kilometre swim. But I’ve actually done it twice now, which is amazing. I remember it really just made me fall in love with Limerick, just swimming up there and back,” she recalls.

“I think, for me, what it is about Limerick is obviously we’ve got the beautiful river and everything like that, but the fact you can move here, meet a bunch of people, and go swimming with them. The people are just so friendly. I really found when I moved back that people were just so nice.”

In 2017, Elisa established Swimable Limerick, an initiative to promote social swimming in the city. She loves running and cycling and can be found most Saturday morning’s at the Mungret parkrun, swimming at Kilteery Pier, or jogging along the Limerick Greenway in Ardagh.

“I have definitely had very difficult periods in my life and I definitely find that exercise, cold water, just for me mentally, have always been so important,” she says.

“You can’t come out of that water and feel bad about yourself. I often have negative thoughts. I put myself down. That is something as a millennial I think I am just preconditioned to.”

The toxicity of social media doesn’t help, and this, Elisa believes, is something that has only gotten worse as the election approaches.

“There has been a shift in this election and it is across every single social media. You are being targeted on email. People are just coming and going into my website. It is gone up another level,” she shares.

“I don’t know whether it is because I am running for mayor now, but it has gone up. It is very targeted and it is very misogynistic and very sexist. You have to be very mentally strong. You will often see me running. I do a lot of running,” she admits with a telling laugh.

Social Democrats Councillor and mayoral hopeful Elisa O’Donovan with Limerick Post reporter Alan Jacques. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

Worldly experience brought back home

Cllr O’Donovan has a strong English accent, with a touch of West Limerick thrown into the mix for good measure. During our conversation, I get the sense that her accent is something she often feels the need to apologise for.

“It comes up so often,” she says. “I am from Limerick and I am Irish, but unfortunately sometimes people bring it up, mainly online.

“I grew up in Cricklewood in North West London. It was a very Irish part of London, not so much anymore. So, obviously, that’s where my accent comes from. My dad is originally from Shanagolden. He’s from a very large family. They all still live out around West Limerick. My mum is from Longford.”

Elisa is the youngest of five, and moved back to Limerick at the age of 16. Her brother Jim played football at county level for Limerick.

“People are like,‘she’s not from Limerick’, ‘she’s not Irish’, but my brother literally played at county level senior football,” she points out.

Cllr O’Donovan says that being elected a councillor five years ago is still the greatest honour she’s had in her life. Having lived abroad and in different places, Elisa reckons, adds firmly to her voice in council.

Social Democrats Councillor and mayoral hopeful Elisa O’Donovan. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

“Living in different places has given me a great experience. I would never have regretted growing up in London. My parents were forced to emigrate back in that time and I think it has given me a different perspective in life, having grown up in such a multicultural environment. I loved going to college up in Dublin, which, once again, was a great experience which shaped who I am today,” she tells me.

“I think that is a healthy thing. I think you can come back then with all your experiences, your knowledge by seeing how things are done well in other places, or not done well.”

“But at the end of the day, I work every day with Limerick people. My day job is as a speech and language therapist and I just fell in love with the actual people of Limerick.

“Even the people I represent in Limerick City West. They are so respectful. They are so nice, and I think that is what has kept me in Limerick – the people. I love going to work every day.”