Network West Cork empowered me to dig deep...

Ahead of the Network Ireland Business Woman of the Year Awards on October 8, we feature the women who will be representing Network West Cork at the national finals
Network West Cork empowered me to dig deep...

Louise Bunyan of VMware, winner of the Employee – Shining Star Award, with Network Ireland West Cork President Katherine O’Sullivan, vice-president and awards coordinator; Marie Wiseman, Sheila McCarthy, AIB, official partner of Network Ireland, and keynote Speaker Louise O’Neill at Bantry House for the 2021 Network Ireland West Cork Business Women of the Year awards reception.


Talent Marketing Specialist with VMware

Employee ‘Shining Star’

“Ultimately, winning this award reflects all of the ups and downs in my career to date, including redundancy, unemployment and running my own business, to finding the job of my dreams with VMware.

“It also shows the support that comes from being a member of Network Ireland, and how this network has empowered me to dig deep, build up my resilience and develop my ‘bouncebackability’.

So said entrepreneur Louise Bunyan, the founder of The company was born back in April, 2017, after she was made redundant. After interviewing unsuccessfully for roles, she decided instead to create her own business.

Initially providing general marketing consultancy and social media training, her reputation as a leading LinkedIn expert grew - so she specialised in LinkedIn training to sales teams, universities, one to one coaching, in addition to public speaking events.

The future looked bright, and after availing of financial coaching through Network Ireland, the next step was to build an online school in order to automate, scale internationally and build bigger revenue.

Louise Bunyan Talent Marketing Specialist with VMWare.
Louise Bunyan Talent Marketing Specialist with VMWare.

Over 12 months, Louise painstakingly built, Ireland’s only dedicated online LinkedIn school, and created a suite of courses with over 140 video lessons. It was launched in early March, 2020, to a great reception - just before the pandemic.

More than 500 users have registered across paid and free mini-courses, with more new users continuing to sign up each week.

At the same time, Louise was being mentored by a leading e-commerce entrepreneur and through this process, she realised that building a new international e-commerce business required a significant online advertising budget and lots of time. She grappled with a decision - hire someone and take out a business loan or consider other options?

On top of that, Louise was also applying for a mortgage to buy her own home and quickly saw that banks preferred to see consistent income from a salaried worker compared to a self-employed person. Taking a step back, she moved to Clonakilty to take advantage of her ‘digital nomad’ status and noticed the rise in remote working for top roles. Deciding to take a chance, she once more ventured into jobseeking, preparing for the long haul and a gruelling process, while also continuing SmartFox as a side hustle.

She was shocked when she had two job offers immediately. So what made the difference compared to 2016?

“I had a strong portfolio, a proven track record as a consultant, a profitable business and a stand out personal brand in addition to a large and influential network.

“Plus I’d learned how to sell and hustle through running my own business, and I’d invested in interview coaching – basically, everything that I didn’t have back in 2016!”

Speaking about her role as a Talent Marketing Specialist with VMware, she said: “Combining all of my passions - a tech platform, recruitment marketing, developing training and content writing expertise - it felt as if this role had been created just for me.

“And VMware also has the ‘Work Here. Transform Everywhere.’ initiative with thousands of global remote and fixed work roles across all skills, which means, that I can work remotely from West Cork with like-minded creative colleagues in locations such as the U.S, Canada, India and even Blarney! It’s been a total game changer and I’d encourage anyone to check out”

Maura O'Connell of West Cork Casting Studio.
Maura O'Connell of West Cork Casting Studio.


West Cork Casting Studio

Creative Professional Category

Maura O’Connell, originally from Fermoy, has lived in West Cork for the past 10 years with her husband and two daughters. While on a career break, Maura discovered life casting and she knew immediately this was something very special.

Maura has always had a deep interest in people and their stories. It was this curiosity, married with her creative skills, that led her to launch West Cork Casting Studio.

Slowly, over the past four years, Maura has perfected her skill in her craft and had built a steady business - until Covid hit and she had to temporarily close her life casting business.

Born out of the desire to connect families, regardless of the distance, Maura worked on developing a new product offering, Fingerprint Jewellery. She said: “We each have unique fingerprints and wearing a piece of jewellery with the print of a loved one is very special indeed.”

Customers are sent a kit by post, which they use at home to capture the precious fingerprint, Maura then works her magic, creating a range of silver necklaces and bracelets and, most recently, she added a bog oak and sterling silver keyrings to the range.

Another offering from West Cork Casting studio is to create jewellery with the imprint of hand or footprint pieces for parents after miscarriage or stillbirth. These are truly emotional pieces which bring a lot of comfort to help grieving parents to heal.

Maura joined Network Ireland West Cork two years ago: “Having a group of women I could turn to for support and guidance made me feel less alone in my business.

" I often feel like the members are my colleagues and I have learnt so much about running a business and also about supporting myself.

“Winning Businesswoman of the Year 2021 in the Creative Professional category has been the biggest validation I could hope for. West Cork is a hugely creative place with an abundance of artists, craft workers, writers amongst others. To be a representative of all that is creative in West Cork is very exciting for me. Network Ireland has given me the support and encouragement I needed to stay motivated”.

Nollaig Hurley of Jelly Fish Surf Shop, winner of the Established Business Owner Award with Network Ireland West Cork President Katherine O’Sullivan; vice-president and awards co-ordinator Marie Wiseman; Sheila McCarthy, AIB, official partner of Network Ireland, and keynote speaker Louise O’Neill at Bantry House for the 2021 Network Ireland West Cork Business Women of the Year Awards reception.
Nollaig Hurley of Jelly Fish Surf Shop, winner of the Established Business Owner Award with Network Ireland West Cork President Katherine O’Sullivan; vice-president and awards co-ordinator Marie Wiseman; Sheila McCarthy, AIB, official partner of Network Ireland, and keynote speaker Louise O’Neill at Bantry House for the 2021 Network Ireland West Cork Business Women of the Year Awards reception.


Jellyfish Surf Shop

Established Business Category

Jellyfish Surf Shop in Clonakilty, West Cork, is one of Ireland’s leading surf and swim specialist shops.

Since first opening in Summer, 2003, this business has recovered from recessionary times, flooding, lengthy street closures and disruptive weather events, but the forced closures due to the Covid pandemic have been the biggest challenge to date, says business owner and founder of Jellyfish Surf Shop, Nollaig Hurley.

Her determination to never give up caught the attention of the judges of the Network Ireland West Cork Businesswoman of the year awards.

A native of West Cork, Nollaig grew up a stone’s throw from the sea on the coast very near Toe Head in Castlehaven and has lived in Clonakilty for more than 20 years.

Originally, her career started with a hospitality business management qualification from GMIT and after managing restaurants and a hotel, the next goal and logical career move was to become self-employed and she has not looked back.

Being a small retailer, even in the dynamic tourist town of Clonakilty, is not without its challenges. More recently, Brexit has certainly impacted on the supply chain, causing delays and increased costs. 

Ensuring stock levels to meet the demand can be tricky, as covid restrictions and Brexit still impact on production and shipping worldwide. Of course, the covid pandemic and ensuing forced closures was the biggest challenge the business has ever faced. Jelly Fish Surf Shop has embraced and adapted to all these challenges, especially in recent years, increasing opening hours to trading 7 days a week and developing an e-commerce site aptly named, The website meant that the business could offer a 24/7 shopping experience to a national customer base.

In addition to this, growing a social media presence keeps customers up to date with all things new in store and in the wider community. Nollaig says that the business’ best attribute is the Jellyfish Team.

“The staff have really worked hard to keep the boat afloat, they really stepped up when needed, especially when the demand for all things surf and swim escalated dramatically. I cannot acknowledge their hard work and dedication enough.” 

Nollaig is developing and increasing the Jellyfish Surf Shop own brand products, already the range includes towelling robes, all weather changing robes, buff neckwear and Jellyfish Surf Shop clothing, t-shirts and hoodies. Nollaig and her team also plan for the business to become more sustainable, with measures being introduced to incorporate recycled and recyclable materials in their packaging and own brand products.

Nollaig said: “Network Ireland West Cork have been a huge support to me personally, the encouragement and opportunities cannot be underestimated. The organisation is a massive resource, and the immediate feedback, advice, recommendations and general positiveness is always appreciated.

“Winning the Established Business category for the West Cork Branch has been an amazing experience. The standard of women in business in West Cork is very high and amongst them some great role models.

“The response from customers, friends and family of the award win has been incredible with people going out of their way to congratulate me through all forms of communication. It has elevated my business to a new level and the public awareness of what Jellyfish Surf Shop is about has increased and improved because of this award. I am very proud, if a little overwhelmed to represent West Cork at the National awards in October but also very excited to showcase my business and the West Cork Branch on a National level.” 

Tara Copplestone and brother Rory, of Foxglove Cocktails.
Tara Copplestone and brother Rory, of Foxglove Cocktails.

Tara Copplestone

Foxglove Cocktail Company 

Emerging New Business

Foxglove Cocktail Company was started in June 2020, after siblings, Tara and Rory Copplestone moved back home to Baltimore, Co Cork at the start of the pandemic. As one of Ireland’s first producers of non-alcoholic craft cocktail mixers and garnishes, Foxglove Cocktails are setting the bar for entertaining at home.

Tara had been living in New York, working in bars in Manhattan for the past six years and found Covid as a way for her to negotiate a move back to Ireland.

“I always wondered how I would be able to move home, after years of working in the bar industry in New York. Through some strange and miraculous way, Covid gave me that opportunity and here we are.” 

Younger brother, Rory was in his final year of Shannon College of Hotel Management, when the pandemic hit. With final exams and projects to complete, he decided too a move home was the best plan for him. After graduating, with prolonged forced closures on the hospitality sector, Rory couldn’t focus his attention on job seeking, so instead went into business with his sister.

It was during the first lockdown, that the siblings got together and made cocktails in their spare time, which back then they had plenty of. Although neither had experience of running a business, Tara had all the skills and knowledge from her years working in bars and Rory was fresh out of Hotel Management college and they make a great team. While they were mixing different flavours, and creating unique cocktail recipes, they decided to sell these mixes at local markets. They soon realised, while the pubs were closed, people missed enjoying cocktails and they wanted to make their own cocktails at home but needed ideas and guidance with flavours. That’s when Tara and Rory knew they were onto a good thing.

Foxglove Cocktails was born on the premise of a ‘More Fun, Less Fuss’ attitude towards cocktails, and gives people the imagination and creativity to create their own cocktails at home. Foxglove creates non-alcoholic craft cocktail mixers, that are 100% real, natural ingredients, and their mixers can be used to create alcoholic cocktails, or alternatively, can be enjoyed alcohol-free. They launched their business in Skibbereen Farmers Market in June 2020, and they have not looked back. The business has gone from strength to strength, and now they are in farmers markets across Cork county. They also supply 8 Neighbourfood markets in Cork and Kerry, and they have their own Click-and-Collect and delivery service, every Friday in Cork City, as well as having their products stocked in various stores.

Network Ireland West Cork has been a great support to Foxglove and has opened many doors and connections for their business. Tara first heard of the network in September 2020, when she was invited to host a virtual cocktail event, ahead of the 2020 Businesswoman of the year awards. Tara says she was blown away by the support and encouragement she saw amongst the members that evening and decided to join the network herself. Fast forward one year and Foxglove was nominated in the 2021 Network Ireland West Cork awards, in the Emerging New Business category.

Siblings Tara and Rory are also in talks with Musgraves to stock their cocktails in SuperValu’s nationwide through the SuperValu Food Academy programme. They plan to open a pop-up shop in Cork City for Christmas 2021, and expand their product line for Christmas season, as Foxglove mixers are not only great for entertaining, but also as a gift for others. Further afield, Foxglove would love to showcase their cocktails at events, such as festivals and weddings.

Tara says: “We have no clue what it’s like to have a business outside of Covid, so we look forward to the country opening up and seeing what opportunities lay ahead of us in the future.” 

Yvonne Cahalane, Power Within winner, Network Ireland West Cork.
Yvonne Cahalane, Power Within winner, Network Ireland West Cork.

Yvonne Cahalane

Power Within Category

The Power Within Category gives women an opportunity to share their stories of how they overcame difficulties in their lives and discovered their own power for great impact.

Yvonne, mother to two young boys, shared her story of how she advocated for medical cannabis treatment for her son Tristan in 2015 and was deemed ‘the pathfinder’ in accessing medical cannabis for patients in Ireland. Creating history by gaining the first license for medical cannabis in Ireland in 2016 which opened the doors for other patients in Ireland.

Yvonne went on to advocate for safe and wider access to medical cannabis for patients in Ireland and was invited by the Health Department to make recommendations to the health committee for the Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP). She continues her advocacy work today.

While continuing her advocacy work, Yvonne returned to college to study law, taking a deferral after completing year one to run in the local elections. ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ says Yvonne, “and I didn’t see anybody that represented what I stood for. Patients, parents, carers, disability, medical cannabis, WOMEN!! I wanted to represent a voice that few spoke for & fewer delivered for.” Although unsuccessful on that occasion, Yvonne stayed involved in politics and was elected into the role of constituency secretary for Cork South West Fine Gael.

‘It was very important for me to represent women at board level. At present there is a huge gender imbalance,' according to data, compiled by search company Accreate, found women represented only 20% of board directors, down from 21% in 2019.

An avid volunteer, Yvonne is an emergency first responder for the Irish Red Cross and was also promoted to IRC Community Support Officer for the Dunmanway and surrounding areas when the pandemic hit.

Network Ireland has been a hugely valuable source of support for Yvonne.

“I am so grateful for the women of Network Ireland, they have been advisors, collaborators & everyone is there to see you succeed. I have gained life-long friends & a support network that resonates with the saying, Find your tribe & love them hard.

“Winning this award, to be acknowledged, validated & my achievements recognised by these strong, accomplished women that I’m surrounded by means the world to me.” 

Jacinta Collins STEM Award finalist The STEM award finalist is Jacinta Collins, Argideen Communications, who has been championing science for 25 years using her communications training to help scientists and science-led companies bring their research and innovation to life.

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