Saturday 20 January 2018

Sisters are doing it for themselves: Seven Irish women on their unbreakable bond

Leigh (left) and Chloe Arnold. Photo: Kip Caroll.
Leigh (left) and Chloe Arnold. Photo: Kip Caroll.
Olivia and Caroline Morahan. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Drs Jane (left) and Katherine Mulrooney. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Suzanne and Carla Jackson. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Roz and Rachel Purcell. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Chloe and Naomi Agnew. Photo: Kip Carroll
Caroline and Louise Kennedy. Photo: Kip Carroll

Emily Hourican

Seven pairs of sisters talk about the bond between them that goes beyond a decade's age difference...

Chloe and Leigh Arnold

Leigh (left) and Chloe Arnold. Photo: Kip Caroll.

Leigh, Actress and mother, patron of First Light, an organisation lending support to suddenly bereaved parents and families

Chloe and I both have a quirky sense of humour. Some might call it a bit bold but we find it entertaining! We can fight like cats and dogs but laughing usually outweighs any arguments. We are extremely close and, more than anything, we protect each other to the end. Anyone who messes with my sister, messes with me.

We are supposed to be a bit more responsible now since becoming wives and parents, and I guess we are, but she still tells Mum if I've annoyed her.

If we are rivals in anything these days, it's in our parenting. Her daughter might know the months of the year, but my son can twerk to Snoop Dogg's Drop It Like It's Hot.

Actually, we both share a deep love of family: our love for our children, our love of quality time together as a family; long walks; Sunday lunches; lots of laughter and late-night dancing in Mum's kitchen to 1980s hits.

Having Chloe with me when my sons came into the world, her support of every decision, some not the wisest, that I have made over the years, but above all that, she has never been judgmental or unkind, and has always been there, through the heartbreak and the tears, these are what I value most. And there are few that can cuddle like her.

2013 was the worst year of my life [Leigh's lost her baby son Flynn to cot death in May 2013], and I honestly don't think I would have survived without her love and support. She was a warrior, as were all my family.

My sister is a beautiful, funny, intelligent, talented and fiercely loyal warrior princess. I want to be her.


Chloe, model, mother, freelance fashion stylist and writer, partner in fashion website, Traxedo

There's a quote I read somewhere that makes me think of Leigh: 'I, smile because you are my sister, I laugh because there's nothing you can do about it!' That's us. We have always been close, but since becoming adults we have grown even closer. There are four years between us - Leigh is the elder - but we both became mothers at around the same time.

Our children are more like siblings than cousins. I have a son in her son, with the benefits of giving him back at the end of the day! Along with my husband, she was my birth partner, and I don't know how I would have got through it without her jokes, laughter, massages and relentless support. She's the strongest person I know and such an inspiration to me.

Opposites attract and they certainly do with us, we are a yin-and-yang duo, I suppose. We are so different in many ways, but that is refreshing, because there has never been much competition or sibling rivalry, quite the opposite in fact. These days, we probably connect most as mums. We get advice and guidance from each other most days - even though my advice is always better!

We fight over silly things, like changing plans last minute, or being late for each other, and because I'm always right and she's always wrong! But at every time of my life, Leigh has been there for me, and done things for me with unconditional love and support.

I have early memories of being in third class and having to learn my rivers and counties. I was struggling, so she helped me by making a fun rhyming song to associate them with the map of Ireland for my tests. I passed with flying colours.

She used to help me and my friends choreograph dance routines for school talent shows and was always making things fun and silly. Through friends and boyfriends, ups and downs, she was there, being great and strong, and always bringing laughter to every situation.

We have both had tough and trying times in our lives, and we have kept each other going when we felt we couldn't go on. She is a rock and I love her.

Leigh will be running the Flora Mini Marathon in aid of First Light. To donate, see

For Traxedo, see

Leigh's hair is from Gold Fever, see

Olivia and Caroline Morahan

Olivia and Caroline Morahan. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Olivia, Mother of three

Caroline and I are very close and when she is home from LA, I would see or speak to her every day. We fought during the teenage years. I probably started most of the fights as I was full of teenage angst and undoubtedly difficult to live with. Apologies to all family members.

But we have a great relationship now and I really enjoy spending time with her; little things like going to the cinema or popping in to say hi after the school drop.

It is hard to think of just one amazing thing Caroline has done for me, but I am eternally grateful for all the effort she put into my wedding in Italy, right down to giving my husband a manicure on the morning of the ceremony!

We're well matched in our interests, we both love the cinema and theatre, and anything to do with food - especially eating it!

However, when eating out, Caroline likes to order food for her dinner partner, or even the whole table. She means well, but it can be a bit annoying.

Another significant connection is that I was Caroline's manager and agent when she was a TV presenter. At the time, I had been working for Burrell Marketing, and Caroline wanted someone to look after her and persuaded me I could do it. She encouraged me to represent her and it took off from there.

I'm a mum, so it follows that I'm a bit bossy and dictatorial, but in fact we take on different roles depending on the situation. I go to Caroline for advice all the time and value her opinion. She may be the younger sister but more often than not, she is the wise one.

Rivalry is not something I would even consider. We look for different things from life. Caroline loves the stage, which is something she's inherited from our dad, and I'd rather be busy behind the scenes, more like our mom.

Caroline is fun, loving, caring and a great auntie. She is someone I can always turn to for the truth; the good, bad and the ugly.


Caroline, Actor and presenter

Olivia is three years older than me. She carried me out of hospital, and in a way that says it all. She was always a trailblazer; she did everything first and then reported back. There was a lovely element of security in that for me, like when I started secondary school, which I found very traumatic. Having Olivia there to look out for me made everything much easier. When we were younger, she adopted the role of protector, but as we've grown up we have learned to take on different roles for each other, depending on what's going on. Nowadays, she gets advice from me as much as I do from her.

Of course, we had the usual scraps when we were little and through our teens, but we've always had a great friendship and been of huge support to one another. I value her opinion on all things and trust her implicitly. A few years ago, instead of just being my adviser, she took that role on in an official capacity. She became my manager and took responsibility for my career. She was the one that kicked it all off in fact, because it was Olivia who saw the ads saying that RTE were looking for fresh faces, which led to me booking my first TV-presenting job on The Fame Game.

Since then, she has guided me through lots of career decisions and is always the person I want in the front row on the first night of anything I do. She gives emotionless, honest criticism, and praise when it's due, and always brings out the best in me. We have worked together for years now, and she might laugh at this given what a drama queen I am, but there has never been any drama between us.

Since Olivia has become a mother, most of our time is spent with the children in tow, which is great fun. I love being an auntie. Apart from launching my career, covering for me all my life and dropping everything if I need a hand, Olivia does amazing things for me all the time, big and small. If she knows I'm under time pressure for something, she will arrive with food cooked and wrapped in tin foil.

Friends can come in and out of your life but a sister is a constant friend, in my case someone I can always rely on and confide in, who always has my best interests at heart.

Drs Jane and Katherine Mulrooney

Drs Jane (left) and Katherine Mulrooney. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Dr Jane Mulrooney, Co-founder of the Dr Mulrooney Clinic specialising in cosmetic dermatology

I'm older than Katherine by two-and-a-half years and at school we had different friends and different interests. Katherine was sports obsessed and spent all her spare time playing tennis and hockey, whereas I was more academic and preferred reading and socialising.

Things changed when we both went to study medicine at NUI Galway, and from then on we pretty much saw each other every day. After finishing college, we both knew that we wanted to pursue a career in dermatology, so that meant we spent even more time together and became especially close while studying at St Thomas' Hospital in London.

Since then we have worked together, both clinically as cosmetic doctors at the Dr Mulrooney Clinic and also in our family business, Seavite.

I don't feel we are rivals in anything. Frankly, we're too busy for that. But we are also very different, and that helps. Katherine is more creative and I am more practical. She likes things to look nice. I like things to work well.

Actually, I think this is why we can work together professionally, because we each bring different outlooks and skills to the table.

When I had my two boys, Jamie and Andrew, Katherine was amazing. There are only 13 months between the two boys, and because she took on my patients as well as her own, that was a huge extra workload for her. But she did it, and I could relax during my maternity leave, knowing that my patients would be wonderfully looked after.

We don't really fight but recently we have had differences of opinion on the rebrand of our family business from Seavite to Seavite by Drs Mulrooney.

We are exceptionally proud and passionate about the brand so it can be tense at times. But I guess the difference between a sister and a close friend is that with a sister you can have a massive fight, and all is forgotten 10 minutes later, with no grudges held. That is what unconditional love and full trust mean, I suppose.


Dr Katherine Mulrooney, Co-founder of the Dr. Mulrooney Clinic specialising in cosmetic dermatology

Jane and I don't compete with each other now, but throughout school and college we used to be much more competitive regarding grades, although never about anything else.

That said, during college Jane helped me so much, with endless notes and tutorials, and putting me through my paces for the final med clinical exams. She was truly amazing and I think that is the kind of thing only an older sister or brother - someone who loves you completely and trusts you implicitly - would do for you.

I couldn't imagine life without Jane. We connect hugely in our work, but we also love walking on Sandymount Strand together.

From time to time, Jane tries to teach me how to cook, without much success, but we tend to relax in different ways. For me, tennis and working out are my time out. Within the relationship, I think she is both the messer and the mammy. She likes to party when she's out, but she also likes to be at home, cooking and minding everyone.

Right now, we are having plenty of heated conversations, even fights, about the re-brand and relaunch of our family business Seavite. Our beloved late father set up this organic-seaweed skincare company in 1992, and we have spent the last few months deciding on new branding and formulations, and this dominates most of our waking hours when we're not in the clinic.

Yes, we argue about it, but I guess that's what happens when you try to decant two personalities into one pot.

Ultimately, after all the discussions, we will make a decision together.



Caroline and Louise Kennedy

Caroline and Louise Kennedy. Photo: Kip Carroll

Caroline Founder of Caroline Kennedy PR

Louise and I were in boarding school together, and we lived together when we were both studying in Dublin. Like any sisters, we fought over doing the dishes, tidying, wardrobes, but we always stayed close. In 1991, I lost my dream job when Century Radio folded, and that was where our work worlds collided.

Ireland was a grey place at that time, and employment prospects were bleak. I was sending my CV out left, right and centre, trying desperately to get any sort of decent job. Louise kept saying to me: 'Stop. You should set up your own PR business.' I had worked in PR in Century Radio, but I didn't have the belief in myself that she had in me.

Eventually she frog-marched me into a spare room in her office, and said, 'I'm your first account. Now go for it.' At the time, setting up any sort of business, even getting a phone or fax line, was a long process, and I had no idea how to do it. Louise cut short all of that for me.

For the first year or so, I think I still thought, 'I'll do this until I get a real job,' and it was only when I had to move out because I needed more space, and began to employ other people, that I realised that was my 'real' job. And all the time, Louise had a vision for me and a belief in me. She made me do it. It wasn't even persuasion. She pushed me and wouldn't take no for an answer. In fact, she realised my professional career as it is now. For all of that, and for all my experiences in the 23 years since, I have her to thank.

Ever since then, we have so much in common. Our work and social circles overlap. We have the same friends, go to the same weddings, same birthday parties. We are there a bit more for each other than even best friends can be. We like each other, support each other, are loyal to each other. She is my number-one companion for so many of the things I like to do. We both love travelling, and we have a great laugh together, that's the real glue between us.

Louise has a very dry but irresistible wit. We have a huge amount in common, and very complementary personalities. Louise's generosity knows no bounds, if I admire something she has on, she will take it off and give it to me. My wardrobe is constantly updated by a stream of presents from her, and I actually have to fight to pay for dinner or lunch if we're out together.

We talk several times a day, and it would be rare that we ever have a stand-off. Please God it continues like that. Although, I think the habits of a little sister die hard, and if we do argue, at the end of the day. I will defer to her. She's braver than me, especially in business.

Louise also had a hand in my first meeting with Tom McGurk, my husband. There was a party, and I nearly didn't go, because it had been such a busy week. Louise said, 'You're going,' and came and picked me up. That was the night I met Tom, so I feel that she was part of the fate of that.


Louise, Fashion designer

Caroline is the youngest of the five of us and I am the middle child, with four years between us. We are so fortunate to have such a close bond, and the friendship, admiration and love I feel for her grow each year. We share a lifetime of memories and giggles; we both went to the same boarding school, which has created an added layer of protectiveness, because we were away from home at such an early age.

Caroline always had an inquisitive mind. From an early age, and I mean about four, she was asking questions and logically working things out, or challenging if she did not agree. Our dad always teased her that she was born chatting, with a copy of a newspaper tucked under her arm, so it's no surprise she found her passion in communication. Her interest in current affairs and all things media is legendary, and there is nothing she likes more than a good debate.

I am so proud of how she has grown her business, and the amazing luxury clients she represents in Ireland. She is one of the brightest, smartest people I know, and I constantly hear such fabulous feedback about her, from some of the world's most prestigious brands.

Some of the words used about her, often in the one sentence, are 'integrity, passion, loyalty, intelligence, fun, energetic, incisive, tenacious, passionate', and all of them are accurate. She is a great listener, and so loveable. People warm immediately to her openness, her love of life and her interest in them.

We talk a lot by phone every day, no matter what the time-zone difference is, and when I return to Ireland, we see a lot of each other.

Caroline is a natural home-maker, passionate about cooking, a generous host and terrific entertainer.

We have so many common friends, loves and pastimes; we're both hooked on Danish and Swedish dramas and period dramas. We are passionate about dogs, in particular Kerry Blues. We really don't fight or argue and if I was to push for one thing that I know irritates her, it's my tendency to last-minute panic on every flight. She complains bitterly about how close I sail to the wind on each departure.

Caroline is the real deal. Not only do I have the best little sister, I also have the most precious friend who I am blessed to have in my life.

Chloe and Naomi Agnew

Chloe and Naomi Agnew. Photo: Kip Carroll

Chloe, Singer and performer

There are four years between Naomi and me, and I'm the older. When we were younger, you could see the age gap between us very easily, but in the last six years, we've become like twins. I'm convinced that we actually are twins, just born a few years apart. We get each other completely, which is lucky, because there are only two of us. If we didn't get on, there wouldn't be any other options within the family.

I spent so much of my youth away. I went on the road when I was 15, touring, and spent many months at a time away from home, so I'm always so conscious of the time we have together. I know there is always going to be a point when I have to go away again. And it gets harder as I get older. The dread of the goodbyes gets worse.

Naomi and I spend most of our time together laughing. Recently we've had a chance to work together. Since I went solo, she has been my production manager for some events. Being on tour means lots of time spent hanging around hotel rooms and backstage, and that can be the lonely part, so it's really great having her there. On our days off, we'll go and get our nails done, or go to the cinema; just be together.

We've never been competitive with each other. We were always encouraged by our parents to love and support each other, and we still do that. But, yes, we kill each other over clothes!

Naomi is very focused. What blows me away about her is that she can throw herself into any situation, and she'll come out smiling. I know my talent, it's singing, it's what I do best; but she has had so many amazing jobs and careers over the last few years, and she's been wonderful in all of them.

She's an amazing people person. People love her and respond to her, and she's a hard worker. I admire her because she's very determined. I am too, but I'm also very sensitive and emotional. Naomi has the kind of very clear, straight-thinking mind that means she can take all the emotion out of something, whereas I get muddled by what I feel.

We only need a look between us to know what's going on. She can finish my sentences, my thoughts even. She's just my best friend in the whole world, and the more I travel, the more I realise that. I only have one sibling, so I'm lucky to have the perfect one.


Naomi,  Student and maitre d' at Thornton's restaurant

Chloe has always been phenomenal as a big sister, very protective, and always so cool. She showed me different trends and brought me back wacky things from her travels.

Because of her, I have the most eccentric, amazing wardrobe. Back then, she was definitely the dominant personality between the two of us. I've come out of my shell now, but, growing up, she was always my rock.

She isn't always the dominant one now. We have this bond that means we know instinctively when to step back a little, when to step forward with each other. And I think that is one of the best things about us: we take turns. It's almost like being another half of the same person.

Chloe's ability to get into something, to take it on and be amazing, impresses me so much. She is my base. Especially now, at the age of 21, when I'm no longer in school. I'm out in the big world, and there's so much uncertainty, so the certainty that Chloe gives me is something that I come back to again and again.

I worried before I started working with her. We've always had a bit of a mad life, with one here and one there. And, yes, there were bumpy days at first, and days when we had entirely different roles and schedules so that we'd hardly see each other, but, always, the time we did have together was so amazing.

Certainly no guy has ever come between us. The odd time, I'll have a crush on one of her good-looking older friends, but we both appreciate the bond we have too much to let anything get in the way of it. Chloe is someone I would have chosen as a friend anyway. It's just wonderful that she's my sister.

Roz and Rachel Purcell

Roz and Rachel Purcell. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Roz, Model and food blogger

Rachel is older by than me by three years, although people usually think she's younger, which sometimes annoys me! We were inseparable when we were younger. Our parents would even dress us in similar outfits. We've always been more friends than sisters. We hung out from primary to secondary, even during the awkward teen phase where she probably shouldn't have hung out with her younger sister. She let me go places with her and her friends, who then became my friends, and never excluded me, even though I was always very socially awkward and probably weird, whereas she had an amazing ability to make friends. Basically, she made friends for me.

We did argue a lot over clothes and make-up, all the usual things, and now that we live together, we still steal each other's stuff. But we don't talk about boys any more, and I suppose we understand each other better. We are very similar in what we enjoy, mainly cooking, sports, shopping, music, and being in bed by nine every night; clearly we both have the Purcell granny gene! Rachel is generous, and does so many kind, nice things for me. She even cleans my room sometimes. Things that make me think, 'God I'm selfish. And lucky.'

Out of the two of us, I am definitely the messer, but I'm also very protective of Rachel. We do fight, but not much; mostly when I steal her hairbrush and peanut butter. We don't tend to compete, except in physical training, but then, I would be competitive with a wall when it comes to that.

When I was living in New York alone, Rachel Skyped me every day and filled me in on what I was missing at home. That made me feel less homesick. I love that she always thinks about others and manages to keep in contact with practically everyone she meets! In fact, she probably still writes to the pen pals that she had as a kid.


Rachel, Marketing professional

I find that even if I get advice from my friends, I still always need to talk to my two sisters and get their opinion before making a decision and it's nearly always my sisters' advice I will go with. Maybe because sisters are brutally honest with you, no matter what. My sisters know everything about me, things I have never told my friends.

Roz and I live together, but we are good at reading each other's mood so it's very rare that we clash. We support each other in everything we do and we have a good laugh together.

As we got older and started college and travelling, we didn't see much of each other, but when I came home from Toronto after spending two years there, I moved to Dublin, and Roz and I were straight back to spending loads of time together.

In fact, the main reason I decided to move home from Toronto was because I didn't have my sisters there. Spending so much time away from each other brought us a little closer and made us appreciate each other more. I was a bit apprehensive at first about moving in together, but it has worked out great. That said, I am definitely the mammy! I am a bit of a clean freak and do all the cleaning and laundry.

Roz spoils me. If I mention something nice that I saw, she'll often go and buy it for me. I have a whole make-up stash thanks to her. She's really thoughtful and will sometimes drop into my office to bring me healthy treats when I need a pick-me-up. We share a passion for fitness and food, along with our older sister, Rebecca.

Last Christmas, every night while eating dinner, we would already be talking about where we were going to eat the next night. Because Roz is so into cooking and baking, I have become more interested in it. We love to shop too. I love her style and she helps me pick out items that I wouldn't necessarily pick by myself. And she is straight-up with me if I pick something hideous, which I really appreciate

Suzanne and Carla Jackson

Suzanne and Carla Jackson. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Suzanne, Fashion and beauty blogger with

I'm older than Carla by 10 years, so we hardly knew each other growing up. I was her babysitter when our parents went out, and it took a long time before I started to see her as anything other than this very young kid.

We only really started hanging out when she was 18, and even now I would be very protective of her. I still find that I'm minding her, like trying to advise her or guide her in her career. She, of course, doesn't want to hear it!

That said, she grew up fast, I suppose because she hung around with me so much. As a result, she seems much older than her years. People often think she's older than me, because of the way she holds herself. She's very poised and contained.

She's a party lover, and a lover of life. She's energetic, bubbly, exciting to be with. I was always the nerdier one, and I'd say I caused my parents a lot less worry! She was the wild one, whereas I was really responsible. If I was staying out late, I'd always ring. Carla never would.

Because we have always been at totally different stages of our lives, there has never been any rivalry between us. Also because we're very different - Carla doesn't like the limelight, being the centre of attention, whereas I do.

When times are tough, Carla is the first person I turn to. She's young, but she has a good head, and she knows me inside out. I can trust all my friends, but with family, it's a different bond. Carla is great at seeing both sides of something, and she will never side with me just because I'm her sister. She's balanced, and I admire and need that.


Carla, Model and supervisor at Parfois, women's accessories

Suzanne was never patronising or mean as an older sister. When I was 16 I used to sit at the end of the bed and watch her as she put on make-up, did her hair and got dressed. She was a very glamorous and exciting person in my life, an icon really.

I finally began to stop feeling there was so much of an age-gap between us when we started going out together when I was 18 or so.

Now, I don't feel the gap at all. I think we're very alike, even in the way we walk and talk. However, she still gives me advice - on boys, my love life, clothes, my career, and I guess she always will.

That's just her being an older sister. I give out about it sometimes, but we're so close that I don't really mind, I know why she's doing it.

She thinks I'm too wild and wants me to settle down. That's because she's 30, so she sees things differently. I'm only 20, and I still love going out at the weekends; that's what I live for. She wants me to have a serious guy in my life, but I think I'm too young.

However, she is the first person I would go to if I was in trouble or needed something, more so even than my parents. Probably because she is around me more, so she's more tuned in to me and my life. In fact, she's a funny mix of being a sister, a friend and a mother.

When I left school I did some modelling, and Suzanne was always great for getting me work, but for the last three years I have worked my way up in retail and find that very rewarding. Right now, I'm thinking about what to do next - go back to college or modelling, or stay in retail. Suzanne is great for sounding things out. She always guides me to the best choice. See

Naomi and Chloe Agnew; dresses, both Coast

Suzanne and Carla Jackson; all jewellery, Parfois

Photography by Kip Carroll, assisted by Cathal Dooley

Styling by Nikki Cummins

Hair by Lara Moody, assisted by Naoise Daly; make-up by Dearbhla Keenan, Cara Macken, and Edel Kirke, all Brown Sugar, 50 Sth William St, D2, tel: (01) 616-9967, or see

Photographed at No.10 Ormond Quay, D1. Dublin's most unique private venue, now also specialising in meeting room hire. Contact Cathy, tel: (01) 878-7416,

email, or see

Photography by Kip Carroll  and Styling by Nikki Cummins

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