'PASCAL was a man, whereas I had only been out with boys. He was totally different and I loved his eyes, plus I had always said, from my first family holiday when I was nine, that I would marry a French man. They were all tanned and I loved the accent. Also, my dad told me not to get involved with Pascal at first, as he was his friend – and I loved that aspect!"
Milliner Isobel Marinot-Wood, 40, is talking about meeting her French husband, Pascal Marinot, 53, when she was 22 and he was 35. At the time, Pascal was a chef at a shooting and fishing lodge, Screebe House, in Connemara, and Isobel's late father, Paul, managed the shoot there. Isobel was a game-dealer, buying the birds and selling venison and duck to restaurants and hotels, which meant that she got to know Pascal through business.
"I liked her eyes, and she had a very friendly, open energy," says Pascal, who has not lost a single jot of his French accent, despite being here for 18 years.
Isobel grew up outside Naas in Kildare, as the eldest of Paul and Patricia Wood's four girls. She says her dad, who passed away 18 months ago, had a huge influence on her throughout life. He was a wildlife artist who formerly worked as a creative director in various Dublin ad agencies. He also enjoyed shooting and fishing, and had a keen interest in nature and wildlife, like his daughter.
After completing her Leaving Cert at The King's Hospital School, the artistic Isobel au paired in France and then embarked on a jewellery and goldsmithing course at art college in Belfast. She didn't complete it, as she didn't enjoy working with metal as a material. However, during one of their early college projects, the students were told to work on something completely different, and Isobel loved making hats and decorating them with feathers and jewels.
Her parents had moved to the west of Ireland by then, so she went to live in Connemara, which is where she met Pascal, who is from Provence in the south of France. He's the second oldest of Robert and Jeannine's four children, and his dad was an engineer in a nuclear research plant.
While at school, Pascal started working at a restaurant, initially in service, and then he began helping in the kitchen. After his year of compulsory military service, he began his training as a chef. He went to work in London, Paris, Gambia and Sierra Leone, and ultimately came to Ireland, initially working at the Pierre Victoire French restaurant in Cork.
He has been head chef at the 1830s country house and fishing lodge, Delphi Lodge, in Connemara for the past three years, which he loves.
Isobel liked Pascal because he was kind and understood life, and was very secure, stable and well-travelled. "As there were 13 years between us, I felt like a little girl beside him, at first, but I really looked up to him in awe as he had so many grown-up, mature qualities," she says.
They started dating (her dad didn't mind in the end) and six months later went to Malaysia to visit Pascal's sister. While they were there, they talked about getting married. Isobel then went to Zimbabwe for three months to manage a safari camp. "I wanted to be involved with wildlife," she says, "whether it was hunting, culling, whatever. It was the best experience and I loved it – an amazing place with beautiful people and I would go bird-watching and take lots of photos."
Pascal officially proposed before she left, and, after discussing the matter with her parents, he realised they didn't really take the prospect of her acceptance that seriously. However, they soon recognised it was for real, and when Isobel returned from Zimbabwe, Pascal sealed the deal with a blue/purple tanzanite and diamond ring that she had coveted for years in a shop in Galway. They were married in Clifden and then went travelling for a year around the world, before settling down on the Sky Road outside Clifden.
After their daughters, Millicent, 11, and Alice, 9, were born, Isobel chose to be a stay-at-home mum. Five years ago, she decided that she wanted to do something for herself, and embarked on a weekend millinery course in Kilkenny, which she loved. Seeing how much she enjoyed working with soft materials made her understand why she hadn't enjoyed working with the harder and less pliable metals at college. She went on to set up Marinot Millinery, and makes beautiful bespoke hats that have become highly sought-after.
Feathers are a huge feature, and Isobel's creations have a vintage feel with a touch of modern quirkiness – she is influenced by the 1920-1950s era. She doesn't follow trends, and creates for the client's personality, and her wow creations have been seen on many of those who are so well turned out on Ladies' Day. She will be taking a stand at the forthcoming Punchestown Races at the end of this month, and her hats are currently stocked in Dublin at The Design House, Dawson Street, and Marion Cuddy in Powerscourt Town House Centre, and in Galway at Millars Connemara in Clifden, The Galway Hat Shop, and Fusion Fashion, in Moycullen.
Isobel says she and Pascal are like chalk and cheese, but they work as a team and complement each other. He is calm and wise, and if she gets "hair-brained" ideas on occasion, he is there to bring her back to earth. Pascal, meanwhile, says his wife's passion energises him and spurs him into action, where needed.
Sunday Indo Living