My Favourite Room: The Byrne identity
The cosy home 'The Daily Show' presenter, Claire Byrne, has created is in complete contrast to her former modern house. She also admits to Mary O'Sullivan that her gardening skills leave a lot to be desired. Photography by Tony Gavin
When TV-programme makers are casting co-presenters they usually look for contrast, and so it is with Daithi O Se and Claire Byrne of RTE's The Daily Show.
One male, one female? Check. One dark, one blonde? Check. One exuberant, in-your-face, Laurel and Hardy type, one cool, sophisticated Grace Kelly type? Check. One mammy's boy, one independent spirit? Check again.
Daithi doesn't seem to be able to scratch without consulting his mammy, in marked contrast to his co-anchor on The Daily Show, the very photogenic Claire Byrne.
She's here laughingly confessing that her mother is less than impressed with her low-maintenance garden and its lack of bloom. "You don't have to do a thing to it, which suits me down to the ground, because I'm rubbish at gardening. My mother would kill me. She's a fantastic gardener. She sends me up baskets, and I invariably let them die, so I can never let her in to see what happens to her beautiful arrangements," the glamorous thirtysomething admits with a chuckle.
Fresh flowers, however, do abound in Claire's recently renovated, Edwardian two-bedroomed townhouse, as do certain floral touches. It's a complete contrast to the last house in which she lived; she was married to British radio-station consultant, Richard Johnson, and they shared a very edgy, very modern house in Co Kildare.
Her kitchen, in particular, which is furnished very traditionally, is very different. "I had a very modern kitchen," Claire confirms. "I wasn't mad about it, to be honest. I had no interest when I was picking the last kitchen. Am I saying I'm not very domesticated?" she asks with a laugh, then goes on to say, "I suppose I lose interest in a project when it goes on and on. With this, it was me and me alone, so I had to stick with it."
Claire is referring to the fact that, for the first time in years, she's totally single -- "single cheese," as she calls it.
She'd been with Richard for nine years, almost since the beginning of her broadcasting career. She then went on to have another relationship, which has since ended.
Originally from a farm in Co Laois, Claire studied journalism in Dublin, and then went into broadcasting, working first for East Coast Radio before heading to Jersey where she got work with a commercial radio station, and then to the BBC. It was during this time that she met Richard. TV3 beckoned in 1998, and she did Ireland AM for two years before heading back to Britain to work on both Channel 5 and ITN. TV3 came calling again in 2002, and the couple moved back to Ireland. She was the news anchor in TV3 for four years, before joining Newstalk, where she worked until this year.
The move to Newstalk took place around the same time as her marriage ended. "I was in TV3 at the time and it was difficult becoming tabloid fodder," she says. "And I did then move to radio, and I suppose it's no coincidence that both things happened at the same time. I think probably I was looking for a break from the public persona. It was almost taking a breath," she says. "It was the right thing for me at the time, and it was good for me. I was working in thoroughbred current affairs."
The transfer to RTE and The Daily Show is also a welcome move and Claire is thoroughly enjoying it, and she's having great fun with her fellow presenter, Daithi.
"We're probably too bold, as the complaint the producers would have is they have to tell us to settle down and focus sometimes, but it actually makes for a very relaxed set," she says.
The fact that she was able to really hone her current-affairs skills in Newstalk means she finds it no problem to take charge of the more complicated news stories every day on The Daily Show, moving with ease from the frothier items to the intricacies of our financial mess.
"When you're on the news wheel it's easy to keep up. It's like watching a soap, I suppose; if you're following it and you have the episode from last week, you don't get lost at any stage. I find if I keep an eye on the good analysts in the newspapers, it's very easy to keep that bird's eye view of what's going on," she explains.
Apart from loving the varied content of The Daily Show and the interaction with Daithi and the rest of the team, she's thrilled with the move because it gives her back a normal work routine -- her current working day is from 10 to 6.30, whereas in Newstalk she was up at 4am every morning -- and time for a social life. "I've sworn off early starts," she says. "It's very difficult to meet people when you have to be in bed at nine. I'm meeting up with friends I'd kind of lost contact with."
And, of course, she's been putting the finishing touches to the house, which she bought in 2008 -- at a price she jokingly refers to as "top of the market to you!"
"The prices were starting to fall, but I would have got a much better deal had I waited. I had been renting for close to two years and I wanted to be back in my own place again," she explains.
It was the quiet, yet near-town location and the red-brick Edwardian exterior which seduced her -- there was little else about the house that would attract anybody. The renovated house is a little gem now, but it was a complete wreck. "There was no central heating, everything was broken. It had a hot shower and that was it. It was a blank canvas which always looks like a great idea . . . then it turns into hell," she says wryly.
She actually moved into the wreck and lived in it for a full year before renovating, to give her an idea of what exactly she wanted done. Apart from basics like central heating, the main challenge was the kitchen, which was just a small, dark pit, and the unexciting bathroom. There were problems with both, but she swears by her builder, Des Quinn, who solved them all.
"The ceiling here was lower, it was dropping down into the kitchen space and the bathroom then, of course, was affected upstairs.
"I had seen loads of builders and they said it was an insurmountable problem and Des comes in and says all that needs doing is this and this, and he figured it all out," she enthuses.
Of course, to create the wonderful living space she now has -- downstairs consists of a cosy lounge to the front and a large, open-plan kitchen complete with work space and living area -- she had to annexe part of the garden, which is now postage-stamp size, with only enough room for a table and chairs and some tasteful landscaping.
But then, as Mrs Byrne will tell you, that was no hardship for Claire.
'The Daily Show' is on RTE One every weekday afternoon at 4.50pm, see www.rte.ie/tv/thedailyshow