It’s been a year none of us could have imagined. Holiday plans have been dashed, work plans have shifted, life has ceased as we once knew it. The only certainty we now know is uncertainty. Uncertainty has become everybody’s ‘new normal’.
For Aoibhín Garrihy and husband, hotelier John Burke, their businesses have both taken huge hits. Beo Wellness, which Aoibhín set up with business partner Sharon Connellan to encourage self-care for the mind, body and soul, has had to cancel all forthcoming wellness events for the foreseeable. And John’s hotel, The Armada, at Spanish Point, Co. Clare – one of the most popular wedding venues in the west – has had to do a complete rethink on how they operate. Life is totally changed.
In keeping with this theme of change, albeit, a very exciting change, Aoibhín and John have, within the last couple of weeks, moved into their just-completed 3-storey, “forever home” in Ennis. It has been six years in the making and they are absolutely made up.
We arrive to tarmac being laid in the driveway and cement mixers on the lawn. There is no doubt we are an intrusion, an intrusion that is about to trample in all over their freshly laid wooden floors and deep pile carpets, but as we park up John sticks his head out the front door, beaming, and we feel so welcome. We remove our shoes, put on our face masks and step inside for the VIP tour, which brings us up to Aoibhín in her walk-in dressing room where our glam squad has been and gone.
Aoibhín, is, perhaps, the most polite woman VIP has ever had the pleasure of meeting. And over the years we have met a lot. Of course, no one is perfect, but there is something near perfect about this 33-year-old. The former actress is clearly beautiful. She is also a highly motivated and resourceful marketer who built a hugely successful business (Beo) in a short space of time. She is empathetic, a fine poetry writer, a busy mum of two very young ones, (Hanorah is 2 and Líobhan 9-months) a nature lover and sea swimmer, and more recently, a damn fine interior designer. She is also, like her husband, deeply hospitable and even offered VIP a guest room to stay in when we set about planning this photoshoot a number of weeks ago, as restrictions eased. However, as the days grew closer and the Covid case loads grew larger, we decided on a flying visit instead. And so here we are now, in her new kitchen, as she begins to fill us in on all that has happened and all that is to come…
Aoibhín, Covid-19 has put years on all of us! But you? You’re looking great! We’re putting it down to your Zen approach to life, a life skill learnt, perhaps, from running Beo?
[Laughing] Everybody has been banging their heads off walls, and we are no different! I’m not going to lie, lockdown was absolutely a test. This is a crazy time in our lives and, both John and I run our own businesses. For John he’s had to utterly rethink his business model, not just this year and next year, but the five year plan, and beyond. And for the foreseeable, Beo as we know it, is no more. Lockdown absolutely affected me. Sure I had to get a fringe to hide the wrinkles and try take the years off from the stress!
Well, we like the fringe! Moving house is up there as one of the most stressful things to do. But, do priorities shift, maybe, when you’re living through a pandemic?
In some sense it was a great distraction. The building did come to a halt for a period, and we were due to be in earlier, but we’re in now so the pain of that is gone, and look it, it was a small price to pay. Lockdown actually gave me the chance to declutter before we moved. I went through old presses, things as far back as school days and I found lots, including application forms for interior design courses! So this has been a real passion project for me.
You certainly have put your own stamp on it. There’s lots of glass, a bottle green kitchen, some flock wallpaper and a lot of wood flooring. We love it.
Thank you! It has been a real team project, something John and I immersed ourselves in and something that brought us closer together. Luckily we have similar tastes, but like most people we got lost in Pinterest! It was like being back in the wedding planning days: I didn’t know if I was a boho bride or a traditional bride! But brightness for me was really important. For me, light is an instant mood lifter, hence lots of glass.
You self-penned a touching poem the day before you were set to move in here, about the home you were leaving, calling it, “a haven, a safe place, where our family grew”.
I just felt compelled to write that night. Because I had been dying to move and get in to what we had created and then it came to it and on the last night I was so emotional. It was ten years we had spent there together as a couple in that home and so much had changed in that time and I think I said in the poem that the walls had seen a lot, and they had. There’s something really nostalgic about the place you become a couple and then a family in.
Have you had time to find a favourite spot in this new home yet?
We haven’t had time to sit even! We’re still very much in the moving phase. But I suppose the kitchen is the heart of the home. And I love the girls room and the mural on their wall.
Yes, your girls: Hanorah and Líobhan may look similar, but their personalities couldn’t be more different…
Hanorah is very like her dad and I think I got a look in with Líobhan in looks and personality. Hanorah is a character, always up for the craic and doesn’t miss a trick! Líobhan is the happiest, laid back baby in the world. She never complains. We are just blessed and this year, while it hasn’t been without it’s challenges, has given us the gift of quality time with the girls, particularly John who has had so much time to bond and make precious memories.
Hanorah and Líobhan are close in age which is lovely for them, but busy for you. How have you found moving from one child to two?
It’s definitely been busy, but we are getting to the point now where the girls are starting to enjoy one another and I’m starting to notice more and more that when they are left together to play for a period of time they are happy out. Myself and my sisters Ailbhe and Doireann (RTÉ 2FM presenter) were so close growing up and so seeing their friendships begin to develop is just the cutest thing to watch.
You celebrated Hanorah’s second birthday, John’s birthday, your 33rd Birthday, and Líobhan’s Christening in a locked down world. You also become an aunt!
I did become an aunt! Baby Seán is the newest addition and the apple of our eye already! We’ve waited a while to have a little boy in the family so Seán is much anticipated and already so much loved. Ailbhe is amazing and is a total natural. I’ve already been enjoying some “in” mom jokes with her and it’s so great to have a fellow comrade! As for the birthdays, ours weren’t much to celebrate, but Hanorah had a little party with her sister and her teddies and it was lovely! And then as lockdown ended we had a small celebration with family to mark Líobhan’s christening and we certainly made up for all the missed occasions!
Yes the missed occasions, the missed people. We have never needed self-care more, and yet your business Beo, which is all about wellness and self-care, has had to cancel all upcoming events.
We had to put peoples’ health and wellbeing at the top of the list, so yes, for the foreseeable, all is cancelled. There is plans to explore the digital space more, and maybe do a Beo Baby online. I did find solace building our online presence, and starting the podcast Breathe With Beo was therapy for me in a sense, too. But Beo, as we know it, will probably never be the same again, because what was great about it before was the connection, everyone together, and all of us hugging. That has all changed now.
We miss the hugs.
I do too. And at a Beo event we learnt about the endorphins that are released when you just give someone a squeeze. The benefits of it are massive.
What about John? He is a man always on the go. How did he cope when the hotel closed for the first time in its history (aside from Christmas Day)?
Yeah, it was a tough day at the office, I’m not going to lie. He doesn’t stop. You can’t keep a good thing down! His lockdown was not like others, he was moving again soon after trying to come up with a Plan B to keep jobs and was delivering Cocktail Blend Boxes, then Armada At Home menus, and when things started to move slowly again, a Coffee Hatch and a Carvery Hatch. People have really rallied too to support this rural hotel who are heavily dependent on brides and grooms.
The Armada is one of the most popular wedding venues in the west, and regularly hosts weddings for well over 300 guests. The loss of weddings is massive.
Massive. They had huge numbers on the books this year and next. It’s so hard to know what way it will go. John, however, is able for a struggle. When pushing himself up Mount Everest he told himself if he could endure the stress the hotel had thrown at him over the previous few years then he was not going to let the mountain beat him. That’s it. And look, there was a recession before and he weathered that. He learned a lot of take-homes on that Everest trek. One of them he always reminds himself of is: one step at a time. Small bites.
With the summer season now over, are you even more anxious about how the hospitality industry in general will cope?
Yes, because the end of the season will cripple a lot of these businesses if we don’t support them. I would continue to encourage people to keep staycationing, if possible, if funds and Covid allow. I have always loved to staycation anyway, and even as a kid the holidays I remember are the weeks spent on Inis Oírr just mucking around on bikes and boogie boards. We used to refer to it as Holy God’s pocket because it was just so safe!
And then there’s the arts. We have read the NCFA’s (National Campaign For Arts) proposal for survival and recovery. They are as they say, “the books you are reading, the TV shows you’re watching, the music you’re listening to, the artworks you’re fascinated with”. The arts are essential for wellbeing.
Totally essential. It’s just so sad to see so many theaters black at the moment. I really hope there is a plan in place, and no doubt there is because it means too much to too many people. What did we all do during lockdown but watch the arts, like Normal People which showcased our great Irish talent. I know it was shot before, but we enjoyed it in lockdown. People connect with stories and music and it’s part of our heritage. It’s part of the rich tapestry of being Irish. It’s something that we need to mind and nurture. My plea to the government would be to make it work. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
We’re delighted Fair City has resumed filming. But how would you feel if you were back filming with your acting colleagues? And how will they actual film these scenes, socially- distantly?
I don’t know, but what I do know is that a lot of it is cheated anyway. It’s all shot on multi-camera and when you see people having a conversation they are usually not beside each other and can’t encroach on each other’s frames and would be socially distant anyway. So I would imagine it would be fairly easy to do. There just won’t be any intimate kisses!
Which I’m sure the actors are delighted about! One positive of Covid! We saw you in a swimsuit jump off the pier in Inis Oírr! The figure on you! It made us sad!
You know all the tricks!
You don’t need any tricks, you possess willpower, Aoibhín!
I don’t! I’m not in the best shape of my life, but we were all comfort eating during this time; it was the only thing that got us through. And then the wine!
Let’s not mention the wine and the bottles of shame that then pile up and that nobody wants to bring to the bottle bank for fear of being spotted!
We should use them as candle holders, or something [laughing]! No shame in that!
INTERVIEW: Bianca Luykx
PHOTOGRAPHY: Lili Forberg; misslili.net
MAKEUP: Michelle Field: @michelle_ field_makeup
HAIR: Norma Jean O’Reilly; The Room Hair, Sandymount