We ask some siblings what it’s really like to work with your sister

Walk through any town, or drive down any road in Ireland and you’ll spot businesses with the addendum ‘& Sons’ after their name, but never ‘& Daughters’. Yet, in every Irish city sisters are setting up and running successful businesses.
We ask some siblings what it’s really like to work with your sister

The Derranes

MAKE-UP artist and hair stylist to the stars Roisín Derrane might not be doing the job she loves today if it wasn’t for her older sister’s advice. That older sister just happens to be broadcasting powerhouse and RTÉ Today show host, Maura Derrane.

“I used to do hair and make-up for my sisters when we were going to discos growing up,” says Roisín, who grew up in a creative and talented family on the Aran Islands with her three sisters.

After studying fine art in college, Roisin recalls her sister telling her straight what she should do next — use her talent to be a top make-up artist.

“Maura said it one day. I don’t remember the words but it was very direct — which is what Maura is like. I said, but there are no jobs, where will I live?” Her straight-talking sister was adamant: There are jobs out there, now go get one.

Maura Derrane lives up to her straight talking reputation. She is razor sharp and refreshingly frank.

“To be honest, she paddles her own canoe without me,” she says, rejecting her sister’s recollection of the way things went. “She opened the doors for herself because she was so good at what she did.”

Now a sought-after for her work in fashion, TV and film (including season six of Game of Thrones, Roisín has become Maura’s go-to for hair and make-up.

“I can always call upon her to do my make-up now,” she jokes. “But seriously, I rely on someone like Roisín to make me look good.”

Working together on TV sets or shoots often involve long days, but Roisín says the pair works together well. “We understand each other – we always get on with the stylists, there’s a lot of chatting…”

She admits it wasn’t always the way. “We killed each other when we were young. She had lots of friends and I always wanted to hang out with them but she probably didn’t want me around because it was uncool.”

Maura describes the working relationship very differently.

“We’re always fighting to be honest,” she says matter of factly. “She’ll say we don’t, but I’ll tell you the truth. She’s very bossy to me when she’s doing my make-up. She’s almost abusive!

“She’ll tell me ‘move your head’ and then I’ll say ‘That eyeliner’s not straight.’ Sometimes I’ll try and pull rank with her and say ‘I hired you! I’m the presenter!’ And she’s like ‘I don’t care, shut up!’”

And yet, despite the classic older/younger sister tussles, the two perfectionists clearly appreciate each other’s strengths.

“She has really helped me out in the industry, she’s opened so many doors”, says Roisín. “I love doing Maura’s make-up, she has really cool features. She looks like Vivien Leigh, she’s got that old-school look.”

“On the set of the Today show she’s very concerned if people are nervous. It’s really cute. I meet people all the time who say ‘your sister was really sound to me’. She’s got great empathy, and I never saw that before. She’s much more a people person than I am.”

As for Maura, she admires her sister’s work ethic. “She’d do anything for anyone. She’s a lot more generous than I am.”

After working together for years now, is there a golden rule to getting along with family? ”Don’t retreat back to the way you were growing up. You have to be aware of that. I don’t see her as my sister when I’m working with her. I see her the same way I see an actor, or a model or a celeb”, says Roisín.

Maura has the last word: “You have to try and hold your tongue. We kill each other and then are best friends five minutes later.

"We’re not diplomatic people. Try and treat your family the way you’d treat another professional, that’s the only thing I’d say.”

Today returns to RTÉ in September.

Make up by Roisin Derrane using Clarins autumn collection.


MakeUp: 087 2805073.

Hair by Peter Mark, Galway.

The Crowleys

Alison Crowley, 31, and her sister Sinead, 35, have been in business together for just under a year.

Former PR and marketing whizz Alison was living the fast life in Dublin, and then London, but gave it up to move home to Cork.

Her older sister Sinead, had been working in a “big four” accounting practice for 12 years. After 10 years in Dublin, she says she was ready for a change too.

“I have always loved food — eating it, cooking it, talking about it and I’ve been very motivated throughout my career to have my own business,” says Alison.

Once she relocated back to Ireland, she signed up for a three month cookery course at the renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School in the hopes of turning her love of food into a career.

“Travelling the world and working on yachts as a chef was my original plan,” she says, but a serendipitous meeting changed everything.

“I bumped into the previous owner of The Cinnamon Cottage one day. We used to always stop by there on the way home from school when we were young and it was such an emporium of amazing food.

"I was offered the role of pastry chef and jumped at it without a second thought.”

For Sinead it was a case of “right place, right time” for her and her sister.

“Two years later the stars aligned and the previous owners decided they wanted to retire and they put the business on the market. We jumped at the opportunity,” she explains.

Today Alison acts as head chef/director at Cinnamon Cottage, while fellow director Sinead, who has the family’s “numbers gene”, is the accountant.

Sinead’s husband Patrick, the people person of the gang, takes charge of front of house.

Both sisters independently state that working together has been positive.

For Alison, the fear that the business could ruin their relationship has proved unfounded.

“As we were so close before, I thought working together as well might be too much, when in fact it’s been the best year ever. What seemed like a battle a year ago was definitely made easier knowing there was family in the trenches with you.

“Obviously there is more to running a business than just making delicious food. When it came to the facts and figures, Sinead is my numerical rock.”

Sinead says her sister is her best friend as well as her business partner.

“Working together in your own business is a lifestyle choice.

“There are long hours but when you are around each other it doesn’t feel like work. We share the highs and the lows and can say anything to each other.”

Both sisters agree open communication, be it casual chats or their monthly meetings are key to running the business and staying in tune with each other.

However, they are conscious of blurring the lines between work and home life.

Sinead says: “Working together means sometimes when we shouldn’t be talking work we do. Like out at a party, wedding or even Christmas dinner. We try our best to curtail that.”

After making such big changes in their lives and teaming up, both sisters sound incredibly driven and excited about the future.

For Alison, that chance encounter with her old boss changed everything for the better.

“I would never have thought two years later that it would be a family business… Hopefully for generations to come.”

The McGinns

But what happens if you add another sister to the mix? That’s the way the three fashion-forward McGinn sisters work.

And with eight years working together under their belt, they’ve learned a lot about each other since setting up Opsh — a big, bright and brilliantly user friendly online shopping website for women. Their goal may be global domination, but they started small.

“We started a fashion site together called What Will I Wear Today?” says 30-year-old head of marketing, Sarah.

“It was done part-time, just for our love of creating and running it.”

Then, four years ago the McGinn Sisters went big.

Grace McGinn, 25 is head of product for Opsh. She says after the success of their blog, they knew that had something special.

“We had experience with our blog, and wanted to develop a commercial model we could scale,” she explains.

For Opsh CEO Jennie, 32, three is the magic number.

“The reason we have worked together for so long and grown the business, and ourselves as business-leaders, is because we have such different skill-sets. We have a blend of technical, strategic thinking and creative/communication skills which is a very potent combination when fully realised.”

Her sister Grace agrees: “Yes — we’ve a trifecta of pragmatic, creative and relationship skills.”

There must be downsides though? “Every business has its disagreements and conflicts, our strengths lie in how quickly we discuss, decide and get over these barriers” says Sarah.

Jennie says: “The challenge is that we have forsaken our relationship as sisters at times; the business often comes first,” but on the other hand, she can’t imagine being in business with anybody else.

“It’s fantastic — I trust them implicitly. We have each other’s backs — it’s a bond you can’t replicate anywhere else.”

Is there any magic trick they have learned working together? Grace and Jennie agree — you have to share the wins.

Grace says: “Remember to take the time to celebrate together — usually the first thing to be forgotten as family. Going for a drink on a Friday after a good week in work helps you to appreciate being a team together.”

Or as Jennie puts it “commiserate together so you can celebrate together.”

The Jollys

Both Brenda Jolly and her sister Pattigail O’Connell are 40+ florists working together in the picture perfect seaside town of Kinsale. They started their own business, Daisy Chain, in 2000.

Back then they both had young children. Brenda had relocated from Aberdeen with her seven-month-old baby and wanted some time out of the house.

Pattigail wanted more time at home with her four-year-old son Jordy – splitting one job meant they got the best of both worlds.

After 16 years, the creative sisters still haven’t had a falling out.

“We’re on the same page when it comes to work and life. There are five girls in our family and we were all reared to be workers. We got all our fighting out of the way when we were teenagers,” says Brenda.

Pattigail says working with her sister is easy.

“We have the same style. You’ve known each other forever and can be honest with each other.”

For Brenda, knowing each other so well is a bonus too.

“We can read each other and work really well together. My husband works offshore so she’s a brilliant sounding board when it comes to rearing my kids.”

Both sisters admit that they rarely have a day off or go for lunch together but they refuse to “do downsides”.

Both speak highly of each other. Pattigail says her sister “is a fantastical story teller. The glass is always half full and she wants everything and everybody to be happy.”

As for their secret recipe for not falling out after 16 years?

“Trust each others judgment and never leave anyone in the s***.”

The Cronins

“Well I don’t lie — it is hard but I love it. Not only are we sisters but we are twin sisters. We have a very strong bond and are very close. When we fight we are like cats and dogs crazy.”

That’s how 34 year-old co-owner and head chef of The Square Table Restaurant in Blarney, Martina Cronin describes working with her twin sister Tricia.

Together, they set up their restaurant in April 2014.

“We always wanted to run our own restaurant from as far back as working as teenagers in our local hotel. Once I turned 30 I knew it was now or never,” says Tricia.

Martina talks like a chef. She thrives in an organised environment, loves pressure and has exacting standards for herself and those around her. By her own admission, she can be uptight.

“I try and maintain a high standard at all times but sometimes I go a little extreme. I have low tolerance for substandard work,” she says.

Her sister, whose warmth and friendliness make her great front of house, exists in a state of organised chaos behind closed doors.

“I always leave all administrative work to the last minute. I secretly believe I love the anxiety it leads to. I can have zero tolerance at times and when I rarely lose it I really do roar and Martina usually gets the blunt of it.”

Being twins amplifies the heat in the kitchen too.

“To be honest I love working with Martina most of the time but sometimes it can be difficult,” says Tricia.

“Although we are twins we are also individuals with similar but different personality traits and characteristics. Anyone who has worked in hospitality knows that there is always some form of conflict with front of house staff and kitchen staff. So yes, under pressure you can only imagine the fireworks in the kitchen when twin sisters go head to head.”

For both Martina and Tricia, trusting each other is the backbone of their business.

“My sister is one of the best chefs in Cork. She has an amazing palate and knowledge of food. I can trust her 110% and never question any dish that leaves the kitchen,” says Tricia.

Despite their different approaches, and the occasional clash, Martina says nothing can break the bond you have with a sister.

There is, what she calls “a complete trust” between sisters, and as for the arguments: “We soon get over the fights and it’s like nothing ever happened,”

More in this section

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.

great irish summer

From walking and hiking, to day trips and camping, your guide to holidays at home in 2021


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up