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Turtle wasn't slow when it came to love

Ally Bunbury has just launched her debut novel, and her writer husband Turtle is very proud of her


Ally and Turtle Bunbury are both published authors. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Ally and Turtle Bunbury are both published authors. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Ally and Turtle Bunbury are both published authors. Photo: Steve Humphreys

When Turtle and Ally Bunbury first met at a dinner party in Portobello in 2004, he was instantly taken with her fun-loving personality - among her other assets. "She had a gorgeous face and I found her very sexy," he says.

Ally admits that she can be a bit "slow on the uptake" when it comes to romance, and it took her three meetings to actually properly notice Turtle. "On that occasion, I just looked into his blue eyes and that was it," she says. "We were at a party in a marquee in Wicklow, and he began to tell me intriguing tales about his family, who are an eclectic bunch despite their formal ancestral set-up."

As the DJ rocked it out, Ally and Turtle began dancing and playing air guitar, and at the end of the night he invited her to lunch. "I sent a text to my best friend at 6am to say, 'I have found THE ONE', so for me, it was love on the dance floor," says Ally.

They got engaged after 10 months, and Turtle proposed while they were celebrating Ally's mum Miriam's 60th birthday party at her family home in Clones. They took a walk down the avenue to where her dad Archie is buried, and Turtle went down on one knee beside the stone and proposed. Ally said yes and some of the family's donkeys and horses nudged closer to them and they all ended up in a sort of group hug. "It was an extremely surreal but beautiful moment," Turtle recalls. "I had my arms around Ally and a donkey, and we were all together under a full moon beside Archie Moore's grave."

Turtle (45) grew up in Lisnavagh House in Carlow, a country house that has been in the family since the 17th Century. It is run as a wedding venue by his brother William these days. Turtle was actually named Alexander and is the third of Ben and Jessica's four children. He got his name because his father would count the children into the room in Latin, and the word for third is 'tertius.' This amused his elder brothers who promptly nicknamed him Turtle, and the moniker has endured.

Turtle went to Castle Park boarding school in Dalkey at eight, and to Glenalmond College in Scotland at 13. They were woken up by bagpipes in the morning and wore kilts on Sunday, he recalls. After travelling around the world for a year, he went to Trinity College to study law, but changed to history after two years and much preferred it.

After graduating, Turtle spent three years in Hong Kong working as a travel writer, which led to work in places like Cambodia and Vietnam. He returned to Ireland in 1999 and worked on the Vanishing Ireland project and has now written 13 books, the latest of which is 1847: A Chronicle of Genius, Generosity and Savagery. A three-year exhibition he curated on the history of Cork harbour opened at St Peter's church in Cork on Wednesday. Ally (41) has three sisters and they grew up in an old rectory in Clones filled with all kinds of animals. Her mum Miriam was a midwife, and her late dad Archie was a surgeon. He sadly passed away aged 56 from a rare form of cancer. Although, like Turtle, she is Church of Ireland, Ally attended the Quaker-owned multi-denominational boarding school, Newtown, in Waterford. When she was in sixth year, she developed a serious case of peritonitis and had to take five months out of school. She went on to study history and sociology at NUI, Maynooth.

She got a PR internship at a top agency on Fifth Avenue in New York, and then transferred to London, where she was immersed in the world of PR. Wanting to take a bit of time out, she moved to Paris and began writing a book, and when she returned to Ireland she met Turtle. They were married in 2006 in Clones, and they now have two daughters, Jemima (9) and Bay (8). Ally worked with Edelman PR, and then moved to a country farmhouse at Lisvanagh when the girls were born. She still works in PR on a self-employed basis.

Around 18 months ago she decided to progress the book she started in Paris, and to her delight, it was picked up and has just been published. Called The Inheritance, she describes it as a love story that is also great fun. "It's like PR meets country life and Labradors and wellies meets glitzy bling bling," she laughs. "When I received the news it would be published, I cried for five days with shock and happiness. They told me it needed to have some saucy bits in it and I thought I couldn't possibly do it. I would read out paragraphs to poor Turtle and ask him if it was realistic, which is so funny. That side is pretty light and probably just 'three shades' but it was just so challenging to write."

Turtle is delighted that Ally's 'page-turner' book has been published and says he is very proud of her. She constantly surprises him in what she achieves. "If Ally's book is a hit, I might give up writing history and write saucy, steamy, potboilers instead," he jokes.

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Ally says Turtle is brilliant and great fun and has a wonderful confidence and energy. The challenge is taking time off to spend together, but they are working on that. ''When I met Turtle, he was really wild and chilled-out and I was much more strait-laced and a worrier," Ally remarks. "Ten years later, I think we're stronger and increasingly in sync."

'The Inheritance' is out now (Poolbeg, €15.99) www.allybunbury.com www.turtlebunbury.com

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