Pair with love as a driving force
How garage director Fiona and her husband Mark keep their relationship ticking over
'I TOOK the view the day we got married that it was the two of us against the world," says Mark Roche, who met his wife Fiona Murphy in 1990, when they were both 19.
"After all these years together, I still find her very attractive. And aside from her looks, her career is very attractive to me, as the housewife type of thing just doesn't interest me at all."
Fiona, 43, and the eldest of five girls, is a director of Clonskeagh Motors, a leading Honda dealership and high-quality used car showroom that was started by her father Dermot over 40 years ago.
Dermot still heads up the company, and is completely devoted to it and very hard-working, says Fiona. While her sister Emma doesn't work in the business, Sharon looks after the service department and Hannah, the youngest, is working on reception.
Their adored sister Yvonne, who had special needs, a fantastic personality and a wicked sense of humour, sadly passed away two years ago, aged 35.
Fiona grew up steeped in the business. When her mum Aileen and dad Dermot bought the business in the early 1970s, it was a garage with two petrol pumps.
The family initially lived in the little house that was built on the site.
Fiona always helped out in the garage, working there in the holidays from UCD, where she completed a degree in economics and philosophy.
It was in first year at college that she fell for her classmate Mark at a mutual friend's party, and despite finding him to be a "dark horse," they started dating a month later.
"I went to school at Belvedere, so I was a typical sports jock, who could talk about anything to do with sports, but wasn't able to speak to girls," say Mark, by way of explaining the "dark horse" description.
"Once we got together, we were inseparable."
Nine years later, Fiona and Mark were married in September 1999, holding their reception at Rathsallagh House. They then honeymooned in Italy.
Mark is from Castleknock, and has a brother David and sister Carmel.
His dad, Professor Frank Roche, is currently deputy principal of the UCD College of Business and Law, and his mum Dympna was previously a special needs teacher.
Mark's passion is for finance, and after completing the degree at UCD, he did an MBA in finance and is currently working as a stockbroker. However, he is also keenly interested in the car business, and is always in the background, helping out.
"We're both petrolheads," chuckles Fiona.
"Mark has a heart of gold and has been an unbelievable support to me in the business. He is great for giving an objective opinion.
"He has been a total rock through the difficult times, particularly when my sister died," says Fiona , adding that he is a great support to her parents – "he's like the son they never had."
Fiona says that she never had any hesitation joining the family business full time in 1994, and now presides over sales and the overall running of the business.
These are difficult times for the motor industry, so Fiona is always trying to give better value and service to customers and looking for new ways to stay relevant.
"We have an amazing, loyal staff, and it's very important to keep it all afloat," she says.
"While people went for the luxury brands a bit more during the good times, they are coming back now to great models like Honda that offer reliability, efficiency and value for money. We also service and supply other brands as well, and pride ourselves on our after-sales service.
"Obviously work became more challenging once the financial tsunami hit, but like many other families, we try to keep our perspective and just get through it."
Clonskeagh Motors has built up a loyal following over the past 40 years. It is pretty innovative too, because as well as the motor business, it has also hosted fashion shows, art exhibitions and bridge nights.
While the industry used to be hugely male-dominated, Fiona says that there are a lot more women in the business these days, and she finds it an advantage, as female customers often prefer to deal with another woman.
"Unfortunately my dad never had a son, and he worked so hard at the business that I always felt that somebody should take it over," Fiona says."I was happy to as I always had a great interest in it."
Fiona and Mark say that the highlight of their marriage has been having their two children, Lucy, 6, and Max, 4, but the journey to having them was also the most challenging thing they've overcome. "It wasn't an easy road," says Mark. "I think we both assumed that it would happen easily, but after a few years, we went to the UK for specialist help as we found it lacking here. Thankfully, it was very successful, and here we are, two children later.
"Having children changes you, as you're always thinking about them in everything you do rather than yourself, and you don't self-analyse any more," says Mark, adding, "our marriage has been super and very rewarding. I think that when you marry your best friend it's quite easy."
Like any working couple with children, Fiona and Mark lead a very busy life and employ a Brazilian au pair to help out with the children.
They feel that it is important to take time to themselves and their relationship, and go out once or twice a week for dinner, a walk or to the cinema together.
"Mark is a fantastic father and husband," says Fiona. "I've never woken up and said, 'Oh him again!' He's just part of me now."
Clonskeagh Motors, Clonskeagh Road, Dublin 14. Tel: 01 269 4477, or see www.clonskeaghmotors.com