MR. IRELAND: Sunday Night At The Olympia



My nephew is a very good body builder and he invited me to the Mr. Ireland show that he was competing in last Sunday. I’m not all that keen on the display of big muscles, though maybe I’m envious, but I went anyway because I love him. And there I found myself in a big long queue outside the Olympia, easily the oldest and smallest man around.


I've never been inside the Olympia Theatre. Passed it by many times as I drove through Dame Street. It's got a lovely facade and entrance. Old world.

It's been a busy Sunday, a very painful week and I've just come from a christening gathering which was very hard to break away from. A family that I have come to love.  They throw buckets full of love all over me, without ever wanting to possess me. And they talk non stop which means that I don't have to think about talking but end up taking as much as any of them.

The queue for the box office is massive. Massive for me anyway because I don't like standing, waiting in line but I'm in a good enough space within myself now - and this is a first. I love firsts, new experiences. Doors open at 6.30 pm

In front of me is Ryan Dolan who sang for Ireland in the Eurovision a couple of years ago. He looks smaller and more mortal than he does on tv. Nobody notices him and I would like to acknowledge him and tell him that I hope the music is going well but I say nothing. The music is probably not going that well. Ireland is a small country for music artists.

I text Brian, thinking he's inside. They've been at the competition since early morning but the whole place was emptied out so that everyone has to wait in line again. Brian and Jenny are only a little ahead of me so I join them.

We're  here for Dave who's sitting with Grainne on a bench across the road. I go over. He's pleased I came and it's my first time at any of his events. It didn't go as well for him in the morning as he had hoped. Too much water in his system and he couldn't get rid of it. It must inhibit the way the muscles perform. I feel the disappointment in him. He's thinking about his Mum. So am I.

To the right of us a young homeless woman is sitting on the footpath, her back against a building wall. She looks wretched. Brian told me later that Dave went to console the girl because she was crying and later he gave her his hoodie. It's the kind of thing Dave does, Brian said.

I go back to get my ticket and join Brian and Jenny in the upstairs circle which fills to capacity, with a good number standing. It's a quaint old place that reminds me of the theatre in the Muppets. A lot of red.

The MC with the English accent is trying to work us up into form for the most fantastic show ever, inviting us to have our phones set to video on the ready.

What appears on stage is a line of 15 or so tanned young women in skimpy bikinis and impossibly high heeled shoes. They're not the amazons I was expecting, some even looking a bit Miss World-ish. They have 35 seconds to do their routine as a group to thumping music and I'm thinking that, in terms of movement if not in shape, I would do as well as any of them.

The MC calls out the names of six of them who will compete in the final and they leave the stage while the remnant receive a medallion and a sports bag.

The finalists then do a solo routine each and this involves stretching, flexing and pouting their barely covered bums at the audience. At no stage does the crowd reach anything that feels like excitement of any sort, except isolated pockets that rise up for their own particular contestant. People seem quite indifferent. But, to be fair, they've been at this all day.

There are a few different female competitions with most of the contestants coming from Eastern Europe. They literally get bigger and better as time goes on and some of the choreography is impressive as they move to their own choice of music. The music was great.

There was one lady who came first in the highest female level and it was like there was a little girl inside her, jumping out of her skin. Beautiful, just beautiful.

Brian has a very keen eye and was able to predict accurately who would do well and often he knew who would win. It's nice to have this time with him in his own zone. He and Jenny are really at ease with each other.

I can never be anywhere without thinking about God in Himself and I think of Him in relation to all those around me. Do they have a conscious connection with Him, do they even think about him? This is because of my love. I want everyone I love to be noticed, to be given due credit, respected. I want this for God.  And I wonder how He fits in here in all of this. Of course He fits in, He fits in to everybody here in this place.

Everything in this night at the Olympia is working itself up to the men's competitions, in the way that a lot of competition in life honours male physical achievement more than that of women. Physical strength is what everyone seems to want, women included, though I think women have greater strength in the areas that matter most - emotional, mental and spiritual.

The need for spiritual health is not as strongly felt as the others. While I find myself in admiration of the supreme effort put into the making of all these bodies on stage, I find myself praying that they might come to put as much effort into the building up of the soul. That I might put as much effort into my soul as they do into their bodies.

The moment arrives. The reason why we are here. Dave's group are called out on stage - 23 of them - and my heart pounds, I tremble for him, hope for him and pray. Brian's heart is beating faster! 


And then something happened to me, to my vision, my way of seeing – I no longer simply saw the display of muscles, I was no longer observing on the edge. I saw my fine handsome nephew, a young man who has a hard time of it in life, and I was proud of him, rooting for him with my whole being.

Of course I think Dave looks better, is better than anyone else and when his name is included in the final six I let out an uncharacteristic roar. I admire the confidence he displays and his routine includes a movement in honour of his Mum, my sister. 

She died 16 years ago when Dave was 12 and she was in the air between us. The audience didn’t know it but I knew that he was doing this for her and I was filled with tears, the stronges of emotions. Love and loss!


I understood that it was no longer me looking at him with my limited vision but it was Love that looked at him, it was God Himself seeing my nephew through me and I was seeing with the eyes of God. There’s an ordinary way of looking at people and life. And there’s a godly way of looking.



This is what Jesus is doing with the young man in chapter 10 of Mark's Gospel. He looks steadily at him and his gaze is filled with love and truth and it is under this beautiful gaze that the man is offered an opportunity to grow and to advance further on the road of Life – the freedom of the children of God. But, sadly, the man did not accept the opportunity offered because it demanded too much of him.

The journey into the fullness of life is very demanding, in the way that an athlete prepares for competition. Dave gave 16 weeks of rigorous training for last Sunday and I found myself saying that if I put as much effort in building up my soul, then I’d be in great shape altogether. The condition of the soul is infinitely more important than that of the body but we don’t give it the kind of attention necessary for eternal life.

Our question to Jesus is, “what must I do to build up my soul so that I am fit for Life eternal?” and Jesus gives two answers – one is keep the commandments and the second is that you need to do something more than the commandments ask. He looks at you now with love, sees you with loving eyes and says “you need to do one thing more”.

I ask myself the question, what is the one thing, what is the one thing that is blocking my way to fullness of Life, what’s stopping you living the kind of life that Jesus calls you to live?


Alas for Dave he doesn't win or qualify to go on to the world championships and I can see his disappointment, feel it again. He will not pretend, will not wear a fixed smile. To me it's a great achievement but when you put yourself through 16 weeks of intense training and diet, you do it so that you can go further. He can relax for a while now and indulge himself with kindness before he starts getting ready for another challenge.

Two Post Scripts:

I spoke about this experience at a school Mass durin the week and I was told afterwards that the man who won Mr. Ireland is a teacher in the school. Small world!

I spoke of it again at a meeting of young religious who are preparing to be nuns, brothers and priests. Among them was a young man who used to be a body builder who told me he came to feel an emptiness within and was now seeking to fulfill the spiritual part of his inner self.

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