24 August, 2021 | Posted by Cian Fahey

Dr. Orlagh Farmer's Journey Through Physical Education and Sports Research

Orlagh Farmer Portobello Webinar

Dr. Orlagh Farmer was recently a special guest speaker at Portobello Institute’s Changing the Game: The Future of PE webinar event in 2022.

An intercounty GAA player for Cork, Dr. Orlagh Farmer has spent the last six years working in education and sports research after becoming a qualified PE teacher. She has created research in conjunction with the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, successfully defending her PhD Gaelic4Girls, and is a lecturer at Dundalk IT for the past three years.

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Dr. Farmer is an ideal speaker for prospective students who aspire to become PE teachers.

Not only has she achieved so much in her career so far, but she is also not too far removed from her own journey from Leaving Cert student to PE Teacher and established academic.

Many of our webinar attendees will be hoping to follow her path.

“I always had that passion for sport and physical activity.

It was actually my fifth class primary school teacher who encouraged me to join my local club. I used to do athletics as well before I started playing football in school and with the club. My love for sport and physical activity started in primary school.”

Because Ireland are only now beginning to incorporate Physical Education as a Leaving Cert subject into schools, the structure wasn’t there for Dr. Farmer to envision a pathway into a career in physical education or sport.

Her primary school teacher encouraged her but it was sport and her own initiative that carried her through secondary school and provided a gateway onto the path that she’s enjoying now. Dr. Farmer was fortunate to play for Cork all through secondary school – “I had that experience of starting first year playing under 14 and finishing sixth year with the senior team.”

Maybe fittingly, it was the least academic year of secondary school that pushed Dr. Farmer into physical education.

“Fourth Year was really where I had that ‘aha!’ moment that I wanted to be a PE teacher.

Having that experience of going out to placement in TY showed me that this is what I was meant to be doing, this was the path I was meant to take.”

Changing the Game: The Future of PE - Register Here

Despite not getting her first choice course in Limerick, Dr. Farmer thrived on her PE and Irish course at UCC in Cork. In her own words, she realized her passion for empowering others through the medium of sport while there. Her course showed her that she could combine her passion for sport with her passion for inspiring the next generation.

A Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) Sports Studies & Physical Education and Irish, Secondary Education and Teaching degree put Dr. Farmer on the track to realizing her dream.

And she still remembers what it felt like as a trainee PE teacher.

“The one regret I have when I was going out on placement was the confidence.

Just to have that confidence in yourself. At that stage you want to be a PE teacher and when you get that opportunity to go out on placement and be in that school or environment I think it’s important to have the confidence to make mistakes.

Just have the confidence to throw yourself into the deep end. Ask questions and learn from the more experienced teachers that are in the school. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, that’s how you learn.

You can get so uptight with the lesson plans. I’ll never forget that I used to come home from a day of school and I’d be worrying about the lesson plan. I worried a bit too much about that side of it and then when it came to actually delivering the class that I think one of the mistakes I made was I felt like I had to cover everything on the lesson plan. And that’s not the reality.

Nine times out of 10 a lesson plan might not go accordingly. And it’s realising that from a younger age. You have to be adaptive. Even if you get two out of five things done – Brilliant. You don’t have to just tick the box. You have to meet the students’ needs.”

Having worked through her own confidence challenges and figured out how to balance the box ticking with what really mattered to the students, Dr. Farmer was not only able to be an effective teacher but she was also able to feel the impact of her work.

“The biggest reward for me is that satisfaction of knowing those kids are getting the most out of that 60 minutes. Because it could be the only 60 minutes or double period in the school that they’re getting physical activity or that education.

To me, that’s probably the most important thing. It’s the benefits of physical activity and physical education.

Knowing as a teacher, as a coach, as an educator that you’re inspiring youth but also from the coach perspective you’re instilling that positive momentum in them that hopefully will inspire them to develop an attitude.

Changing the Game: The Future of PE - Register Here

At the end of the day, it’s about the environment that you create.

As a PE teacher you need to be enthused and you need to be passionate going into that class. Because it’s contagious and even if they’re not the sporty kids in the class or the most competent or confident in the session, if you can make them feel good and create that kind of ethos in the environment that to me is more important as a PE teacher and as an educator.

It’s all about the feel good factor in the environment that you create.”

Dr. Farmer applied herself through each stage of her education, which opened the opportunity to carry out PhD research in conjunction with the Ladies Gaelic Football Association in 2015. For five years, she researched female youth participation, looking at the setup for girls, the barriers, the challenges, the motivator and the areas that could be improved to retain girls in sport.

The PhD opened Dr. Farmer’s eyes to the lack of research and lack of education amongst not only the young girls but also the teachers and parents in terms of promoting physical activity and education.

Having successfully defended her PhD, Dr. Farmer is now lecturing at Dundalk IT in the Applied Childhood Studies course and the Leadership and Management course in the Early Years sector.

“It’s nice to get that contrast too, with my own research it was focusing on 8-12 year old girls but then lecturing in Early Years it’s almost taking a step back and looking at the first seven years of a childs life and how important that is in terms of developing skills and good habits for physical activity and physical education as well.

Obviously I’m passionate about it and it’s what I’m about, but it’s nice to be able to merge my playing experience with the research and practice as well, so it’s not just all research, research, research. I actually get to put it into practice.

That’s the beauty, I live it first hand myself too and hopefully then inspire the younger generation and teachers and coaches and parents to come on board to make it a better place for physical activity and sport as well.”


Changing the Game: The Future of PE - Register Here


Portobello Institute values the one in everyone and understands that education is only a part of your life. We don’t want to take up all of your time and create stress for you. You should go to college to improve your life outside of college and after college.

We are training the sports professionals of the future. If you would like to work in sport in a professional capacity, you can find a course that will provide you with the requisite education to do so.

Our sports courses are listed here.

To read more articles like this one, you can visit the Sports section of the Knowledge Zone.

If you would prefer to have a direct conversation with Johanna, you can contact her on 01-892-0024 or you can email her at jo.shaw@portobelloinstitute.com. Meetings with Johanna can be booked through this link.

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