Triona McCarthy on menopause, ADHD and being a fashion queen

Triona McCarthy Pic: Evan Doherty

Some production company out there is missing a trick. Triona McCarthy needs her own show. She’d never have the audacity to say as much but, we’re saying it for her. This proud Schull mum-of-two, who has spent 22 years writing beauty brilliantly for The Sunday Independent, is wasted in print. Words aren’t flamboyant enough for Triona, the woman deserves 3D!

Just like her wardrobe, Triona is wild, bright and brazen. Time spent with her is time well spent. You will laugh – you may even need a double gusset in your knickers! She has so many stories and anecdotes to share, and they all arehilarious. She’s met everyone; shame drops everyone – with a firm tongue in cheek – she’s a total attention seeker, “I come from a family of 8”, and she rings every drop of craic out of every day because as she says, “terrible things happen in life”.

She jokes that she is The Triona Show! She laughs at her nickname Party McCarthy because yes, she loves to party! But even with her gift to entertain, she still has time for everyone. Back in her college years when she was studying Fashion and Marketing at the Barbara Burke College of Fashion, she used to get bored and nip upstairs to see what Helen Steele was designing. Inspired, she decided, aged 18, to set up a vintage clothes stall in the Grafton Flea Market calling it Trina Chelie, meaning dazed and confused.

Actress Catherine Zeta Jones she remembers bought a pair of leggings off her for £4. Sex Pistol star Johnny Lydon and his girlfriend picked up bits and pieces. Comedian Katherine Lynch had a hair salon in the market nearby and so Katherine would do Triona’s hair and she would pay in clothes.

Today, Triona still works a sort of barter system with her wardrobe. She can’t afford to buy the magnificent pieces we often see her wear at events so she swaps them with friends and has an online store on Depop. If you follow her on Instagram you’ll know that her daughter Mini (9) is forever playing dress up in her mum’s wardrobe. She jokes that her kids (she also has a 10-year-old boy called Maxi) are always after her skirts and that if she had another, she’d call it Midi! Or knee-length!

At home in Ranelagh, Dublin 6 – where she lives with her adoring husband Will and their two kids in a muse on the grounds of her husband’s family home – we step in to Triona’s bright and brilliant world for a photoshoot full of hijinks and high fashion!

Triona McCarthy Pic: Evan Doherty

Being in your company Triona is highly entertaining! You have great stories and you tell your stories well. Where did this gift for storytelling come from?

I’m 1 of 8 children so growing up you had to have some sort of routine to catch my parents eye! My dad would be like, which one are you? And that’s not being disrespectful, he was an incredibly busy man and there were four boys and four girls born quickly in succession. I think it also feeds into how I dressed then and now – I was always looking for attention! And then I went to a Catholic boarding school that was very strict and routine and so you had to find humour through the dull days. I think I have always carried that search for fun through. Like I know we have to be serious on occasion but I love a bit of craic! Even when my younger sister Tricia was dying in hospital aged 30, the craic and laughs we used to have. You can find humour in the darkest times.

You do live a vibrant life. Your days are rarely the same; you often travel for work; you meet interesting people; you party – hence your nickname Party McCarthy! Yours is the ideal job for someone diagnosed with ADHD.

I had to create my own type of job because I could never, and I have never, worked in an office. When I was studying fashion and marketing in college I was bored so I used to go upstairs to where Helen Steele was studying design and I’d be like, what are you making, that looks great and so I ended up opening a stall in the Grafton Flea market when I was only 18. I just had that sense again to create my own job. My dad was an entrepreneur and he was the same, he had to create his own world. Actually all the children in my family work for themselves. I think it’s the only way we know how.

An article in The Sunday Times last week asked, are too may of us being diagnosed with ADHD? Are we?

I think because we consume so much information all the time, that we all have a bit of ADHD now! It is actually very hard and very expensive to get diagnosed and it drives me nuts when people tell me that they think they have ADHD because they did this thing the other day. When I was diagnosed 15 years ago, aged 35, I was genuinely so embarrassed. I was like [mock crying] ‘I’ve another thing wrong with me’! Because I have always felt completely out of step with everyone else.

Have you really?

Yeah, always. Also remember 15 years ago was a very different landscape. People back then were afraid to admit they had mental health problems, thankfully it’s completely different now. So no, I didn’t tell anyone, but I did try some medication which I really didn’t like. But, I still do find it incredibly hard to sleep, that’s the main thing for me; I have songs going on in my head all night. I think in my advanced years I’ve just learnt to incorporate all my quirks into my personality and make it part of The Triona Show! And I think that’s an important message for anyone with quirks. But what drives my husband Will mad is when I use my ADHD as an excuse! I’ll go, ‘Oh sorry, did I do that? It’s my ADHD!’

Best excuse ever though!

Will says it’s like living with a teenager! I want to stay up late at night; I want to eat chocolate all the time; I would rather have two bars of chocolate and a packet of crisps than eat a dinner! I’m looking for dopamine all the time! I love shopping, online. Some people look at paintings and read books, I just scroll through dresses!

Triona McCarthy Pic: Evan Doherty

You say you’ve come to accept your quirks but, do you, aged 50, still feel out of step with everyone else?

Em…[thinking] I think I’m more at ease with my mind now. But just as I’ve got my head together, my body falls apart! When I was younger I used to obsessively pluck my eyebrows. Or freak out if I found a hair on my face. Now I have a full on feckin’ beard! But those things don’t bother me as much anymore. Yes, there’s more body maintenance required but I’m okay with my mind. That’s also just getting older I know.

Getting older, let’s talk about that. Party McCarthy has been given a bit a reprieve recently because as you joke, “you’ve caught the menopause”! And you’re wrecked!

I’ve caught a very bad dose of the menopause! A horrendous dose! I’m on the meds now so I’m getting better. I have to be honest and say that it’s not that I thought the menopause didn’t exist but, I thought that people went on about it a bit too much! But I definitely now know it’s real! My poor husband Will is only 45 and the poor crater…I joke with him that he should get a carers grant! I’m mentally unstable; I’m deaf, I’m cranky!

Triona we can’t imagine you cranky. We only ever see you smiling and happy.

Do you know what, it’s only lately that I have been a right cranky cow! It’s not in my nature to be like this because I am usually easygoing. And I always say that I choose to be happy in a world that if you give out all the time it can become habitual. Terrible things go on in the world I know, but you can choose to be happy. You can choose to find the lighter, brighter side of life.

22 years writing beauty for The Sunday Independent. You must have seen many cycles of beauty come and go. Having tried and tested it all – what are your go-to’s?

I have seen it all and it does keep repeating itself – with different trends. The fun has gone out of beauty a bit though, which is why I love the fun of fashion so much. With beauty everyone is an expert now and it’s got quite serious because when you’re putting acid on your skin, it is serious. But there is a lot of rubbish out there as well. I keep it simple, I think a serum is really important. Skinceuticals I think are great, also SkinIngredients new pure Retinol and Charlotte Tilbury have a great primer with SPF. I love anything that is quick and easy, I’m never going to do the 17 steps.

What about injectibles?

It’s only now that I’ve turned 50 that I’ve decided to try the big guns, like Botox. It’s not that I want to change how I look and, I don’t want to look younger, but you do have to maintain things. I saw Joan Collins the other day and I want to be her when I grow up! She’s over 90! She’s amazing! She gives me hope thinking I’ve got another 40 years of going out! I think we need older role models, ones that have got over the menopause and are back!

Triona McCarthy Pic: Evan Doherty

Speaking about wonderful dames, tell us about meeting fashion icon Iris Apfel, recently departed, aged 102.

I met her at New York Fashion Week at an event on 5th Avenue where she was launching a jewellery range. I was like [she starts shouting] ‘HELLO IRIS, HOW ARE YOU?’! She looked at me oddly and then in this deep drawl goes, “I can hear you just fine!’ She was nipping around, she was 98 and she was dressed better than women quarter her age. I’m at the age now where I’ll take off bangles if they’re annoying me but, she had 70 bangles on each arm! I just thought, I’m never going to say things like, ‘I can’t wear this anymore, I’m too old’.

We’re loving the recent trend, if you want to call it that, of fashion brands using older icons, like Maggie Smith for Loewe, when she was 88; Charlotte Rampling at 77 for Massimo Dutti; and Joan Didion for Celine, who was the star of its campaign at 80. It makes such a difference when you see an older face in a magazine, doesn’t it?

It’s reassuring that designers still want to work with older faces…[she trails off] do you know who I love as well Christie Brinkley, I saw her at a fashion show years ago in New York and I swore I would always moisturise my shoulders after. She had the most expensive looking shoulders I have ever seen in my life!

What do expensive shoulders look like?!

It was like her skin was glistening. I just wanted to rub that skin! Donna Karan once told me years ago in Milan that you can’t really put weight on your shoulders so when you don’t want to show off your cleavage or your arms, show off your shoulders. Celia Holman Lee is also inspiring. And Elizabeth Hurley looking amazing in her bikini. These women let us know that we don’t have to let the hair go grey and put on the elasticated waistband and the double gusset in your knickers! Now, I’m not saying ageing is easy, but there’s still
life. My mum as well – still so stylish. I actually get my style from her.

Tell us about your mum, Triona. 8 children – wow!

Can you imagine? Either a child in her tummy or one on her hip! I always say that instead of toy kitchens I had a real kitchen to play in and, I had real babies, not dolls! See I was the eldest girl of 8, I was the second born. But we were always turned out, socks up to our knees and patent shoes. My catwalk was walking up the aisle in mass on Sunday!

Triona McCarthy Pic: Evan Doherty

It must have been such a busy house.

It was all hands on deck, we had a really busy farm and machinery business. We were like Little Women, the girls were inside and we had to make dinner in the middle of the day, cooking and peeling. My brothers were all out cutting corn or silage or shifting the cattle and dad was always building stuff. Then all the men would come in and we’d have to run around and feed them lunch! We came way down the pecking order, my dad was the boss and we were like his employees! You want to have seen our hall with all the wellies lined up! Saturday would come and I’d be like, ‘No, not Saturday’ because there would be so much work to do!

It’s probably why you are so industrious today, though. You styled yourself entirely for this shoot using all your own pieces. We were dying to see your wardrobe but were surprised to see that it’s not as massive as we expected.

Well, I didn’t show you all of it! My everyday wardrobe is colour blocked into vests, short sleeved t-shirts, long sleeved t-shirts and so on. I didn’t show you my coats either and I love coats. I always think a coat is the last thing you put on but the first thing people see. Going into my wardrobe feels like therapy…it’s my own shop, and sure I started my own shop on Depop. I get such a kick out of selling my stuff on Depop because it affords me the ability to buy the things I couldn’t possibly afford. The trend predictors are saying that by 2030 with sustainability, that we are only going to be allowed to buy eight pieces of clothing a year. We’ll be wearing, apparently, a type of uniform. That freaks me out!

Maybe with this ‘capsule collection’ trend now, that that’s the beginning of it?

Maybe. When I was younger I would rather wear my brother’s frilly altar boy shirt with gymnastic leggings and ox blood Dr. Martens than wear anything where I’d look like anybody else. I think we’ve completely lost uniqueness.

We’re going to wind up now but before we go tell us about your role as beauty editor for new magazine D’naleri, (Ireland backwards) and why did you get involved?

The tag line is from Irish innovations to amazing creations, it’s a platform honouring Irish artistry set up by James Brown, best friend of Kate Moss and a really good friend of mine. James has a farm in Portumna and he’d come to the Galway races with me always. He has two sisters who passed away from cancer and he stayed with me a lot when my sister was unwell. He’s this really amazing career but deep down he’s just a farm boy! James has worked with everyone and I think he still holds the record as the youngest ever hair stylist on a Vogue cover. Anyway, he had this notion that us Irish are always punching above our weight but not telling anyone about it…so James wants to celebrate Irish creativity…he’s a real visionary.

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