Waking hours with Marie-Therese de Blacam
Originally from Cork, Marie-Therese de Blacam (36), lives on Inis Meain in the Aran Islands with her husband, Ruairi, and their two daughters. She and Ruairi run the Inis Meain Restaurants and Suites, a unique hotel rooted in the island's physical landscape
Published 22/06/2015 | 02:30
We have two young daughters - Saileog, and Ailbhe, aged four and two. The older one is a real live-wire and doesn't seem to need much sleep. She is generally up at 6.30am. Ruairi and I do one day on, one day off, so that one of us is up with her every second morning. If it's not my morning, I'll stay in bed until maybe 8.30am. Ruairi and I work six nights a week. We run our own small hotel and restaurant, the Inis Meain Restaurant and Suites, where we have ten guests at a time, and I'm rarely in bed before midnight, often later.
Our life on the island is a tale of two halves. We're open seven days a week for the six months of the season, and those are long days. For the other six months, the Restaurant and Suites are closed and our lives are far less hectic. There's a nice rhythm to the year, and we have a great balance. This is a lifetime business for us, so we need that.
Once we're all up, there is a haphazard breakfast, and then the working day begins. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are change-over days - because of the remote island location, we offer a minimum two-night stay, starting on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays only. Otherwise, we would be more like a full-time taxi service than a hotel, picking people up from the planes and boats that arrive to the island. On those days, our daughters are picked up at 9am by their childminder and stay with her until midnight. It's a long day, but, happily, we're with them much more for the rest of the week.
Ruairi and I work together, but within that, we have our own teams and areas of responsibility. He is in charge of the kitchen and the building, and my main areas are front-of-house in the restaurant, the garden and guest satisfaction. I get into work some time before 10am, catch up with my side of the team and make sure everything is ready for the guests who are departing, and those arriving. Because the location is so different, we give each new guest a short introduction to the island, what there is to do, where to walk and visit.
I usually head home at about 5pm, and change for service in the restaurant that evening. I doll up a little bit, and put on a black dress. There is the relief of having put happy guests on the boat or plane, and having welcomed new ones, so it's a bit of a take-a-deep-breath moment between 5pm and 6pm. I usually take my time getting ready, as a way to relax more than anything.
Once back at the restaurant, Ruairi will have prepared dinner for the two of us, something left over from the night before, or whatever he's cooking that evening - and that's a nice treat. We eat together in the dining room, and usually have a small glass of good wine, in a polished glass. It's just a nice time for the two of us before we go into the demands of the evening, a ritual that we have - short, but sacred.
We do a set dinner every night, with four courses, based mainly on the ingredients from the sea and from the garden. I type up the menu, which changes every day, and can change even during the course of an afternoon. Anything can happen out here - a crate of lobsters might arrive at the pier - so its only worth typing the menu in the evening when we finally know for sure what Ruairi is going to cook.
We always translate the menu into Irish as well. We're in a Gaelteacht area, so it's part of the personality of the place. This means I'm often looking up translations for things like squid-ink mayonnaise at the last minute. The restaurant opens at 7.30pm. Guests will have a drink, and dinner is served at 8pm for everybody.
Non change-over days are different. On Tuesdays, I'm at home with the girls until 5pm, and I try to do fun things with them - we go to the beach, out for walks to see baby lambs or wild flowers. When I first moved to Inis Meain from Cork and we had our family, I lamented that there's no playground here - there are very few children on the island - but now I realise, really, the whole island is a playground: the closeness with nature, the beach right on our doorstep, the beautiful walks.
On Thursdays, Ruairi is mostly at home with the girls, and I try to get a good run at office work. At weekends, Ruairi and I are like a tag team; one of us at home, the other out doing things at work. Sunday night is the one night the restaurant and suites are closed, so that evening is sacred. We might get a movie, or go next door to Ruairi's parents for dinner. It's family time.
Ruairi and I met in Dublin - we were both doing a degree course in entrepreneurship through Irish in DCU. We were together for 10 years before we married; a long, slow-burning relationship, a bit like the business here.
Guests always ask - 'what do you do in the winter?' In fact, we're busy preparing for the coming season and repairing after the last. We do the marketing, PR, accounts, recruitment, website, maintenance and building; all the stuff there's no time for when we're open. We have also just started a line of homewares and gifts, designed by ourselves and made by the people who make things for the restaurant and suites. By the end of the season, I look forward to having the island back to ourselves, but by the end of the winter, in a place with a population of 150 people, we can't wait to open again.
I get to bed somewhere between midnight and 1am. In the winter, that may be closer to 11pm. I do need my sleep - less than seven hours and I get really tired; my skin and hair start playing up. Even so, I struggle to get an average of seven hours a night. Sometimes I find it difficult being so far from family and friends in Cork, especially now my dad is waiting for a lung transplant, but that said, this is a truly wonderful place to live.
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