Thullier Family // Toronto, Ontario

Contributed by Ian Thullier

The Thuilliers were French Huguenots who emigrated to Ireland in the 1790s during the French Revolution, settling in Kinsale and in Dublin. My great-grandfather, Joseph Thuillier was a Fenian and while on the run he met and married Anne Coveny in New York and came home to settle down and live peacefully in Kinsale. His brothers Michael and Henry James were like himself all shipbuilders.

My grandfather Joseph Thuillier Jnr was born in Kinsale in 1872. Eldest of five, John, Ellen-Agnes, Gillian and Mary. He worked as a Customs & Excise Officer in North Wall and rode to and from work on an ‘Upstairs’ model bicycle for the princely sum of £1 per week. He married Mary Daly in 1905 and they had 8 children – Anne, Nick, Joe, John, Kitty and my father Harry. Their first two children Val and Mary died shortly after birth.

Kitty was an Abbey actress and Joe was a chef at Boeuf à la Mode in Paris, and later both would follow Nick, Joe and John into the family business of hairdressing. There were six Thuillier hairdressing salons throughout Dublin between 1937-1987, attracting a very high class clientele including Ireland’s ‘First Lady’ Mrs Erskine Childers, Lady Nelson and Rita Hayworth.

My father went to school in St. Vincent’s, Glasnevin. Sport was never far from his mind and it was clear from an early age he had a great talent. He began playing tennis and table tennis, winning every Irish table tennis championship by the age of 22. He was also a prolific boxer, but he is mostly regarded for his fencing, representing Ireland in two Olympic Games, 1952 in Helsinki and 1960 in Rome, and of course a record which still holds today nearly 70 years later – ten Irish national foil championships in a row from 1951 to 1960, when he retired.

Toward the end of his fencing career he took up the microphone and began a job with Raidió Éireann as a sports broadcaster. This would grow into 20 sponsored radio programmes per week with the most well-known being ‘Come Fly With Me’ which would see him travelling the world interviewing Irish emigrants and global personalities such as Muhammad Ali, Bing Crosby and members of the Catholic Hierarchy.

It was in 1960 after he had been eliminated from the Olympic Fencing Championships that Harry met my mother, Frances McDermott. A beautiful and talented singer, my mother had won the ‘Deep In My Heart’ singing contest and received a scholarship to study in Rome. They married three months later in Dublin and raised three boys, Nikki, Harry Jnr and myself. My Mum put aside singing to raise us and to help Dad start a successful company which produced music and advertising for banks and supermarkets throughout Ireland.

Dad would have loved all of us to follow him into the family business, but myself and Harry had other artistic ideas. We left that to our eldest brother Nikki who was far more technically creative in that area of expertise.

Harry followed the photographic route and after returning from studying photography in Memphis College of Art and Boston, he was involved in an accident one December night where he was attacked. This resulted in him losing the majority of his sight in his photographic eye and he was forced to change the way he took photographs from a normal camera to a large format 10x8 field camera. He became a successful artist mastering the notoriously difficult technique of platinum and palladium printing and was one of the early pioneers in the early ‘90s in Ireland of this medium. He never truly recovered from his ordeal and passed away suddenly on 27 December 1997 at the age of 33 in Milan.

I myself followed music and acting and eventually filmmaking and photography. In 1993 I went to Montreal for the first time. I loved it – everything about it was new and different. I made good friends and after a spell back in Dublin studying at the Gaiety School of Acting, I returned to Montreal and eventually landed a part in a period drama series called ‘Marguerite Volant’. My love interest was played by a young woman called Annie Major-Matte. Little did I know she was a child star of Quebec television and we instantly hit it off. The series ended in 1995 and I and left Montreal but kept in touch with Annie and my Montreal friends while I developed my skills as a documentary director and photographer. In 2017 and 2018 I was traveling the world photographing Formula 1 for my book ‘The Art of Speed’, and of course I looked Annie up while I was covering the Canadian Grand Prix. We hadn’t seen each other in many years, but as with all great friendships, it was like I had never left. I decided to return again to live in Montreal with Annie and we got married in 2019.

Annie hosts her own evening show on WKND radio and I concentrate on my photography and art. There is something very special and inspiring about Montreal. Although I love Dublin, Montreal will always be home from home.

Ian Thuillier