Saturday 24 March 2018

My Favourite Room: House that fate built

Businesswoman Jeannette Kealy firmly believes the forces of destiny recruited Fergal Mulchrone to be her husband, says Mary O'Sullivan, and the driven Dubliner is just as in tune with the forces of nature. Photography by Tony Gavin

grand piano is
very important to
Jeannette and
Fergal, who love
musical family
The grand piano is very important to Jeannette and Fergal, who love musical family gatherings

Mary O’Sullivan

'She always gets her man," says Fergal Mulchrone as he jokily sums up his wife Jeannette Kealy's skills with the oft-quoted maxim of the Canadian Mounties. He's talking about her talents as a recruitment consultant, but the adage could equally apply to her most recent acquisition, Dr Hauschka. In a dramatic shift from the world of corporate recruitment, Jeannette recently became Ireland's sole distributor of the highly prestigious range of cosmetics. Or indeed it could apply to Fergal himself, and his and Jeannette's own love story.

However, in the story of how they linked up, it sounds as though Dubliner Fergal, a dynamic businessman who, at the time, had been living and working in the US for 14 years, was the more proactive. Jeannette puts it all down to fate as she's a strong believer in destiny. They met at a wedding: Fergal made a weekend trip home to Dublin for the nuptials as the groom was one of his best friends, while the bride happened to be a pal of Jeannette's.

"We met as we were both at the singles table," Jeannette laughs. "We danced all night together and he asked me to go out the next evening for dinner. The next day, he called me to tell me he couldn't make it because he was in hospital. His appendix had burst, so instead of going back to Chicago he stayed in Ireland another 10 days. The family joke is he didn't have to go to all that trouble to win me over," Jeannette relates, adding that during that time she really got to know Fergal and his family, who were constantly visiting. "Fate had a big part to play in that. I'm a firm believer things happen for a reason," she says.

"I very much had it in mind that I wanted to marry someone from Ireland, but how was I going to meet someone?" Fergal confesses, while Jeannette adds, "And it's almost when you stop looking . . ."

Coincidentally, when he had joked with the groom some time before the wedding that he'd better make it worth his while to fly all the way to attend the wedding, the groom had said that he actually had someone in mind for Fergal. He later revealed that someone was, in fact, Jeannette. With so many forces in alignment, it's not surprising that the couple were engaged within the month and married within the year.

Prior to that momentous event 17 years ago, Jeannette, who is one of three girls and hails from Sandyford, had worked in financial services as an executive personal assistant to a host of top CEOs. Marrying Fergal, who is originally from Blackrock, meant returning with him to Chicago and, for a while, she toyed with the idea of going back to college, but suddenly a career as a headhunter presented itself. "I was approached to work in executive recruitment, again working at a very senior level. It suited me; my speciality would be building a rapport with people; listening," she says, "and I suppose my Irish lilt helped."

Three years after they married they were on the move again, this time back to Ireland and Dublin, and an even better job in recruitment for Jeannette. "Executive recruitment was only just taking off in Ireland. This headhunter had headhunted Fergal and told him he was looking for someone good to work for him," she says.

Fergal picks up the story: "I said 'I'm not biased but my wife is really good'."

The company was McEvoy Associates and Jeanette soon proved herself. "I was dealing with guys in major jobs not looking to move, but the key is to get people to trust you." Within five years, Jeannette was made the company's director of research, a job to which she gave her all.

She was headhunted a lot herself, but she chose to stay with McEvoy until last year -- she had recently lost both parents, to whom she was very close, and felt she needed a break. She left the company with a view to playing more golf, doing more entertaining and seeing more of her sisters -- Mary, who works with adults with special needs, and Rosario, principal of an Educate Together school -- and her friends. But she had reckoned without her old pal, fate. And her husband.

Fergal specialises in business turnarounds and brand building and one day, in the course of his work, he came across Dr Hauschka. "He came home to me and said, 'Have you ever heard of Dr Hauschka skincare?' 'Absolutely, Fergal,' I said and I pulled out my Dr Hauschka lip balm from my bag," Jeanette recalls. "I said I'd been using it for years, and told him it's a beautiful product -- totally natural. He said, 'That's enough due diligence for me.'"

A bit like the man who loved the Remington shaver so much he bought the company, Jeannette decided to become co-owner with Fergal of the new Irish distributor of Dr Hauschka Ltd (Ireland), after the previous distributor, Heaven and Earth, went into liquidation last April. Jeannette is passionate about Dr Hauschka and the products within the range, which is sold in pharmacies and health shops nationwide, citing the fact that it's a non-profit foundation, inspired by Dr Hauschka's vision of a culture of care, empowerment and concern for the environment. More than anything, she loves the fact that the products within the range are so natural.

She loves all things natural herself, and she was very mindful of the environment when she and Fergal were building their gorgeous south Co Dublin home, which was designed by top architects de Blacam and Meagher. "We loved working with them, they knew we wanted to bring the garden into the house and the house into the garden," she says. Indeed, the lovely mature trees -- cypress, silver birch, holly -- at the back of their garden were key to their choice of the expansive site. John Meagher himself was keenly involved in the design of the house, and chief features include the amount of light throughout and the many glimpses of different aspects of the garden. There are high ceilings, lots of French doors and lots of skylights, and a cupola lets light down through the three storeys into the hall and, as Fergal points out, when you enter the hall you can see right through the house and beyond to the garden.

As well as four bedrooms, all of which are en suite with walk-in wardrobes, the house has two offices, two elegant, interconnecting reception rooms, a warm, welcoming kitchen and a stunning garden room. With her love of nature, Jeannette opted for a neutral background throughout the ground floor, with lots of creams and taupes. It's never boring, as there are tons of lovely paintings and she uses vibrant accent colours such as purple and pink.

These colours are echoed, too, in the spectacular garden, which boasts a summerhouse, a stream with its own bridge and a meadow. Roses abound, as do herbs such as lemon balm. Is it a coincidence that these feature prominently in the Dr Hauschka range? Jeannette would, of course, say it's fate.



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