Agreeing to interview Thomas Monaghan, I didn’t really know what to expect, having an image of him as this mad Mayo fella from UCD Students’ Union (SU). We began in the most clichéd ‘Thomas Monaghan’ way, starting the Zoom call with him sitting on the windowsill, smoking and staring off into the distance. He turns away from the greenery outside and says: “Howya Conor!”

Monaghan served as Entertainments (Ents) Officer this year with the SU but has been a long-time veteran of the organisation. Five years on and he’s finally ready to move on from SU antics. I interviewed the man to get his thoughts on his sesh-driven time at Belfield.

The Good Bits

Monaghan says “getting to work with students” has been his highlight at the SU. “The best part about the job is the amount of people that you get to meet. You get to see how students engage in university life and what they get out of it.”

He has enjoyed getting to know the Sabbatical teams over the last five years. Highlights for Monaghan include: the SU’s charity skydive which raised €100,000 for YSPI, and the 24-hour ice cream world record attempt which he describes as his “baby” that he “worked his fuckin’ hole off for”. He says that when Coppers finished in the early hours of the morning, around forty people showed up for ice-cream. “One of them was falling asleep and his ice-cream fell on his foot,” Monaghan joked. “It was hilarious! He was an Ag.”

Monaghan looks back fondly on SU events such as ‘Hell and Back’, Orientation Week, Boots and Cats. He also says Christmas Day in 2019 surpassed his expectations. Interestingly, Monaghan says he “got a lot of students coming to [him] throughout the year looking for help planning their social lives.” Looks like the Ents Officer was in demand in UCD.

“One of the highlights of the year, and one that I’ve seen a lot of progress on, is the DJ Lessons.” Monaghan counts this as one of his proudest achievements this year. “This just started out as a couple of people from Ents, MusicSoc and Mechanical Engineering Soc, in a room, playing tunes, drinking cans, on the decks. It turned into a club of about 50 people strong, all interested in the music industry and DJing. From there it just got stronger every week. We DJed society balls, course balls and we also sold out a night in the Wiley Fox as well. That went down as an absolute treat and the lads made a bitta money off that, so fair play to them. It was great to be able to support them because it’s sorely needed for a DJ Society in UCD.”

The Tough Bits

I ask Monaghan about the more difficult elements of representing UCD students. “It comes with its highs and lows,” he says. “The internal relationships in the office can be difficult.”

He says in his first three years with the SU, he was a “rogue Class Rep, talking shite in council.” Monaghan tells me that as the years went on, “I definitely matured an awful lot.”

He says a tough element of the job was shooting down ideas that “just aren’t feasible”. He used the example of a concert, where the plan would be to hold it in the Quad or the sports pitches. He says, in theory, the idea is fantastic, but the reality reflects an immense amount of planning and work such as ticketing, security, building a stage, etc. Monaghan admits “saying no” to these kinds of things was hard, as they can sound great on paper, but the implementation is much more difficult.

He says “The Freshers Ball didn’t go well” which he attributes to holding it so close to Boots and Cats during Orientation Week. In hindsight, he thinks these should have been combined into one event.

Twerking On Tables

I ask Monaghan if he had any crazy stories from his time in the SU. He paused, laughed to himself and says: “Jesus, I can’t say that.” He explains that Class Rep training can get “pretty intimate.” He tells me that they’ve had past SU Presidents twerking on tables, but he wouldn’t let slip which one it was.

Then Coronavirus “Fucked Everything Up Royally”

I ask the Mayo man if he achieved everything he wanted to this year. “No. Absolutely not!” He explained that the COVID-19 pandemic “fucked everything up royally for everybody across the world.” Monaghan is the first to serve in the new Ents position established this year. Monaghan believed his role this year was really about “setting down the basics” for the new Ents role and “doing it right”.

“In terms of the entire year, did I get everything I wanted to do done? No. But I do feel like I did lay the foundations and the basics for the next Ents Officer.” He cites the Entstagram as one of the biggest successes, following the removal of the ‘Ents’ brand several years ago. Monaghan feels that bringing back this brand was important because “there’s certain people who won’t go to an ‘SU’ event because its an ‘SU’ event. But there are people who would go to an ‘Ents’ event.”

Monaghan is disappointed with some plans that couldn’t go ahead. He had a number of events planned such as a Food Fair and a Campus Colour Run, but due to the pandemic they were cancelled.

Engaging the People

He sees social media as a key player in engagement levels in students today. “If you think back to 10 and even 15 years ago, student activism and events were at a massive high. You look at the Old Bar in UCD – everyone who I’ve talked to said the Old Bar was unbelievable. […] If you look at the UCD Ball in its heyday – unbelievable. I think with the rise of social media and more people being online that definitely affects how you can get word out to people.”

Monaghan explains that 15 years ago, “everything was done by word of mouth” and “physical materials”. He says the “excitement” that comes from this method has been lost with the popularisation of social media. “As the whole online world has gotten more prominent, it gets harder to get the word out to people […] and to get them enthusiastic about it. I’ll tell ya this much Conor, nothing beats face to face interaction.”

Monaghan had difficulty getting students to pay attention online in the first place. “You’ve got a lot of people that don’t give a fuck about the Students’ Union!” he exclaims. “To be honest with you, sometimes I don’t blame them, because that’s not the type of people they are.” Monaghan says the various cohorts of students have grown in recent years, splitting social circles. “With that expansion of different types of people coming in, I think you lose your ability to get your message across.”

“If I try and promote an event online, if you’re scrolling through your phone, you are inundated with information off your phone. You don’t really take anything in. It’s post after post with all of these people that want you to conform to what they’re doing. But if you went out and made ten lecture addresses in three days, you would get easily 2,000 people knowing exactly what you’re talking about, how exciting it is, what you get out of it. Like, if I go up and make a lecture address and say ‘Oh my God lads! Fucking Eminem is coming to play UCD Ball. It’s gonna be fucking savage! Tickets are only forty quid, like.’ People are like: ‘Holy shit!’” Monaghan emphasises that moving stuff online loses excitement and anticipation, and results in lower turnouts for social events.

Defending Murphy

Monaghan makes a point of defending former SU President Barry Murphy, who served as a Sabbatical Officer between 2017 and 2019. Murphy took over following the short-lived Presidency of Katie Ascough, who was impeached in October 2017 following a scandal surrounding the removal of abortion information from the ‘Winging It’ Freshers guidebook.

“I feel like [he] got so much abuse he didn’t deserve. I know he was the SU President, but Barry was a good fuckin’ guy who got way too much shit. I have to say, even at the start, I always thought Barry was maybe a bit out of touch, he was a bit Leo Varadkar-y, he said the right things at the right time, maybe threw in the odd reference from Lord of the Rings now and then. But I felt like Barry got too much shit. Especially off of some of the Sabbats this year as well, who made some very audacious claims about him. I think Barry was a very good guy who did his best, represented the Union very well, but people wanted to tear into him. Especially with the likes of UCD Rants. […] He was an excellent representative. He got a lot of shit that he didn’t deserve. It’s very easy in politics for somebody from the outside to criticise, but Barry did a very, very good job. Some of the claims that certain people made about him were completely untrue, unfair and not reflective of his personality at all.”

Monaghan’s Favourites

The former Ents Officer describes full-time staff members Dee, Katherine and Dave as “the backbone” of the Union. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I’d have enjoyed this year. The rest of the staff are great as well but [they] were so supportive. There were points during the year where I was low – I got really hurt at one point during the year – and they were there for me and looked out for me.”

“Tongue & Cheek”

In April 2019, Monaghan came under fire for some heated exchanges with a popular Facebook Page ‘UCD Rants’. In response to their criticisms of his 24-hour ice cream world record attempt, which raised €3,200 for charity, Monaghan commented: “Hey UCD Rants, why don’t you call in to the SU next week? I heard they give out free tampons at reception.” A number of students condemned Monaghan for “sexist” comments, but he still stands by his statements as a joke.

He has gripes with how politically correct the SU has become. “I felt like sometimes people from the outside look at people who run for the SU and think ‘oh they’re so political.’” Monaghan feels he has always been “that outsider who wasn’t the massive political activist head, who could relate more to students. I was a bit tongue and cheek. I wasn’t the most PC Sabbat, but I don’t regret it.”

A New Challenger Approaches

Talking about the most pressing issues facing next year’s Ents Officer Sarah Michalek, also Monaghan’s girlfriend, he says the pandemic restrictions will be a big task to overcome. He remains optimistic, saying: “whenever there is a restriction like this, there’s going to be an opportunity as well.” He explains how the restrictions may give way for new events for the Union that haven’t been attempted before, such as self-defence classes. He sees potential for Michalek to develop smaller style events that will “shake up” the role and lay the foundations for a different style of Ents to break through in future years.

“A Man Of The People”

I ask Monaghan what he wants to be remembered for in the SU. He promptly responds, “a man of the people!” He says he’s been “very good at connecting with people that don’t connect with the SU. I want to be remembered as the Sabbat who was very relatable, who could relate to the average college student. I didn’t give too much of a fuck about anything, I was quite laid back.”

After five years of bumping into Monaghan way too much at the Clubhouse, he’s finally moved on… kind of. The Ents veteran has landed a summer job with Arctic Stone, who he collaborated with on the SU’s 24-hour ice cream world record attempt. I met up with the man for a photograph once we were both in Dublin. The ice cream rolls (pictured) he made for me were pretty sweet – although surely that counts as some kind of bribery? Ah who cares, they were tasty.

In September he’ll return to UCD’s Smurfit campus to take a swing at a Masters in Marketing. “So, I’m around for another year,” Monaghan jokes. “But I can fuckin guarantee ya, I won’t be running for Class Rep!”

Conor Capplis – News Editor