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The famous foodie who’s flying the tricolour for us in Texas describes what can happen over lunch with five hundred ladies - in a phone- and social media-free zone.
I was a guest at a luncheon here in Dallas this summer. Close to five hundred ladies filled the room. Signs of a bygone era were everywhere. The ladies wore Chanel and St John knit suits. Their handbags hung from their arms and the air was filled with scents of sandalwood and Chanel No 5 perfume. It was very comforting. Almost as though I were back in the company of my grandmother and her friends.
Phones were not permitted at all in this venue. No phone calls to be taken or made, even in the foyer. Strictly no photographs ever. There isn’t any forgiveness at all for making this error. It was refreshing.
For, when we sat to lunch, people sat and spoke to each other intently. No one was photographing their food to post on Instagram, in fact no one there even knew what social media was. But they certainly knew how to be genuinely social.
During this lunch, it was obvious that my nationality was a novelty at my table. Ladies shared their stories of Irish ancestry and their memories of visits to Ireland in the 1970’s. Then this table of ladies talked of fashion and more astonishingly of their love of Irish fashion designer, Sybil Connolly.
In fact I learned that she had visited Dallas and spent time with this lovely group of ladies. I was delighted, as these ladies did not know until then that I am a huge fan of Sybil Connolly. She was a true Renaissance woman. It was Sybil Connolly who first pleated Irish linen and First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, chose one of her linen outfits for her 1970 White House portrait.
I have been collecting memorabilia for years now. I have Vogue sewing patterns, old adverts from newspapers in the 1960’s and pieces of her Merrion collection for Tiffany’s. This was quite the lunch for me, as I was sitting with ladies who had spent time with this Irish fashion icon and shared stories with me that a cell phone photo could never capture.
It was during this lunch that I suggested these ladies might revisit Ireland as a group. To revisit the places they had visited in the 1970’s and to rediscover some new places. The planning began soon afterwards. And it still continues.
The group has now become a lot bigger and the trip will not happen until 2018. These ladies also belong to a garden club here in Dallas. Each year they visit a different state and tour the gardens and homes of that state so I have called this trip The Secret and Not So Secret Gardens of Ireland. It will include fashion, gardens and Irish homes.
My research has begun with revisiting the itineraries of the 1970’s trips and adding new places. I am paying close attention to the gardens of Ireland and, although we may know the iconic gardens, I want to take these ladies to visit some secret gems.
On a visit to Ireland a year ago, I was in Co Louth and visited a home with a friend of mine. This home sprung to mind immediately once I started the planning of this trip. The old lawn tennis court remains in all its splendour. At the end of the garden was a wall with a door. While clearing this part of the garden, the owners discovered a Victorian path that had been covered for years with brambles. I truly felt like I was a character in the novel the ‘Secret Garden’
Attending this luncheon was such a wonderful experience. We were truly connecting. Somehow we all, all five hundred of us, managed to survive without posting what we ate on Instagram or posting who we knew and what they wore on Facebook. I am a social media user but I love to attend events where there aren’t any phones allowed. I wonder what stories could be told if there were more like this.
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