Tuesday 17 October 2017

Peek inside RTE star Aengus Mac Grianna's north Dublin home complete with an alpaca farm

When Aengus Mac Grianna and Terry Gill saw their home, they fell in love with the views. Then the two jackeens realised their land would make a great alpaca farm.

Aengus pictured with his alpaca herd
Aengus pictured with his alpaca herd
Mary O'Sullivan

Mary O'Sullivan

Newscaster Aengus Mac Grianna has always appeared to be a bit of an enigma.

He is, at all times, perfectly groomed, with a real dash of style, and there’s a genuine warmth, yet gravitas, in his delivery. He’s brought us some of the most important stories of the last 30 years — the civil war in Rwanda, the Omagh bombing, and many other tragedies — and helped us to make sense of some terrible atrocities. To do that properly, he has had to suppress his own personality, and so he almost seems unknowable, almost mysterious.

Aengus in the kitchen with its purple units and black granite worktops. He loves to cook for himself, his husband, Terry, and their friends so he opted to put in two ovens, two warming drawers and two microwaves.
Aengus in the kitchen with its purple units and black granite worktops. He loves to cook for himself, his husband, Terry, and their friends so he opted to put in two ovens, two warming drawers and two microwaves.

On the face of it, however, there are certain things about Aengus Mac Grianna’s house that are entirely expected.

A proper TV room with a large TV set is one; he is, after all, one of our foremost TV newscasters.

Aengus calls this the guest bedroom, the African room. It's furnished with African prints and carved animals.
Aengus calls this the guest bedroom, the African room. It's furnished with African prints and carved animals.

A well-planned kitchen with decent equipment would be another prerequisite. He came second in Celebrity MasterChef in 2013, so we know that he loves to cook, and yes, he has a great kitchen with lots of storage and enough hobs and ovens to make meals for a hungry horde.

However, it is something of a surprise that the main colour is purple, and that purple is something of a theme throughout the home he shares with his husband, Terry Gill.

Aengus MacGrianna and his husband Terry Gill
Aengus MacGrianna and his husband Terry Gill

Who’d have thought that he would also have an African-themed room, or indeed an Oriental one? Or that he has a small herd of alpaca? Or that his favourite place in the world is Donegal, and that the house is awash with paintings of its spectacular landscape?

The passion for Donegal is, it transpires, something that dates back to his childhood. The young Aengus, who grew up in Raheny, spent many summer holidays in Gweedore and went to Irish college there. He is a fluent Irish speaker, having come from a home where both parents — his mother was bilingual — spoke Irish all the time.

The living room is decorated in autumnal shades of green and brown, while the walls are hung with landscapes of Donegal
The living room is decorated in autumnal shades of green and brown, while the walls are hung with landscapes of Donegal

He believes he also got the desire to perform — and there is a strong element of performance in newscasting — from his mother. “My mum was very much into drama, amateur dramatics, that kind of thing. Before she met my dad, she hung out with a lot of Radio Eireann people,” he says.

He goes on to explain that his mother died of cancer during his childhood. “My mum died when I was 11. There are seven of us — four girls first, then three boys. The eldest was 17 and the youngest was seven. It was tough, we were all very upset, but my dad, who’s a scientist, remarried. He married Helen, the best thing that could have happened to us, and normality returned to our lives. We were lucky, too, in that our maternal grandparents were alive, and they showered us all with love and confidence.”

The walnut table matches the walnut floor in the formal dining room, which also has great views of the surrounding countryside.
The walnut table matches the walnut floor in the formal dining room, which also has great views of the surrounding countryside.

Aengus went to UCD and studied Irish, politics and geography; he did a bit of drama there and some freelance writing, and he decided he’d like to work in the RTE newsroom. “I suppose it marries performance and a more academic side, and I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’d like to do’. When I started I was a sub-editor, then a reporter. I worked on every desk in the newsroom before I became a full-time newscaster. It’s very full-on. We write a lot of the intros ourselves, we write our own headlines, scripts, prepare interviews etc,” Aengus explains.

It is, of course, always live, and there’s nowhere to hide, but Aengus says he never feels any fear. “I don’t see it as nerves, I see it as adrenaline. I never feel as if I’m nervous. I don’t mean it in a cocky way. What I mean is, there’s a big rush of adrenaline. The same before you go on air, 5-4-3-2-1, you feel it through your veins,” he says. “I’m very lucky in that I do something I love. I’m in RTE 30 years and I still love every day there.”

The walls and floors of the bathroom are tiled in marble, while the sanitary ware was all bought in Drogheda
The walls and floors of the bathroom are tiled in marble, while the sanitary ware was all bought in Drogheda

He agrees that he does keep abreast of the news even when he’s off, but that it’s easier these days with the advent of social media, which he finds useful.

He works shifts, either early mornings or late nights, which means he’s off when others are working, but that doesn’t bother him — he has plenty to do in his spare time, including paperwork relating to his position on the RTE board.

“I was elected to the board by the RTE staff and I was honoured. The role of the board is corporate governance and it’s very challenging, and very enjoyable,” he says.

He and Terry share all the household tasks, but Aengus spends a lot of his spare time doing the cooking for them both. The couple met in 2004 in the Front Lounge. “We got talking, we exchanged numbers. Then the phone call came, and that was it. Two years later, we moved in together,” Aengus says. They got married in a registry office in Westminister in June 2014.

The TV room in Aengus Mac Grianna’s house is complete with comfy seating and surround sound, so is perfect for watching movies
The TV room in Aengus Mac Grianna’s house is complete with comfy seating and surround sound, so is perfect for watching movies

When they met, Terry was in human resources, but since then he joined his brother’s company, SGD Lighting in Ashbourne, and looks after all admin there, including the HR.

Terry is also responsible for the alpacas — there are two males in the field behind the house and the females are in a further field — and gives them hours of his time before and after work. “I give moral support,” Aengus says, but there is a sense that it’s not as wholehearted as it might be, and, indeed, he goes on to explain that they were all Terry’s idea.

“It was around the time of the crash, 2009, 2010. We’d both had pay cuts and we had a bit of land, 12 acres, around the house, and we used to keep saying, ‘How can we use it?’ Then, one day, Terry came home and said, ‘I was thinking maybe we should do alpaca farming’, to which I responded, ‘What the eff is an alpaca?” Aengus laughs, adding, “it’s been a learning curve ever since.”

Aengus likes a sense of flow from area to area, and he achieves this with the colour scheme
Aengus likes a sense of flow from area to area, and he achieves this with the colour scheme

Apparently alpacas are related to the camelid family; they are connected in some way with camels and llamas, and hail from South America. Their wool is incredibly fine and quite valuable, and they’re not bred for meat at all; it’s the wool. “Terry’s part of the business is breeding and selling on animals,” Aengus says.

Alpacas also play a vital role in protecting sheep from foxes. “Quite a lot of sheep farmers get them for lambing season, they can easily run with the ewes. The farmer buys two alpacas because the alpacas walk in a V and will march a fox out of the field. I’ve seen it. I know people who’ve had two alpacas in with the sheep in one field and lost none to foxes, while in the other field with no alpacas they lost quite a few,” Aengus explains,

He admit that he does help out at birthing times. “The gestation period is about 11-and-a-half months. We try to do all the mating during the summer months, and then they’re born during the summer too, so there’s extra daylight, which gives a better chance to the newborn when it’s warmer,” says Aengus.

While he distances himself slightly from the whole enterprise, he’s full of praise for Terry, saying he’s made a real success of the farm, which is his hobby. “It was really hard to get going, getting loans from the bank, all that kind of thing, but Terry’s been really good; he really knows the animals. He’ll ring and say, ‘Are they ok?’ and as long as they’re standing, I’ll say yes, but he notices the slightest thing — even from a distance, he spots everything. He’s really in tune with them,” he says.

They are super woolly and cute to look at, and Aengus finds himself drafted in on occasion to do certain jobs.“I’ve assisted Terry with injections, and I did shearing once. After the shearing — it was such a dirty business, poo everywhere — I said, ‘I will never do that again. I will cook, I will clean, I will provide everything, but I’m never doing that again’. There is a limit,” he says with a slightly put-upon air, but there is a laugh in his voice.

Realising that it all sounds quite incongruous, he adds, “Terry’s from Clondalkin — we were two Dubs out in the country.”

Their home, to which the farm is attached, is in north Co Dublin; the location made sense as Terry works in Ashbourne, and, as a northsider, Aengus knew and liked the area. It was the views of the countryside that sold them on the house. “We viewed the house on a June day and when we walked through the house, suddenly this vista opened up, and we said, ‘Oh my god, OK, right, we can do something here’.

“On a fine day, you can see Killiney Head, the Sugar Loaf, the Dublin mountains, right over to Blessington. Four counties — Dublin, Meath, Wicklow and Kildare — from the kitchen window, and at night-time, because we’re up on a height, we can see the whole ring of the city lit up,” Aengus enthuses.

The house, their first together, was a bungalow dating from the late 1960s. When they bought it in 2006, they lived in it for two years while they got a feel for the place, then they gutted it and added a second storey.

Aengus pictured with his alpaca herd
Aengus pictured with his alpaca herd

“We rearranged it the way we wanted it and made it as eco-friendly as we could. We added a conservatory and an upstairs and we rearranged some of the rooms,” Aengus explains.

They’ve four bedrooms in all, three of which are on the ground floor, including the master bedroom, which has an en suite and a dressing room. Upstairs they added an office, an en suite bedroom and a TV room.

“It would sound too posh if I said movie room, but we have a big screen and surround sound up there and we watch movies,” Aengus says.

Downstairs, as well as the three bedrooms, the kitchen and the conservatory, there’s a dining room and a very spacious living room. All rooms flow beautifully from one to the other. “I like balance and flow, so there might be a colour in one room that connects to a colour in another room,” Aengus says.

He adds: “Some parts of the house are very different, some are

old-fashioned looking, others are more modern. While I like things to be smart, I also like things to be homely. I find minimalism too sterile, or samey. I’m not dissing anyone who’s into that, but having it homey you’re putting your own mark, your own stamp. To reflect something of you, whatever that is,” Aengus says with a laugh.

It’s obvious — a warm, fun guy with great taste.

Edited by Mary O’Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin

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