Thursday 23 May 2019

My favourite room: Breda's old flames

As a theatre producer, Breda Cashe is used to high drama on stage, but she has experienced quite a bit in real life too, particularly in relation to her home in Dublin 3.

Breda Cashe in her cream and black classic-style kitchen. Both Breda and her husband Cyril are keen cooks and lover their Aga. Photo: Tony Gavin
Breda Cashe in her cream and black classic-style kitchen. Both Breda and her husband Cyril are keen cooks and lover their Aga. Photo: Tony Gavin
Breda says she can't remember why she started collecting crosses, but she has amassed a sizeable collection, including a Saint Bridget’s cross, and crosses from Africa, Nepal and other far-flung places. Photo: Tony Gavin
Breda's daughter Ellen opted for romantic French-style furniture in her bedroom. Photo: Tony Gavin
The spacious hall is floored in black and white tiles and furnished with period pieces. Photo: Tony Gavin.
The living end of the kitchen/ living room with its marble mantlepiece and bust of Julius Caesar, which Breda bought locally. She jokingly dresses him according to the seasons - he’s sporting his spring bonnet in the photo. Photo: Tony Gavin

Mary O'Sullivan

Breda Cashe lives in a gorgeous house in Clontarf that's full of period features which look as if they're been in situ for aeons. But here's the thing: there is really nothing period about the house because it went on fire, not once, but twice, since Breda and her husband, Cyril, bought it 12 years ago.

"Yes, twice - mad, isn't it?" Breda says with a laugh, able to joke now that years have passed since that time.

Many would probably tolerate the first disaster, but most would certainly have thrown in the towel after the second. Not Breda Cashe; this charming Dubliner lives and breathes show business, and there's no doubt the old maxim 'the show must go on' would have played a part in the philosophical way she handled the fires.

Breda is a top theatre producer, but she's always been a behind-the-scenes type of person. Few will know her name, but everyone will have seen the hugely successful productions she's been involved in, including Alone It Stands, I, Keano and Tuesdays with Morrie, and she's about to embark on a landmark production of one of the iconic Irish dramas of the last 100 years - the 50th-anniversary production of JB Keane's The Field.

"It's in the Gaiety, which is marvellous because the owners, Denis Desmond and Caroline Downey, have always been supportive of JB, and it's starring Michael Harding, who is such an amazing person.

"JB was a wonderful writer and the Bull McCabe is an extraordinary role, so many great actors have played it - Niall Toibin, Brian Dennehy and Richard Harris - and I think Michael will also make it his own," Breda predicts.

Breda's love affair with the theatre began with a different Irish playwright; at the age of eight, she was brought to see O'Casey's Shadow of a Gunman, and from her teens on, she spent every spare moment hanging around theatre sets, making herself useful in whatever ways she could. "I started as an amateur in Strand Players and I acted, I designed sets, I stage managed," she says.

"There is something that happens to me when I'm at a performance. When the curtain goes up, I immediately feel a sense of expectation, a sense of adventure. It's a love affair - without being luvvie about it," Breda enthuses.

However, back when she finished school, she didn't think there was a future in theatre for her. She trained instead in graphic design and got a job as a designer in the Allied Irish Bank, all the time continuing her passion for drama. After 12 years with the bank, she decided it wasn't the life for her and she set up her own graphic design company, and also worked with an events company, doing corporate concerts.

The bank did have its uses - it was there she met her beloved husband, Cyril Bennett. While it wasn't love at first sight, she knew quite soon after that they were right for each other. "It was love at six months' sight," Breda says. "I realised fairly quickly we were going to be together, we're kind of yin and yang; Cyril was a banker and my business is so risky, it's an interesting combination."

They married 29 years ago. Breda gave up work for a time when she had their two daughters Elizabeth (23) - "Elizabeth Bennett after my favourite character; I had to find a man whose name was Bennett," Breda says with a laugh - and Ellen (21).

After some years at home, she then worked on Riverdance when it was starting. "A friend introduced me to Moya Doherty. It was a very exciting time, and it gave me a huge insight into the business," Breda says.

After that, Breda set up Lane Productions with Pat Moylan, and together, they brought theatre all over the country, including I, Keano and Alone it Stands. Pat then became chairperson of the Arts Council and Breda has become an independent producer. Her personal successes include Tuesdays with Morrie and Little Gem, which is currently touring. She and Pat and another producer, Donal Shiels, will produce The Field.

Though it was first performed 50 years ago, Breda is convinced that the central premise - the Irish obsession with property and ownership - is as relevant today as it was when the play was written, and even sees resonance in it with her own insistence on holding on to their house through the two fires.

The house dates from the 1920s, and one of its claims to fame is that Pavarotti had dinner there, a fact which intrigues Breda, as she loves opera and recently worked for a year with Wexford Festival Opera as commercial director.

"The last owners had something to do with the concert hall, and that's how he ended up having dinner here," she says.

But there was an even more ironic link to the house: when the couple bought it, they met the original owners after the auction and they asked them where they were going to live next. They said Carne in Wexford, and Breda explained that her father was from the Lane of Stones in Carne. Sometime later, they gave Breda a book about Wexford. A chapter in it - written by the previous owner - was about a Wexford musician called Robert Cashe, who had founded the fife and drum band; he was Breda's grandfather. "So, it felt it had been right to buy this house in a way," Breda says.

When they bought the house, it was art deco in style, but had small rooms. They spent six months renovating it and then moved in. "We moved in on Tuesday, and on Sunday, it burned to the ground. It was an electrical fault," she says. "Luckily, there was no one in the house. My father had been taken into hospital that day and I had brought my mom to my sister's and Cyril went out to play his first game of golf of the year."

Breda got a call from a friend while she was at her sister's. "We arrived home to see three fire engines at the scene, just in time to see the roof combust and everything gone. The only one here was Daisy, the dog, and she got out in time."

They then spent 18 months living in a rental while the house was being completely rebuilt, and this time, they added a wonderful kitchen/living/dining room, which is the heart of the home. They also added rooms upstairs.

Three years later, they got planning permission to add a little house for Breda's parents - her father has since died, but her lovely mother, May, still lives there. "When they were putting the two roofs together, it was set on fire again and the whole back of the house went. I've had every diviner, every sage, every white witch in, blessing the house. People said, 'you should have left', but I've always felt the house is kind to us. No one has been harmed in the fires, so we didn't feel threatened," she says.

So they rebuilt the damaged parts and over the years, Breda has created a home which is full of warmth and atmosphere. And, of course, there's quite a bit of theatre - it must be the only home in Ireland with a life-size bust of Julius Caesar, who is dressed according to the seasons!

The 50th anniversary production of 'The Field' previews at the Gaiety Theatre from April 23-27, opens on April 28 and runs until May 16, see

 Edited by Mary O'Sullivan.

Photography by Tony Gavin

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