Q: Your accent is unusual; what’s your background? A: I’m Irish, but educated in England and Europe. I’ve been here a long time, so my accent is probably mid-Atlantic—a mix of Irish, English and American.
Q: Have you always been in the hospitality industry?
A: No. I began as an Irish diplomat. My first posting was to Spain in 1963, and then I had an opportunity to come on a three month assignment to the UN General Assembly in 1965. I met my husband and decided I’d like to stay a little longer in the States. I was then hired by the UN to work on the UN Development Program, which focused on economic and social development for he developing countries of the world.
I was originally assigned to countries in Asia, specifically Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and The Philippines. After about 10 years I was appointed to head the European department which meant primarily Eastern European countries. Later on the break up of the former Soviet Union add several other countries that gained independence from the USSR. In the late 1980s and early 1990s this became a very challenging area of the world as Eastern European countries shook off communism and socialism and were looking to the UN for their transition to a private market economy and democracy.
Q: Cool! Any good stories from your U.N. days?
A: One of the more exciting projects I did during that period was the Bejing Express train involving the first global conference for women in Bejing. I organized a train that took 250 women from governments and fledgling non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union countries on an 8-day training journey from Warsaw to Bejing.
During this time the women were trained in how to present their needs and priorities as women from this region. These women had never had this sort of independent experience before. I managed to get this privately funded, and it was sort of daring project that I designed and managed. We needed special security, special permissions—China almost didn’t let the train, but we got there and these women successfully participated in this landmark global conference.
It was particularly moving because quite a few of these women had lost their parents or grandparents to exile in Siberia after WWII, and as the train traveled through Siberia you could see these women looking out the window, crying, imagining what their parents or grandparents ended up, often working on building the railroad. It was covered by CNN on a daily basis, and I think became a turning point in many women’s lives.
Q: That is a cool story—congratulations on organizing that. Any other tales from that time?
A: Well, on the theme of women’s empowerment, I was a UN Representative—an Ambassador level post—to Romania and Cyprus. I went there without my husband and children, at that level in the U.N.—like in other high powered careers-it’s very challenging to have a marriage, raise children and do the job. But I did. Which maybe now leads us into this house.
This house was originally my second home, and it would be where my kids came when I was traveling. We had a caretaker couple living here to manage the property and host my kids and husband when they came.
Q: How did you get from the U.N. to Greenport?
A: My husband was born and raised on Long Island, and he used to summer as a kid in Cutchogue. We bought a house in Cutchogue, and then had kids. In 1973 I started to look for a house near the water but also near public transportation and a village. That’s when we found this place. I think we were one of the first couples to buy a second home in Greenport; it was a different community then, really a year round community.
When I was in Romania I organized a twinning of Greenport with a town on the Black Sea called Mangalia. For a couple of years we had an exchange of mayors, students and hospital staff. That was 1997-99.
I retired in 2001 and wanted to spend more time here. The couple being caretakers wanted to stay on, we thought ok, the kids are away, it’s a big house, let’s try doing a B&B. One thing led to another and now I’m an Innkeeper.
Q: Was that a rough transition? How does your experience as a Diplomat inform your innkeeping?
A: No, the transition was very easy.
I think as an Innkeeper you need to be quite diplomatic in many cases. As a diplomat you’re also used to entertaining. Over the years I have brought lots of diplomats and UN people here for parties and so on. For many Greenport was their first visit to a small American village.
I think people really enjoy talking with me about my experience and background. I get a certain amount of foreign visitors. I speak fluent French and Spanish, pretty good Italian, some Portuguese. I have to say my German and Russian have declined from disuse. But my languages do help me attract foreign visitors.
Q: This was your second home for many years when you made it into a B&B; did you have to make many changes?
A: When I started the B&B I put in another bathroom, but no, I didn’t really change the house. This is really a home first, and a B&B secondly.
I have a lot of travel and family memorabilia and I think people find that interesting. Harbor Knoll has the warmth and depth of a home.
Q: Beyond the homey atmosphere, does a Harbor Knoll stay have distinctive features?
A: Well, we have a fantastic view, and we are the only B&B that’s really a waterfront property. We have a dock and a private beach, and we’re so close to the village. That’s really important.
Largely guests want to be able to leave their cars and walk about, and they can here. Or they come out by Jitney or the train—we’re an easy walk away. When Greenport has special events, like last year’s Tall Ships, you can watch it all from here and walk to experience it hassle free.
Another unusual feature: I’m one of the few B&Bs that has a liquor license, so I offer a lovely wine selection. We open the bar from 6-8, and often guest enjoy a glass of wine before heading out or upon their return. Also most of the year, breakfast is served in my sun room, with its magnificent water view.
Q: Is there anything distinctive about breakfast?
A: Breakfast is largely focused on the classic English and Irish breakfast, so in addition to bacon and eggs, there’s always quiches and homemade scones.
Q: Homemade scones? Since you’re Irish, can you share the secret for a good scone?
A: The main thing about a good scone is that it’s served warm and it’s soft and light inside. That means a lot of butter!