First encounters

Sat, Jun 30, 2012, 01:00

In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE


is an actor, jazz singer, drama teacher and humanist celebrant. She gave the humanist reflection at the inauguration of President Michael D Higgins in November. She lives in Co Wicklow

‘I MET DIANE in 1975 in Ireland: we’re both Americans, both from the midwest, and had had very similar experiences. She’s from a small town in Ohio; I lived in Peoria, Illinois until I was 10, when my family moved to Chicago. We both graduated from high school in 1969, and both dropped out in our freshman year. I was on my way to India in 1972 when I met an Irish guy in London. Diane had a friend whose parents were from Northern Ireland: she visited, and fell in love with Ireland.

“My ex-husband, the Irishman I met in London, is a homeopath, and Diane worked as an au pair for a homeopath: we met through alternative medicine. Since then, we’ve been like sisters. I began working in theatre in Dublin in the 1970s and made a career of one-woman music revues. I worked with the pianist Prof Peter O’Brien, and when he died the heart went out of it. I started teaching theatre at Dublin Institute of Technology 12 years ago.

“I was introduced to humanism through Diane. Ten years ago, she married for the second time and was looking for an alternative service. She had found a humanist booklet that I then read. It clicked with me, and I joined the Humanist Association five years ago. Then I became a celebrant, doing humanist weddings, funerals and baby-namings. It was a perfect fit for me: it involves meeting people to see what they want, writing the ceremony, and performing it.

“I was in Peoria when I got the request to represent the Humanist Association at Michael D Higgins’s inauguration. It was a great honour and an amazing experience. I was trying to be serious but my face was set to smile mode – I was so beside myself with the pleasure of being there.

“Diane and I have seen each other through all kinds of things: whether it’s good news or bad news, the first person I ring is Diane. Our two families are very close: she has two sons, I have a daughter, Aoife, who has two children. She’s like an aunt to Aoife and her kids. We spend Christmas and holidays together. We’re like Mutt and Jeff: she’s tall, a stringbean; I’m short, and on a different diet every month. She’s so supportive, and has never said, ‘Would you stop eating so much.’ We go hillwalking together. When I was doing my shows, she’d come to all my gigs.

“We both absolutely love Ireland, are both Irish citizens. I loved the ambience, the way everyone was interested in literature, music and theatre – it seemed to be a trait of being Irish. Diane and I are both refugees from the US.

“Diane doesn’t go by convention, she’s not a bit interested in money and has a conviction to do what she thinks is right. She grows organic food and is a practising homeopath in Arklow. We would both be proud to be called hippy chicks.”


is a homeopath who runs the Arklow Natural Healing Centre. Before that, she was a weaver. She lives in Avoca, Co Wicklow

‘I CAME TO IRELAND for a three-week holiday in May 1974 and never went back. Susie and I had both gone to big cities from small towns in the US, and both left at the same time. I’d gone to Catholic school in Lorraine, Ohio, where everybody was Irish but me, a German-American. Then in San Francisco I met a lovely friend from Belfast. I was disillusioned with the US and had this dream of going to Europe. Our friends from school were being killed in a war they didn’t believe in. So in 1974, when bombs were going off here, I came to Ireland with her. She went back to the US, and I got a job at the Glenview Hotel in Wicklow.

“I used to go to Green Acres, a health-food shop off Capel Street, on my day off. I put up a sign saying I wanted to learn to weave: I had met a weaver in Colorado who had taught me to spin wool, and thought that’s what I’d do in Ireland – not realising that only men were weavers here. One day I got a call from Chris, a Canadian living near Gorey, who said, ‘We need an au pair, and my wife will teach you to weave.’

“Susie’s then-husband Brian and Chris were both studying homeopathy. They kept saying, ‘You must meet Susie and Brian Kennedy and their baby Aoife’. Susie and I hit it off right away. Since then, Susie and I have spent every Christmas together, every Easter. We didn’t have extended family here.

“I moved to Avoca and got a job with Avoca Handweavers, the only female to weave for them. Donald Pratt had just bought the mill at Avoca and I worked there for about a year and a half. Then they gave me a loom and I started off on my own, became a weaver of crafts, selling to craft shops all over Ireland.

“Living in Ireland then was like living in the US in the 1950s. My first husband was a musician and we lived in a cottage in Avoca with a turf fire and no phone. I had two young children and I wanted to grow my own food. My two sons are now in Alaska, doing the same thing I did.

“At one stage Susie told me about a friend who was training to be a homeopath. So I trained and now I run the Arklow Natural Healing Centre. When Alastair and I decided to get married 10 years ago, I got a book on humanist ceremonies, and used the script from the book. I’m now part of Mindfulness Ireland, the organisation that recently brought the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh to Ireland.

“Susie is the most generous, kind-hearted person, and has many good friends, but I’m her best friend. We’ve been through good times and bad times and we both speak our minds. Susie’s being a humanist celebrant brings together all her talents: the show-woman, yes, but also standing and speaking her truth.”

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