Monday 29 December 2014

Albert started on £2/10s a week in hardware store

Former Taoiseach tried his hand 
at everything from ballrooms 
to bingo - and was usually 
successful

Tim Ryan

Published 22/08/2014 | 02:30

Albert Reynolds at the C&D Pet Food factory in Edgeworthstown Co. Longford, 1986
Albert Reynolds at the C&D Pet Food factory in Edgeworthstown Co. Longford, 1986

While Albert Reynolds is best remembered as a formidable politician and statesman, he also was a successful businessman. He was involved at various times in running ballrooms, a bacon factory, a fish exporting business, a cabaret centre, a local newspaper until he finally joined in partnership in a petfood business, now managed and controlled by his son Philip. Without doubt, his straight-forward, no nonsense, take-a-risk approach to business stood him well in later life as a m inister and as Taoiseach, notably in the Northern peace process.

Having received a good secondary education at Summerhill College in Sligo - where he showed his first taste for entrepreneurship by setting up the school tuck shop - the young Albert Reynolds decided to abandon academic life and try his fortune as an entrepreneur. He took his first job in a hardware store, JC McLoughlin's at No 43 & 44 Pearse Dublin, where his wages were £2/10s per week. Later, he moved to work as a cabinet polisher in the PYE radio factory in Dundrum. He sat a Bord Na Mona examination and was offered a job as clerk at Ballydermot, Co Offaly. His next job offer came with CIE where he was posted as a clerical officer to Dromod, Co Leitrim.

He liked to go dancing and through his contacts there and began to organise dances throughout the area. In 1961 he resigned from CIE and along with his brother Jim (pictured), who had returned from Australia, went into ballroom full-time.

The late 50s and 60s witnessed the showband explosion throughout Ireland when showband members in colourful suits replaced the more formal music stands of the orchestras of the previous era.

The bands needed venues and Albert and Jim Reynolds helped fill the gap. The brothers decided to build a ballroom on a site beside their home in Roosky, Co Roscommon, and Cloudland was born. The name was appropriate for the new era of romance and escapism.

The success of Cloudland encouraged the brothers to expand and more ballrooms followed including Fairlyland in Roscommon, Dreamland in Athy, Lakeland in Mullingar, Jetland in Limerick, Barrowland in New Ross and Moyland in Ballina.

Albert Reynolds was known as somebody who treated showband members well, offering them hot suppers before shows, for example. The ballroom era finally faded away as tastes began to change in the 1970s .

For a while, Albert Reynolds experimented with the new popular game of bingo which had begun to take the country by storm. However, a business difference with his brother Jim saw him exit the entertainment business and he moved into the meat business, first by buying a bacon factory in the Liberties area of Dublin.

Cabaret

Patrick Kehoe's originally, the Kehoe-Donnellys factory, was the oldest plant in the country and needed refurbishment. Albert Reynolds turned the factory round and made it profitable within a year.

He sold out in 1973 and moved back into the entertainment business briefly by purchasing a cabaret venue, the Showboat in Malahide, which had a capacity to hold 1,000 people. However, the premises burned down in a fire on a very windy night in the summer of 1970.

Albert Reynolds' next venture was into fish exporting. Hampered by a strike, he bought and converted an executive de Haviland jet and hired a very colourful pilot named Captain Charles to fly it. However, he soon exited the fish export business before setting up a string of other ventures including ABC Finance and AR Trading. Finally he entered a partnership in a petfood project, C & D Foods Ltd., with Longford businessman Mattie Lyons who was the major shareholder.

A factory was built on a greenfield site in Edgworthstown, Co Longford with the help of an IDA grant of £45,000.

A High Court case in Dublin in February 1975 ended up with Matty Lyons forced to sell his shares to Albert Reynolds, who along with his wife Kathleen eventually became the major shareholders. In December 1979 Albert Reynolds resigned from the board of C & D upon his appointment as Minister for Posts & Telegraphs.

For a number of years, however, he continued to play an active part in C&D when out of government, but resigned his directorship when appointed Minister.

In 1990, his son Philip was appointed managing director.

As a major employer, Reynolds was regarded as a fair employer by the local 
SIPTU official Bob Brady. "Albert Reynolds was a fair employer but there were problems with conditions," he said.

His time at the helm of the food business also had its fair share of controversies.

In 1986 for example, he was embroiled in controversy when he used a little used mechanism known as the Business Migration Scheme to give Irish citizenship to two Arab investors, the Masris, in return for a reputed £1,000,000 to the firm to help job creation. The matter caused problems in the Coalition Government many years later in 1994 and led to a "long and frank" discussion between the Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and the then Tanaiste Dick Spring.

In the petfood business, Albert Reynolds' motto was always "Look after the customer". If you looked after the customer and gave the best deal you could, the customer would buy our Mars bars, your petfood, would dance on your paraffin-soaked floors - and would vote you back into office".

Tim Ryan is author of 
'Albert Reynolds, The 
Longford Leader' 
(Blackwater Press, 1994)

Irish Independent

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