Sunday 22 April 2018

Waking hours... with Constance Cassidy of Lissadell House

Constance Cassidy is a senior counsel and co-owner of Lissadell House. Born in Dublin, she lives between Kildare and Sligo with her husband, Edward, and their children - Elanor (22), Harry (21), Kate (20), Constance (18), Jane (17), John (16) and Eddie (12)

Co-owner of Lissadell House, Constance Cassidy. Photo: James Connolly.
Co-owner of Lissadell House, Constance Cassidy. Photo: James Connolly.

In my normal working life as a senior counsel, I'm up at 5am, but if I'm at Lissadell, it's 4am. There is no alarm, and it's never a struggle to get up. Any bedroom I sleep in always has a curtain open. Otherwise, I feel like I'm in a coffin. I'd be more of a morning person than a night owl.

This morning, my husband Eddie was in bed, snoring and looking rather fetching. I padded off into the kitchen, made a fantastic cup of coffee and brought it into him. Then I ran my bath, prepared my clothes and tidied the kitchen. Afterwards, I hopped into the bath. I blow-dry the hair and put a face on for meeting people.

My father said: 'Always get up half an hour before your husband and put your face on'. We're married 27 years and have seven kids, and I still follow that advice. I get myself into the gear. I still manage to put on my little skirt, and then I have a shirt with 'Welcome to Lissadell' on it, and my apron.

Unfortunately, the gear has to be work gear, and that means it cannot be high heels. I have to wear runners, because I'm running up and down stairs. My daughter Elanor says that I can't go out in public like that, so she is going to change it.

We bought Lissadell House in December 2003 and we opened it to the public in summer 2004. We were closed during the court case, and we reopened on Holy Thursday 2015. We also had a summer season last year. When Eddie left Lissadell [because of the lengthy court case] I think the birds stopped singing. But now that he's back, we're all back on track. When you go to the bay window of my bedroom, you look at the lights twinkling across Sligo Bay. This morning was amazing because there was a full moon. It shone on the sea, and in the distance you could see a tiny lighthouse flickering as well. It's the most magical place.

Lissadell House is the birthplace of Constance Markievicz, the political revolutionary and the first female MP in any European parliament. I was named after her, as well as some nun my father liked. Lissadell is also the birthplace of Eva Gore-Booth, her sister, who was a poet and suffragette. She fought for the rights of women. Both of them were very strong women, ahead of their time.

When I get up in Lissadell, I don't feel the history of the place at all. I just think, 'how much time have I got to make all those pots of soup?' I normally drive up to the Coach House, which is the Tea Rooms and the Gallery and the commercial centre of Lissadell. Our French chef, Guillaume, is already in situ, preparing apple flans and chocolate cakes. Then Eddie comes in. He chops onions and peels spuds, while I start off making my soups. Then I cook hams and chickens, and this morning, I was preparing mixes for my quiches.

We don't do this all the time, but while the courts are closed, and our friends from the law library are off sunning themselves, we work and look out at the amazing weather from our kitchen window. But it has to be done. From the very beginning, Eddie's idea was that this would be a tourist destination.

You could hire someone to do all this, but I have to make Lissadell commercially viable. That's why I'm putting my own stamp on it. Once we let people see the standards that we are trying to set, the staff who come in to work for us will do the same. I would never ask anyone to do anything that I wouldn't do myself. When the kids are here with me, they work very hard.

I tell them, 'Guys, if you want some pocket money, you have to come and help us'.

Lissadell is open to the public from 10.30am. I always welcome people and chat to them. That's very important. We've been very fortunate that people want to come here. On June 13, we are celebrating 150 years of the birth of WB Yeats. He immortalised Lissadell in his poetry. As well as the literary, political and historical interest in the house, we're trying to expand Lissadell into a big adventure centre for families. It has beautiful woodland walks, and we've the sea for kite-surfing and paddling.

But Lissadell is not the only thing going on in my life. I'm a barrister and I specialise in licensing law. I practise countrywide, whereas Eddie practises in Dublin and Galway. If we're both working in Dublin, we leave early from our house in Kildare, so that we avoid the traffic.

We get into work for 6.45am and we get all our paperwork done nice and early. I always have early morning meetings. Then, after that, I'm in court. I'd have the wig and the gown on, and I'd certainly be in high heels and stockings for that. My day job is high pressure, but Lissadell is more physically challenging.

After court, I always try to get home as early as I can. I like to be there for the children. Sometimes one of my daughters will make the dinner, but I prefer to do the cooking. Then we sit at the kitchen table and talk to the kids about the day and make sure that they are on top of their homework. Some are in school, and I have three in third level.

For me, being a mother is the most important job. Everything else pales into comparison. Your prime duty is to your family - your children and, of course, your husband, and then maybe a bit to yourself. I think Eddie and I are a reasonably good team. I admire him enormously. I like to see him with a look of satisfaction on his face when he knows he has achieved something. He is very driven and hard-working, and I'm quite happy to say that I've no option but to be the same. I'm an optimistic person and so is Eddie. I don't have time to be anything else.

I try to get into bed for 9pm and have a nice quiet read. I'm reading The Lord of the Rings again. I read it once every year. It's a morality story and it distinguishes very clearly between what is good and what is evil. It's just a beautiful story and it always puts me in good mood. I like to read myself to sleep.

In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

Lissadell House and Gardens, Sligo, see

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