After more than 50 years in the construction business, Peter Walsh is still going strong. Brian Foley spoke to him on his home turf in Galway.
There aren’t many in the Irish construction industry who have received an award from General Franco. In fact, it’s probably a safe bet Peter Walsh is the only one!
Back in 1957 when Peter was 18, and after winning a national joinery award, he was selected to travel to Spain to represent Ireland at the International Trade Competition. Peter duly finished first and met the Spanish leader at the awards ceremony.
Two years later he again represented Ireland – this time at senior level – in Italy, where he took first prize and received his medal from the Italian President.
Fast forward to 2014 and Peter is still in business, building houses in the greater Galway area with his son, Tim.
“After finishing ‘tech’ here in Galway in the late 1950s, I moved to England and worked any job I could find,” he says. “The papers were full of ads for carpenters so I moved from job to job, sometimes lasting a week in one place,” he jokes.
“I was learning all the time,” he says “and earning 10 shillings per week.”
In the early 1960s he married and moved to Australia with his young family on what was known as the ‘£10 scheme’.
“We worked hard over there but we always thought about coming home,” he says. “Plus we were worried that once the kids were old enough they would be conscripted into the army.”
Back home, and after a brief spell as a trainee foreman with McInerney’s, Peter set up his own construction business. “I had the chance to work on the Corrib Great Southern Hotel but decided to strike out on my own.”
He became adept at building homes in record time and business boomed until, he says, “2007 when it stopped dead”.
“We’re up against it trying to get work now,” he says. “We introduced the external wall insulation as a business but it’s two years since we last did one of those jobs.”
Like many builders, Peter’s time is taken up with sending quotes. He mentions having sent out over 80 quotes in the past few years with a success rate of less than 10%.
“Last year we had six months work,” he says. “You hear talk about demand returning to the market but over in the West it’s only a very small increase.”
As for the future, he says he enjoys the work and, at 75, hopes to keep going for another few years. He also expresses frustration at the delay implementing the Construction Contracts Act, a law, he says, that will help sub contractors.
“Money is important but it’s not everything,” he says. “We enjoy what we do and will carry on for as long as we can.”