Alumni Spotlight

Alison Donnelly - Rugby Coach & Deputy Spokesperson to the British PM

21 Aug
Alison Donnelly

Ali Donnelly is heavily involved in rugby as a coach and advocate and runs the award winning women's rugby website www.ScrumQueens.com. She is the Deputy Spokesperson to the British Prime Minister, Theresa May and runs the Downing Street Press Office. She began her career as a journalist for the Evening Echo in Cork, and has also worked for the BBC and HM Treasury.

Course/subjects studied in University College Cork

BSC Government (then called Government and Public Policy)

Best memory of UCC


I grew up in Cork and so I was incredibly proud to be a UCC student. Where I grew up, hardly anybody went to college and so getting my UCC ID card on the first day is something I have never forgotten. It really meant something. 
Undoubtedly though, my fondest memories relate to the fantastic friends I made - especially in the rugby and soccer team. I captained and later coached the UCC women's rugby team and made friends for life. It has been fantastic to see some of my former teammates go on and play for Ireland - including at the ongoing World Cup. 
I was also very lucky to live overseas for part of my third year. I desperately wanted to go and play rugby in New Zealand and managed to persuade the powers that be that although it was a slightly odd choice for my internship (Brussels, London and New York were much more the norm), that it would be good for me and it was. Moving to the other side of the world at 19 was an eye opener, especially as I lived at home for much of my studies. It was a fantastic experience to be thrown into the world of work and fend for myself, although it was harsh enough on Fiona Buckley, who had to check in with my employers probably at ridiculous hours given the time difference!
I've gone back to New Zealand numerous times since as a tourist, having made some wonderful friends there during my time as an intern. It's a stunning place.

How has your time at UCC helped you to get to where you are now?

My course, and what it taught me, certainly made me much more confident and gave me a lot of belief about my own abilities - even if I probably didn't take it as seriously as I should have (I was very busy having fun!) 
My degree subject is also exactly the right base for the job I am doing now and the grounding it gave me in how government policy is formed in particular has been hugely helpful. It also sparked a much stronger interest for me in international politics and I know that when applying for roles in government in the UK; my degree choice has definitely been a factor in my success.

What is your advice to current UCC students?

Get as involved in areas you think might be relevant to your future career.
While I was heavily involved in sports clubs in my four years at UCC, I do regret not considering the fantastic societies that the college has to offer. As a spokesperson I have to speak to the media most days on the record, and while it something I have grown in confidence with, if I had my time back, I would certainly look to start honing those skills earlier within the relevant societies at UCC. 
I would also encourage students not to become too consumed by college. Continue to follow your own passions! I started writing about women's rugby while I was a student and am still doing it to this day through my voluntary website. Its great fun and a great release. College is fantastic but it can be a bubble - don't put everything else on hold for four years.

What person/people at UCC had the most positive influence on you?

On the studying side, despite myself, I became quite interested in local government and admired the passion that Aodh Quinlivan brought to the topic throughout my time as student. In my government career since, I have thoroughly enjoyed working on local government policy, especially around devolution, and I have Aodh to thank for my grounding in this area. 
I also made some great friends at UCC and one in particular who has gone on to have a huge influence in my life. Martha Halbert and I played rugby together while she was studying Law and we have remained the best of friends since. Her decision to move to London for her MA ten years ago inspired me to follow in her footsteps and though she has since moved home, I wouldn't be here without her and so I have a lot to thank her for. We still speak most days.

Were you involved in any Clubs or Societies?

Rugby and soccer as mentioned above, were hugely important parts of my four years at UCC!

Favourite UCC legend or superstition 

I am not a big believer in superstition so yes I was one of those people who walked across the Quad...!

Development and Alumni Office

Oifig Forbartha agus Alumni

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