Life Homes

Thursday 28 August 2014

Little gem of a home

Jewellery designer Maureen Harrison's Co Clare home is not just a haven for her three sports-mad sons, it is also the perfect showcase for her brothers' considerable talents. Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin

Mary O'Sullivan

Published 30/03/2014 | 02:30

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Maureen Harrison in her country-style kitchen. The feature brick wall was her husband Flann's idea, and he used old brick from a derelict farm building. The oak units were made by her brother, Mark McKenna. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Maureen Harrison's home in Co Clare was designed by architect Siobhan Mulcahy. The exterior is made of Galway cut stone.
The sewing table and mirror were made by MK Woodcrafts, Maureen’s brother’s company

The late-lamented and witty Elizabeth Taylor often joked about her love of jewellery, claiming she had been born with it. "My mother said I didn't open my eyes for eight days after I was born, but, when I did, the first thing I saw was an engagement ring – I was hooked," she said.

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Maybe jewellery is something all girls are genetically programmed to love. While Liz was only interested in the real thing, for the rest of us, it doesn't matter whether it's good jewellery or not. As long as it's stylish and shiny, we like it.

Maureen Harrison, herself a fan of gold and gems, knows just how much Irish women love jewellery. She has four thriving shops built on the strength of our passion – two in Ennis, Co Clare, one in Limerick, and the latest in the Westbury Mall in Dublin.

She stocks many of the most fashionable brands, including Thomas Sabo, Alex and Ani, and Michael Kors, but some of the prettiest pieces were designed and made by Maureen herself.

She uses silver, 14-carat gold-filled, semi-precious stones and freshwater pearls to create her delicate items, which are increasingly popular with models and television presenters.


The sewing table and mirror were made by MK Woodcrafts, Maureen’s brother’s company

"My pieces for autumn/winter 2013 were inspired by earth, leaves and ice, but I'm mainly inspired by people," Maureen says.

"Whenever I'm sitting in airports, I people-watch and work out in my head their style and what jewellery would suit them. Then I go off into my own space and design my pieces."

As a result of the recession, few businesses have expanded during the past seven years. Maureen's company is one of the rare exceptions, and she is immensely proud of that fact. She adores being a businesswoman, and it's something she's wanted all her life.

"I'm from Glaslough, Co Monaghan, from a family of nine – five boys and four girls," Maureen says. "My parents were farmers, and the whole family talked business from morning to night. If my parents saw someone running their business badly, they'd talk about it for a week.

"I always wanted to open my own business – a shop. And that was before I had ever even thought about making and designing jewellery."

Maureen's industry break was something of a fluke. After school, she toyed with several careers before deciding to take a year out. Then, completely out of the blue, she was approached by Magill Jewellers, and was asked if she would like to work in their shop, which is based in Monaghan town.


Maureen has three teenage sons, so she has opted for a fairly masculine colour scheme in the living room — the sofas were made by her brother, Sheamus, who has a sofa factory

"I didn't know what I wanted," Maureen says. "Funnily enough, I did aptitude tests in school and was told I should do something in design, but it was 1983 and we didn't know anything about careers in design. I remember thinking to myself, 'That's a lot of help'. So I was lucky that I literally fell into it.

"I ended up at Magill's, on and off, for six years. They had a big repair section, and Mr Magill started showing me how to fix things. I was good with my hands, so I learned all about gold, silver and soldering. I just had a natural ability."

The jewellery-making went brilliantly, but Maureen decided she wanted to get out of Monaghan, so she did a shorthand and typing course, and applied for a Donnelly visa to the States.

"My sister and I got the visas and we went off together," she remembers. "I worked as a secretary. We stayed two years and had a wonderful time. It was 1986 and it was like how Australia is now – full of young Irish. We loved every minute of it, but I never intended staying. Even when I stepped off the plane, the idea uppermost in my mind was to make enough money to open my own jewellery shop back in Ireland."


Green is one of Maureen’s favourite colours, and she used a sage green wallpaper in the hall. She painted a Chinese table to match the colour scheme

Before Maureen returned, however, she met her future husband, Flann, who she eventually came home with. The couple then moved to London, where Maureen got a job as a PA to the boss of the fashion chain, River Island. After a few years, the pair married in 1993 – in Castle Leslie – and moved back to Ireland, settling in Dundrum.

Soon after, their first son, Luke, now 18, was born, and Maureen got back into the jewellery business – only this time buying wholesale and selling to fashion shops.

In between all this, Flann's uncle left him a farm in Co Clare, and, in 1995, the couple moved to Quin, where their other two sons, Colm, now 16, and Shane, now 12, were born.

Maureen hadn't been ready to open a shop when they lived in Dublin, but Clare was a different matter because she had experience of small towns.

"I decided to open up my own shop in Ennis, selling jewellery but also good craft," Maureen tells me.

"It's a tourist area, and I wanted the shop to fit in, so I gave it the Irish name, Seoidin, which means 'little gem'."

The business went so well, Flann, an engineer who worked in computers, joined the company and started selling Maureen's pieces wholesale.

With the first shop a roaring success, the couple opened a second in Ennis, then a third in Limerick, and the fourth last year in the Westbury Mall. That's not to suggest it's been easy going.

"For the last 10 years, I've done nothing but work, but I don't feel guilty," Maureen says. "I've had to travel, but Flann has always been here for the boys."


Maureen Harrison's home in Co Clare was designed by architect Siobhan Mulcahy. The exterior is made of Galway cut stone.

All their children are extremely sporty – the youngest, Shane, came second in the country in running recently – as is evident from the photos all over the house showing them with trophies.

When the family moved to Clare, they initially lived in a farm cottage they restored themselves. Then, in 2000, they had the architect, Siobhan Mulcahy, design them a family home.

The exterior of their beautiful house is built from cut stone from Galway. There are four bedrooms, two reception rooms, a conservatory and a big country kitchen, with a games room just off it for the boys. One of the house's most attractive features was dreamed up by Flann.

He used bricks from a derelict farm building to build an eye-catching feature wall in the kitchen. But it's not the only salvaged thing in the house – some of the flooring is made from reclaimed oak.

The interior features work by two of Maureen's brothers who, like her, are good with their hands and have their own businesses. Her brother, Mark McKenna, who has a joinery, made the kitchen units, while her brother, Sheamus, made the couches.

While some of their furniture is Chinese in origin and adds an oriental flavour to the house, a lot of the lamps, glass, pottery and paintings are by Irish craftspeople, including Stephen Pearce and Jerpoint Glass Studio. Maureen also has several framed ceramics by Co Tyrone-based Diane McCormick, whose work she is a huge fan of.

The designer's work keeps her very busy, so she has little time for hobbies or exercise. But, then, she'd probably agree with comedienne Joan Rivers's famous quote: "I don't work out. If God had wanted me to bend over, he would have put diamonds on the floor."


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