This year has been one that many of us would like to forget. Granted, we had a few glorious summer months during which we appeared to be on the right track. Unfortunately, it did not last. However, despite the doom and gloom of the pandemic, many entrepreneurs and business leaders were enthusiastic about sharing their personal stories. The positive feedback I have received both from interviewees and readers has greatly touched me. It is evident that our community needed little persuasion to support local businesses.
Meet Sarah Quain, a horsie fanatic from Drum, Athlone, who returned home 5000 km after quitting her dream job last year. In the beautiful Catskill Mountains of New York, she ran a horseback riding business which was adversely affected by Covid-19, which in turn prevented her from obtaining permanent US residency. Despite the disappointing turn of events, she and her boyfriend Luke returned to Athlone to live with her parents, Willie and Angela. Within a few months, she started her own small business, Craic Galore Prints, and reinvented herself by making some quirky prints and greeting cards.
“Animals have always been an important part of my life. I became interested in horses at the age of 13, and it spiralled from there. Horses are my passion. It started as a hobby, but at 14 I got a job working in a stable. It was so much fun, and working with horses was all I ever wanted to do.”
Hobby to The Hills
Sarah has one younger brother, Liam, and went to school at Scoil na gCeithre Máistrí, followed by Athlone Community College. Having decided that she wanted a career working with horses, she enrolled in Gurteen Agricultural College in Tipperary and graduated in 2013 with a degree in equine studies.
“I worked as a horseback riding instructor in the United States the summer before I started my degree course (and every summer thereafter). Initially, I was hesitant to take the job in the Big Apple because everything is always just so frenetic and busy. Thankfully, the job was in the middle of nowhere in up state New York. I taught children as well as adults and fell in love with the horses, the people, and the life there.”
When Sarah completed her degree, she moved to the United States on a working visa and was hired as Equestrian Director by her previous employer. She was responsible for overseeing all the business operations, including the staff and horses.
“When you work with horses, there are certain tasks that need to be done every day. They need to be fed and cleaned. Young horses need to be broken and trained. On some days, we used to have trail riding groups. I particularly enjoyed working on the 332 programme, which brought 332 kids to camp who wouldn’t have been able to go otherwise. We welcomed everyone regardless of their background. No matter whether you came to camp with a suitcase, a black bag, or nothing at all, it didn’t matter. Every child was treated equally at camp and when riding the horses. Almost all the project’s money went back into getting people to the camp so that they could experience that. Our aim was to reach out to as many disadvantaged children as possible.”
Lockdown and Return
During the Covid-19 measures in New York last year, Sarah was forced to close the business to the public. She worked behind closed doors because it was still necessary to take care of all the horses. It was her aim to obtain a Green Card for permanent residency in the United States, but because she worked for a non-profit organisation that wasn’t trading, she had trouble obtaining one.
“When I had to leave the job, I was utterly devastated. Everything I had hoped for and dreamt of had been shattered. I had no option but to return home. Despite not being able to stay in the United States, I was looking forward to seeing my family after almost two years. My partner Luke and I returned to Ireland in October 2020. The first thing I thought when I returned to Ireland was, ‘What on earth am I going to do?’ I used to be laid back and say, ‘Okay, I’ll figure it out,’ but it got to the point where I had to figure out what I was going to do, straightaway! The quarantine period gave me some time to decide what to do next.”
Photography to Prints
Sarah’s father, Willie, is a professional photographer, so she was drawn to equestrian photography. Also, it was a way for her to stay active in the horse world. This was, however, impossible due to the Irish lockdown. “I asked myself: what can I do with the resources that are already available to me?”
Her father owned a sophisticated printer, which she had used in the past to print photos. She began to consider doing wall art. “I created some artwork and set up an Etsy store to sell it on. When I reviewed the prints I designed, I knew they were not something I personally liked – so I went back to the drawing board. But I also realised that I had accidentally found my calling! I started practicing Irish again. Growing up, I attended a local gaelscoil and was fluent in the language. I was surprised at how much I actually had forgotten. That triggered the idea of doing some prints in the Irish language.”
Cards to Facing Customers
For about four months, Sarah sold framed prints of Irish sayings. It was slow at first, but the excitement of setting up a little business for herself made it worthwhile. She targeted Irish ex-pats (like her former self) who lived abroad and had great success with customers in America.
“When I got my first sale, I just remember dancing around the house with my family. It was an incredible moment. Someone wanted to buy something that I had created!”
Her next logical move was to transfer the phrases from her prints to greeting cards. The first card Sarah made was intended for Mother’s Day, but she began sourcing and testing the materials months in advance.
“A print or a card are equally as difficult to make – because I don’t just print them, I also mount them on a board- also equally labour-intensive and finicky. The dining room table was taken over by me while I printed constantly at home. As a result, my family had no place to eat meals! The house was a mess, so I rented an office, which worked for a while until I found this unit in Burgess Athlone.”
Having her own shop space and being able to meet and talk to customers directly makes her very happy. “Throughout this entire process, I thought to myself, ‘This isn’t what you do, you’ve always worked with horses’, but I believe that I have converted that passion, and it has helped me along this entrepreneurial journey. I have been surprised by the success of Craic Galore Prints. As I work on something new, it is always at the back of my mind. It’s like having imposter syndrome. At the end of the day, I’m just an Athlone girl who adores being on the back of a galloping horse with the wind blowing through my hair!”
This article was published in Westmeath Independent 22/12/2021.