Some people take on pets because no one wants them, but Bernadette Manning and Ann Pendergrast have a gra for unloved property, and so bought two giant houses. Edited by Mary O’Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin
There are certain things that make life complicated and difficult — things that are hard to avoid, such as mortgages and children. Many of us crave an easier life, and once we get rid of those encumbrances, we are happy to sit back and relax.
And then there are those who just can’t resist taking on extra challenges, people like Bernadette Manning and Ann Pendergrast. The couple had successfully reared their two sons, had made a go of their respective careers and had an elegant apartment near the city centre, convenient to the best restaurants, shops, cinemas and theatres.
A life of comfort and ease beckoned, and then they went and spoilt it all by buying two derelict houses on Mountjoy Square, one of which they’ve already renovated at great personal and monetary cost.
The only reasonable explanation for their apparent foolhardiness is the fact that they are used to challenges, and, after a lifetime together, they possibly welcome them, or at least can’t imagine life without them. After all, it can’t have been easy for either of them to come out as gay in the early 1980s when they first met in London; Ann is a nurse from Auckland in New Zealand, while Bernadette, who did a social work qualification in London, is from Broadstone in Dublin’s north inner city.
However, they make light of any early difficulties. “We met when I was doing a placement at a Women’s Aid refuge, and Ann was on the management committee. I was a student, and she was one of the bosses. It was 1980, and we’ve been together ever since,” Bernadette says. “You know Irish families; I didn’t come home and have a big showdown. I told my sister, who told my brother, who told my mother, and then her reaction was relayed back to me by the brother. They got over it in the end.”
Bernadette adds with a laugh, “It was an Irish coming-out; it wasn’t sitting around having nice conversations.”
Ann recalls her mother’s response with a smile, too. “Her first reaction was, ‘We’ll never tell your father’. Her second was, ‘I’ll have to tell him’. They were fine.”
The couple cemented their commitment by buying a flat together in London in 1983, and that’s when their love of property was ignited. From then until 1995, they moved up the property ladder in England where they both worked in the health services. “We found we liked property, and we always got houses that needed doing up; that way, we were able to buy more space for less money,” Ann says, adding that they moved around a lot.
They needed bigger spaces when their two boys, Conor, now 28, and Daragh, now 26, came along. Their last English home was in Wood Green they had moved there because most of their friends were in the area but they decided to relocate to Ireland when they realised that the local free schools weren’t good enough for their little boys, and that they wouldn’t be able to afford fees for private education.
Ann found work nursing in Ireland, while Bernadette commuted back and forth for five years. Then she took a job with the HSE. “It was the most difficult three years of my life. I found the HSE
‘I told my sister, who told my brother, who told my mother, and then her reaction was relayed back to me’