“DEPRESSION is not a sign of weakness - for me it was trying to be strong for too long.”
Rapper, martial artist, documentary star, and now a proud new father, Kieran O’Loughlin, aka ‘Wally’ understands only too well the pressure of trying to maintain a public image. The 31-year-old Portlaoise man has become something of a local celebrity, wowing audiences with vibrant live performances of his self-penned rap music and releasing an album, 2009’s ‘So Now They Know Me’, which garnered great buzz from music aficionados and even drew a three-star review from Hot Press.
Not bad for someone who admits he fell into the industry almost by accident.
“I started off six years ago writing poetry - Rap means ‘rhythm and poetry’,” he explains. “I was messing on an instrumental and I rapped to one of my poems. I never had a serious intention.”
Kieran recorded his demo album in Red Lake Studios in Portlaoise, where he got free studio time from his friend, Gary Duncan.
“Gary saw what others didn’t, he saw my potential. He gave me free studio time and time to adapt, he showed me the ropes and has always been there.”
Now producing himself, having acquired the know-how over the last few years, Kieran has also taught himself the keyboard and is working on a new album.
But behind this apparent success story was a much bleaker reality. By his own admission, Kieran says he was living a lie for some nine years, battling with depression and suicidal tendencies. The nadir of this black period came when Kieran came close to taking his own life in 2009, but thankfully he sought help and is now able to reflect more positively on this difficult time.
“When the story came out first it was a shock to everyone. I lived a lie for nine years, it was a smile behind the tears. Music was a front, it was my alter-ego,” he says. “I grew up in a housing estate and it was all about presenting ego. There was a lot of anger and frustration in me.”
He has always been very frank in his accounts of growing up on Hungry Hill in Portlaoise, particularly in regards to his relationship with his father.
“Growing up I was chastised and a lot of my rebellious activities stem from that,” he says. “Growing up, you challenge life.”
Happily, his relationship with his father has now improved, as “old age changes everyone and you accept life for what it is.”
Possibly the biggest change in Kieran’s life has been the birth of his son, Kieran Jnr. The four-month-old baby boy is clearly the apple of his father’s eye.
“He’s the best creation I’ve ever created, no music will ever compare. It grounds you, helps you understand the simplicity of life.”
Kieran’s remarkable story has recently been enshrined in a new documentary by local radio presenter Ann-Marie Kelly. ‘Wally’ is a no-holds barred account of Kieran’s struggle to overcome his depression and it received a standing ovation when it debuted at the Dunamaise Arts Centre.
While some might feel that to dwell on such a dark period in one’s life may keep it alive, Kieran believes it’s important to reflect on such “a learning curve”.
“It’s who I was and it’s good to see how far I’ve come.”
The film is now being used as part of the ‘Hear Me See Me’ initiative aimed at raising awareness of mental health issues among young people, a programme which teaches students all aspects of production of radio, music and filmmaking. The first event took place recently in Portlaoise, but plans are now afoot to take the project nationwide.
The importance of music in expressing one’s emotions is something Kieran is understandably passionate about.
“When words fail, music speaks,” he enthuses. “I didn’t have that avenue growing up. I asked the kids, ‘what’s mental health?’ and there’s still a stigma. I’m trying to kill that stigma.”
Although he is in a much better headspace these days, he acknowledges that his depression could be something he may have to deal with for the rest of his life. He is candid in his admissions that there are still days where he shuts himself away from the rest of the world and doesn’t want to know anyone. Diet is important in overcoming these feelings - “You are what you eat,” he says - and these days Wally eats healthily and stays active.
“Anyone in a dark place, remember - it’s only a stage.”
If anyone has any experience of depression or they feel that they need some guidance with problems in their life, they can contact Kieran at wallyoloughlin.com suicide awareness on Facebook.