Irish Lives: Living and working on a barge
Mary McInerney sold her house in Galway and moved into a 15-tonne boat, ‘ Frøya’
Mary McInerney and her husband Jorn Bjerknes onboard their barge, Frøya, on the canal at Ballinamore, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell
Five years ago Mary McInerney sold her house in Galway. Home since then has been an elegant 15-tonne hunk of steel named Frøya .
“Frøya is the goddess of love and fertility”, explains her Norwegian-born husband Jorn Bjerknes. “God forbid,” laughs Mary, the mother of two adult daughters.
The pair met in Galway eight years ago at an outdoor party at the Town Hall Theatre where Mary was catering for 400 guests invited to the finale of a Druid production. He had recently arrived in Ireland and had intended to ride his motor bike around the coastline. “But someone told me, ‘no – head straight to Galway’.” At the party he spotted a chef wearing a ridiculous pink cowboy hat and that was that.
The couple’s barge is normally docked in Ballinamore Co Leitrim but can be found anywhere. They recently spent seven weeks in the Grand Canal Basin in Dublin relishing the convenience of walking across the road to the Bord Gáis theatre or getting to see an Ibsen play in the city centre. Tomorrow night they will make the hour-long trip (five minutes in the car) up the canal to see the fireworks display which marks the end of Ballinamore Family Festival.
“We do it every year. Our friends stand on the roof to get a good view of the fireworks and we will have Prosecco and nibbles,” says McInerney, who has spent more than a decade in the film catering business.
On Tuesday the pair take the barge to Enniskillen for “Happy Days”, the Samuel Beckett festival, a scenic trip which brings them past the islands of Lough Erne and the beautiful Crom Estate. Accommodation won’t be a problem even if the town is booked solid. Taking their home with them has become a way of life although they did leave familiar waters two years ago for a dream holiday to Japan, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia and San Francisco . “We went around the world in 80 days. We arrived home on the 80th day,” says McInerney.
Life may sound like a permanent holiday. But Bjerknes and McInerney, who have fed everyone from Donald Sutherland to Pat Shortt, at film locations around the country, are working on a novel business venture. This time next year they hope to launch Lovely Leitrim, a five-star floating hotel aimed at the luxury end of the market which will also operate as a pop-up restaurant wherever there is a hooley or festival on the Shannon-Erne waterway .
Through her network of contacts in the trade McInerney also has a hit list of celebrity chefs who will be invited on board to give cookery demonstrations.