In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE
is chairman of Nama. He joined the Revenue Commissioners in 1963, became Revenue chairman in 2002 and chairman of Nama in 2009. He lives in Dublin but is a native of Co Waterford
‘I MET KRISTIN AT the opera in Lismore Castle in Waterford a few years ago. I’m from Abbeyside, a harbour town near Dungarvan, and my wife Elaine and I go back there fairly often. Kristin’s background and my own would be totally different: Abbeyside is a small village where my father was the postman. I had known about Tourin House and the Jameson family, but I’d never been there. Kristin is an engaging personality, a great conversationalist. We started talking about music and opera and then about gardens.
“I live in Dublin with a pretty standard garden. I have been thinking seriously over the past year of getting back into growing vegetables, into doing something that’s a contrast to what I do every day as chair of Nama.
“I went to Tourin House and it’s absolutely beautiful: the house is very old and charming and the gardens are a mixture of woodlands; there are some magnificent rhododendrons in bloom at the moment. One of the things that interests me about Kristin is that she’s all the time saying ‘how can I make this even better’: there’s a magnificent walled garden where, for example, there are 70 or 80 cherry trees.
“Kristin has set hundreds of new oak trees, doing something designed to give pleasure and make life better for generations to come – it could be 100 years from now. And to a certain extent, although some people mightn’t acknowledge it, we’re doing something similar in Nama, to make life better for our children and grandchildren.
“Most of my life I was a pretty anonymous civil servant. When I became chairman of the Revenue Commissioners there was a certain element of public profile but it was nothing compared to the interest in Nama. I do find it difficult enough from time to time. I think the hostile comment is dying down a bit, although I can understand people’s anger and impatience. But a solution won’t come overnight.
“A lot of that I find quite challenging, so I like the contrast of being able to go and visit a place like Tourin. I feel pretty strongly that our big houses should be preserved. There are some houses in Nama – some high profile, some not – and where we can we are doing our best to make sure they are preserved. We’re quite lucky in Waterford, we didn’t lose too many of the heritage houses.
“One of the things I like about Kristin is that she’s entrepreneurial. She’s not just developing the woodland garden she’s developing the walled garden too. Her sister Andrea gives classes in a studio in one of the outhouses, there’s a lovely tea room being developed in another, and the old tower house is still there and in very good condition and I think Kristin has ambitions to restore it.”
owns Tourin House and Gardens on the River Blackwater in Cappoquin, Co Waterford. She is chair of the Waterford Garden Trail, which has 15 houses and gardens open to the public ( waterfordgardentrail.com). The first Waterford Gardens Festival runs from May 1st to May 13th and speakers include writer/broadcaster Roy Lancaster
‘FRANK AND I first met at the opera in Lismore Castle only three years ago. I find it fascinating that a person with such an onerous job can have the time to be interested in other people’s jobs. He loves music and books and gardens. You have to admire a man whose conversation ranges from the financial crisis to growing rhubarb.
“I have a big admiration for him for focusing on trying to correct the financial state of the country – he could so easily have walked away, as he was already retired. He has a stressful job and still finds time for his many interests and to be supportive of his native county. I do think his interests are all the more important to him because of the job he does. He is interested in boats too – we’ve agreed to go canoeing on the Blackwater, from Ballyduff to Lismore.
“I grew up in Tourin House: my grandmother was a Musgrave, my grandfather was from the Jameson whiskey family. The Musgraves bought Tourin in 1780, the same year the Jamesons started their distillery. My father Shane was a director of Jameson: the top secret plans for the amalgamation and formation of Irish Distillers took place in the diningroom of Tourin. When Pernod Ricard took over, he did some PR work for them which I took over when he died.
“I went to Newtown School in Waterford and when I left I went to Italy – I was apprenticed to a painter and spent 10 years there painting, living outside Florence. It was a wonderful life but at 28 I moved to Norway. My mother was Norwegian. I painted there for eight years before she got ill and I came home to Ireland. I painted and exhibited in London, Italy and Norway. My mother died in 1990 and my father four years later. I’m the eldest of three sisters so the house and farm and garden fell to me: I live in Tourin House with my sister Andrea – she’s a painter and gives classes here.
“It’s a big job: the farm is 360 acres and the garden about five acres. Tourin is a heritage house and the house and garden have been open since 1990. The formation of the Waterford Garden Trail, of which I’m chairperson, is a way of advertising that gardens like mine are open to the public. With the new motorway, it’s much easier to get here from Dublin.
“I have a cider apple orchard, the walled kitchen garden and the forestry. We have mature trees and a fine collection of camellias and rhododendrons, over 100 irises and fruits and veg in the walled garden.
“Frank always asks me about the garden and the trail. I don’t discuss Nama – I respect his time off. Of course he’s not relaxed, how could he be? He’s not a tough person and you’d realise that if you met him.”