'We're like sisters. We've always felt like that'

Louise Kennedy (right) and her friend Catherine Burke-Kennedy Photgraph: Eric Luke

Louise Kennedy (right) and her friend Catherine Burke-Kennedy Photgraph: Eric Luke

Sat, Feb 2, 2013, 00:00

In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE

CATHERINE BURKE-KENNEDY

is a barrister who previously worked for Louise Kennedy. Originally from Booterstown, Co Dublin, she studied English and psychology at UCD, then went back to study law and was called to the Bar in 2006. She lives in Killiney with her partner, Brian Donovan, and her four children

My wonderful father-in-law [the late Tony Ryan, father of Catherine’s ex-husband, Declan] had a dinner party where Louise and I met – and connected instantly. She’s one of the most natural, warm people. I just loved her. After that, I worked for her part-time over the years when my kids were small. That’s where we cemented our friendship. Then I met Caroline, her sister, who is equally fabulous: it’s so refreshing having good honest friends who you can say anything to, be yourself with.

We were very giddy. I remember going to France to buy fabrics, where we’d stay on a barge. It was great craic.

I grew up in Booterstown, went to UCD: then I had an attempt at a knitwear business, which fell flat on its face. Like my mum, Moninne, who has five brothers [including Lochlann and Ruairí Quinn], I’ve only got brothers too, so having Caroline and Louise . . . we’re like sisters, we’ve always felt like that.

I don’t know what I’d do without the two of them. In the 23 to 24 years we’ve known each other, my kids have got so used to Caroline and Louise being part of the family. I have three sons: Conor, 23, Eoin, 21 and Jack, 16 and one daughter, Ana, 13.

Caroline met her husband Tom [McGurk] at Ana’s christening. We kind of merged the families. My parents, brothers and kids adore Louise and Caroline. We have a lot of friends in common and Louise has become very close to my partner Brian.

Louise’s late father Jimmy, a Tipperary man, was a handsome, very dapper guy; so like my dad, Paul.

Caroline, myself and Louise go on holiday once a year – we pick a different city every year. As well as that, Louise has come away to France with me and my kids over the years.

We’ve done interesting things together, like going to Mongolia. I’m on the board of the Christina Noble Foundation and was asked to visit her project there. Louise was the first person I thought of asking to go with me – but Ulan Bator in the middle of winter isn’t anyone’s favourite idea for a holiday. I thought she’d go, er, Kitty, forget it. But no, she was on for it.

When I went back to study law Louise was just so encouraging. I think the key is being positive: whether it’s struggling with exams, teenagers or the usual things that happen in life. Louise is so pragmatic and real, that’s helped me through things.

One of the best parts of having a best friend like Louise is all those wonderful clothes and the fashion advice I get. My kids slag me about how many Louise Kennedy clothes I have.

LOUISE KENNEDY

is an international fashion designer whose clients have included Beyoncé and Meryl Streep as well as Mary McAleese. She started her business in Dublin in 1983, opened a store in London’s Belgravia in 2000, and also designs a range of crystal. She lives in the Merrion Square house which is also her flagship Irish store

I feel Catherine has been in my life all my life because the very second we met she was so warm and friendly and welcoming. It was at a dinner party in Tipperary in 1989: we were sitting quite close to each other at the dinner, in Kilboy [the Tipperary home of the late Ryanair founder Tony Ryan]. By the time it was over, we already had a lunch date in the diary for Dublin.

Why did we hit it off? It’s the same thing I’d say about Catherine now as when I met her. She’s one of the kindest and funniest people I know. She’s very honest and what you see is so what you get. Whether she’s with presidents or royals, she’s the same to everybody: nobody fazes Catherine.

Both my parents are from Tipperary: Thurles became home when I was 11, around 1973/74, and my parents invested in my mother’s family’s clothing store, JK Moloney’s. That was my first exposure to retail and fashion, so it’s in my DNA.

My mother, Rita, suffered from terrible arthritis and passed away in her early 50s. I’d just graduated from Grafton Academy. For most of my teenage years she was, sadly, pretty much bedridden, but she passed her enthusiasm for fashion to us along with her sensibility about getting your own career, finding your own passion. My father Jimmy was a Tipperary hurler from Puckane, he won three all-Ireland medals in 1949, 1950 and 1951.

I set up my business in 1983. Catherine joined me, working on the design and office side, when we were in South William Street. Then I said to Caroline [Louise’s sister who runs Kennedy PR] come in and set up here. I feel there’s something missing in this conversation because Caroline and Catherine and I are always together, we’re extraordinarily close. Caroline and I feel she is a sister.

I feel an extraordinary bond to Catherine’s parents, Paul and Moninne, and her brothers. And I’ve watched her children grow, see the love and respect they give Catherine. I’ve no regrets I didn’t have children. I feel blessed to work in a business I’m passionate about, and blessed by the love of Catherine’s children. I took my hat off to Catherine for having the discipline to go back and study law when the children were still young. Her determination is second to none.

There’s nothing I couldn’t tell Catherine: she’s my sounding board. I’m a great believer in getting everything out on the table; a problem shared. She’s not afraid to say it as it is, but she’ll give the caring view. Any little crisis I would ever have, I would lay it on the line for Catherine. I feel exactly about her as I do about Caroline.

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