'I always wanted to live by the sea' - Inside this yoga instructor's period property in Greystones
The spelling of Darbhaile Connell's name, if not unique, is most unusual, and the simple reason is that it was spelt incorrectly when she was born.
"It was supposed to be Dearbhala, but it was spelt wrongly on my birth cert, and I was stuck with it; it's mine now," the bubbly blonde says with a laugh.
The fact that Darbhaile is quite proud of the spelling is indicative of her character and personality - as she goes on to say, she's always been a little bit alternative.
Darbhaile is a life coach and yoga instructor, and she's done courses in every healing modality imaginable - colour therapy, music therapy, meditation, mindfulness. You name it, Darbhaile's done it.
Of course, so many people are into these therapies nowadays that they're almost mainstream - the difference is that this charismatic 50-something has been doing them since her teenage years growing up in south Co Dublin.
"I learned how to meditate when I was 18. In those days, it would have been for hippies, but now all the science backs it. I'm from a family of nine brothers and sisters, many of them older than me, and some of them were hippies in the 1960s. They were really into meditation.
"I wouldn't have been a hippie myself, but my older sister definitely was. I thought they were really cool, really wonderful," Darbhaile recalls. She adds that in those days when you learned meditation, as she did from an Indian guru, you had to be vegetarian, and she has hardly touched meat since that time.
From those teenage years, the meditation led her down other interesting paths. "I started doing other things like aura soma, which is a colour therapy; and I did sound therapy. I did neuro-linguistic programming; and heart-mapping, which deals with anything stress-related,"she says. "All through the years, I've always been doing something. At the moment, I'm learning how to lead chanting - anything to do with feeling good, really."
Back in her late teens/early 20s, alternative therapies wouldn't have been considered a way to make a living, so after two years in Paris learning French - her aunt was based there, and Darbhaile stayed with her while she took lessons - she came back to Ireland and worked as a secretary.
Then, in the late 1990s, she realised her dream of setting up a healing centre, but she was ahead of her time, and it only lasted three years. By then, she had met and married her husband, Brian. "I met Brian through a friend I had gone to school with in Scoil Lorcan and Colaiste Iosagain; I went to all-Irish schools. She was going out with a guy who had just done a master's, and she cajoled me into going out with them one night. I didn't want to, but finally I agreed, and I met Brian; he had just done his master's in engineering.
"As soon as I saw him, I knew, I just knew. He was so sweet. Don't get me wrong. He was gorgeous, and very fanciable, and still is," Darbhaile enthuses. "But he was also so soft, and that was it really," she says.
She adds that he's a very happy person who enjoys working for himself. Brian and his partner have a company called All Storage Providers, doing fit-outs for the likes of Ikea and large warehouses. "Brian is naturally Zen, he's a gorgeous man; a rock," Darbhaile says.
The couple lived first in Ballinteer, then Blackrock, and, for the last 15 years, in Greystones. They have two children, Maoliosa and Oisin, both now in their 30s and both independent, and while Darbhaile had dabbled in her courses and therapies throughout her life, rearing the children was always her priority. As they grew, she did part-time jobs including interiors, and she lectured in feng shui for a time at Griffith College.
However, ill health stymied her career somewhat. Her knowledge of alternative therapies has helped her through some bad times, including a serious bout of fibromyalgia. "The doctor wanted to put me on drugs, but I decided not to go down that route, but just to put into practise all my beliefs through my therapies, and I firmly believe I'm getting a lot better," the glamorous Dubliner notes.
Nowadays, she's back giving yoga instruction on a part-time basis in Greystones, and Bray. "My yoga class is very holistic, very gentle, very slow, very mindful. I believe any bit of movement is good. If I get people relaxed, less stressed, I'm happy with that. And I always end the class with singing bowls," she says.
Since moving to Greystones, Darbhaile has become really immersed in the community there - she's modelling in a local fashion show on March 21, which is in aid of Arc House and Wicklow Homeless.
Their own home is right at the seafront, and she still marvels that she and Brian actually achieved their dream of living right at the water's edge. "I always wanted to live by the sea. We were living in Blackrock, but we couldn't afford anything near the sea," Darbhaile says. "My younger sister, Lasairfhiona, happened to be in Greystones, and saw the 'for sale' sign. She rang me, very excited, and said, 'I've just seen your house'. I walked through it, and I knew. It wasn't remotely as you see it now, but I just knew it could be beautiful."
Quite apart from the stunning views of the sea, the house had much to recommend it. Dating from 1865, it has a long drive to the majestic entrance; it's double-fronted, and has three beautiful receptions rooms at ground-floor level, as well as the kitchen complete with Aga.
Upstairs, there are four bedrooms, one of which is en suite. However, it needed a lot of work, but Darbhaile was more than able for it, given her courses in colour therapy, feng shui and interiors.
"We modernised it, but we put back lots of period details that had been taken out, like the coving and cornicing," she says. She adds that they had to replace most of the floors. "The original floors were so bad. We were lucky - we were able to buy a lot of parquet flooring taken from a colonial house in India and we've put it everywhere downstairs, except in the kitchen, which has tiles."
The house was cold, so they had to replace the windows and put in double glazing, but they were careful to keep the look of the house intact by putting in sash windows. A special touch is the window seats everywhere to the front for enjoying the views.
The walls are all painted in Farrow and Ball paints, and the cosy yet elegant furnishings are a mix of auction buys and things Darbhaile has picked up on websites, and in department stores and interiors and lifestyle stores like Avoca.
"I did a fine arts and antiques course, so I could be sure about what I was buying," Darbhaile says, adding with a laugh, "I've certificates for everything." She notes that she had some pieces made up to designs she came across. "I bought a Victorian wardrobe for Oisin's room, and then got wardrobes made to the same design, but different dimensions, for our own room," she says.
The colour scheme throughout is muted - Darbhaile opted for a neutral palette, with touches of pink and gold, "I suppose there's a bit of a French influence, from my days in Paris," she says.
She loves art, and she added a picture-rail detail to all the rooms to hang the many paintings she's collected over the years. Paintings include many by local artists, paintings by her brother, and a large selection by herself.
"I did an abstract course with Michael Gemmell. I love art. Do I want to sell art? No, but it really lifts me," she says. "My paintings are about expressing myself and enjoying my life. I'm not an artist, but I love painting; I love colour and design. My head could say, 'I can't put these on the walls', but whose life is it? It's our life and we can do it if we want. It's more about energy and how it feels."
Darbhaile says she feels the same way about music. She loves to sing, and goes to open mic sessions. She also plays the piano, and in both her painting and her piano playing she feels she practises her mindfulness.
"I try to be present - if I'm playing the piano, I'm playing the piano," she says. "I just try to be present and do what I love."
It's a good philosophy, and judging by her lovely home and her own healthy, youthful glow, it works for Darbhaile.
For details of Darbhaile's yoga and mindfulness courses, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine