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

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - MY FAVOURITE ROOM -

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’

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