Peek inside dream three-storey period home of Meaghers Pharmacies owner Oonagh O'Hagan
Oonagh O'Hagan went off on holiday when the house of her dreams was being auctioned, fully believing that it wouldn't become hers. Happily, she was wrong.
Published 04/07/2016 | 02:30
In former times, a person like Oonagh O'Hagan might well, at first glance, have been dismissed as frivolous.
As a school leaver, she had the qualifications to become a doctor and fully planned to study medicine, then she suddenly remembered she was afraid of needles and switched to pharmacy. On qualifying as a pharmacist, she chose the place where she would complete her mandatory internship on the basis of having liked the look of it when she went in to buy a tweezers. And on top of all that, she is achingly glamorous - she is always elegantly dressed and beautifully coiffed, her wonderful blue eyes framed by perfectly tweezed eyebrows.
But, thankfully, times have changed. It's finally OK to be brainy and beautiful, seem a little ditsy, yet be dynamic, stunning and hugely successful. Oonagh is all of these, and much more. She is the proud owner of the highly successful chain of Meaghers Pharmacies - which are light years away from the old chemist shop, where you went for prescriptions and little else. From day one, Oonagh's retail outlets have responded to customer demands for the best in beauty products, and the latest in health and nutrition, and they are key players in the fight against obesity and Type 2 diabetes. And she has been recognised for her business acumen, having won a Deloitte Best Managed Companies award both in 2015 and 2016. Last month, they also won the OTC Retailer of the Year award and prize for Business Development at the Irish Pharmacy News Awards.
Oonagh has an amazing commercial sense and her pharmacies are in all the key strategic areas in Dublin - Baggot Street; Tallaght; Ranelagh; Barrow St, in the same building as Google; and in the Mater hospital - not bad planning for a woman who hails from Northern Ireland.
"I'm from Plumbridge, Co Tyrone, in the Sperrin Mountains - the kind of place you're dying to get out of when you're 18, but of course, when I go back now, it's the most beautiful place in the world," Oonagh notes in her soft, northern tones.
Her father is a building contractor, and still working at 74, so no prizes for guessing where Oonagh gets her work ethic. She also cites her mother as a major influence. "Mum ran a factory for Courtaulds; they made lingerie for Marks and Spencer. The company had four factories in Northern Ireland, and mum always had the biggest productivity. I used to spend my summers working with her in the factory, and I saw her ability with people and how she was always striving for excellence. She got a buzz off that and that's where my drive comes from," Oonagh notes.
The eldest of four, Oonagh specialised in the sciences for her A-levels, fully intending to do medicine. "I got a place in Trinity, then Trinity phoned and asked me if I was still on for medicine, because they were putting out their offers to the Leaving Certs - who got their results the week after us. I said, 'I think I'll change to pharmacy', which had been my second choice. I think it was because I was pertified of needles; at the back of my head that was always a worry," she says.
Oonagh's fear of needles was very real. "A GP broke a needle in my arm when I was seven, I will still faint thinking about it. There was a real palaver about it; the arm had blown completely out and I had to go every day for eight weeks to the hospital to get it dressed," she recalls.
It was the early 90s and Oonagh had a ball in Trinity and sailed through her exams. After the pharmacy degree, it's mandatory for the MPSI qualification to spend either a year in the pharmaceutical industry or in a hospital or community pharmacy, before being allowed to practise as a pharmacist. When it came to choosing a pharmacy, Oonagh, who lived in the D4 area, chose Meaghers on Baggot Street. "It was the first pharmacy I went into when I came to Dublin, to buy a pair of tweezers. I thought Pearse, the owner was hilarious, so I went in and asked him to be my tutor, and he said yes," Oonagh reminisces, adding that during the year, he taught her a lot, and even then she dreamed about owning the shop; she could see the potential in it. On her last day, Oonagh said to Pearse if he was ever selling to let her know, and, sure enough, four years later, she got a call from him to say he was selling. He had an offer from a multinational and if she could come up with the same offer, it was hers. "It was a huge amount of money - two million punts. At that stage, I still had a student loan," Oonagh explains with a laugh, adding that she was determined to buy. Amazingly, she managed to convince the bank to give her the money; she got a name of a person in the bank and she admits she pestered him to meet her. "Finally, he said, 'Come in and see me on Monday morning at seven, and bring your business plan'. I remember getting off the phone and thinking, 'What the hell is that?' I went into Hodges Figgis and bought How to Write a Business Plan, and I did that over the weekend," she says, laughing. The rest is history.
She bought Meaghers in Baggot Street in 2001 and, over the years, she has added to her portfolio with branches throughout the city. Last year, she launched their online pharmacy, meaghers.ie. She says she couldn't have done it without her sister Joanne, who is her second-in-command; and an amazing staff who helped her weather the downturn. "I remember phoning my mother one scary night and she said, 'You can't do this on your own' and she was right. I held a meeting and told the staff the truth, and said 'The answers are in this room', and they were; they came up with great ideas.
Of course, her husband, barrister Ronan Kennedy, was, she says, also a tower of strength. The couple met in college, back in the 90s, married in 2006 and have two delightful children, Luca, seven, and Cassie, six. Their gorgeous home is on a leafy road in Dublin 4, a stone's throw from her first pharmacy. "We had lived in Phibsboro to be near the Law Library for Ronan, but I decided he had to compromise and move southside for me," she explains.
It looked for a time as if they wouldn't be moving, as they looked at so many houses without success. "We were the underbidders on three. We were quite disillusioned. In fact, we went off on holidays and asked a friend to go to the auction. We couldn't believe it when we got a call saying, 'It's yours'. He said, 'Don't get cross. My friend did the bidding and went €50,000 over your budget', so our destiny was in the hands of someone we didn't even know," Oonagh muses.
The house dates from 1885 and is three storeys. Oonagh has renovated the ground-floor level and it's stunning, subtly decorated in Farrow & Ball paints and furnished with a mix of contemporary and antique pieces. However, there's a bit of a stalemate between herself and her husband about the kitchen. It's currently at garden level, which Ronan likes, but Oonagh would like to move it up a level.
Oonagh is a problem solver, and there's no doubt it will be worked out to everyone's satisfaction.
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin