Friday 15 December 2017

The G force - Galway's creative talents

Irish milliner and jewellery designer Emily-Jean O'Byrne. Photo: Andrew Downes XPOSURE
Irish milliner and jewellery designer Emily-Jean O'Byrne. Photo: Andrew Downes XPOSURE
Mary Lee is a model with Catwalk Modelling Agency.
Making dough: Ronan (left) and Eugene Greaney. Photo: Andrew Downes
The Baker: Grace Daniels runs her cake-making business from Ballinasloe.
Visual artist Finbar McHugh working on a mural on Shop Street Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes.

From graffiti artists to pizza makers, Galway is still a place of many tribes. Here, Andrea Smith and John Brennan meet some of the city's most successful creative talents.


Making dough: Ronan (left) and Eugene Greaney. Photo: Andrew Downes

Eugene (30) and Ronan (24) Greaney are two Knocknacarra brothers who started selling their pizzas from the back of a truck in 2013 and have since gone on to open their own pizzeria, The Dough Bros, in the heart of Galway city.

"Ronan and I first fell in love with pizza when we went to Naples as kids," says Eugene. "Seeing the theatre of it and seeing the difference in quality, we always talked about opening up a pizzeria like we saw there."

The brothers both studied business and marketing at the University of Limerick. When Ronan was six months away from finishing his degree, Eugene was made redundant from a marketing job and began work on establishing their dream. "I got a small bit of funding from family and friends, but the bank was very supportive. If you put in the work and do your research, the banks are very helpful," Eugene says.

Their first step was to buy a truck, which they fitted with a wood-fired pizza oven. "People in Galway respect good quality and we saw that starting out, people were driving out to the Moycullen market to try our pizzas they'd heard about," Eugene says. "From the very beginning people have been very supportive, and we're always trying to give them something new and trying to keep them interested."

Ronan, meanwhile, spent some time studying and training in Naples at "the best pizza school in the world".

"The training was all done really traditionally, and through Italian - I had my own translator. I was in school every day from 9am to 4pm, then I'd work in a busy pizzeria in Naples from 5pm to 11pm. It was very full on - I was up to my eyeballs in pizza," says Ronan.

"Since then I've taken over the cheffing side of things. We make all the toppings in house, we bake our own ham, make our own pesto, dough, sauce. Myself and Eugene both make the pizzas by hand. We're big foodies, we try and merge our favourite foods with pizza and push the boundaries out a bit. We did a duck hoi sin Asian-style pizza recently which was a massive seller; we had a prawn po boy pizza too."

The initial business plan saw them hoping to transition from a pizza truck into their own restaurant in five years, but remarkably it took just a year before they secured a premises at Upper Abbeygate Street.

"We're so lucky in Galway to have so many good producers on our doorstep," says Ronan. "We can walk down the road every morning to Collerans to get our ham, to Sheridans to get great cheese, around the corner to McCambridge's or Herterich butchers - there are so many great local producers with such quality on our door step. It's great having these relationships with local suppliers, it just adds to the pride you have about your community. It's a side to the business we really enjoy."

Eugene adds: "There was always a good culture of food in Galway. Every year it seems to be going up a notch in the city. In many ways now it has become a place you can be really proud of - leaders in the food scene rather than being seen to be copying or following other trends. There is such talent here, from the market traders all the way up to the Michelin-starred restaurants."


The Baker: Grace Daniels runs her cake-making business from Ballinasloe.

Grace Daniels (31) lives in Ballinasloe and runs her cake-making business from there. She is married to Joe and they have a 15-month-old son, Alexander.

"My interest is cakes began when I went to work for a year in Canada from 2007 to 2008. Cupcakes were big there, and when I came home I missed them. I got a recipe book and decided to start making them myself. Buttercream cupcakes were unusual then in Ireland. My mum Grace tasted them and thought they were good, which meant a lot as she is big into baking and cooking.

"There is only mum and me, and we lived in Tralee Bay Hotel when I was small as my grandparents owned it. I used to help mum in the kitchen, and even though I never baked, I clearly learned through osmosis because I knew what things should look like and what was good.

"I was always creative and artistic, and moved to Galway at 18 to study art and design. I loved the vibe because it is such an arty and foodie place, and I felt at home straight away. I was working as a freelance interior designer before I went to Canada, and when I came home I worked part-time in retail. I decided to set up a little cupcake business on the side just because I was interested in it, and made my own 25th birthday cake.

"I started learning more and making cakes for friends, and was then asked to make a cake for Alexandra Burke, winner of X Factor, when she was performing at the Rose of Tralee festival. She shared a picture on Twitter, which was great, and things snowballed from there. I moved in with my now husband Joe in his house in Ballinasloe, and we got the kitchen HSE registered and insured. Joe was very understanding, because I was only going out with him a year and I took over his kitchen and turned it into a business area.

"Happy customers - especially, happy brides - are the best advertisement, as their friends come back to you to get their own cakes. If someone wants something a bit unusual or highly personalised, they come to me. The skills I learned in sculpture and painting from my college course really help, because I hand-make all of the decorations.

"Creative people are drawn to Galway, because it's out on the edge of Ireland and Europe and is a bit wild and historical. It has such beauty and character, and I think it attracts people who are trying to get away or mightn't fit in to other places. I love going for quiet walks around the county to see ruins and old manor houses, and my main hobby is trying out new places for lunch or dinner."


Mary Lee is a model with Catwalk Modelling Agency.

Former Miss Galway Mary Lee (33) is a model with Catwalk Modelling Agency, and is a regular on RTÉ's Today and TV3's Ireland AM and Xposé. She's also the owner of Chez Lee Beauty Clinic in her hometown of Gort.

"I was a tomboy and more into hurling and sports when I was a child, as I grew up on a farm with my sister and three brothers. I got into make-up and beauty when I was in secondary school, and then went on to train as a beauty therapist. I worked in other salons before opening my own six years ago.

"I started modelling with Mandy Maher's Catwalk Modelling Agency after I won Miss Galway in 2001. I feel I've been very lucky in my career. I went over to London Fashion week last September to model for House of Ikons in aid of The Prince's Trust, and was brought back again in February, so that was really exciting. I also loved going to Amsterdam in March to model in a Maggie Sottero bridal show.

"I suppose you put yourself under a certain amount of pressure around how you look when you're modelling. I'm a bit of a gym bunny and go running, and I always feel better for it. Obviously, I'm fortunate that it's easy for me to keep things like my nails and other beauty bits and pieces up in the salon.

"I'm lucky I have fantastic staff - I wouldn't be able to do it all without them. We're very busy at the moment as it's wedding season and the Galway Races are coming up. I now live in Oranmore, but often stay with my mother Nora, who is a mighty woman. My dad passed away a few years ago. We are a very close family and they all support me in everything I do, as does my boyfriend Greg.

"Galway is such a relaxed city, but it's always buzzing and there's a great atmosphere. I think the culture makes it special, between the arts festival, the races and the fact that it bid for the 2020 European Capital of Culture.

"My brother Eugene comes home every year from Australia for the Galway Races, and it has always been a family tradition for us to go to them, even though I'll be run off my feet that week. I get my hats from Suzie O'Mahony and Margaret O'Connor, and my dresses from Harper or Treasures in Gort. I'll be judging 'Most Stylish Lady' in Hotel Meyrick on Thursday, July 28, and I'm looking forward to that."


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Visual artist Finbar McHugh working on a mural on Shop Street Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes.

Finbar McHugh's artwork is as distinctive as it is beautiful. The 28-year-old visual and graffiti artist's colourful murals have been featured across his native Galway city. Recently he was commissioned by Galway City Council to design a mural for Shop Street as part of the bid for European Capital of Culture 2020.

Finbar studied at the Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD) and travelled both Europe and America, honing his craft. He brought what he has learned back to the City of the Tribes, where he recently opened his own studio. Also going by the handle Finbar247, he says that being from Galway, he always wanted to "invest in the city in terms of art".

"There is a lot of talent here and I think people need to be shown what's possible," Finbar says. "I could go off and paint around Europe - and I'm sure I will do - but I love bringing back what I've learned from travelling and sharing it with Galway, so people who haven't gotten the opportunity to travel get to see it in their own city."

His creations range from small black-and-white conceptual pieces to larger murals, which locals will recognise from the back of the Róisín Dubh and on Pump Lane, as well as the interiors of businesses like Urban Grind and 56 Central in the city centre.

"I'm conscious to use what Galway has on offer to create the work, so it's not just artwork thrown around the city, it's considered. All the stuff I'm doing at the moment is based on the landscape of the west coast of Galway. We have all the resources here, it's just about giving people the opportunity to get involved and learn within the city."

Finbar was commissioned recently to design poetry walls in the car parks at Newtownsmith and Bowling Green as part of the Cúirt International Festival of Literature. More of his work can be seen in the reception of University College Hospital. And his newest mural, painted last weekend, is on Shop Street. It drew wide support from the community, with offers of help, food, coffee and lends of ladders very forthcoming.

The mural is of a wave of colour in the centre of the city, Finbar says. "The idea is looking at how time moves using nature, if you watch the tides, you see the water move but you can't see what's going on until the sand is gone - like how time works for people. So I painted a wave because, if you live in the moment, you get to the see the wave and the explosion of energy that comes out of it and that goes into the sea to live again."


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Irish milliner and jewellery designer Emily-Jean O'Byrne. Photo: Andrew Downes XPOSURE

Emily-Jean O'Byrne is a milliner and jewellery designer from Newcastle. In her 30s, she's married to Stephen, and they have two sons, Seanie (20 months) and Hugh (two months). She has an atelier in Galway city centre,

"I was always on the creative route growing up, and my hobby was buying beads and wire and gemstones and making jewellery. I had a stand at Galway Market during the school holidays and would sell them there. I did a foundation course in jewellery design in Mayo followed by an arts and crafts course in Limerick, before going on to study jewellery design at what is now Birmingham City University in the UK.

"From there I went to study millinery at the London College of Fashion. The reason I branched out was that I was designing jewellery for brides, and their mothers frequently wanted to wear a little jewelled headpiece rather than a big hat, and asked if I could design it. I'm very much an accessories designer too, so I also make belts and cuffs and collars.

"I was working from home originally and used to take stands at wedding fairs, but found that business was growing at such a speed that I needed a showroom. I found a lovely location 10 years ago in Galway city and opened up my shop.

"The recession happened a year after I opened and shops were closing down all around me, but I think I survived because it was such a niche market. A good percentage of my clients were mothers-of-the-bride and -groom who wanted something a little more bespoke and styled. Weddings are my main market, and the races are a great bonus when they come along.

"All through this, I kept upskilling and would take time out to go to the UK and Paris to study with milliners, including an amazing month spent interning at Maison Michel in Paris, the official millinery house of Chanel. I love the research side and visiting trade shows in Paris, because I get so inspired and come back with a million ideas.

"Outside of work, I'm married to a Dublin man and we have two babies. The youngest is two months old this week, but I'm back in work because it's wedding season and the races are coming up, so there's not a lot of down time. We live near Salthill and life is busy with the boys and the business, but when you have children, you learn to prioritise.

"My favourite things about Galway are the fantastic people, the culture and the colourful vibrancy of the city - and then we have the landscape of Connemara on our doorstep."

Photography by Andrew Downes

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