'I just knew she would be great company'


ÁINNE BURKEfrom Tourmakeady, Co Mayo, studied art at the NCAD, trained as a producer/ director in TV and interactive media and ran workshops for broadcasters. She has worked on projects for the Department of Education in Dublin, the Kennedy Center in Washington and for OFID, Opec’s development arm. She lives mainly in France and runs the Possible Self workshops

I met Elma 13 years ago when I moved from Monkstown to Heytesbury Street, near where she lives in Dublin. My sister Bríd had met her years earlier when they both worked in San Francisco; she introduced us. I had two companies, a TV production company that did creative educational projects and another company, DVD Postcards of Ireland. That was before I sold everything five years ago to go and live in France.

“That was in 2007: I had a friend in New York who wanted to live in Europe and we agreed we’d move to France. Four weeks later, however, her mum died. She went home and didn’t come back. So there I was, in Nice, on my own – I had no plan when I went to France, absolutely none. It was a huge learning curve, living on my own, different language, different culture.

My daughters – Aoife, who’s 35 and the twins, Heather and Dawn, who are 34 this year – were highly supportive of my going, and visit a lot.

Everyone, even Elma, in the beginning was saying: “What do you want to do this for?” I joined a lot of groups, went out all the time meeting people. I moved to Beaulieu and now live in an apartment in a beautiful Gordon Bennett villa that looks straight out on to the sea. And I started the Possible Self programme: all my experience has come together in workshops I’ve been delivering for the past five years, first for myself, then for individuals and business people in Monaco. It’s very practical – it isn’t therapy or counselling – it’s a programme to help individuals to map their past and present lives and set out the possibilities for their future.

I come back and forth to Ireland and Elma and I are never disconnected.

When we first met in Dublin, Elma had her own company and was willing to share her office just off St Stephen’s Green. It was good fun, both of us building businesses, the camaraderie of being women in business together. She’d worked in the States for many years; I’d had my children young and had always been based in Ireland. We’re both in our mid-50s – but we had gone on very different journeys before we met. I’d married at 21 and had three children by the time I was 23.

Elma has a huge interest in and appreciation for the arts; that plus the fact that she’s so spirited is what I enjoy about her. Nothing is impossible for Elma and she’s an incredibly kind, vivacious, generous person. We’re very close: I’d always tell her what’s happening in my life, and she gives me great advice. Elma is going to come to the workshop in Dublin in March: we’re both still wondering what we’ll do when we grow up.

A Possible Self Workshop will be held in the Radisson Blu St Helen’s Hotel, in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, on Saturday, March 2nd. See thepossibleself.com

ELMA CUSACKhas worked for technology firms in Ireland and abroad since graduating from Trinity College Dublin in 1980. She returned to live in Ireland in the 1990s and now handles sales for multinational software company CA Technologies. She is very involved in arts organisations and is on the board of dance theatre company CoisCéim. She lives in Dublin with her husband, Paul Cusack.

I first met Áinne through her sister Bríd: Bríd and I worked in San Francisco and came back to Ireland about the same time. And it was through Áinne that I met my husband [former RTÉ producer Paul Cusack].

She asked me to go to a ball with her in the Burlington; we were at a table full of TV types and that’s when I met him first. We got married in 2003.

I’m from Rathgar, studied science, then engineering in Trinity – although all my friends seemed to be at the other end of campus, studying arts, politics and so on. I’ve always been interested in theatre and developed an interest in dance in San Francisco. All of America is wonderful for dance.

I started working with HP [Hewlett-Packard] in Ireland in 1980 – they hired about 200 men at the time, and me – then went to San Francisco from 1985 to 1992. I came back because I missed Irish people. I had a base camp in Dublin and was on the road for about five to seven years as European manager of a company based in Santa Barbara.

Eventually I set up a company doing independent work for firms that wanted a base in Europe. I had an office in Harcourt Street and shared it with Áinne.

It worked out perfectly: I just knew from when I met her that she’d be great company. It was just the two of us and we could bounce ideas of each other. She is an unusual life force, a great one for lateral thinking.

When I met Áinne, I was struck by her great vitality; she’s a very positive person, without cynicism. I find that a very attractive trait, and not so common in Ireland. She’s very warm and very quick to laugh, which is contagious. And she’s very creative.

I have huge admiration for Áinne’s courage, not least the fact that she raised three beautiful girls on her own, while at the same time having three or four careers herself, constantly exploring her own creativity while having to put bread on the table. That’s not an easy thing to do.

To some extent I did wonder when she went off to France: she’s braver than I would be, she’s an adventurous woman, selling up here and going off to do something without any great security. We went to visit her in the summer, in her flat in a beautiful villa: it has a Great Gatsby feeling.

It’s not everyone who could pitch up and find themselves established in this wonderful iconic part of the south of France. I’m delighted for her, but not surprised.

I’m going to her workshop. Reflection wouldn’t be my middle name, but I think it’s useful in life to stand still, take a little time. I expect it will confirm that I’m very happy where I am in my life.

People have a lot more choice than they think they have and should take responsibility for that choice. And I think Áinne does.

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