Life Home & Garden

Monday 20 May 2019

A holistic home... peak inside interior designer Jacqueline Connolly's house

Jacqueline Connolly's career path has included interior design, alternative therapies and digital media, and all three disciplines play a part in her life and her home. Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Ray Ryan

Jacqueline Connolly in the kitchen which she designed herself. She maximised light by raising the windows' height. Photo: Ray Ryan
Jacqueline Connolly in the kitchen which she designed herself. She maximised light by raising the windows' height. Photo: Ray Ryan
The back of Rose Cottage dates from Famine times while the front is almost 100 years old. Jacqueline linked them and added and changed rooms, according to her needs. Photo: Ray Ryan.
The white units were made by Kreations Kitchens in Athenry. The floor is covered in ceramic tiles and the worktop is Corian. Photo: Ray Ryan.
Jacqueline transformed the original Famine building into a welcoming, light-filled sitting room with its soft grey tones. Photo: Ray Ryan
The bedroom is furnished in a romantic style with lots of linen and lace. Photo: Ray Ryan

Mary O'Sullivan

As everyone knows, the downturn affected most people, but none more so than those in architecture, construction and interior design. Thriving firms disappeared overnight, and the people involved seemed to dissolve into thin air.

But of course, that wasn't the case - they had to continue doing something to survive; some fared better than others.

Jacqueline Connolly is an engaging blonde who spent 30 years building up her interiors business, and had always loved her work. "It's not curing cancer, but at the same time it's a huge responsibility creating homes for people; it's a sacred space to them. I'd never impose my style on a client, but I'd be giving them courage to find their own," she recalls. "I used to say, 'Take a leap of faith, it's only a paint colour'. I wouldn't be careless with their money, but I'd encourage them to be braver than they thought they could be."

Needless to mention, Jacqueline was devastated when her thriving business evaporated -"It was like a tap that stopped suddenly," she notes - but she herself is quite a brave person, and instead of despairing, as many would be tempted to do, she picked herself up, and tried a number of possibilities, before finally hitting on the third-level course she's currently involved in.

She started by doing basic computer courses, and enjoyed them so much that she's now in her second year of a full-time honours degree in Digital Media & Society, in GMIT in Castlebar, Co Mayo. "I used to think if I hit the wrong button on my computer, I'd end up auctioning off my first-born, but I really enjoyed the initial courses, and so decided to do the degree," Jacqueline says. "There is a very creative aspect to digital media; there' s web design, graphics; we had to write a blog. A lot of it is story-telling. I wouldn't be the greatest at self-promotion, but we constantly need to reinvent ourselves, and the course is very good from the point of view of me telling my own story."

And it's an interesting story. Jacqueline is also a healer, a herbalist, and a shamanic practitioner; indeed, she's into all areas of alternative medicine. These are areas she explored later in life, when she was established in interiors, but, ironically, it's as if she was returning to an early love - she almost opted to study conventional medicine when she left school.

"I spent a lot of time in hospital when I was a child, as I had a hole in my heart," she says, "so I think medicine was the world I knew. At school, I was good at science and art, so it was medicine or architecture. Before I filled in the CAO form, I flipped a coin; architecture came up."

She got the points and headed off to Bolton Street. In retrospect, she says she was too young for college, didn't enjoy architecture and transferred to environmental design, which led her to summer work in London, which itself led on to a career in interior design. "I got work in a place called Systemline Interiors, and at the end of the summer, they told me they were recruiting trainee designers, and asked me to stay on," she says. "My head was turned by London. It was 1986, all the old buildings were being turned into offices, and I was working on their designs. It was a really exciting time to be in London."

Jacqueline met her future husband in London, but when the marriage didn't work out, she returned home in 1995 "to lick her wounds". Once she established herself as an interior designer, she got involved in complementary medicine. "In my opinion, when people get involved in alternatives, they're searching; their own trauma sends them off," she volunteers. "I started to look outside work for a life for myself."

She started with acupuncture, that led to reiki, then to metamorphosis, shamanism, and then herbalism.

She did courses at the Irish Centre for Shamanic Studies in Dunderry, Co Meath; she studied herbalism with Gina McGarry in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, and also travelled to sacred sites around the world, all the while working as an interior designer.

"I worked my ass off for 11 months of the year and then travelled for one month. I have to say I've found peace and contentment in all I've learned," Jacqueline says. "For me, it would be understanding your place within the cycle of life - that what we do, what we eat, what we think, is all creating the reality we live in; that we actually have control over our own lives. I'm not standing on any kind of soapbox, but I have found my own truths, my own answers."

These include her belief in ancient rituals, and four times a year she performs fire ceremonies at Esker Monastery in Co Galway, supported by the priests there, one of which will be taking place shortly. "As Celts, we would have celebrated Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lunasa. We will be celebrating Samhain soon; a group of us get together in a circle. I will have devised a ritual for the group; it's about letting go and about connecting with the community; it's very powerful stuff," Jacqueline notes.

Just as this thoughtful woman sees a connection to the past in the fire ceremonies, she sees heritage, too, in her herbalism, and notes how her grandfather, who passed away last year, used herbs for various remedies. She worries that we're forgetting this knowledge that was passed down through generations. In her own quiet way, Jacqueline is passionate about her herbs, and says she has found them to be very effective for herself alongside conventional medicine. She would love, one day, to make a living from the balms and remedies she makes from herbs, but meanwhile she finds them a useful basis for her digital studies.

"We have to do a project on digital storytelling. I'm going to do mine on the dandelion. It's always used in weed-killing ads, yet it was once considered important enough to bring to the New World on the Mayflower," she notes.

Jacqueline has many sources for her herbs, including the gardens around her charming home, Rose Cottage in Tuam, Co Galway. The big gardens were one of the reasons she bought the house in 2006. It's her second home since returning to Ireland, and she bought it on a bit of whim. "At the time, I thought I might have retreats here some day. There were two buildings; the back building dates from the Famine, and the front was built in 1928."

Jacqueline decided to connect the two buildings, and suddenly it became a bigger project than she had expected. The roofs were bad, new wiring and heating were required and there was black fungus everywhere, so all the plaster had to be brought back to the bare bones. And as so much work was required anyway, Jacqueline made sure to create her dream home with lots of light, space and height. "It was a labour of love, but I did it on a very tight budget," she says.

Not that it looks as if a budget was involved. The overall impression is one of warmth, openness and peace, a bit like Jacqueline herself.

See Rose Cottage Remedies' page on Facebook, or email

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