Tuesday 25 October 2016

Home is where the heart is... for Felicity Hayes-McCoy and Wilf Judd

Felicity Hayes-McCoy and Wilf Judd divide their time between a modern apartment in London and a stone cottage in Dingle

Published 06/07/2015 | 02:30

Tall tale: Author Felicity Hayes-McCoy likes husband Wilf Judd's height, and says he's quieter and more reserved while she talks too much. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Tall tale: Author Felicity Hayes-McCoy likes husband Wilf Judd's height, and says he's quieter and more reserved while she talks too much. Photo: Gerry Mooney.

When his first marriage as a "young and foolish," man ended after a year, opera director Wilf Judd swore that he would remain single. He changed his mind, however, when he met writer and actress Felicity Hayes-McCoy in 1982, after her friend Maeve brought her to one of his shows - he was then artistic director of The Garden Venture at Covent Garden's Royal Opera House. They started off as friends, but things began to develop romantically after a year.

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"In my time, marriage meant giving up your career, so I wasn't thinking about settling down," says Felicity. "After a bit we began to fancy each other and fell in love. I felt Wilf was terribly English so there was an attraction of opposites, and we had good fun. He's quieter and more reserved whereas I talk too much, and he's also very tall, which I liked. His best quality is his honesty. We share a love of literature, theatre, ecology and design, and music was another attraction, because Wilf took me to my first opera."

Wilf remembers telling Felicity that he could see them growing old together. The idea of trust was important to him, he says, having been hurt the first time around. When they decided to get married in 1986, he said, 'Let's be kind to each other,' and Felicity felt there was something wonderfully comforting about that sentiment. Now together 33 years, the warm, charming pair don't have children, simply because they never arrived. Felicity says it's a pity, as Wilf would have been a wonderful father.

"And you would have been an excellent mother," he replies. "Some people are driven to despair about it but we weren't, as we were busy and never had the feeling that we absolutely had to have children. Felicity's wit is her best quality. She always makes me laugh and is also very clever. We spend a huge amount of time talking - we are always having a conversation."

Wilf was born in 1952 in Hertford, England. He's the younger of the late Eric and Winifred Judd's two sons, and his brother, James, is a well-known orchestral and operatic conductor. Wilf went to Oxford to read English, but spent his entire time there doing drama, which is probably why he went on to do a production course at the London Opera Centre, which led to him moving into directing. "One of my first big jobs was in Ireland," he recalls. "I got offered a job as production manager with the Wexford Opera Festival, and had a whale of a time. Actually, one of the shows I feel proudest of was when the festival took a risk and asked me to direct a piece a few years later, which I did with my brother conducting. We got on really well."

Felicity was born in 1954, and is the youngest child of Mary and celebrated historian and history professor, Gerard Anthony Hayes-McCoy, both of whom have died. There was quite an age gap between Felicity and her four siblings growing up in Clonskeagh, and her late sisters, Mary and Ann, both taught her at school. "They grew up in a different Ireland to me," she says. "I was at UCD in the 70s when we were thinking about contraception, and my sisters weren't even allowed to wear trousers at college."

As a child who could always be found sitting behind the sofa reading books, Felicity planned to be an author, and studied English and Irish at Belfield. She then fell in love with amateur acting, and went to London to train as an actress at the Drama Studio. She did radio plays, Shakespeare and worked at the Abbey, and started writing because she was worried about unemployment. "The writing started to take off and then took over," she says. "I wrote a bit of everything and still do, and my commissions include books, original TV dramas, radio soap opera, documentaries and plays, screenplays, chamber opera libretti, and interactive multimedia products."

Wilf and Felicity's lives are now divided between a modern flat in the old Hartley jam factory in inner city London, and a gorgeous stone house in Dingle that they bought and restored in 2002. They have loved becoming part of the artistic community in Kerry. "Although as much as I love the peace of Dingle, sometimes I need the madness and business of London to get me going," Felicity laughs.

She and Wilf set up JHM in 1995, an umbrella under which creative work arising out of their shared artistic values is conceived and made. "When we met, I knew nothing about music," she says. "The idea of combining my words and Wilf's music to make something came about and we started working together."

Felicity's gorgeous book, Enough is Plenty - The Year on the Dingle Peninsula, celebrates the seasonal rhythms in and around their house and garden, and is about ordinary small pleasures, such as the smell of freshly baked soda bread, that can easily go unnoticed. It also offers recipes from Felicity's kitchen, and information on organic food production and gardening. It views the year from a place where a vibrant 21st-Century lifestyle is still marked by Ireland's Celtic past, and health and happiness are rooted in awareness of nature and the environment, while nourishment comes from music, friendship, storytelling and good food.

Felicity also has a second, very different book, A Woven Silence, coming out in September, which explores her own life and centres on her family's complex loyalties and involvements at the time of Ireland's 1916 Rising. "I went to England to find myself and look at Ireland from a distance, as I couldn't see how you could be a creative artist in the island I grew up in, especially as a woman," she explains. " I wasn't mature enough to stay and fight, so I had to grow up and that book is partly about that experience. I know I'm going to lose some of my American fans because they love Ireland so much, but the new book is about an Ireland that they don't know and marks a shift in direction for me."

Enough is Plenty - The Year on the Dingle Peninsula,  s out now. Collins Press, €11.99

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