Saturday 17 March 2018

A solid family with a very strong work ethic gave Walsh wings to soar

Profile: Willie Walsh

The home on Sion Hill Road in Drumcondra, Dublin, in which Willie Walsh grew up
The home on Sion Hill Road in Drumcondra, Dublin, in which Willie Walsh grew up
Kitty O’Tierney, whose daughter Siobhan had been a great childhood friend of Willie’s. Photo: Frank McGrath
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Fa et docere, or do and teach, is the motto of the school where Willie Walsh spent his most formative years.

This solid, no-nonsense attitude, drilled into him by the Christian Brothers at Ardscoil Rís on Griffith Avenue in Drumcondra, seems to have stuck with him.

None of the Walsh family remain in the modest home on Sion Hill Road from where the young Willie would make the short distance down the hill to school - but they are still remembered with great fondness.

Newspaper cuttings of the airline boss's latest achievements are passed around amongst those who remember the vigorous, sporty young lad who would "do anything for you" and in whose hands any venture was bound to end in success - even in his teens.

Born in Dublin in 1961, the second eldest of the five children of Martin Walsh and his wife Rio, Willie's upbringing was an ordinary one in an ordinary area.

And this has been a matter of fierce pride for the highly successful airline chief. His father was a self-employed glazier, running a small business with his uncle.

Rio, his mother, who died in 1998 from cancer, was a "great woman who encouraged us to live and enjoy ourselves", Willie once recalled.

He described his background as "very normal".The family were hard-working and very decent, recalled neighbour Mary Pielow.

As a boy, Willie was given a Meccano set and dates that as the time when his interest in mechanics and construction began.

He loved cars, televisions, radios - "anything I could take apart and put back together".

Neighbours on Sion Hill road remember that dynamism which they had spotted at an early age.

"William was always a lovely little child," recalled Kitty O'Tierney, whose daughter Siobhan had been a great childhood friend of Willie's.

"He would do anything for you.

"He was a bit different - if a sale of work was taking place he would make sure it was a success.

"If you'd William on your side, you'd be a winner," said Kitty.

In recent days, she suddenly remembered an occasion when as a young mother, Rio, had been walking home and passed a group of quarrelling youngsters.

She made no remark and simply passed them by.

"I learned a lot from that," said Kitty, explaining how while she might have been tempted to intervene, Rio knew that it would sort itself out. "He didn't get it from the ground," she said wisely of Willie.

According to the IAG boss, his career fell into his lap.

At the age of 17, a friend spotted an advert in the newspaper from Aer Lingus, which stated that because of a postal strike, applicants may not have received their forms to apply to be a trainee pilot and so the aptitude tests were open to all.

For Willie, it was an opportunity to skip school. But to his surprise, he got through to the next round and became a cadet pilot.

His lofty career has not ceased to soar ever since.

Irish Independent

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business