There was no shortage of innovative and brilliant ideas in last year's inventions competition, ranging from the very simple to the very sophisticated. While it did not win a prize on the day, one of my favourite inventions was Galway man Tony Finnerty's log clamp. A teacher in Columba College VEC in Killucan, just outside of Mullingar, Tony had only just put the finishing touches to his invention the night before the show.
It appears I was not the only one impressed by Tony's clamp because, after our picture report appeared in the Farming Independent, a large number of people called me asking for Tony's contact details.
Two more resourceful individuals rang his local garda station and the school he worked in to track him and his log clamp down.
During the snow in December of last year, I talked to Tony again. Since the competition, he had finished a production run of the clamp and was ready for sale.
I persuaded him to give me a trial run of it and was well impressed with my experience. It is a clever and well-thought-out design that, in use, has a very large footprint, making it very steady, even with the largest of logs clamped in position.
Briefly, the central saddle is narrow enough to leave the last log at a finished length, while the leg supports below it are designed quite low to help avoid striking them with the saw. It uses a very clever, yet simple, clamping mechanism. A chain and spring-loaded over-centre lever provides a very secure, easy-to-use and adjustable retaining mechanism.
The whole unit folds in on itself, with the feet rotating inwards and then the legs into the upright position. Weighing in at just under 25kg, once folded it can be lifted into the boot of a car or wheelbarrow.
In the run-up to this year's Tullamore show I once again travelled up to Tony's home to see how much further he had progressed with the clamp.
At home, Tony's parents, Joe and Bridie, are drystock farming and, out the back, adjoining one of the farm sheds, is the farm workshop that Tony built himself. It was in this workshop that the log clamp was conceived, born and developed into what it is now.
The period from concept to contest was only a few weeks for Tony, who only started working on his log clamp concept at the end of the school term. He had to design, construct and apply for a patent within a very small window.
His farming background, engineering abilities and education all helped, not to mention his girlfriend Anne-Marie Monahan, who selected the striking colour scheme (Hitachi tracked digger colours, I believe) for the log clamp.
Aware that his design might be marketable, Tony took the precaution of protecting his design through the patenting process.
Tony made contact with the patent office in Kilkenny where they provided assistance and advice. Both drawings and a technical description had to be produced very quickly for the patent application.
Tony teaches engineering and technical graphics and he has a Bachelor of Technology Degree in Education from the University of Limerick, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Information Technology in Dublin City University and has just completed a Post-Grad Diploma in Education Leadership.
He says the Tullamore Show Inventions Competition was the ideal platform to assess and launch the product.
"There was great feedback from people at the show and it gave me confidence in the product. It's a great starting point and gives the people involved in the event a great sense of appreciation," he maintains.
While Tony had thought about competing again this year, in reality he says it will probably be next year before he returns.
Meanwhile, Tony is making great progress with the clamp.
"At Christmas it took off," he recalls, perhaps helped by the extreme weather conditions at the time. "I had 200 made at the time and there is only one left, which is also sold."
He also displayed his clamp to the recent Forestry Show in Birr, Co Offaly.
"I brought up seven with me and was sold out after dinner, even the clamps I had for display on the stand sold."
He made some useful contacts at the forestry show and met a number of retailers who expressed an interest in the clamp.
"Two large retailers, one in Ireland and one in the UK, want to stock the log clamp," explains Tony.
Another batch of the clamps is in production with Galway firm Rynn Engineering.
While Tony made the original prototypes and pre- production models himself, his full-time job meant he contracted out the manufacturing of the additional log clamps to the firm.
While he could almost certainly have his clamp manufactured cheaper in other locations, including China, he is keen to support Irish industry and jobs.
"I'm happy with the fact that it's generating work in Ireland," Tony says. "Even the springs are made in Ireland by a firm in Shannon and the stickers are also made locally."
Tony's next step along the road is to actively market the log clamp.
"I haven't marketed it yet, but I have been in contact with the Westmeath County Enterprise Board and they have been very helpful," he says.
"They will give advice and there is the possibility of funding to investigate markets.
"They will also provide training in any areas needed, such as patenting or setting up your own business.
"I would advise anyone that is developing a product to visit your local enterprise board as they are very helpful."
Now on school holidays and with his post-grad studies completed, Tony can relax, focus on his log clamp and maybe even take a trip to the Tullamore Show as a spectator this year.
The price of the log clamp is €280 including VAT and it is available from Tony on 087 169 3685 or alternatively firstname.lastname@example.org