A Donegal Tunnel tycoon has said despite the evolving changes regarding machinery in the tunnelling industry – the fundamentals remain the same, and that’s to hire the best tunnellers to get the job done.
Joseph Gallagher, 70, from Arranmore Island started his own business the Joseph Gallagher Group in 1982 – after seventeen years working as a tunnel tiger all over the UK.
He forged a stellar reputation in the industry before setting up his own business.
That business has now expanded into the largest tunnelling subcontractor in the UK.
Joseph has seen the industry evolve many times since he moved to London in 1965.
In a candid interview with The Irish World, Gallagher said, “People say to me that this game is over, but it isn’t. It will just evolve like it always has.
“Through the years people have predicted that technology would take over, but we’re still here, it’s just things change slightly.
“Back then it was all about production, how fast and how hard you could work to get a job finished.
“That’s changed now. It’s all about health and safety, as it should be, but it means that the working day is completely different to how I remember when I first started out.”
Machinery has transformed the industry and cut back on the brute man-power that was the core of the tunnelling in the 60’s and 70’s.
When asked would the current crop of tunnellers hack it back in his era, Gallagher is unsure.
“With all the changes in how much machinery does as opposed to the man-power back in the 60s and 70s, one has asked me that ‘do you think these lads would have been able to hack it back in our time’.
“I said I didn’t know. They’re all great workers, but they just don’t have the opportunity now.”
Traditionally, and even now in the modern ear of tunnelling – the industry has been swamped with workers from Donegal and Mayo.
Gallagher believes that in the remote and rural areas of both counties there was no unemployment and many had no other choice but to emigrate and go to the tunnels.
Gallagher said, “Yes, I suppose there was always a high number from Mayo and Donegal, but that was because back then in remote areas on the west coast of Ireland, there wasn’t really any work.
“For us, our father was a fisherman, which was a highly dangerous job which he didn’t want us to get into.
“Some men left to work on the tunnels and then when word of work spreads then it may go to a neighbour or a brother, which is why I think you see big numbers from similar areas.
Gallagher said that managing people in the tunnelling industry was key – that way he states you get the best workers who are loyal to you and will always get the job done.
He points to an incident that occurred when he was employed by Tim Kilroe in the 1970’s as an example of good man management that he learned greatly from.
Gallagher said, ““When we were working for Kilroe there was a period when there was no work.
“At the end of the week when we went to check our pay packets I was surprised to see a full week’s wage and when I asked the rest of the gang they had too. The same thing happened the next week, and for the third and final week afterwards.
“Years later I asked him why he had paid us for essentially doing nothing. He said that he knew that on our return to work we would have burst through a brick wall for him.
“It is all about how you manage people. He paid extremely high wages but that meant he would get the best workers, who could get the job done.
“It was a great way to run a business. And singling out those with a great work ethic is something I have always maintained since then.”
At 70, Gallagher shows no signs of slowing down and with a multi-million pound industry to run it’s easy to see why.
Gallagher not only has projects all over the UK, but also the group also operates internationally, with offices in Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Dubai.Tags: