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It's horses for courses in picture-perfect jobs

Best friends Sinead Ni Riain and Jacqueline Lanigan Ryan have more than their surname in common. Both were brought up as only girls in families with five and six brothers respectively, and both work using their artistic talents and sensory skills. There is also a tangible equine link, for Sinead is a photographer specialising in horses, and portraits of animals and children, while Jacqueline is a pastry chef working in the well known Horse & Jockey Hotel near Thurles, Co Tipperary, where owner Tom Egan's love of horses is evident in the paintings adorning the walls.

Sinead is a middle child with five brothers -- one of whom is Ronan Ryan, the well known restaurateur of Town Bar & Grill fame -- while Jacqueline is the second eldest with six brothers.

Sinead was in her first year of college in 1987, studying industrial design, when she had a car crash which resulted in her spending the next five years in and out of hospital, two of which were in the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC). When she was in the NRC she joined the Dublin Camera Club, where she met English photographer Terry O'Rourke. She did her apprenticeship with him, and subsequently set up her own business, Ni Riain Photography, in 1992.

Sinead has a very engaging and forthright personality and quickly establishes a rapport with people, and indeed animals, putting them completely at their ease.

"The late Matty Ryan, the society jeweller, was very good to me when I was setting up. He recommended me for the wedding of Jane Ponsonby and Simon Marsh, who was Andrew Lloyd Webber's racing manager. At that wedding I was sitting beside a very well known, lovely equine lady called Fay Ponsonby, and she commissioned me to photograph her three children with their ponies."

One of the portraits won Best Portrait in Ireland, and that was the start of her equine photography career.

Sinead then took a "whistle-stop tour" of the USA, and on her return in 2002 built a full studio at Cassestown. She met the trainer Aidan O'Brien of Ballydoyle Stud, and his wife Annemarie, and they asked her to do portraits of their children.

"I became friendly with Annemarie and she showed me some of the images she was taking, with her little Instamatic camera, riding out in the mornings. She kept asking me would I come over, but I never do landscapes, it's not my thing," says Sinead.

"Photography is all about light and composition and I could see that Annemarie had an amazing eye for light -- she is very artistic, you can't teach that, you have to have the eye and instinct. She is now an amazing photographer and is working on a book on Ballydoyle.

"I learned horses from her and she learned photography from me. I would never have been able to shoot the book she is doing because I wouldn't have realised the energy around the horse. Working with her and Aidan has been super for me because I really learned all about horses."

Sinead showed her work at the RDS Horse Show this summer for the first time, and this led to 40 commissions all over Ireland.

"I've won Best Portrait in Ireland, Best Black & White, and Best Portrait Portfolio by the Irish Professional Photographers' Association. There are a lot of photographers who can do good portraits, but combine that with the relationship of the pony with the adult or the child, that's a different skill set because you have to get the child's attention but you equally have to get the pony's attention and you can lose both very quickly.

"In children they say there is one minute per year of age to capture it, and with horses and ponies it depends how they react, if they let you in, because they are like people -- some are very shy, some are very boisterous -- so you need to know their energy."

Sinead has also twice been the winner of the Best Wedding Album in Ireland; one of those weddings was in Dromoland Castle and that album was on display there. Half of Sinead's work is with weddings. "With the recession, everything is down to price. While couples still get married, the budget is much more

defined. When it comes to portraiture you are in a luxury market but I think the fact that I do weddings, studio portraiture, and now pet photography, helps.

"What I see with children with ponies and other animals is that they are learning life's lessons. You have a dog, a cat, a pony for 365 days of the year and you have to care for it. They learn responsibility, and what I notice with children with ponies is that they are very earthed. They have to muck out, ride it out, and learn a lot of skills. The same with a dog or cat.

"To slightly misquote Winston Churchill, there is something about the outside of a pony that touches the inside of a child -- I can see that."


Jacqueline Lanigan Ryan grew up in Clonalty outside Thurles, the second eldest, with six brothers, and was soon faced with cooking as her mother died when she was 17.

"I had been helping out for a good while before that as my mother, who was a domestic science teacher, was ill for six years with multiple sclerosis. I did make a break from home when I was 19 or I reckoned I would still be there."

Jacqueline started her career in an accountant's office and was there for about six years. "However, a premises became vacant in Thurles that had been a coffee shop and, aged 26, I decided to start my own business -- Jalary's Restaurant Cafe & Deli."

She applied to Cathal Brugha Street Catering College to do a pastry course. "They said I was not a chef, I had not trained with them, and they had never given a place to someone who was not already a chef. However, my brother Colm had trained there, was a chef, and had been quite successful, so I said to them that I was easily as good as him, if not better! I said, 'How about taking the risk and giving me a chance?' and they did. I was second in the class at the end of the year and I was only beaten by the pastry chef at the K-Club -- so I was delighted with myself."

She ran Jalary's for 12 years. "It was very difficult when I started. Some weeks I didn't get paid, staff had to be paid first, insurance and so on, but eventually it worked. I really only gave up Jalary's because it was impossible to get kitchen staff and, when I received an offer for my lease from Abrakebabra, I decided to take it.

"Four or five years ago, Tom Egan was expanding his hotel and wanted to do something different. I felt he was thinking along the same lines as I was. He built a separate kitchen for the bakery, which he had a lot of foresight in doing, because baking requires oven space all the time and chefs also require oven space all the time. Also, health inspectors hate a crossover between cream and vegetables, so two kitchens works very well. I am never on service, so I make and make from the time I start until the time I finish."

The Horse & Jockey has an amazing coffee bar. It is really unusual for a hotel to have such a facility, with fresh cakes and breads cooked on the premises coming hot out to the guests, wafting wonderful aromas straight from Jacqueline's oven. "It has worked a treat because there wasn't really a coffee bar trade when they started," she says.

Jacqueline's cakes are a work of art. Her flourless deep and rich chocolate cake is just fantastic. She also makes a superb lemon Madeira cake with homemade lemon curd, and another popular number is her creme fraiche and raspberry tart.

"Lemon curd is so simple to make, but nobody bothers to make it themselves. It is a pity people don't take the time to go that extra yard.

"People started asking if they could buy a slice to take home, and then we added tables. Now we have a special dresser to display the cakes very nicely, and people keep coming back for more."

Jacqueline Lanigan Ryan, phone 087617-5712; www.horseandjockeyhotel.com

Sunday Independent