Entertainment Books

Monday 21 October 2019

Emma's gift for friendship still sparkles and shines

Emma Hannigan took off for a post-Leaving Cert break along with her two best pals. One of them - celebrity chef Rachel Allen - now recalls those carefree rites of youth - and we also publish an exclusive extract from Emma's final book

Emma (left) and Rachel enjoy street food in Lombok
Emma (left) and Rachel enjoy street food in Lombok
Emma (right) and Rachel travelled around Asia with their pal Tiffany
After Emma and Rachel were robbed in Bali, Emma's dad said to check into a nice hotel - so they raided the mini-bar!

I had heard about Emma Hannigan before I met her. I was 18 and she was 17. It was the summer of 1990 at Ballymaloe House, just after I had started working in the restaurant kitchen on finishing the 12-week cookery course.

She had been a great friend to my boyfriend Isaac, who's now my husband. They had held hands when they were about 10 years old and apparently had called each other their girlfriend and boyfriend for a summer, or a few weeks of it anyway.

Emma, her brother Timmy and their parents Denise and Philip had been coming to holiday at Ballymaloe for many years, so Emma and Timmy were firm fixtures of The Ballymaloe Gang, the name given to the posse of Allen grandchildren, friends and regular guests who all ran amock around the house and farm with fun-filled abandon.

As soon as Emma and I met, we clicked. I remember being struck by both her sweetness and her incredibly sharp sense of humour. Emma had the ability to crack you up in just a few words, a trait she shares with her whole family. She always looked so cute but that sparkly pink, fluffy sweetness belied her dazzling wit, which was a brilliant and winning combination that made Emma just who she was.

Emma (right) and Rachel travelled around Asia with their pal Tiffany
Emma (right) and Rachel travelled around Asia with their pal Tiffany

Her jokes, however, were never unkind. Emma had that admirable skill of being hilarious but never at someone else's expense.

Her thoughtfulness and sensitivity knew no bounds, she would remember everyone's birthdays, anniversaries and important dates and we used to joke that the postal service would go bankrupt without her as she sent so many lovely parcels, packages and cards to her family and friends.

Emma and I used to joke about starting a girl-band. Emma had a brilliant voice (unlike me), another of her many talents. Thankfully the closest we got to singing on stage were the karaoke sessions we enjoyed in complete anonymity while travelling around South East Asia with our great friend Tiffany; those few months I will never forget, and from which time I cherish many happy and funny memories.

Emma wasn't as into the idea of roughing it as Tiffany and I were but we warned her - shorts, T-shirts, Birkenstocks, minimum luggage. She tried but there were certain things she couldn't do without. She arrived at the airport with an extra bag and a lot of Clinique products - no way was she going without them.

As it happened we were robbed in Bali and the thieves took everything, including our wallets. They also took Tiffany's British passport but threw Emma's and my Irish passports away. Emma was more disgusted about that than the wallets and money.

We were a bit shaken by it all and Emma's dad had a fax machine so we contacted him. He told us to book into a nice hotel and look after ourselves. So she picked the best. She got her bit of luxury in the end.

After Emma and Rachel were robbed in Bali, Emma's dad said to check into a nice hotel - so they raided the mini-bar!
After Emma and Rachel were robbed in Bali, Emma's dad said to check into a nice hotel - so they raided the mini-bar!

Emma was very family oriented. We used to say how we'd both won the lottery with our parents, and we had. Emma always spoke of her love of children and as soon as she met Cian (who she'd actually been in school with but hadn't known so well then) she knew that he was the one who she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, and happily, a few years later, they had two gorgeous babies, Sacha and Kim, the apples of Emma's eye.

Everyone used to say to Emma that she needed to start jotting down her words for more people than just her lucky family and friends who got to receive cards and messages from her. Over the years with enough cajoling and pestering Emma did start to write, but it was when she started chemotherapy and really needed the distraction and escapism she began to write her books.

Emma always had such amazing imagination and that creativity combined with the astute way that she'd read people brought so many brilliant characters to life in her books.

Over the years Emma got to touch the hearts of so many people - from readers of her books to people who connected with her online. Emma had time and empathy for everyone and I've heard so many people who've fought a battle with cancer say how she really helped them in different ways, whether it was with practical advice or just helping to shine a light in their lives that had started to wane.

It's quite extraordinary, and a fitting testament to Emma's kindness, just how many people spoke out and who put up messages online when our dear Emma passed away on March 3, 2018. I always used to get so excited when another of Emma's books came out so I could lose myself in her world and hear her voice through her evocative words.

Sitting down to read this latest book of Emma's, her 13th, is of course bittersweet, more bitter than sweet, as it is and always will be Emma's last ever book. When I went to say goodbye to my dear friend for the last time she had just finished editing this very book, from her bed. I'm going to make it last for as long as possible and dread turning that final page, but as Emma used to sign off her cards and texts: Love and Light, and that's what I'll always hold in my heart for the loveliest friend that anyone could ever have.

Thank you to Emma's family for bringing her into the world and for continuing to shine her magical, glittery and sparkling light.

I am, and always was, so honoured to call Emma my friend.

I hope you all enjoy this extract from Emma's book, The Gift of Friends.

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