The stress of moving house is a well-described phenomenon; indeed, it’s often said to be the worst life experience after death and divorce.
And that’s when people have only one lorryload of stuff to shift. Spare a thought, then, for Bridget Fallon, who had to fill over 10 removal trucks with over 100 boxes when she left Wicklow two years ago. Her parents had died, and she was committed to sorting through their life’s work.
Both were renowned artists – her father was sculptor Conor Fallon, and her mother was painter Nancy Wynne-Jones. Both had been incredibly prolific and Bridget wanted to preserve and catalogue and honour their memory to the best of her ability. And they hadn’t made it easy.
“When you are selling a family home after a death, people understand that you have to wrap up the furniture, but when you’re dealing with a studio, it’s a whole different ball-game,” Bridget recalls. “You’re dealing with someone’s legacy, and suddenly I was left with two entirely different studios. In my mother’s case, there was 50 years of work. And neither of them had ever used the word ‘cull’. They weren’t hoarders, but they were keepers.”
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Added to this was the trauma for Bridget of actually leaving her family home in Wicklow; before she was adopted as a small child by her parents – who met and married in Cornwall and started their life together there – she had moved a lot. “I had been in 22 foster homes before I was adopted. I know most people hate moving, but I think it was 100 times more traumatising for me,” she explains.
However, moving the couple’s belongings first to a barn in Wicklow two years ago, then to a shed behind her own home, and meticulously sorting through them has been an extraordinary experience for Bridget.
“I might find a sketch of my mother’s and wonder, ‘Should I chuck it or keep it?’ Or a letter from Seamus Heaney. In among documents, would be wine bills and things like my adoption papers. It was a very emotional time for me,” Bridget volunteers. “Being the daughter of two artists is an incredible privilege, but it was an incredible task.”
The history of these two artists – their love story – is a bit incredible too, given that Nancy was 17 years older than Conor, a rarity nowadays, not to mind in the 1960s when they first met.
“My mother was from a semi-aristocratic background, but there wasn’t a snobby bone in her body,” Bridget recalls. “She lived in St Ives in Cornwall, and the painter Tony O’Malley, a friend of my father’s, was her lodger. Conor got the boat to St Ives to see Tony, and that’s how he and Nancy met. He went back to Dublin and they wrote every day of that year; I still have all the letters. My father was studying accountancy, and painting at the same time, but my mother could support him, so he gave up his studies to concentrate on his art.”
The pair married in 1966, and in 1970, they adopted Bridget and her brother John, and shortly after that, they moved to Ireland and bought a house in Cork.
“We had a fabulous house in Kinsale, the garden went down to the sea, and you could just throw a surfboard on the water and take off,” Bridget recalls.
When Bridget went to Trinity, the couple, who were both acclaimed in their respective fields, bought a lovely house in Ballinaclash in Wicklow and settled into the community there.
While at Trinity, Bridget studied French and Russian, subjects chosen by her father. “I’d been a great lover of the Irish language,” Bridget explains. “I’d been to an all-Irish national school. I got an A in Irish in the Leaving and wanted to study pure Irish at college, but my father, very bold of him, changed my application while I was on my gap year in France. It was the time of glasnost and he said, ‘Don’t do a dead language, do Russian, you’ll get a job in Russia’,” the vivacious blonde recalls with a laugh.
As it happens, she’s never used her Russian. Instead, after her degree, Bridget did a post-grad in journalism in London. She then got a very rookie job at Sky News before landing a position at the BBC. Soon after, they sent her to Singapore to manage their south-east Asia bureau. “The BBC were great, very supportive. I loved managing a team; delegation is one of my greatest traits,” she explains with a laugh.
After that, she got what she calls an incredible offer from CNN, who made her head of news for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and doubled her salary overnight. She also covered Obama’s election, and, for a time, she spent four months of every year in Atlanta.
Throughout this time, the bubbly broadcaster kept a base in London, but came home regularly to see her friends and her parents, particularly in the final two years of her mother’s life, when she was in her 80s. “At that stage, my mother was bedbound and I used to come home most weekends,” Bridget says, adding, “The first thing she’d do is open a bottle of Champagne, so we’d have it around the bed. Her friends would pop in, and you could be having a glass of Champagne with Seamus Heaney. It was a magical time. Both my parents lived life, loved life.”
Nancy died in 2006 and, sadly, Conor died a year later, aged only 67. “My father began to complain of spinal pain shortly after her death, and he was diagnosed with spinal cancer. From diagnosis to death, it was three months,” Bridget says sadly.
Bridget went back to London after his death and tried to continue with CNN for a few years, but she found it a struggle, and instead returned to Ireland, and based herself in Wicklow.
“I was so overwhelmed with grief. I just gave up my job and moved home,” she says. She got work with RTE and produced their first Rotunda series and has worked extensively on Nationwide. Still doing freelance TV work, she also plans to write a memoir about her life and her parents’ lives.
She stayed in the house for several years, but eventually it was decided to sell it, and that was why two years ago she had to move everything out.
She was lucky enough to find a farmer friend to store the contents of the studios in one of his barns, but unfortunately she got a frantic phone call to say the barn was leaking, and to save the stuff she had to move it to another barn, and then finally brought it to her own home for sorting.
“It took me two years. When I’d tell people I was going through my parents’ archive, I think they thought it was a leisurely process with pots of Earl Grey tea and glasses of Claret, but the reality was different. I was up and down the N11 in my Polo with boxes. One week I might get through two boxes, and then there might be a month when I wouldn’t get through any,” she says.
It helped when friends suggested she display some of the work in her own home and enjoy it herself.
Bridget actually bought her house in 2015, knowing that she would need a base in Dublin; the house is in Dublin 6. “I bought it at auction. When I was looking for a house, the estate agent suggested I keep all the brochures of the houses I viewed. When I found this, I had 70 brochures, I laid them back to back and realised they were all red brick,” she says.
The red-brick house she bought, which dates from 1875, is, she says, the best. “I only viewed it once and then bought it,” she says.
Comprising 1,700 square feet, it has three storeys; with a kitchen, two reception rooms and four bedrooms, two of which are now studies for Bridget. It had all its original features – ceilings, cornices, and mouldings, even down to the light switches. And she’s kept much of it as it was, and is happy with it, though she says if she won the Lotto, she would modernise the kitchen.”For financial reasons, I haven’t been able to do anything like gut the kitchen,” she says.
She did, however, have to deal with the archaic electrical system, but when she got on to the ESB they said, “There is only one man in Ireland who can overhaul these electrics”.
“He’s based in Cork, but I finally got him, and when he saw the house, he said he’d only seen electrics like these once and that was in Henrietta Street,” Bridget says, adding, “So I began to realise what a special house I have.” She made the electrics safe and put in gas and water.
She brought her furniture home from London and furnished the house by combining those pieces with pieces from Wicklow.
And then there are many artworks from her parents’ collection – ancestral portraits from her mother’s side, their own work, and works by their friends. Her mother’s work was semi-abstract, while her father’s sculptures were figurative and made of stainless steel. “He used to say, ‘I’m a welder’. They’re quite industrial, he loved space and would create a lot of space within his sculptures,” Bridget says.
Her parents’ works are beautifully displayed and she credits two artist friends, Blaine O’Donnell and Andreas Kindler von Knobloch, with helping her to hang them. “That made me love my art, made me love my house again. Going through the boxes, I’d sometimes lost the joy of it all. Now my house has really become a sanctuary.”
Of course, Bridget’s house can only take a tiny percentage of her parents’ work, so she is thrilled that the National Gallery have decided to house their sketch books and other effects.
“I approached the National Gallery, who said they’d love to take the archive. They showed me how they dealt with Jack Yeats and I was so impressed,” Bridget says. “I’m delighted they’re going to look after them. I feel now I’ve done their legacy proud”
A job well done.
Edited by Mary O’Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
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