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Why these Northern Ireland women gave up high-flying careers to follow their dreams


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Sinead Lunny

Sinead Lunny

Freddie Parkinson

Sinead Lunny with her son Niall and husband Niall and daughter Eabha

Sinead Lunny with her son Niall and husband Niall and daughter Eabha

Freddie Parkinson

Art matters: Jacqueline Rooney Wilson with one of her paintings

Art matters: Jacqueline Rooney Wilson with one of her paintings

Brush strokes: Louise Donnelly Crawford applying Love Island star Georgia Harrison’s make-up

Brush strokes: Louise Donnelly Crawford applying Love Island star Georgia Harrison’s make-up

Sinead Lunny

It takes courage to leave a secure job to fulfil a long-held ambition. Here, three NI women who did just that talk to Stephanie Bell.

‘When my baby son Niall needed heart surgery, it was a turning point in my life’

Co Down mum-of-two Sinead Lunny was a busy solicitor who gave up the drama of the courtroom to pursue her love of amateur acting.

Today she runs a burgeoning business, Public Speaking NI, through which she offers her services as a voiceover actor, corporate public speaking coach and speech and drama teacher.

For Sinead, whose parents are both in the legal profession - her mum is a retired solicitor and her dad a barrister - studying for a career in law seemed like a natural step in her teens.

However having grown up with a love of amateur dramatics, her passion for speech and drama never left her. She thrived on standing up in a courtroom to represent her clients but got to the point when she realised this was the only part of her job she truly loved.

It was after a traumatic period in her life five years ago when her newborn second child was diagnosed with heart problems that she made the huge decision to quit her career in law.

Married to Niall (42), a digital consultant, the couple, who live in Banbridge, have two children, Eabha (8) and Niall (5).

Talking about her son's sudden diagnosis, she recalls just how traumatic that period of her life was.

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Loving life: Sinead Lunny with her son Niall

Loving life: Sinead Lunny with her son Niall

Freddie Parkinson

Loving life: Sinead Lunny with her son Niall

"Nothing was picked up during my pregnancy and when Niall was born everything seemed to be fine," she says.

"Then I noticed he was getting out of breath when he was feeding and was very pale. He was diagnosed with bronchiolitis and admitted to Craigavon Hospital.

"He was given oxygen but it was having no effect and he was in hospital for three weeks when doctors decided to do an ECG and echo tests on his heart."

Much to Sinead and Niall's horror, the tests picked up a serious heart condition and they were told he needed urgent surgery in London.

"His arteries were plumbed wrongly and he wasn't getting enough oxygen to the heart... and his heart was starting to fail," explains Sinead. "He then developed pneumonia and a bacterial infection and a third infection and it was three weeks before he was well enough to travel by air ambulance to London."

Baby Niall came through a successful five-hour surgery in February 2015 which corrected his heart issues, although he still attends hospital for check-ups.

For Sinead it proved a major turning point in her life.

"Sitting in the hospital with Niall I thought about how stressful my job was," she says. "I was dealing with a lot of family law and with that came a lot of emotion. I realised something had to give and I thought about what other skills I had. I am qualified in speech and drama so I decided to set up a Saturday morning class.

"People in the town know me from my own amateur dramatics growing up, when I was winning awards all over the place, so I soon filled the class.

"In February 2016 I handed in my notice and my boss was really taken aback. I did think about how on earth we were going to survive as we had a mortgage to pay and two children.

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Sinead Lunny with her son Niall and husband Niall and daughter Eabha

Sinead Lunny with her son Niall and husband Niall and daughter Eabha

Freddie Parkinson

Sinead Lunny with her son Niall and husband Niall and daughter Eabha

"But at the same time I felt such a relief and the stress just lifted from my shoulders. Now I love what I do. It is a real passion for me and with hindsight it is what I should have been doing from the outset.

"I am really enjoying it. It's grown from my speech and drama classes for children to helping people who are nervous about making speeches, corporate training and voiceovers for radio and TV ads. It's fantastic."

Sinead draws on her courtroom experience and her speech and drama skills to train people in how to use their voice for maximum effect and impact.

And taking the bold step to follow her heart has not just made Sinead happier but her entire family.

"If I've learnt one lesson, it is life is too short not to do what you love," she says. "A couple of years ago I would have thought that was a terrible cliche but I've discovered it is absolutely true.

"If I was to advise anyone considering leaving their job to follow their dreams it would be to make sure that they are fiscally stable and don't just jump into the abyss like I did. Also what is the worst that can happen? If it doesn't work out you can always go back to your old career."

Find out more at www.publicspeakingni.com

‘My husband lost both his parents within months of each other... it was a real wake-up call’

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Art matters: Jacqueline Rooney Wilson with one of her paintings

Art matters: Jacqueline Rooney Wilson with one of her paintings

Art matters: Jacqueline Rooney Wilson with one of her paintings

Jacqueline Rooney Wilson was head of a busy secondary school art department for 12 years when she finally left to pursue her dream of becoming a professional artist.

Having just turned 40 and with two sons, she realised life was passing her by and she took the huge gamble of giving up her secure job to follow her heart.

Today as she supplies galleries around Northern Ireland and the Republic, and fulfils commissions with her vibrant semi-abstract landscapes, she has no regrets. "It is the best thing I have ever done," she smiles. "I love Sunday nights as I get to Monday quicker. I am so happy to be doing what my heart has always wanted and feel it shows in my work."

Jacqueline (42) is married to Scott Wilson (42), a teacher, and lives in Rostrevor with their two children, Finlay (4) and Evan (3).

She says that from the age of three she has been sketching the beauty of the Mourne coastline and mountains where she grew up.

In her teens, however, she was advised against realising her true vocation of being an artist and instead opted to study for a degree in art and design and go on to teach art.

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Jacqueline Rooney Wilson

Jacqueline Rooney Wilson

Jacqueline Rooney Wilson

"Careers advice when I was growing up was that I would never make a living as an artist," she says.

"I had been teaching for 20 years and for 12 years was head of art at St Joseph's High School in Crossmaglen.

"I always encouraged my students to follow their dream and if they wanted to be artists then they should go for it.

"It struck me that I needed to follow my own gut instinct and advice.

"Having my two sons made me realise that anything is possible and around the time they were born, my husband lost both of his parents within months of each other and that was a real wake-up call for me."

Having made up her mind to leave teaching behind to paint full-time, Jacqueline sensibly prepared by saving for two years so that she would have some financial security.

Much to her delight, her business took off almost immediately and she now has her work in 12 outlets across Ireland as well as selling from her home studio and through her website and social media channels.

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Jacqueline with her husband Scott and sons Evan and Finlay

Jacqueline with her husband Scott and sons Evan and Finlay

Jacqueline with her husband Scott and sons Evan and Finlay

Thrilled to be finally living her dream, she is the keynote speaker at an event in Newcastle this April talking on the subject Finding Your True Vocation.

She adds: "I now wake up and go to sleep thinking about my business and most days paint into the night and I love every minute of it.

"It has just exploded, I have been so overwhelmed by how well it has gone.

"We only get one life and my message is that it is never too late to follow your dream, even in your 40s.

"I always think of the quote 'she believed she could so she did' which really resonates with me.

"There is so much support out there for new businesses and my advice would be to take advantage of that and believe you can do it and you will."

Find out more at www.jacquelinerooney.com

‘I wake up excited about the day ahead — I never felt that way when I was in banking’

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Brush strokes: Louise Donnelly Crawford applying Love Island star Georgia Harrison’s make-up

Brush strokes: Louise Donnelly Crawford applying Love Island star Georgia Harrison’s make-up

Brush strokes: Louise Donnelly Crawford applying Love Island star Georgia Harrison’s make-up

Louise Donnelly Crawford gave up a career in her local bank to train in beauty and open her own salon in her home town of Ballycastle.

It was a huge risk pouring every penny into a business that was brand new, but she hasn't looked back and has even amassed a few celebrity clients along the way.

Louise (34), is married to Gabriel (35), a fitness instructor, and has two children, Cadhan (11) and Ellie (6). She first studied early learning education at Liverpool's Hope University with the aim of becoming a teacher.

However since early childhood she loved beauty and make-up and as part of her GCSE business studies exam, drew up a business plan for a beauty studio on the main street of her home town.

But at the time it seemed just like a dream and she instead focused on getting a degree.

"When I was in my teens beauty was not really considered a great career and it was felt that you had to go to university," she says. "When I finished my degree I knew I didn't want to teach. A job vacancy for a cashier came up in my local bank and I applied, thinking it would be a good career.

"I did it for six years and I knew it wasn't for me. It was mostly doing the same thing every day and I found it boring.

"For as long as I can remember I wanted to do beauty so I looked into training and signed up for a course in Belfast, which I did one day a week for a year. I also signed up for a nail course in Belfast which was another day a week for a year."

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Louise with husband Gabriel and children Cadhan and Ellietion

Louise with husband Gabriel and children Cadhan and Ellietion

Louise with husband Gabriel and children Cadhan and Ellietion

On qualifying six years ago, she gave up her job in the bank and opened the Louise Donnelly Make-up and Beauty studio on Ann Street in the heart of Ballycastle - just like she had dreamed of as a teenager.

She was initially worried about building up a client base, however, her business took off from the very start.

"It is so crazy and I do so many hours," she says. "I take photographs of everything I do and when I finish and go home I look back on my work and get really excited about the next day - I would never have had that in banking. I'm never bored and when I wake in the morning I bounce out of bed looking forward to the day ahead.

"In a small town like ours you meet so many nice people and when you are doing treatments you are chatting and having a coffee.

"Sometimes people text you to thank you for the chat and it makes it more meaningful."

A fan of the hit TV reality series Love Island, Louise was astonished last year when one of the contestants, Georgia Harrison, messaged her through Instagram and invited her to come to London and do her make-up for a photoshoot.

Louise recalls: "I was following her on Instagram and I 'liked' a post she put up and she then messaged me about doing her make-up for a photoshoot for the next day.

"I was in a real panic but I knew I had to do it and I booked the 6.30am flight to London the next morning and was with her in her apartment in Kensington by 9am.

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Louise Donnelly pics for career change feature

Louise Donnelly pics for career change feature

Louise Donnelly pics for career change feature

"She was getting publicity pictures taken for her social media and I did the make-up. I had watched her on Love Island and it was surreal being there.

"She was lovely and she talked about how difficult it is for contestants to keep themselves relevant after the show ends."

And country music star Lisa McHugh also asked Louise to do her make-up after spotting her work on Instagram.

Louise certainly has no regrets and for anyone thinking of changing careers to follow their dream job she has this advice.

"I would advise anyone to go for it," she says. "I left a full-time job not knowing if one person was going to come through my door. I think if you have the drive and the passion you can make it work.

"I don't do it for the love of money as anything I make I put it back into the business. Money is secondary to doing what I love."

Find out more at Facebook.com/louisedonnellymakeupandbeauty

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