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Friday 19 September 2014

Bondings: How Siobhan Byrne is keeping up with Kasao

Published 15/06/2014 | 07:00

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Out of Africa: Siobhan Byrne Learat and Kasao Learat met when he was her group’s driver in Kenya. They got married there and both had their children present. Photo: Tony Gavin

We all shared in the excitement when US stars Kim Kardashian and Kanye West spent their honeymoon here last month, but for Siobhan Byrne Learat, putting together the top-secret visit was all in a day’s work for her luxury travel company, Adams & Butler.

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Then again, romance is always in the air for Siobhan, 47, who met her own husband, Kasao Learat, 42, when he collected her and four clients on arrival to Kenya in 2007. They started chatting, and the others in the group soon noticed the sparks between them.

When they met, Kasao was separated. An elder of the Samburu tribe, he has two sons, Sabaya, 11, and Sariku, 9, and adopted his sister’s son, Dulla, 19. Siobhan was divorced with a son, Jonathon, 30, whom she had when she was 16, and three sons from her marriage, Adam, 23, Sam, 19, and Richard, 18.

“Siobhan was very happy and talkative, and I liked her face and her smile,” says Kasao, who is one of Kenya’s top wardens and also works with visiting photographers and documentary-makers.

“I loved his laugh,” said Siobhan. “If I phone Kasao and he doesn’t chuckle, I know something is wrong. I find him very attractive and he has a lovely big bum.”

When she was leaving, Kasao asked Siobhan for her contact details, and then they kissed. Kasao phoned her every day, and they met when they could, and decided to marry in 2010 in Kenya, with all of their children present.

“I was happy to be free and single, but I knew that guys like this don’t come along often,” says Siobhan. “Kasao builds schools and gives his money away to help people that he doesn’t even know. All of the wedding money that people gifted us went to help those affected during the drought. He is genuinely a good person. I also liked that he stands up to me, as I get stressed and take on too much, and he warns me that I won’t be around forever if I keep running around. It’s rare that he puts his foot down, but when he does, I listen.”

Kasao made Siobhan do things like camp on top of a mountain for three days with no comforts, which she loved. They have also set up a charity in his area to help the girls there go to school.

“It is not common for a man from my area to marry a white, European girl, but when my family saw that Siobhan had pictures of my kids on her computer, they saw it as her accepting and becoming part of my family,” says Kasao. “Siobhan is very kind, and as she doesn’t speak the same language, she acted out what she was saying, which made them laugh.”

Kasao comes over to Dublin three times a year, and his boys will soon come to live with Siobhan for school. They miss each other horrendously when they’re apart, and eventually plan to live in Kenya, where they will build a house on a ridge on a mountain that the community has gifted to them.

Kasao has one brother and seven sisters, the children of his mother, Ntilan, and late father Puati. His dad also had 14 other children with his two other wives. They were a nomadic family with lots of cows, goats, sheep and camels, and Kasao looked after the goats.

“My mother still lives in a hut and moves every three months,” he says. “Every family had to send at least two boys to school, and while I didn’t like it at first, it was a relief because you got to sit down instead of walking for miles or helping with the animals. We boarded, but when I came home, I would have to walk from village to village looking for my family, as they kept moving to find more water.”

One day, a Dutch journalist stopped and gave Kasao a lift. He stayed in touch and arranged for him to go to ranger school in South Africa after school. Kasao was eventually put in charge of the anti-poaching unit, and did it so well that he was made an honorary warden for life with the Kenyan Wildlife Service.

Siobhan is the youngest of the late Tom and Hannah’s four children, and grew up in Mount Merrion. She completed a BA in French, Spanish and Arabic at UCD, followed by a master’s in Arabic and a diploma in business studies, and although it was tough as she was a young mother, there was a creche at college, which was a help. She worked in sales and marketing, and became managing director of a property development company, before setting up Adams & Butler in 2003.

The company specialises in luxury travel, and as well as Kimye, has arranged trips for Harrison Ford, Taylor Swift and former US presidents. It organises trips around Ireland or the UK, with luxury accommodation, private visits with members of the aristocracy or people in their clients’ fields. It creates detailed customised itineraries for individuals, families, and small groups travelling together; The company arranged Michael Jackson’s six-month stay in Ireland in 2006, and the late star often mentioned how that period of Irish normality was very precious to his family and gave them many happy memories.

Siobhan also owns Adams & Butler Africa, which offers five-star properties, safari camps, tribal visits, and private visits with people of significance. Kasao runs the office there, covering Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana.

So what made Kim and Kanye choose Ireland?

“They had originally intended going elsewhere, but we were contacted to put together a proposal as they were considering a castle in Scotland or Ireland,” says Siobhan. “We had very little time and had to pull all our best people together, and it was nerve-wracking as we had to move some people from other jobs. They had our best guides, chefs, etc. at their disposal 24/7. We were delighted that they felt that Adams & Butler was up to the challenge to compete with the best of the best internationally, and there was definitely a feel-good factor among the team when we got the job, and especially when we got it for Ireland.”

www.irishluxury.com

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