THE modern world holds high expectations of women. We are expected to be all things to all people and find ourselves on an exhausting carousel of trying to balance careers with family life and also endeavouring to be socially minded, whilst meeting the ever-rising financial and emotional, cost of living.
One woman who seems to manage these daily pressures with aplomb is Geraldine Kidd.
This enterprising woman is the proprietor of Barnabrow Country House, one of the most unique and sought-after wedding venues in Munster. She also is a mother of two and is involved with Friends of the Refugees in UCC.
Geraldine is currently working on her second publication and is a part-time lecturer at the university. She is launching a new business venture ahead of the festive season, Artisan Christmas Hampers, and is undertaking a masters in UCC (LLM) in International Human Rights Law. I spoke to this multi-faceted, modern and independent woman about the many plates she successfully keeps spinning.
The Dublin native has enjoyed many and varying careers. She practiced midwifery in the capital before becoming a Health Visitor in London by the age of 22. Leaving the medical world behind, in favour of the wholefood market, she returned to Ireland and joined the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association. She worked an allotment in Dublin and sold wholefoods on a market stall before being lured to East Cork by its beauty and slower paced way of life. She settled in Ballycotton in the early 1990s and soon made a name for herself in her new surroundings.
Here, she felt her previous city lifestyle grow ever more distant as she adopted rescue-donkeys and regularly strolled them through the village. She smiles as she wonders what the locals must have made of this sight. “Well, the Donkey Sanctuary did tell me that donkeys enjoy a change of environment,” she laughs.
Geraldine has always been socially conscious and wasted no time in getting involved with local environmental issues by actively campaigning to clean up Cork Harbour. She recalls enjoying the ‘intensity and passion’ of the campaign, revealing: “I like that sort of thing.”
Having studied at Ballymaloe Cookery school, she remembers driving past a ‘For Sale’ sign on Barnabrow House for months and feeling very tempted, but also aware of her lack of experience in the hospitality industry. Never one to shirk from a challenge however, she took the plunge and has never looked back.
More than 20 years on, and still in the good company of hens, donkeys and other farmyard favourites, Geraldine has creatively restored the property, which dates from 1639. It is now a popular choice for couples who seek an original and bespoke wedding experience.
Geraldine describes the venue as a continuing work in progress: “It is personal, it is relaxed, and the food is great! We are not 5-star, Barnabrow is arty and quirky with surprises in every nook and cranny.”
The country house comes replete with its own fairy garden, which is a popular location for marital ceremonies: “The name ‘Barnabrow’ comes from Bar na Brutha, which translates as Gap in the Fairy Fort so we have to keep the fairy folk involved,” she quips.
The mother of two resonates with the challenges that face working mothers in modern society. As a single parent of young children, with no family in Cork, she needed flexibility and a supporting network of people around her in the workplace. The business owner now affords her staff the same advantages and is mindful that employees have a life outside of work. She notes: “Barnabrow has an ethos of flexibility and understanding,” and adds, “I think this may be an aspect of working life that women understand better than men.”
When asked to describe her experience as a woman in the world of business, she recounts that, overall, she does not feel she was disadvantaged but does add; “I am better able these days to fight my corner than I used to be.”
As far as being an employer is concerned, she believes a female at the helm makes for a less inhibitive work environment explaining: “With a woman in charge there is less need for showmanship and those games that involve one-upmanship.”
She credits herself with being a good team builder, a skill she says she acquired from her nursing days, her environmental work and parenthood. Geraldine says she will not preside over mediocrity: “I have an excellent chef, Stuart Bowes, who upholds the highest standards in all areas of the business — not just the food.”
She speaks proudly of the strong team she has built around her and of their enthusiasm and desire to go above and beyond the call of duty to make each occasion at Barnabrow House a success.
Living and working at home, the proprietor felt she needed an outlet outside of the business.
She began studying at UCC and jokes that she has never left. She progressed from undergrad to masters and, not being one for half measures, has completed a PhD in History — U.S Foreign Policy. Through her doctorate research, she has developed a keen interest in strong women in political history. This interest lead to the publication of her first book which focuses on Eleanor Roosevelt, examining her interaction with the Palestine conflict — a lesser explored aspect of the renowned humanitarian and First Lady. Geraldine is currently working on her second publication, again focusing on historical female political figures: Dorothy Thompson and Freda Kirchwey — “amazingly strong women whose histories deserve to be written.”
She has given courses on the history of the last hundred years in the volatile Middle East and is currently teaching a class on Foreign Policy, From Lincoln to Trump: Race, Riot and Rupture, to adults at UCC.
Drawing from her teaching experience and being moved by the injustice facing political refugees in this country, she has felt compelled to assist in a meaningful way. She began teaching English to refugees in Cork, explaining: “I just feel enormously guilty over the plight of the refugees… we have so much.”
It would not be in Geraldine’s nature for her role to end at teacher, however. She describes a recent involvement in assisting two young men, from Tikrit in Iraq, to secure accommodation and employment in Cork: “At first hand, I experienced the discrimination they endured, young, Arab, Muslim men, unemployed and with little English — it was difficult.”
Mother, businesswoman, author, educator, socially minded activist, this independent and progressive woman is inspirational in her diversity, dynamism and boundless energy.
“I come from an energetic set of genes,” she laughs.
Speaking of her work/life balance, she admits that there really is no balance. She says that an undertaking like Barnabrow House is known within the industry as a ‘Lifestyle Business’: work and home-life merge. For Geraldine and her family this has worked well. Her daughter and son have learned to pitch in and work from a young age, which she believes accounts for their independence and capability now. She concludes: “Barnabrow is beautiful; perfect natural raw material. I want to preserve it, enhance it and pass it on.
“The world is a harsh place so sometimes when I fantasize that I have created my own little safe bubble — I enjoy those moments.”