Brendan Courtney is someone who holds an audience in the palm of his hand. Bursting with charisma, compassion and plenty of craic, we saw him move seamlessly from serious topics such as caring for his parents to his fashion collection at our Women and Agriculture conference last October. We’re delighted to have him on our cover this week to launch the new season of his Lennon Courtney collection with Sonya Lennon.

One of the standout moments I remember from interviewing Brendan on-stage at our conference was him telling us about a family argument – in his humorous style. He said it unfolded in their family WhatsApp group, landing his punch line with: “and then in the heat of the moment, someone had the cheek to leave the group.” There was an audible gasp in the room followed by peals of laughter. Everyone knows that is the modern-day equivalent of storming out of a room and banging the door as you leave.

Recent research shows that 84% of the population are now on WhatsApp. Fifteen years ago, it barely existed and now the vast majority of us use it exclusively for text messaging. It’s not just practical though, it’s a sociological spectacle fusing all the different social permutations in your life.

Whatsapp people

There is for example, the family WhatsApp group, the main event where conversations centre around birthday parties, holiday snaps and ‘who’s coming for Sunday dinner?’. Then there are the side-groups, the ‘Sistas and Bros’ where you debate what present you’re getting Mam and why Dad needs to calm down about the aforementioned birthday party. There may of course, be a sub-group to that: ‘The In-laws/Outlaws’, the kindred spirits who need a safe space to huff and puff about the unique family dynamics they have married into. And then, there is the bigger extended family WhatsApp group complete with uncles, aunts and cousins, which really should have a universal name: Births, Deaths and Marriages.

‘Cork gals’ consists of the girls I have known since I was a teenager – the messages are more once a month than once a day but full of good intentions to finally organise a girls’ weekend away

The friendship permutations can be old friends and new. My neighbours’ WhatsApp group is constantly buzzing – ‘anybody going to the park today?’; ‘if you’re in the shop, will you pick me up a slice pan?’; and 10 versions of a cute picture with all the kids, none of them looking at the camera at the same time.

‘Cork gals’ consists of the girls I have known since I was a teenager – the messages are more once a month than once a day but full of good intentions to finally organise a girls’ weekend away. If that wasn’t enough, I somehow signed myself up to a variety of community WhatsApp groups sometime in those lonely days of the pandemic. I am in a group of no fewer than 336 local mothers, and constantly have unread messages – but it’s a wealth of information. Need to know the alternating dosage of Calpol versus Nurofen for a baby? Pop into the mums’ WhatsApp group and you’ll have an answer within seconds. It’s also a great place to get recommendations for catering food, where to find a pharmacy with late-night opening and what time the electricity is scheduled to return during a power outage. And if some dodgy lad is doing the rounds selling something suspect, you’re sure to hear about it beforehand so you can duck behind the curtains.

My daughter is starting school in September and I’ve been advised that there is another WhatsApp group on the way. My friends tell me that one is the juiciest, filled with characters from those running the bake sale to those ducking and diving trying to avoid being recruited to coach the camogie team. And you cannot, under any circumstances exit that WhatsApp group.