Participation is Kellie’s Game!

September 27, 2021

Kellie Harrington with drama teacher Anthony Ferns at Kellie’s World Championships Gold Medal homecoming 2018

Author: Anthony Ferns 

Drama & ESL Teacher

Youthreach CDETB

North Great Georges St & Pleasants’ St.

In 2007 while a student in City of Dublin ETB Youthreach, North Great George’s St (NGGS), Dublin 1, Kellie Harrington wrote a story titled “Boxing in Germany” which was published in the book “Writing on the Wall” by Br. Martin Byrne. The opening sentence in her story reads, “I was aged 14 when me and some of my friends wanted to join a boxing club.” After some initial challenges Kellie found herself on the lady’s squad and involved with the National Boxing Training Camp.

Her story recounts boxing in the National Stadium, Fermoy, and a tournament in Germany.

Kellie was inspired by Katie Taylor but has gone on to forge her own amazing destiny in the ring. She recalled a tournament in Dungarvan against a strong British team. Like in any sport, defeat was tasted but such experiences certainly did not deter Kellie from her ambition of representing Ireland proudly in the boxing ring.

As a young student in Youthreach Kellie had the focus to pursue her sport and the self-confidence to place her dream out in the public forum.

Pat Deery coordinator Youthreach NGGS, describes Kellie as being like other students who had issues to overcome. She loved activities like outdoor pursuits, working in the kitchen, drama, and sports. Through innovative enterprises like these she began to develop discipline and a caring attitude.

Pat recalls on one occasion how Kellie discovered an injured fledgling bird in the centre garden as she walked into the building  one morning. She would not rest until the bird was put in a cardboard box and looked after with food and water for the day. Before going home, she released the bird, and it flew back into its habitat: cured! This was Kellie being her organic best.

Work Experience coordinator Gaye Naughton recounts how Kellie participated on a work placement in a gym/boxing club while studying with Youthreach NGGS. Her commitment and dedication to the discipline of boxing earned her a nomination by the North Great Georges St Youthreach staff and she was awarded a Niall Smyth Memorial Bursary by CDETB Sports and Cultural Council.

Former Youthreach teacher Patricia Winders illustrates how she brought a group of 10 students sailing in Dun Laoghaire each year. She continues ‘Kellie always came and did everything that was asked of her. She also encouraged others that were a little nervous. Good memories!’

Retired communications teacher Phil Tracy remembers much of Kellie’s sporting ambitions. She describes how “She was a bright, intelligent and determined young lady, absolutely fully committed to her daily training regime. She is a wonderful role model for young people, and I look forward to her realising her Olympian ambitions [And she has!!]. I’ve no doubt she’ll succeed, and I wish her every success. We’re all very proud of her”.

Catering instructor Eddie Daly insists Kellie was always focused on what she wanted, full of life, spirited with no fear. Never one to back down in a discussion, you sensed she was going places. She had beautiful handwriting. She always enjoyed a sing song! It had to be an Irish song!

Kellie to this day talks about cooking meatballs/pasta and cream sponge for dessert with Eddie. She has an open invitation from Eddie now that she’s back from Japan to sample these delights again.

As Eddie indicated above Kellie was one never to back down. Outdoor Pursuits teacher Eoin Browne found out this to his detriment! One day out in early May 2008 Kellie insisted that Eoin bring the class for a swim in the sea, He told her it was too cold, and nobody would get in. Kellie was adamant that she would go for a dip regardless of the cold. They made a deal and agreed to do a walk at the seafront in Bray. When they were finished walking, like Houdini – Kellie smiled and pulled out a wetsuit hidden in her rucksack!  Eoin knew he’d been outmanoeuvred and would be going for his first sea swim of the season in the cold and uninviting Irish sea!!!

Kellie’s Personal Effectiveness teacher Una Gildea admired her great drive and enthusiasm for everything she participated in. Except for Eddie above and Anthony later in this article Una claims it may not be widely known that she also has a great singing voice, and she fondly remembers Kellie singing the Green Fields of France for the class.

Boxing was very much her salvation. Speaking on The Ryan Tubridy Show, the Dubliner freely admitted that she was a brat as a youngster.

Her Drama teacher Anthony Ferns refused to agree with Kellie’s own self-assertion but described her as a likable tear away with traits of goodness attached to her.

He says he loves to chat to students about their pastimes and their interests. Chatting to teenagers like this is a way of getting to know them and giving them confidence and pride in what they are doing.

Kellie was quick to talk about boxing. Anthony’s passion besides drama is sport and boxing being one of them. He says ‘we spoke a lot about Katie Taylor and how good she was as an amateur. Kellie was sick of me talking about Katie, Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlon, etc’.  Now he talks to new students about Kellie Harrington!! Anthony values the Ben Tuckman’s model of learning – Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing. The foundations of this strategy are in progress here.

During her time in Youthreach NGGS the drama teacher recognised her performance talents. Her willingness to participate and take on rolls were no bother to her. He explains ‘I remember giving her a short script excerpt from EastEnders to rehearse and perform with another student. After about 10 minutes of practice, they came back and delivered their presentation perfectly. Kellie had the perfect Eastenders accent. The rest of the class fell around the place laughing as the teacher did too.

Anthony was quick to agree with Una and Eddies assertions that Kellie had a talent for singing Irish folk songs. After Kellie performing the famous song “The Wild Colonial Boy” in class one day, he decided to enter her into the City of Dublin ETB traditional Irish music, song, and dance competition. Kellie wooed the audience with the most riveting version of the Wild Colonial Boy beating all the other participants from CDETB centres’, Secondary schools, and PLCs to 1st place and gold!

However, Mr. Ferns is convinced its Kellie’s Zen like dedication to whatever she takes up results in her high achievements. He has seen her up close participating in acting and singing. She could master both disciplines if she were to focus on them.  Her former teacher declares that she’s coming across very strong in her media interviews, she certainly has an option of high-profile work in sports media and even politics, not withstanding the option she may have to go professional or stick with amateur boxing with the next Olympics only three years away.

In Anthony’s chat with her dad, he suggests that ‘Youthreach was the making of Kellie’. She began to gain confidence in achieving results in modules like cooking, IT, Art, and Outdoor Pursuits, Communications, etc.

Former resource teacher and catering instructor Elisabeth Fitzgerald reminds us of her academic achievements also. Kellie went on to gain her Junior Certificate in NGGS Youthreach before progressing to the Leaving Cert Applied at the City of Dublin ETB Youthreach Transition Centre for older teenagers.

Elisabeth describes one of the many talents Kellie displayed was her ability to negotiate, so teachers found a way for her to do the work yet not be totally pinned down. This meant she was able to attend to her boxing training. In Elisabeth’s case it was teaching Kellie to make cakes/scones to bring home to her Ma. She highlight’s that Kellie was a great asset to the centre. She was always friendly, respectful, and welcoming to newcomers, including visitors and could hold a conversation with the best of them, a skill Elisabeth observes Kellie has not lost. She continues “no matter what pursuit was offered, Kellie was first to put herself forward, encouraging others to do the same. Kellie loved night walks which included batt observations”.

Elisabeth was moved by Kellie and her teammate Brendan Irvine carrying the Irish flag and leading IRELAND’S Olympic team, who won widely acclaimed praise upon entering the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo at the opening ceremony after making a respectful gesture during the Parade of Nations. Elizabeth noted “WOW” – “these are Kellie’s respectable ways”.

During her time in the Youthreach Transition Centre in Parnell Square her keyworker and sports coach Noel White acknowledged that Kellie was the first female to be accepted onto their sports programme. Furthermore, Noel recognised after seeing Kellie’s progress on the course, other girls were encouraged to apply for the programme. The uptake was positive and has continued. Kellie unknowingly broke the ground for others. Noel synopsised Kellie as “being honest, she speaks the truth, puts the effort in, and the Olympics culminates in her reward. She kept going in boxing even when she had doubts”.  The centre is very proud of her success.

Joan Burke coached Kellie in swimming, water safety, health related fitness, outdoor education, and personal effectiveness. Joan recalls that Kellie went on to work with St. Vincent’s Hospital in Fairview not long after the Transition Centre. Kellie organised clothes collections for the homeless while working there. Joan shared Kellie’s posts and managed to collect a substantial amount of clothes for the homeless for Kellie. Joan continues ‘Kellie has the heart and spirit of a true warrior’. This was displayed by Kellie in her determination all through the Olympics

If we were to count the amount of medals Kellie won on all her sports days in her time with both Youthreach centres, beating all before her, it would be a record. Even North Great Georges Street administrator Ger Lawless at the time observed this success in the financial department! He says the more medals that are won by a student from a centre the bigger the bill, as they must pay for them. Kellie was the main benefactor! Now we know it was worth it!!!

However, he noticed her love of sport anytime she was in the office. As a keen sports person Ger appreciated her competitive streak and positivity knowing that she would go far after her annual sports day’s exploits!

Elizabeth reckons that Kellie is a winner no matter what happened, but in bringing home GOLD is literally the icing on the cake.

Kellie is the pride of Youthreach, Portland Row and the Nation. She is a role model in involvement, giving maximum effort and not giving up when it’s easier to do so.

In conclusion the moral of this story is ‘Participation is the name of Kellie’s game’, but inclusion of others being the normal part of her being.

Like Kellie outwitting Eoin earlier in this article, Kellie and her coaches outfoxed her opponent for gold in the final using universal tactics. She had already performed this trick in the semi-final. Besides learning from her coaches, Kellie had learned transferable skills from her many experiences in life – the reward for participation. These are often described as soft skills in Education, but the knowledge achieved can reap huge rewards as just proven by Kellie.

Lastly, in the words of retiring coordinator Pat Deery “if Youthreach and its staff have only contributed 1% to Kellie’s success, it’s something we are very happy to be associated with and proud of”.

What a way for Pat to retire with a former student bringing home GOLD from the Olympic games – It doesn’t get better than that! All Pat’s colleagues in Youthreach and CDETB wish him a very happy retirement.

Also, we wish Bernadette Reilly: Regional Youthreach Coordinator CDETB all the best on her retirement this summer as well.

 North Great Georges St Youthreach CDETB management, staff, students past and present as well as the Transition Centre CDETB staff are very proud of Kellie’s achievements and wish her every success in her future endeavours.


Youthreach is an ETB nationwide programme with over a hundred centres across the country, City of Dublin ETB run 9 centres across Dublin responding to the needs of young people aged 16-20 who have left school early without completing their formal education


Eoin Browne – Outdoor Pursuits Teacher:

“Kellie was regular on all outdoor education trips when she was a student in Youthreach North Great Great Georges Street

Outdoor education brought students out of the city to climb mountains and explore the rivers and the coast around Dublin.

Kellie enjoyed the freedom, sense of discovery and friendship that typified these mini adventures”.

Bernadette Reilly: Regional Youthreach Coordinator CDETB and Kellie Harrington at Dublin North Inner-City Awards/Forum night 2017

Go back