I grew up here in Killough at my parents’ home, just up the road from Greenville, in a house now owned by my brother, Tim.
I always loved Killough. I used to cry on Sunday evenings when I had to get the bus back to Dublin and, from there, to Maynooth, where I was studying.
Nontheless, I lived in Co. Kildare for nearly 10 years and forged many good friendships that have stood the test of time.
At Maynooth, I undertook a doctoral thesis. The subject matter was Irish academic life and it was a massive endeavour, and very difficult to do in an emerging department where I was, I think, the second to actually graduate with a doctorate in Cultural Anthropology.
There were no courses as part of the doctoral programme, so I had to do most of the research on my own with occasional meetings with my supervisor. I had about three different supervisors in all, as Prof. Eileen Kane, my initial advisor and indeed the person who influenced my decision to research for a Doctorate, left Maynooth just after I started the research as she got a promotion somewhere in the States.
I then had various trainee academics oversee the work and finally, a graduate of Harvard University, Dr. AJ Saris, took over as my supervisor when he got a full time appointment in the Department in the early 1990s.
My work was entitled ‘Academic Rites: An Anthropology of Contested Reproductions of Modern Irishness’. I interviewed over 20 senior professors, academics, and activists over a 10-year period on what had shaped their thinking about modern Irishness.
The research aimed to illustrate that most of their views were strongly conditioned by their early life experiences – their gender, age, occupation, location and social position.
Clearly, you had radically different views on Irishness if you were, for example, a Unionist academic based at Queens University Belfast or an academic based in the History Department in University College Cork with a strong bias toward a post-colonial Republican approach to modern Irishness.
This is a very simplified account of what was, in the end, a several-hundred-page-long document which I defended in 2000. I was awarded my Doctorate shortly afterwards.
Among the people I interviewed for my research was the late Conor Cruise O’Brien; Professor Seamus Deane; Professor Joseph Lee; Professor Richard Kearney and Professor Roy Foster, among many others. I also interviewed our current President, Michael D. Higgins (then a Minister but formerly a Sociology lecturer at the National University Galway) and several leading academic feminists, including Dr. Aibhe Smyth ; Dr.Margaret Ward; Dr. Mary Cullen, among many others.
When Professor Hastings Donnan, my external examiner, asked me on the day of my viva what was I going to do next, I think he expected me to say publish the thesis or try for an academic job. But at that stage my focus was shifting and I didn’t have the institutional support I needed to get the work to publication.
I told him: “Open a fashion boutique”. He looked shocked!
And while I did work for a while at LIT Thurles in Sustainable Rural Development, and was central in organising a huge celebration of Tipperary for the Institute in 2000, my passion for fashion, art, and all things creative was bursting forth inside me.
The renovation of Greenville Cottage had ignited that creative spirit I had suppressed in almost 13 years of purely academic work. So, in 2004, I opened a café boutique in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary called The Business. This was a wonderful learning curve, and a truly exciting time in my life. I met fantastic people and my then partner now husband Seosamh Devine and we were blessed during that time with our first two sons, Don and Joss.
This was, however, the years leading up to the economic downturn in Ireland – the Celtic Tiger crash. We had invested everything we had and taken out loans to establish the shop and refurbish our home so, when the crisis happened, our respective businesses crashed too.
It was a most terrible time in my life and I thank God we were able to keep going to try and sort out the mess of that time, and that our love for each other and our children kept us sane. I suppose you could call this the dark time of my life, and I often went to the late John O’Donoghue’s work ‘Anam Cara’ to help me through.
Community Work in Local Cultural Development
During this time another positive direction arose for me, when I got more involved in my local community, Killea, and got back involved in tourism and development work (I had been involved with a Tourist Board, Tipperary Heartlands, when I came back to live in Tipperary in 1996 / 1997).
I was elected Chair person of Killea Cultural Group in 2010 and the Committee raised several thousand euros in sponsorship for a new Heritage and Community Centre for the village of Killea. This was also helped through investment from North Tipperary Leader Partnership, an EU initiative to help growth in rural Ireland.
I temporarily managed the guest-house of a relative of mine in Killea, Castle House, during this time, before it was put on the market for sale in 2015. Seosamh and I had spent endless months (probably two years in total) working on a detailed plan for a public garden project, for the community in Killea, to be situated on the field behind the Castle House. Sadly LEADER resources ran out before we had the full approval for grant support. I suppose you could say ‘the rest is history!’.
Since then I have focused on learning more about the work of local artists, craftspeople and food and drink producers in Tipperary – and continued to maintain our home at Greenville by using part of it for summer time rentals advertised on Airbnb.
We were blessed with our third child, Étienne, in 2012, our little dote. We feel so privileged to have him.
After Étienne’s birth, I had several miscarriages – two very distressing ones in 2015 and early 2017, both very hard to deal with and both still very raw in my mind. However, our home, Greenville, has been a sanctuary throughout all hardships and our three sons have been the light of our lives.
I suppose this all brings me to where I am now – Greenville Style! I have always loved meeting and welcoming people on holiday in Tipperary and, in particular, love introducing them to our artisan foods and our cultural life. I feel blessed to be able to do this to-day and still care for my family and manage the details of our day to day life in the process.
And on the aside…
I might add that I still love fashion with a passion; am keenly interested in local art and crafts and I love cooking and baking. I don’t eat red meat and we hope to grow more of our own food, in time, in our small kitchen garden.
I also enjoy a dry white Chardonnay wine, when cooking and winding down in the evenings.
I love music and listen to it nearly all day. I love the French language and can read and speak it adequately. I love cinema, theater, opera, and as mentioned, art and modern dance – in fact most aspects of the Arts. I play guitar and the boys are learning classical guitar at Carlow School of Music.
If I was to be reborn a mechanical object, I would want to be a Jaguar (the old style), which has to be the most beautiful car ever made.
If I won the Lotto, I would sleep better (!); buy one or two more derelict houses to restore in the locality; and donate money to Crumlin Children’s Hospital to make some child’s dream come through who is fighting an incurable illness.
If I had one piece of advice for the younger me, it would be: “Don’t shoot from the hip; you won’t be understood”. And, of course, to quote Samuel Beckett: “Ever Tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”