Ossa podcaster Sinead McHugh is the host of the Mens Rea podcast, a true crime show focused on the courtroom side of murder cases in Ireland. The term “mens rea” is defined as “the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime, as opposed to the action or conduct of the accused.” It literally means “guilty mind,” and most murder cases need this principle of intention proven in order to convict.
With a background in law, Sinead McHugh takes a unique approach to Ireland and the UK’s most notorious murder cases, investigating the people involved, police investigations, and the court cases that follow the crime. This perspective has garnered a loyal following and landed the show in the ranks of one of the most popular true crime podcasts in the Ossa network and beyond.
Read more from Sinead McHugh below and listen to Mens Rea here (leave a review while you’re there, too!).
Tell us what your podcast is about in 3 sentences or less!
True crime with an Irish twist, focusing on the courtroom!
What’s a quote or piece of advice that you try to live by?
Better done than perfect.
I jump into things feet first!
One thing on your bucket list:
I don’t believe in them – lists suck the joy from things! 😉
Danceoff by Macklemore is a current jam – remembering going out dancing with the girls back when that was a thing. And when I was 10 years younger!
What was your first job?
I worked at a deli counter in my local supermarket.
Any unusual hobbies?
I love making outfits to go to Burlesque nights in Dublin.
Biggest Pet Peeve?
Unnecessary phone calls #millennial
What inspired you to start your podcast?
I love true crime podcasts, and I got really into them after Serial. But I wanted to hear stories about crimes closer to home, and after I convinced myself that I could be the person to make one, I launched my show.
Tell us more about your work/life outside of your podcast.
I am lucky enough to be a full time podcaster working from home, which has been a paying gig for about a year now. I also have a 5 year old so I do a lot on mom stuff, too. I was working in the legal field before, with a view to becoming a barrister or solicitor in the future.
What is your show’s USP?
My focus on Irish crimes is unique!
What is one of the greatest challenges you have personally faced with your podcast?
I’ve had a lot of challenges – I’d never dealt at all with audio or recording before I started my pod. It was a huge learning curve and I’ve made a lot of improvements in the last three years. But honestly the biggest challenges have been believing in myself and getting through burnout. Imposter syndrome is real – I recoiled the other day reading an email from a journalist who called me and “expert”. It can be hard to lean into things sometimes. And pushing through stress and tiredness making a show on your own (I’m a one-woman production) is something I think I’m definitely not alone in. Podcasts are hard work!
What was one of your favorite episodes you’ve ever done? Why does it stand out?
My favourite one was the story of Declan Flynn. He was a young gay man in Dublin who was tragically murdered in a homophobic attack in 1981. I used the episode to tell the legal history of the LGBTQ+ community in Ireland, culminating in a referendum held in 2015 which legalised same sex marriage here. The episode includes an amazing speech by Ireland’s most famous drag queen, Panti Bliss, which is so incredibly inspiring. The episode was written in the run up to another referendum in Ireland which repealed the part of our constitution that outlawed abortion. There’s a lot of emotion in that one for me. Find it here or listen below:
What is one thing you have accomplished with your podcast thus far that you are most proud of?
I’ve been able to carve out a niche and a career for myself. The freedom, flexibility, and sense of worth that has given me is huge.
What is one major milestone that you would like to accomplish through your podcast in the next year?
Just to continue to grow my audience. I have a lot of ideas for expanding going forward in terms of content, but I want to make sure I have a strong foundation before I start pursuing new goals.
What is a trend or development in the podcast industry that you foresee happening in the next few years?
I have no idea!
What is one of the best pieces of podcast-related advice you’ve ever received & why?
It’s better to get something done than waiting for it to feel perfect. Its unachievable in so many cases, and I know for sure I’ve improved by actually “doing” podcasting. It is hard to put yourself out there, but freeing yourself from the judgment that might come from it, and creating the content that fulfills you is vital. So get it out there, and don’t put off pulling the trigger for the sake of perfection.
What are some of your favorite women-hosted podcasts?
Southern Fried True Crime hosted by Erica Kelley: she is a powerhouse. So sensible, so sassy, and so true to herself. Lanie from True Crime Fan Club (another Ossa podcast!) is amazing too, she does so much for the true crime community and was so willing to help me along when I started out. Honestly the true crime community is just *filled* with awe-inspiring women!
Can you tell us about a time when you took a huge risk/did something you were scared to do, and it totally paid off?
Asking for a better deal, and getting it. I was feeling sassy the day the first company who wanted to work with me emailed. They wanted to place an ad in exchange for products, and in response I sent them a price list. They negotiated with me, and I was on a high for about a week. Honestly I still can’t believe I did that.
There’s three that come to mind immediately. First, the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland supports people in Ireland’s direct provision asylum accommodation. Work is being done to replace that system with something that ensures human dignity while people wait through the application process. Second, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. It speaks for itself really, but is a hugely important resource for people who have experienced sexual violence and intimate partner abuse. Third, Turn2Me is a charity that provides free counselling to people who need it.
How do you feel you’re making a positive impact and generating change through your podcast?
For people here in Ireland, they learn about how our court system works. Most people never see what goes on there, and maybe never even visit a court in their lives. Knowing about crime and legal procedure is important, justice is done in public and so it’s good to have people interested in it. For those abroad, particularly in the USA, hearing about how courts and justice works in another country, and how different it can be, allows a sort of comparison that we don’t often get. Knowing how things work (or don’t!) can help change and reform in either case!