Wednesday 22 May 2019

Moving memories

Printer Eugene Gillies and psychologist Robbie Power have moved many times since they met nearly 30 years ago, but their latest home, their eighth in Howth, is a gem.

Eugene, left, and Robbie with their pug, Millie, in the extension they added to their cottage in the centre of Howth village. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Eugene, left, and Robbie with their pug, Millie, in the extension they added to their cottage in the centre of Howth village. Photo: Tony Gavin.
The dining area now opens up to the drawing room.
Robbie and Eugene enlarged the main bedroom by knocking down the walls between two smaller rooms. The floors are limed oak.

Mary O'Sullivan

It's often said that one of the best places to meet the love of your life is at a wedding – and that's exactly where Eugene Gillies and Robbie Power first clapped eyes on each other.

It did take them a long time to tie the knot themselves, but that was more to do with our laws on gay rights than any reluctance on the part of Eugene and Robbie.

"We met at a wedding 28 years ago, then we went out on a date, and that was it," Eugene explains, adding that they moved into their first home in Raheny shortly after meeting, and have been together ever since.

Eugene, who hails from Glasnevin, is a printer and a co-owner of Corbridge Print. He's an extremely creative person, as can be seen from the pictures he paints and the pottery all over the house, which he makes himself, but, in his youth, he felt he had no choice but to go into printing – there were six generations of printers in the family before him.

"In the late Seventies, when I left school, I was told there were no jobs in art, so I went into printing. But I've no regrets. It was in the blood," Eugene explains, philosophical about the fact that was the way things were back then. "I'm building a studio up the back. I wouldn't be allowed to open up the paints here," he says dryly, in a reference to the fact that Robbie is the house-proud one.

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Eugene, left, and Robbie with their pug, Millie, in the extension they added to their cottage in the centre of Howth village. Photo: Tony Gavin.

Now retired, Robbie went to UCD and qualified as a clinical psychologist. He practiced for seven years before being subsumed into the family luggage retail business in the Stephen's Green Shopping Centre, which he took over when his father retired.

"I hated that bloody shop. It took over my life. I ran it for 13 years and, when I told my accountant I was sick of it, she said, 'Sell it', so I did," Robbie, who is originally from Raheny, explains. He adds, "It was the best thing I ever did.

"I also worked for Lappin Estates. I went in for three weeks, and stayed for four years. I loved that." According to Eugene, working with Lappin Estates suited Robbie down to the ground.

"His main hobby is interior design. His favourite programme is Kirstie and Phil. That and Judge Judy. People often ask him to their houses for tips, and he loves giving people advice," he says.

The gregarious couple have many interests, but not necessarily in common – Eugene loves Eurovision and was thrilled to be on the Irish jury back in the days before televoting became the norm. A highlight for him was a trip to Malmo last year for the contest. "Actually, my dad's cousin, Derry Lindsay, co-wrote All Kinds of Everything, the song Dana won with in 1970," he says proudly.

Meanwhile, Robbie hates Eurovision, but does love music, and has been in the Rathmines & Rathgar Musical Society for 22 years. Eugene loves buying knick-knacks for the house, but Robbie hates them – he prefers cleaner lines. However, they both love dogs and they have two – Dusty, a rescue collie, and Millie, the "spoiled pug".

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The dining area now opens up to the drawing room.

The two fiftysomethings both love gardening – they have a big garden at their summer house in Cavan, and their back garden at their home in Howth is divided into six terraces – they can see Ireland's Eye from the top terrace.

The house they are currently in is their eighth in Howth to date. "I've dragged him around Howth. Up the hill, down the hill, near the sea, back from the sea. We'd no sooner have a house right, then we'd move. We've been in eight different houses in the area," Robbie says with a laugh, while Eugene adds, "We didn't move because of money, funnily enough.

"It was different reasons all the time, but we moved at the right times, so we haven't looked back. We were up a hill and, if you wanted to go out for a drink, it was too far.

"Then we were down in the Burrough on the beach – beautiful, but it was a very old house that needed lots of work. At another time, we were in a gated community – that was too regimented – so there was always a reason."

Into the bargain, they were always in the lucky position that they never had to employ an estate agent. "Every time, people knocked on our door and said, 'Can I buy your house?'" says Robbie.

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Robbie and Eugene enlarged the main bedroom by knocking down the walls between two smaller rooms. The floors are limed oak.

They found their current home, right in the centre of Howth village, four years ago, and they have loved it from the minute they moved in. But that hasn't stopped Robbie from changing the whole house in the last year. "It was really pretty, but nothing worked and it was really cold. We started off intending only to extend. We ended up taking off the entire roof and reconfiguring the whole house. And yet I wanted to keep the old. It is only a cottage, I didn't want to make it look like a modern house," says Robbie.

In fairness to him, he has managed to retain the cottagey charm, but yet add light by means of lots of glass – which was unheard of in the Irish cottage of yesteryear – and marble floors.

He got EcoLodge on board and, using his designs, they built a light-filled extension on to the kitchen and the back of the dining room.

They also opened up the rooms so that they can walk from the hall to the kitchen, to the dining room, to the drawing room, and back to the hall again. There were gas fires in the house and the couple changed them to real fires. They also reconfigured the three bedrooms upstairs and made the ceilings higher.

They updated the bathroom upstairs and also added a bathroom downstairs. One of the main reasons for the bathroom downstairs is Eugene's health; he suffers from Kennedy's disease, which was diagnosed two years ago. "It's a muscle-wasting disease, a bit like motor neurone disease, but I'm lucky it doesn't kill you. It's very rare. There are only 40 people with it in Ireland," Eugene says, adding that, before diagnosis, he was extremely fit. "I did the Dublin Marathon eight years ago. Now I find the stairs steep." He doesn't complain but, instead, emphasises the positive – he can still work, he has his hobbies, such as painting and pottery – he specialises in making houses – and fly fishing.

Plus, he doesn't need to walk anywhere. He drives to his printing business, and the rest of the time they spend at their favourite haunts in Howth, which include the Lysaght Gallery, an antique shop where both of them love to potter and where many of their furnishings originated.

Though they would be devoted to each other no matter what – and are very tolerant of each other's foibles – they tied the knot partly because of Eugene's condition. Needless to mention, they had the party in Howth, at one of their favourite restaurants. "We had 92 guests and we held the reception in Aqua. We arrived by speedboat. Very posh," Robbie says with a laugh.

They wouldn't have dreamt of not holding it in Howth – they believe in supporting local business and get a great welcome everywhere. They extend the welcome, too, and their door is always open. Or at least the half-door, which was one of Robbie's ideas. "It was great for giving the kids a fright at Halloween," he chuckles. They may be an old married couple, but they're still kids at heart.

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