Tuesday 25 October 2016

Brewing up a fine romance in Dungarvan

Claire and Tom Dalton first met in the pub in 2001 - now they run a microbrewery, along with her brother and his wife

Published 11/04/2016 | 02:30

Claire and Tom Dalton both work at the Dungarvan Brewing Company, and this year Claire is CEO of the West Waterford Festival of Food. They married in 2006 and have two sons, Ronan and Colm. Photo: Patrick Browne
Claire and Tom Dalton both work at the Dungarvan Brewing Company, and this year Claire is CEO of the West Waterford Festival of Food. They married in 2006 and have two sons, Ronan and Colm. Photo: Patrick Browne

Tom Dalton reckons that the best break he's had in life was when he shattered his collarbone in 2001 - as it led to him meeting his wife Claire. He was on sick leave from work in Dublin, having come off the worst in a tipsy altercation with a footpath, and was staying with his parents in Dungarvan.

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He met Claire while socialising in Downey's pub, as one of his mates had started going out with her friend. The two groups ended up hanging out together, and Claire thought he was the funniest guy in the pub. She also liked that he was tall. "I thought Claire was really cool and had a great sense of humour, and I was surprised she was happy to talk to me," says Tom. "I was happiest when I was in her company."

Tom (38) is the middle child of Helen and the late Ted. He misses his father, who passed away in September 2013, as he was very close to him.

He studied construction economics at WIT, and then obtained an honours degree in quantity surveying at the University of Glamorgan. "I always found construction interesting, and liked the idea of being able to have a breakfast roll at 10am every morning," he jokes.

When he recovered from the broken bone, he moved back to Dublin, but when he came back home to visit, he and Claire met up and started dating. The following September Claire moved to Dublin to start a master's in multimedia studies at DCU, and the pair moved in together. "My first Christmas present from Tom was a pair of flippers, as my apartment had flooded a few weeks earlier," says Claire. "The relationship miraculously survived."

They moved back to Dungarvan together in 2003, and Tom proposed to Claire in Venice on their third anniversary of dating. They were married in May 2006 and now have two sons, Ronan (6) and Colm (4).

Claire is also from Dungarvan, and is the second youngest of Michael and Elizabeth O'Dwyer's six children. She studied English and media and communications at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, before completing the aforementioned master's degree. She worked in the area of multimedia until 2007, after which she took on the running of Tom's parents' grocery and newsagent's shop for a time, which gave her great business experience.

Things changed drastically for Tom in 2008 when the housing crisis hit and he was made redundant. Claire was pregnant with their first child, and this was the push they needed to drive ahead with an idea they had to set up a microbrewery with her brother Cormac and his wife Jen. Cormac was a homebrewer who got Tom interested in the area, and they felt there was a need for a greater range of beers on the shelves.

As a result, Dungarvan Brewing Company was born, and they launched their range of craft stouts, ales and wine in 2010 - they currently have nine products.

Cormac took the role of head brewer; Tom assists, looks after deliveries and oversees sales and logistics, while Claire manages the office, accounts and marketing. Jen is a teacher by day, but helps out at their events.

One of the first outings they had as a brewery was hosting a tasting of Irish craft beer as part of the West Waterford Festival of Food. Claire is CEO of the festival this year. "I'm really excited about the introduction of the Health Hub, a dedicated venue for chats and demos on health food trends," she says.

"I'm also really pleased with our town hall demo, The Cutting Edge of Cooking, as we have some of the coolest chefs and producers working in Ireland demo-ing at that. We've come up with some great new angles for our Irish Craft in a Glass talks, and the tasters will be in for a real treat."

The Daltons had their sons in the middle of establishing the brewery, and they say that while life is hectic, they feel lucky as they don't have to deal with long commutes. Being self-employed also gives them flexibility around family life.

"I have to check Twitter now and then to see how Claire is getting on, even though we're sitting next to each other on the couch," laughs Tom, who laments that Claire is far too good at reading his mind.

"She isn't a drama queen and doesn't sweat the small stuff, and if there's an issue, she likes to talk about it, deal with it and move on - nothing festers with her."

As they're often out working at events and festivals, the Daltons enjoy relaxing at home together - with a beer. They also like eating out and really enjoy a night in the pub with friends. "I love our life together, as we've had good times and bad and have had great struggles and worries at times, but have been able to come through them and still enjoy each other's company," says Claire.

"Tom can be quite pragmatic, and is very practical and very much a do-er, but he's also brilliant fun to hang out with. There's no one I'd prefer to spend time with. He can be a bit quick to act sometimes though, instead of stopping to have a think. I could ring him to see where he is, and find he's on his way to Donegal to give someone a loan of a spanner."

See dungarvanbrewingcompany.com for more. The West Waterford Festival of Food is on in Dungarvan, April 15-17. Visit westwaterfordfestivaloffood.com.

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