Aoibhin Garrihy on branching out in her career: 'I'm really making a conscious decision to do what keeps me happy'
Acting is one of the world's most uncertain professions; nevertheless, its inherent vagaries have taught Aoibhin Garrihy numerous valuable life lessons: how to cope with stress, the importance of self care, and, not least, the importance of diversification - she recently graced our screens on RTE's Dancing With The Stars; she runs wellness workshops for women, and she's now the face of Knight & Day jewellery's Autumn 2017 collection, which is featured on our pages today.
"My career is so unstable and uncertain," Aoibhin says. "If you're not looking after yourself, you can fall into a real rut. Acting can be tough - it's not great for your mental health. So you need to find coping mechanisms. Waiting for the phone to ring is a horrible thing."
For Aoibhin, who is married to Clare hotelier John Burke, it was a case of identifying what was getting her down. "Saying, 'Look, this isn't making me happy. I need to find other outlets, and put my attention elsewhere. And put life first'. It didn't make career sense for me to move to Clare [where John is based]. But I knew that when I'd get on that Naas Road, that was probably when I was happiest. And I was in denial about that for a long time.
"A lot of people were saying, 'Oh god, you're really throwing in the towel. What are you doing?'"
In fact, Aoibhin says, she was giving herself the chance to explore other avenues. "I think you need to be open-minded about certain things." The Castleknock native also recently dabbled in mountaineering when she accompanied her husband John to Everest Base Camp. He went on to summit Everest, becoming the first Clare man to reach the peak. The gruelling ascent fulfilled a long-held dream for John, and his momentous feat was also completed in aid of the couple's new charity, Elevate, more of which anon. The climb was completed over two months ago now, but you sense that for Aoibhin, things are only just settling down. It has been an intense period for the couple. Her popular turn on Dancing With The Stars was glamorous and fun, but also involved gruelling training of up to eight hours a day, seven days a week.
Aoibhin then accompanied John to Everest's Base Camp, before heading home to keep vigil, while he ascended. At one point, news broke of another hugely experienced climber having died on the mountain.
Aoibhin recalls: "This came through when I hadn't been speaking to John for a few days. You feel utterly helpless. That was one of the toughest moments. I ended up going into the Poor Clares in Ennis.
"I knew one of the nuns there, Sister Bernadine, had a nephew who climbed Everest a few years ago, and I knew she'd understand. She diffused my mad state when I went into her."
As John made the final ascent, Aoibhin was able to monitor his progress with a tracker. Three hours before the summit, the signal was lost. "I knew that could happen," she says. "But it was tough for it to stop, and that was it then, for three hours, in the middle of the night."
Balance, she laughs, has been lacking in their lives for the past few months."I made a conscious decision that I was going to take June off, and spend it with him," she says. Much of that time was spent touring schools, giving talks about John's Everest experience. It set the tone for the work the couple are now doing with their new charity, Elevate.
Elevate will offer wellness workshops to young people, initially in schools throughout Co Clare, from September. Courses will utilise the creative arts and mindfulness, and will also highlight coping strategies in relation to the pressures social media can impose on young people today.
"It's about encouraging young people to look after themselves," Aoibhin explains. "John's family was affected very deeply by a mental-health tragedy. I suppose he's witnessed it first-hand - the devastation that can be caused to families. I think we all need to keep ourselves in check. For John, the mountains were his outlet."
John has worked in the family businesses - Hotel Doolin and the Armada Hotel - since the age of 21. "It's high intensity, and you don't ever really switch off from it," Aoibhin reflects.
"It can be stressful. It was John's late 20s before he discovered he loved getting out on the hills. So his message in talking to a lot of young people when he came back was, it's never too late to find what you're good at. And there's something for everyone. I think that resonates with a lot of people. Especially in rural Ireland, where the amenities are just not there, and it might take someone a little bit longer to find what they love."
The last few months have allowed little room for the kinds of things Aoibhin has learned are essential to ensure a sense of contentment. "Luckily, I've kind of had the best of both worlds, in the sense that city life and work can be full-on, but then I have that outlet of running away to the country," she smiles.
"I didn't have that for the past few months, and I'm getting back into it. I'm really making a conscious decision to do what keeps me happy. Self-care is becoming more of a priority. I've just turned 30, and I think we need to mind ourselves a little bit more."
Diversifying her career is one of the things making Aoibhin happy, and her natural, unfussy beauty has found a perfect match with the Irish jewellery range Knight & Day. Now in its 10th year of business, owner Olive Hughes is, this season, taking the line in a new direction.
Moving away from sterling silver and more dramatic pieces, the emphasis is now on delicate pieces that also work well layered together. Costume jewellery, Olive terms it. "I would have gone for pieces that were quite different, initially," Olive explains. "At the moment, I've moved more towards a look of fine jewellery, in elegance and size. There's a general move in jewellery towards a more classic, minimalist look."
It's certainly true that we have reached peak statement-piece, and Knight & Day's autumn/winter collection reflects that general trend for a move towards a fine-jewellery look. "The pieces are small, with an emphasis on design," Olive explains. "It's a more understated look."
As the name Knight & Day reflects, this is jewellery that can be worn at any time, so a full-length necklace comes with an adjustable slider, meaning it can be worn at various heights, and works equally well on its own or layered with other pieces for dramatic impact.
Stars, in crystal and black, as well as geometric shapes, are used throughout, and can be worn separately, as just an earring set or necklace, or layered up.
"I have a lot of layering in the collection," says Olive. It was Aoibhin's performance on Dancing With The Stars that made Olive realise the actress was a perfect fit for the brand. "She has that natural beauty that fits in with the look we have this season."
"I don't heavily dress up my jewels," reflects Aoibhin herself, who admits to spending as much time as possible on the beach, walking her dogs. "This collection suits me in that sense. It ties in with my lifestyle now."
Photography by Kip Carroll
Styling by Liadan Hynes
Words by Liadan Hynes
Fashion edited by Constance Harris
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