Sunday 21 July 2019

This Dublin solicitor's home is full of character and design pieces

Home means different things to different people, but for solicitor Bernadette Parte, her 1930s semi-d in Dublin has huge significance, as she gave birth to her three children on the floor of the living room

Solicitor Bernadette Parte in the dining secion of her kitchen. She loves blue and collects Cornish blue ware for her dresser, which she had made for the space. The red lights are Murano glass. Photo: Tony Gavin
Solicitor Bernadette Parte in the dining secion of her kitchen. She loves blue and collects Cornish blue ware for her dresser, which she had made for the space. The red lights are Murano glass. Photo: Tony Gavin
The bathroom is decorated in Bernadette's favourite colour; the niche behind the bath is a clever touch, and is used for storing toiletries
One of the key changes Bernadette Parte made to her semi-detached home was to rejig the extension and add new kitchen units and an island. "The kitchen was designed by Danish Design, and then recently I added glass-fronted units, made by Neil Masterson," she says
Bernadette in her front living room with its orignal 1930s mantlepiece. Family favourite, Millie the dog, is relaxing behind her on the couch. Bernadette loves to add design pieces, like the Eileen Gray chrome and glass side table
The front door
Bernadette Parte and Paddy Sheehan's home

The explorer Cecil Rhodes famously said to his fellow Englishmen, "Remember that you are an English man and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life." The majority of his countrymen would probably agree - especially given their current reluctance to share their country with anyone else - but there is one English woman who would take issue with his pronouncement.

Dublin-based solicitor Bernadette Parte says she always hankered after Ireland; her parents are originally Irish - her dad is from Belfast, and her mother from Mayo - and she spent a lot of time in Ireland when she was a child.

"Mum always tells the tale that all I ever wanted was a one-way ticket to Ireland. I was obsessed with Ireland. We lived in Bedford, but I came here loads as a kid, and I would always cry for a week when I went back," she reminisces, adding, "I have two brothers - Chris, who lives in London, and Aidan, who's in the US. They like visiting here, but I was the only one with the gra."

The love of Ireland wasn't the only aspect of her youth that had a bearing on her future; her original desire to become a lawyer was based on her love of the legal dramas she devoured as a teenager.

"Dad was a tax consultant and I thought initially I would do accountancy, but I think all those legal dramas on TV like LA Law influenced me," Bernadette explains with a laugh. "Of course I discovered law is nothing like it is on the telly. It's much better, actually. Cases don't get resolved in 24 hours like they do on TV. I love practicing law; it's always interesting, every day is varied. I've great clients and great colleagues I've worked with for 25 years."

Bernadette's entire career has been in Ireland; she came here to study, first in UCD, then in UCG, and she never went back to England. She did arts for her initial degree, and she then studied law. She qualified as a solicitor in 1996. Since 2009, she's been out on her own - "a sole practitioner, just me, myself and I" - specialising in health-related cases. "I do a little bit of medical negligence, but, in the main, I represent vulnerable people at mental-health tribunals and in wardship matters," she explains.

Many of Bernadette's clients are people who are detained in hospital for their own protection. "Many of them are young men. I see the ill effects of early drug-taking and how it affects their families, people for whom life is very hard. We're lucky if we're robust and can deal with the slings and arrows [of life]," she notes.

She also helps people to protect themselves against vulnerability. "I do a lot of wills and enduring power-of-attorney," she says. "That's a document you make when you have full capacity, which allows people, whom you choose, to make certain decisions, like financial decisions, on your behalf, in the event that you lose capacity."

Law in the field of healthcare is something we've been hearing a lot about, with the various medical scandals that have beset this country in the past decades, but Bernadette says there's much more to the field than that. "There will always be people who are vulnerable who will need advocacy," she says, going on to explain that she was Marie Fleming's solicitor.

Marie Fleming was the courageous woman who suffered from multiple sclerosis, and who, in 2013, challenged the ban on assisted dying as contained in the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993. "She didn't win, but what she did was she got people talking about the issue more openly," Bernadette muses. "While the courts turned down her challenge and her appeal to the Supreme Court, the then President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, spoke very, very highly of Marie and of her evidence in court. You could hear a pin drop when she was giving it. And it was so moving, you couldn't be unaffected by Marie's case, and it was a real honour to be involved in it," Bernadette explains, adding,"She died later that year. She was amazing - really witty and such a clear thinker. It wasn't about 'how soon can I die?', it was about 'how do you live when you can't communicate at all?', which was her concern. She couldn't move any part of her body but she could talk, and she had a great mind, but it was living with such indignity that she felt was so distressing."

Bernadette is also involved in the charity My Legacy, and is a fantastic advocate for it. My Legacy is an umbrella group representing about 60 charities, which was set up to encourage people, when they are making a will, to leave a legacy to their favourite charity. "There was a very high-profile case recently of a lovely lady, Mrs O'Kelly, who left six million to each of five charities, but really, it doesn't have to be a big legacy - the charities are grateful for anything. I know one CEO of a hospital told me that a legacy of €2,000 enabled her to buy 10 basic wheelchairs for patients entering the hospital with mobility issues. I didn't realise how valuable they would be until my own dad developed mobility issues, and I can see how important it is for a hospital to have these devices," Bernadette explains, adding the crazy statistic that 70pc of people don't have a will. "That includes 54pc of people who are parents. The other amazing thing is if you're a cohabitant and you don't make a will, your cohabitant has no automatic right to share in your estate, even if you've got children. It's becoming more tricky with all the second families. It might take a bit of thrashing-through with your solicitor and talking about your particular circumstances, but your solicitor will produce the right will at the end of the day. By having a will, you reduce the chance of there being a challenge to your will," she notes.

When Bernadette decided to set up on her own in 2009, she was fortunate that there was a vacant office next to that of her husband, Paddy Sheehan, a property valuer who has his own company, Independent Valuations. She and Paddy have been together 25 years; they met through a mutual friend.

"The first week I was starting my apprenticeship, a mutual friend of ours was having lunch in Trinity College. Paddy sat down opposite me, and I remember him reaching across the table, putting his hand on my bread roll, and saying, 'Are you going to eat that?' I thought, 'I'm not now, anyway," Bernadette notes with a laugh.

"But I liked the cut of his jib. It took us a good while to get to the altar, though. We'd get together, break up, get together again, break up again, but ultimately I think we both knew the other would be the one we would marry. We were going out on and off for nine years, and we got married 16 years ago."

The couple bought their home, a 1930s semi-d in south Co Dublin, soon after getting married, and while they've hardly changed it, they've decorated it very prettily and retained the period features.

"We bought the house in 2002 and moved in in 2003. We had been living in an apartment, but we felt we needed more space as I was expecting Nora. The minute I walked into the house, I just knew it was the right house, so I had Miraculous Medals that I threw into the garden, and it paid off."

She says she loved the energy in the house, and it's her proud boast that her three children, Nora (15), Michael (14), and Sarah (11), were born in the house. "For a person who spends so much time visiting clients in hospitals, I hate hospitals for myself. Maybe it's because my mother nearly died in childbirth in hospital when she was having my eldest brother, Chris," Bernadette explains, adding that she didn't take the decision to have home births lightly. "The midwives were amazing. I said to them, 'If at any point you tell me I have to go to hospital, I trust you, and I will go'. And I read every single book on home births."

Bernadette goes on to explain that she was lucky, "I had three of the easiest labours imaginable. Of course, because it's your own space, there are no strange people around, so it's more private, and quicker. I only had five hours' labour with Nora, two with Michael, and eight with Sarah. They were all relatively short. To have had the children in this house has made it very special to us."

A special house for a special woman.

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Edited by Mary O’Sullivan 

Photography by Tony Gavin

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