A ’roundy’ birthday tribute to John Flanagan, builder, Tullamore

We seldom write a blog on a living person but we are making an exception for John Flanagan, the modest man from the Meelaghans, Puttaghan and New Road, Tullamore who has invested his whole life (so far) in making Tullamore a better place for people to live, work, bank and even pray in. We in Offaly History occupy offices at Bury Quay rebuilt for us in 1991-2 by the John Flanagan firm and now we also occupy Offaly Archives, another Flanagan development located at Axis Business Park, Tullamore. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the building of Tullamore Court Hotel. Great in that it was against the odds and had been talked about in Tullamore for thirty years but nothing was done.

As long ago as 1977 the Midland Tribune in a review of Tanyard Industrial Estate commented that John Flanagan was a man whose vision and initiative has given the Tanyard its new lease of industrial life. John Flanagan had by then been 24 years a-building so successfully that John Flanagan and Sons Ltd. was one of the best known contracting firms in the Midlands.

He purchased the Tanyard from Messers. P. and H. Egan in the late 1960s, established his own offices there (modest of course with no frills) and almost immediately set about using some of the six-acre site to provide facilities for other local people to set up business and projects of various kinds. Some of the buildings on the property were suitable for conversion to new usage but John Flanagan also embarked on his own programme of factory construction. He subsequently purchased other premises in the same area from Messrs Tarleton. With about eleven firms thriving in the Tanyard already, about 3³/8 acres remain available for further development and Mr. Flanagan will be ready to respond to demand as it arises. The whole area was redeveloped in the 1990s and is now emerging as a retail sector in Tullamore, well adapted to the changing economy.

John Flanagan extreme right and beside him is loyal foreman Jim Larkin – in late 1984 after the fire of 31 10 1983 at Tullamore Church.

While his industrial estate has been steadily expanding, so too had his own business as a contractor. In the 1970s his major undertaking included construction of R.T.E transmitting Station at Ballycommon; Tullamore Vocational School; the Post Office in Portlaoise; Farm Centres in Edenderry and Portlaoise; Housing Carlow (a scheme of 57 houses); factories for Messrs Paul and Vincent; in Tullamore and Irish Cables, Athlone.

The old Tanyard Lane c 1996 with the first block of apartments on the right completed and a new carpark under construction

Jobs in hands in the late 1970s included a scheme of 40 houses in Clara for Offaly County Council; the Bank of Ireland premises at Bridge St. O’Connor Sq., a Welfare Home in Edenderry; reconstruction work at St. Loman’s Hospital, Mullingar.

‘Mr Flanagan – who incidentally is Chairman of Banagher Concrete was actively in recent formation of a Chamber of Commerce in Tullamore and is the inaugural President of a body which is expected to make a very significant impact on the industrial and commercial life of the town and district.’

Forty years on a citation was read on his receiving the 30th Offaly Person of the Year Award in 2018

Mrs Connie Hanniffy read the citation on that April evening three years ago

IT gives me great pleasure to present to you this evening the 2017 and 30th Offaly Person of the Year Award. This award goes to a man who has made an outstanding contribution to the business, commercial and political life of Tullamore, Offaly and the wider Midlands over a lifetime spanning almost nine decades.

2017 marked the 20th anniversary of the opening of his landmark Tullamore Court Hotel. It was also the 40th anniversary of the founding of Tullamore Chamber of Commerce of which he served as first President.  

 

The Tullamore Court Hotel was completed in 1997 and extended to 100 beds ten years later.

Born, 1931 into to a small farming family in Cappincur, outside Tullamore, he received his education at the long forgotten Meelaghans N.S. Like the majority of his friends, his schooling ceased at the tender age of 13 when he began working for local farmers. Aged 15, he secured a position with his uncle, John Colgan, a small builder.

He now recalls: “That job started me on my path in the construction business. I liked it so much I decided to stay with it.”

A year later began his plastering apprenticeship with contractors Duffy & Heffernan here in Tullamore. When qualified he took the brave decision to set up on his own.

He recalls how the 50’s and early 60’s was a lean period in construction in Ireland. But luck knocked on his door when he secured a maintenance contract for the then Salts Ireland factory in Kilcruttin. That contract led to further work at connecting firms in Mountmellick, Chapelizod and on the Longmile Road in Dublin.

The former Salts mill was purchased in 1985 for a small enterprise centre

As the 1960’s rolled on his firm completed many local authority housing schemes, most noticeably Kearney Park and Arden View in Tullamore and Beechmount Park in Mucklagh.

The 1970’s brought contracts from further afield such as AT Cross in Ballinasloe, Turin Church outside Mullingar and the construction of a host of premises for the Midland Health Board and the IDA throughout the region.

One of many promotions of Offaly and Tullamore with Eddie Joe Dooley centre

With the expansion of the business and his hands-on approach to every job, one of the wisest decisions he made was to ask Quantity Surveyor, Stephen Ahearn to come on board.

He recalls, ‘We worked well together because we concerned ourselves over totally different aspects of the business.’ 

If he hadn’t enough on his plate he became deeply involved in the campaign to save Tullamore General Hospital when it was threatened with downgrading. From this campaign Tullamore Chamber of Commerce was established in 1977 with our recipient serving as its first President.

The signing of an IDA contract for an advance factory

 Following the destruction of the Church of the Assumption by fire in 1983, his firm was successful in securing the contract for its reconstruction. The work took over 22 months to complete. He considers this the most challenging though rewarding project of his long career.

The wanderings of St Brendan and friends in the old church in 1984 – planning the rebuilding JF, Jim Larkin and John McTeigue

At this time, tonight’s award recipient had developed a number of small business units in the Tanyard.

He remembers with fondness one Italian entrepreneur who established a cheese making business there but was forced to cease production after just two years. He owed substantial back rent and to settle matters he approached tonight’s award recipient and offered a large fridge as payment. The offer was accepted and a short time later he was approached by one Seamus Carrroll for use of the fridge to start a frozen meats business from the shed in his back garden at Marian Place. Seamus said he wouldn’t be able to pay for the fridge straight away but would do so when his venture was up and running. That was the beginnings of Carroll Meats, now Carroll Cuisine, and tonight’s recipient confesses that in later years he has always being successful in securing tickets to All-Ireland finals.

Aware of the need for further such units in the area, luck again knocked on his door when in 1985 he purchased the Salts Ireland Factory premises, now Kilcruttin Centre.

He recalls, ‘My wife, Kitty and I walked around the factory and she pointed out the exact position of the machine she had worked on when she was employed there.’

He was elected to Offaly County Council as a Fianna Fail representative in the mid-1980s and served as a member of Tullamore Urban District Council and the Midland Health Board. He served as chairman from 1998 to 1999. At the end of his political career he was the longest serving member of Offaly Co. Council.

Well known and now departed friends in Fianna Fáil, Tom Feighery and E.J. Dooley

 One of the many projects he involved himself with at council level was the development of a marina at Shannon Harbour. He became aware through contacts in Shannon Development that funding was available for the project. Heeding the characteristic solid advice of the then Minister Brian Cowen and through the assistance of then County Manager, Niall Sweeney, Bord na Mona and Waterways Ireland what resulted is a magnificent harbour not known by many. However, he was unsure what councillors from the south and west Offaly area thought of his meddling in their electoral area!

His interests in construction diversified into property development and the firm went on to build a host of housing schemes including Glenfircal, Roselawn, Clonminch Wood and Ballin Ri as well as projects in Roscrea, Nenagh, Carlow, Kildare, Portlaoise, Mullingar and Kilkenny.

The Christmas Crib about 1990

He was instrumental in the development of a number of other successful companies included Banagher Concrete, set up in partnership with another recipient of the Offaly Person of the Year Award, Kieran Keenaghan and Glenwood Tullamore, established in co-operation with Barney Glennon and Jim Ryan.

 He also made a foray into the world of media in the early 1990s and was one of the founding directors of Midlands Radio 3 and indeed was the figure which insisted its headquarters be based in Tullamore.

 Tonight’s award recipient had long seen the need for a major hotel in Tullamore and his dream became a reality in November 1997 with the official opening of the Tullamore Court Hotel by then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. The hotel has thrived in the intervening 20 years and has provided steady employment in the region as well as generating substantial business in the town and surrounds.

With Deputy Connolly – later a minister and a good friend to development in Offaly. He was elected to the Dáil in 1969.

Typical of his hands-on approach, as the hotel was being built a sub-contractor not familiar with the locality noticed him in discussion with Simon Farrell of Glenwood. When he walked away the sub-contractor asked Simon, ‘Who’s your man who’s always floating around the place?’ When Simon explained he was the hotel owner, the sub-contractor replied, ‘Yeah, and I’m Santa Clause.’

 Throughout his business life, the 2017 Offaly Person of the Year award recipient is proud of his good relationships with those who worked with him, some of whom are here tonight to join with him in this celebration. An impressive no strike record and no serious accidents at any of his firms despite the dangerous nature of construction and development.

 He maintained a lifelong commitment to community groups from his involvement as a young man with GAA clubs in Cappincur and Tullamore to a seldom mentioned period as a valued member of St Colmcille’s Pipe Band. He was a key promoter of St Mary’s Youth and Community Centre which continues to play an all-important role in youth affairs in Tullamore today.

Durrow High Cross in the 1990s. More to be done here but can we get it done?

A lifelong teetotaller, tonight’s award recipient’s main social outlet is golf. He has been a keen playing member of Tullamore Golf club for many years and served as Club Captain in 1979.

Always a keen golfer and genius loci of Brookfield

Throughout his career, he was supported by his late wife, Kitty and family of four girls and two boys while the family has now grown to include 13 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. His sons, John and Tony are deeply involved in the family’s businesses as tonight’s award recipient continues to be.

John and the late Rose Kitty Flanagan, remembered now in perpetuity in the name Rose Lawn, Tullamore

All of us in Offaly are deeply proud of his achievements in business and the contribution he has made to his home town of Tullamore, the county and the entire Midlands region.

Central Business Park, the work of Dominic Doheny and John P. Flanagan of the Flanagan Group, but always with advice of JF

The old church of 1775 in the grounds of the new Axis Business Park of 2007 gets some oversight. Never a nail or a brick was wasted by JF.
John Flanagan might well be saying ‘Whither Tullamore’. Now long in well-deserved retirement his wise counsel is missed at the many local bodies he served on. A long life well lived in the service of his town and his country. We wish him well and many more years.