Thursday 29 September 2016

You changed my world, my Sarah

Sarah May Clarke turns to her nana Sadie Parker for advice on love and life. Sometimes she even takes it

Published 18/07/2016 | 02:30

Sarah May Clarke and her grandmother Sadie Parker pictured at l’Ecrivain. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Sarah May Clarke and her grandmother Sadie Parker pictured at l’Ecrivain. Photo: Gerry Mooney.

The very glamorous Sadie Parker, 83, has six children and 13 grandchildren ranging in age from adult down to one-year-old Dessie. The eldest grandchild, event manager Sarah May Clarke, is thrilled to have a special relationship with someone so wise and caring.

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"All of my other grandparents passed away when I was young, and my nana is like my friend," says Sarah May, 26. "We hang out all the time and have a really good time together. Nana tells me all of her stories about old boyfriends and everything - she had them all running after her. For her 80th birthday we went to see Soul Sisters at Bord Gais Energy Theatre, which was about Tina Turner, and the two of us were up dancing."

Sarah May is the daughter of chef Derry Clarke and his wife Sallyanne, the proprietors of Michelin-starred restaurant l'Ecrivain. They opened the restaurant nine months before Sarah May was born, and Sadie helped out hugely with minding her and her younger brother Andrew, particularly at weekends.

"Nana was amazing and always gave us her full attention, and looking back now, I don't know how she had the patience," laughs the pretty Sarah May. "She let us turn her sitting-room into a fort, and we would forget she was an adult because she was always playing games with us. She was so cool, and Andrew and I really enjoyed going to her house."

Interestingly, Sadie and Sallyanne were also officially christened Sarah. Sadie wanted to call her eldest daughter Sallyanne, which was vetoed by the officiating priest, who insisted on Sarah Anne. Sarah May was named after both of her grandmothers, and Sadie affectionately describes her as "a holy terror, who is just herself". She ticks her off for smoking, which is the one piece of advice Sarah May doesn't heed - yet!

"Nana is loving, caring, kind and generous, and if there is something wrong, she will know straight away and is really good at cheering you up," says Sarah May. "She's really funny and very inquisitive and direct, and she makes me laugh because she cuts out the small talk and gets straight to the point. I'm very lucky to have her, as she's amazing and gives me great advice."

Sadie lived on New Street in the Liberties area of Dublin until she was five, and was the youngest of the late Sarah and James Malone's nine children - they had 13 but not all survived. The family then moved to Crumlin and Sadie attended the Presentation schools in Warrenmount School. Unusually for that time, she stayed on until she was 18.

After school, she worked as a bookkeeper and was office supervisor at Prescott's dry-cleaners for 13 years. She married Desmond Parker at 29, and they had their first two children, Sallyanne and Tom, before emigrating to Chicago for over four years, where Desmond's two brothers were living. They had two children there, Joycelyn and James, and Margaret and Bernard were born when they returned to live in Crumlin.

At that point, they bought a combined drapery shop and house on Crumlin Road, and many people will remember that Sadie opened it as a boutique called Sallyanne's, which she ran successfully for years. They moved then to Kimmage, but sadly Desmond passed away 20 years ago.

Sadie is an avid bridge player, and all her beloved children and grandchildren are hugely important to her.

Sadie was devastated when Sarah May's brother Andrew passed away through suicide aged 16 in December 2012. "Andrew was wonderful and he gave us so much pleasure," says Sadie. "I used to mind him even more than Sarah May, because I'd drop him to school and pick him up."

Sarah May says that Sadie's support was amazing, and her strength held everyone together at such a truly heartbreaking time. "It was really hard for Nana as it was hurting her just as much as us, but she wanted to look after her baby, my mum, and keep strong for everyone in the family," she says. "We were all in our own heads dealing with grief, and I don't know if we were as good at giving support back to her. My grandmother has been through so much, but I think losing her grandson was one thing she never thought she would see in her life."

Sarah May completed a degree in event management and marketing after school, and then combined working at the restaurant with production and operation roles on major events like Taste of Dublin and Taste of Diffusion. She recently went travelling for five months through Asia, New Zealand and Australia, which she says was the most amazing experience ever, and is going to the UK for the rest of the summer to work on Carfest. After that, she's off to Australia in October, where she hopes to get work at events and festivals.

When she is away, Sarah May misses her family very much, but keeps in touch by phone and Skype. Sadie chats to her weekly and also follows her adventures on Facebook, and is a great believer that young people should travel and see the world. "I think it's very good for her, and I just hope that she will go to Australia, sow her wild oats and then come home," says Sadie. "When I'm sick or need anything, Sarah May is always there for me. A few years ago, I tripped and broke my arm and she was so good to me. She is unbelievably talented and has an awful lot going for her, and of course I'm very proud of her."

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