The Irish soap maker ensuring her carbon footprint leaves zero waste
‘It’s our responsibility to take care of our planet so our children and grandchildren see the beauty we have in front of us’
When did you leave Ireland?
We left Ireland on January 30th, 1965. I was eight years old the next day. We flew into Heathrow airport and travelled to nearby Maidenhead in Berkshire where my father had secured a job as a proof reader. We moved to Frome in Somerset a year later and then to Andover in Hampshire in 1969, where myself and my four siblings grew up. My mum still lives in the same house today.
Did you go back to Ireland to visit?
I used to love it when the six-week summer holidays would come around as my mum would pack a few items into a very large suitcase and, with her five children in tow, would set off to the train station to start our long journey to Holyhead and across the sea to Dún Laoghaire. From there we would travel by train to Dublin and then down country to Tralee, Co Kerry where we stayed for four to six weeks. We had great days out, visiting family in Ennis, Co Clare and spending long summer days in the sand dunes of Ballyheigue and Ballybunion in Co Kerry. I helped a friend deliver milk around Tralee for a bit of pocket money so I could go horse riding up the Slieve Mish mountains. Coming home, my mum’s case was always full. I have returned to Ireland many times since my childhood days, my latest visit being to Galway and down to Ennis.
What do you do now?
I am now a retired teacher and have a small soap and skincare business, Organik Orangutan, which takes up most of my time. I work from home where I make organic, palm oil-free soap and skincare.
What drew you to soap, and why no palm oil?
I’m also a fibre artist and was making felted soap when I started to look closely at the ingredients in soap, and was disgusted to find so many artificial chemicals that we are putting onto our skin on a daily basis. One of these ingredients was palm oil. I was shocked to read about how it is obtained. Deforestation is literally wiping out the the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, and with it the animals, in particular the Orangutan, which are now critically endangered, and all for the palm oil in our soaps and biscuits. So, I set about making a soap recipe that does not contain palm oil or anything artificial at all. My soaps are enriched with natural organic ingredients.
What does your day to day work involve?
Every day is different. I’m either making soap or skincare, formulating new recipes for my range, packing up an order or I’m running workshops in soap making, skincare or felting. I love teaching people the skills to make their own organic products so they can do their own bit for the environment, which is why they attend my workshops.
Is teaching people interesting?
Yes very. I meet such a diverse group of people from all nationalities and backgrounds. They attend my workshops from Scotland, Wales and all parts of England. They all have one thing in common and that is they all care about the environment and what we are doing to the planet. They want to live a more natural live using less chemicals and plastics.
Are there any other Irish people in your work/social circles?
I meet a lot of Irish people socially and through my business. I meet many on my workshops. The thing about being Irish is that you only have to go to the shop and the cashier has an Irish voice and immediately there is a conversation going about Ireland. Irish are drawn to Irish.
What are your concerns about the environment? Why is it important to you?
I care deeply about the environment and want to play my small part by producing organic skincare and making sure my carbon footprint leaves zero waste. I think it’s our responsibility to take care of our planet so our children and grandchildren have the chance to see the beauty that we have in front of us. My packaging is reusable, compostable and recyclable. All my ingredients are organic, natural and Fairtrade. I impart these ethics in my workshops.
How has living in England been for you?
Living in England has been ok for me. These years the English love the Irish and our culture and tend to treat us with respect. I hope Brexit doesn’t change that relationship. You can live quite wisely and cheaply and make your own choices regarding your ethics. Living in Shropshire is beautiful. I’m lucky to live in a rural location and able to keep my animals and follow my own pursuits.
How do you see yourself?
I’m Irish though and through, there’s no doubt about that. We grew up as Irish, mum and dad made sure of that. We’d wear our harps with pride every St Patrick’s Day. My nana would send the Barmbrack from Tralee and mum would make colcannon for Halloween. Even now, years on, I still get told I have an Irish twang, which makes me proud. I recently launched my organic skincare range ‘Roisin’ after my Irish roots. My logo is the Burnet Rose of the Burren.
Would you come and live in Ireland again?
Ireland will always be home and maybe one day I’ll return to live.
If you work in an interesting career overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email firstname.lastname@example.org with a little information about you and what you do.