Hair dresser Sean Taaffe on the special relationship with his younger sister- 'She cheers me up if I'm having a bad day'
Hairdresser Sean Taaffe is famous in Kerry for his skills, but his sister Amyis also a hugely popular member of staff
There are two main women in award-winning hairdresser Sean Taaffe's life. One is his mother Mary, whom he phones every day for a chat, and visits often, and the other leading lady is his younger sister Amy, who works alongside him at his flagship Killarney salon.
"I welcome the customers and make them tea and coffee, and sweep hair off the floor as well," Amy explains. "I also check the shampoos, and my favourite part of working there is talking to the customers, as it's a lot of fun. The customers love me and I get tips. Sean can sometimes be bossy, but he is mostly okay and doesn't annoy me a lot. He is fun and special and wonderful and I love him."
Sean, 41, was born in the UK to his English mum Mary and Irish dad Alfred. His family moved to Portmagee in Kerry when he was six. He was 11 when Amy was born, and as she has Down syndrome, the family then moved to Killorglin to be nearer to her school, St. Mary of the Angels. "It was a big shock for me when Amy came along, because I was an only child for so long," says Sean.
"Amy had heart complications when she was born, so she was in Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin a lot during her first few years. She was a real cutie as a little girl and a tiny version of what she is now. She would be running around the place, and was always in good form and smiley. She and I always got on well and never really fought, as there was too much of an age gap between us"
The petite Amy, 30, is clearly mad about her older brother, and says that he has always been very good to her. "He brought me to places and helped me," she says, of their relationship growing up. "I liked my school and spelling was my favourite. I am very good at it."
When he was 13, Sean left school and started hairdressing, not because he wasn't good academically but because he was fascinated with the industry. His parents spoke to his headmaster about it, who said that if he was that set on hairdressing to let him pursue it, as he could always return to school if it didn't work out.
"Mum went to get her hair done on a weekly basis and I would go with her," he says. "I just always loved the salon environment - the buzz of it, the interaction and everything about it."
Sean began his training in the New You hairdressing school, and then moved to Killarney. At one point, when he was 16, he was off for a couple of weeks and friends and family started coming to the house to have their hair done. His mum got fed up with people trooping through the house, and as a result, Sean opened a hairdressing salon in Killorglin at 16. His parents helped him source second-hand equipment and furniture, and he also got a St. Vincent de Paul grant to enable him to get started.
"It was mad, as even though I had a basic qualification, my skills were exactly that - basic," he says. "I started off with a two-seater above another business that we opened on a shoestring, and the rent was 30 pounds a week. All I was actually interested in was earning money to pay for my education because training was so expensive. A day course was 100 pounds 30 years ago, but my average weekly wage had been 35 pounds. It was a means to an end for me. Once I got my skill set up to what I thought was an acceptable level, I started to enjoy the actual business side of it as well."
As his business grew, Sean expanded in size every two years for the next ten years. He had been renting, and bravely made the decision to relocate to Killarney and buy a premises, although it was a half hour drive away and he had no clients or history there.
"Everyone thought I was crazy," he admits, "because at that stage, there were five people working in the salon including myself, and we were booked up six weeks ahead all the time. I had a belief that people would travel to the new salon, but everyone was fearful for me. I opened a 20 seater salon in Killarney in 2006, in the middle of the Celtic Tiger and prior to the drop, and it was the single biggest turning point for me. I was going from the safety of where I was to a complete change."
Sean says that his mum was very supportive, but his late father was really worried and thought he was "quite mad." He had retired himself due to ill-health, but was very much involved behind-the-scenes in the early days with Sean, financially advising him and even paying the suppliers." I wasn't great at that kind of thing," Sean admits. "While Dad didn't have great health for ten years, he was actually diagnosed with a brain tumour in the end and died in about two weeks. It was very sudden and very tough, but we are a close family and are a good support to each other."
These days Sean has salons in Killarney, Killorglin and Tralee, and two hairdressing training academies in Killarney and Tralee. He also has a gent's salon in Killarney and took over the salon at Aghadoe Heights last year. He is driven by passion for the business, and is keen on franchising in the future. His other passion is education, and he's very keen on improving standards in the industry.
Sean is currently single, and his hobbies include riding his motorbike, much to his mum's chagrin. His salons have won many awards and are currently the holders of the Schwarzkopf salon of the year title. In addition, Sean has won hairdresser of the year on many occasions. He says that Amy is a great worker, and very reliable and incredibly tidy.
She loves singing, and is a huge fan of Daniel O'Donnell, whom she has met many times. She thinks he is very nice, and is always thrilled when he phones her on her birthday. "I'm a good singer, but Sean won't let me sing in the salon," she says, while Sean explains that he can't as his little sis is a "Johnny-One-Note!"
"Amy would always lift you up," he says. "A day doesn't go by without a text or phone call from her, and she always sends lovely messages that cheer me up if I'm having a bad day."
Sunday Indo Living