Peadar Monaghan, Athenry – Summer 2002

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From a Lancashire Bus to the Eyre Square Fountain

Retiring from the construction industry will not diminish Peadar Monaghan’s role in the construction of the Athenry of the future. As Chairman of the ADC he is determined to ensure that the potential of the town is fully realised. Peadar shares his reminiscences and hopes for the future with Cáit Curran

After a career spanning more than forty years Peadar Monaghan recently announced his retirement from the construction business. Not that it means Peadar will be a man of leisure – he is quick to point out that he is continuing with his other business interests.

It is difficult to see how he ever found time for business considering the amount of voluntary community work he has been involved in over the years.

He could not have foreseen such a packed and fulfilled life when he left home at fourteen to become an apprentice carpenter.

Born for export

‘It is impossible for young people today to comprehend what life was like growing up on a farm in Newcastle in the forties and fifties’ Peadar says. ‘You were reared for export, they were hard working times, the last of the bad times’. While all of Peadar’s sisters went on to further education the boys stayed at home to work the farm. ‘We didn’t have a horse’ Peadar recalls ‘so we had to do the work instead and payment in kind had to be made to neighbours who gave a day’s work with their horse.

Even though we were poor no one ever went hungry, it was a simple time of innocence. The whole family gathered round the fire at night and we sang for entertainment’. His main ambition as a boy was to be a carpenter and he joined his uncle as an apprentice at fourteen. When his uncle later gave up the business, he joined Bord na Móna where he worked until he was eighteen.

Mailboat

The lure of England beckoned and Peadar bought a one-way ticket costing three pounds ten shillings in I960. ‘My father and myself shared the bicycle to Athenry station, I had the good suit, the little brown suitcase, ten pounds in my pocket and little else’ Peadar remembers. Along with his lifelong friend, Michael Jordan, he arrived at his uncle Peter’s house in Bolton in Lancashire at 6.30 next morning. ‘You have to remember we were very parochial at home, everything you needed was local, we never had to travel further than Monivea’ Peadar says. ‘l thought England was wonderful, full of excitement’. He had no difficulty finding work and his first job was in a cotton mill as a general labourer. He later graduated to attending the fitters, a job he liked because there were regular smoking breaks. His biggest difficulty was in understanding the accents of the Lancashire lads he worked with.

Beatle mop Peadar’s next move was to work on the buses as a conductor. This job earned him the princely sum of twelve pounds a week. ‘The Beatles were all the rage at the time, we had Beatle haircuts, a uniform and a job that allowed even shy lads like ourselves to chat up the girls’ he says.

Always keen to progress, Peadar’s next job was on the motorway driving a tarmac roller. He then graduated to JCBs and Caterpillar machines. ‘I always worked for English companies’ he says ‘and I have to say they were very good and fair employers. Kieran and I were lucky that we neither drank nor smoked so we were able to save some money’. By way of illustration, when he came home on holidays for the first time he flew back with a suitcase full of clothes and hired a car to travel home. A stark contrast to his departure a year earlier.

Hospital romance

Peadar met his wife Maureen during a stay in hospital in 1962 when she was a student nurse. They married in I965 and came home to Ireland to honeymoon. ‘The wedding cost thirty six pounds — hard to believe by today’s standards’ he says.

He returned to work as an apprentice carpenter for his employers in England and Maureen began training as a district nurse. Even then, Peadar was involved in organising GAA activities. ‘I was secretary to the Lancashire County Hurling Board, we played in two finals and lost both’ he says ‘I was always involved in organising dances and in Irish club activities‘.

Peadar and P. J. Molloy with the All Ireland Cups 2002

Back home

Peadar and Maureen came back to live on the home farm in I968. ‘We built a fair sized four bedroom house for two thousand, one hundred pounds at that time and there was a grant of nine hundred and twenty from the Government’. Maureen began her career at Merlin Park Hospital and Peadar was employed as a carpenter. He became Assistant General Foreman at McNamara Builders. ‘My first big job was the Mervue Flats and then the ESB headquarters in Galway’ Peadar recalls. ‘My boss was Batty Cunniffe from Athenry. He was a most generous man and helped me in every way he could’. Following promotion, Peadar went on to build the St. Francis’ Home and the Church and General building in Eyre Square.

Eyre Square fountain

‘We also built the fountain in Eyre Square in l984, that job cost fifteen thousand pounds. I’d hate to think what it would cost now’ he says. ‘My last job with McNamara was building the Corrib Great Southern Hotel. The Chief Executive of Great Southern Hotels offered me a job with the company in 1985.After that l worked on all the Great Southern Hotels around the country. My last big development was the Quality Hotel in Oranmore. We built that in thirty-one weeks’.

Community work

Peadar became involved with the Community Council in Newcastle when Canon Gibbons set it up in 1975. ‘l was a founder member and I’m still a member’ he says. ‘It is a very progressive committee. We built the school and ran various FÁS schemes over the years. I was Chairman for two three-year terms’. He joined the Junior Chamber in Athenry which was very active at the time.‘lt’s a shame it never went on to be a fully-fledged Chamber of Commerce’ Peadar says. ‘Athenry needs a Chamber and l would gladly hand over the chain of office to a new Chairperson.’

Bad planning

In his role as Chairman of Athenry Area Development Company Peadar is very concerned about the direction and speed of change in the town and surrounding area. ‘lt is lovely to see development but the direction it is taking is frightening’ he says. ‘There is no local input into the future planning of the area. I would like to see elected representatives having more dialogue with local bodies and this has been requested’. Peadar feels that planning locally is mainly developer driven. ‘Most new housing development is on the Tuam/Monivea side of the town which requires incoming traffic to cross two dangerous bridges’ he says. ‘We have been promised footbridges over the railway bridges on several occasions. The road system is chaotic. The best roads in the area are now in the new housing developments. There is no road widening, no traffic management system. Athenry needs a ring road and there is an urgent need to look at parking in the town. It is incumbent on Local Authorities to liaise with groups in the town’.

Athenry councillor

ln Peadar’s view Athenry needs its own public representative. ‘There has been a total lack of response from politicians’ he says ‘What it comes down to is that Athenry should have its own councillor’. He is also critical of the lack of plans to develop industrial land in the area to create employment. ‘Eight hundred new houses are planned but we have lost our ESB and Planning Offices to Loughrea. Employment must be created locally, otherwise we will be just a dormitory town’.

ADC aims

These are the biggest issues facing the ADC and he feels that the Company is vital to Athenry at this time. ‘Athenry is a very historic town with huge potential’ Peadar says. ‘We have to develop the infrastructure while retaining our heritage. That is the challenge we must meet’.

Cáit Curran is an organic grower, consultant and teacher. She is an active member of Athenry ADC.

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About this record

Written by Cáit Curran

Published here 19 Jul 2023 and originally published Summer 2002

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