John Brady, Joint Managing Director – his story

John Brady, Joint Managing Director – his story

A book on the history of Rathdangan called ‘Heather, Hills and Hearths’, was launched in the Seamus O’Toole Memorial Hall, Rathdangan on Friday 7th December 2018 by the legendary broadcaster Michéal O Muircheartaigh. John grew up in the Rathdangan area and still lives there today.

There is a lovely piece on the history of our Managing Director, John Brady in it.

We decided to share John’s history with you and acknowledge his amazing achievements.

John Brady was born in Dublin in 1943 and grew up in Carrignameil, near Rathdangan in Co.Wicklow. He went to primary school in Rathcoyle NS, walking there and back each day with other local children in all weathers. John left school at 14 and went to work with local farmers. In January 1962 on a day he will never forget he had a very serious accident – while spreading farmyard manure he caught his leg in the PTO drive of a tractor. No ambulance was available on the day, a homemade stretcher was made from an old farmyard door and he was brought to Baltinglass Hospital in the back of a Ford van. Unfortunately the result was the loss of his right leg. John probably owes his life to an old army doctor, Dr.Maguire and a priest from St.Patrick’s College, Kiltegan.

This was a life changing event for him. He spent many months recovering in Baltinglass Hospital, finally leaving on his 19th birthday. At the time John couldn’t be fitted with an artificial limb until he was 21. In the meantime he bought an old Ford prefect car for £35 and drove it with one leg and a stick!
Limb fitting took place in a company called Fanning’s of Grafton Street and the limbs were made of wood…no modern titanium prosthesis back then!
On John’s 21st birthday he received a birthday present in the post…a new wooden leg! You had to learn how to master this new ‘gift’ on your own! John remembers sitting in a chair and wondering what was next for him….he could either feel sorry for himself or get up and do something with his life….

They say every cloud has a silver lining and when John recovered sufficiently he moved on to a new job – training as a diesel mechanic in Duffy’s Garage, Hacketstown, Co.Carlow where he spent three years. This developed in him a passion for driving lorries and led to a decision that he wanted to take a step further in this direction.

He heard that Irish Forest Products in Baggot Street, Dublin were looking to hire owner driven lorries to haul timber from the forest to their sawmill in Mountrath, Co.Laois and to the board mills (no longer in existence ) such as Clondalkin Paper Mills, Bowaters Wallboard Factory in Athy and the Munster Chipboard Factory in Waterford.

In order to buy a lorry – a TK Bedford capable of carrying 15 ton – John needed a loan of £1,700. He approached The Munster and Leinster Bank in Tullow. A guarantor was needed which John could not secure at the time. He went back to the bank and explained his predicament and he will always be grateful to the manager at the time , Mr. Sugrue, who said he would place his trust in him to meet the loan repayments.

At the time there were no loaders on timber lorries as we know them now and all logs had to be loaded by hand. The first logs were lifted onto the floor of the lorry, to be eventually stacked to a height of 6feet – those higher logs having to be rolled and dragged to the top. No mean feat for a man with an artificial leg…there were many times John broke it and had to carry out running repairs!

In an old invoice he has from January 1970 we see that the rate for hauling timber from The Glen of Imaal to Athy was £9 18shillings for a load. As shown all invoices were written by hand.

A big breakthrough for John was when he was one of the first in Ireland to acquire what was known as a sling loader. The forest workers would stack the timber on skids by the roadside and he would attach two steel ropes to the bundle of timber and the crane would lift them onto the truck. This was a major advancement which made John’s life and the woodsman’s life much easier. He was also the first in this part of the country to purchase a crane with a grab where you sat in a seat, similar to what is used today.

At the time all harvesting was done by chainsaws and ‘sligged’ out of the forest with horses. Later on the tractor and winch was a further revolution in the harvesting of the forest. All this provided employment for hundreds of men. Nowadays all loading is done by modern loaders with a man sitting in the seat. The harvesting has also moved on with timber harvesters and forwarders extracting the timber. These machines operate in much the same way as a combine harvester cutting a field of corn! There is little or no work for the chainsaw man anymore.

In 1970 John bought a site in Rathdangan and built a house where he still lives with his wife Mary.

In 1973 he was approached by a Clare man called John O’ Halloran, a Dubliner Pat Murphy and a Kerry man Mick Holly about the possibility of joining a partnership and starting a sawmill in Aughrim. They bought a greenfield site and from there developed what is now known as Woodfab Timber. This fledgling company started off with 5 employees. In 1976 they bought a sawmill in Kilrush, Co.Clare and further expanded in 1979 buying Irish Forest Products in Mountrath and in 1980 they acquired Home Grown Timber in Fermoy in Co.Cork. In 1981 the company was developing rapidly and the partners looked for an equity partner to come on board…this backing was provided by the Smurfit Group.

In 1994 the wheel turned full circle and John bought out Irish Forest Products in Mountrath where he had originally hauled timber into.

In 1998 Smurfits decided to leave the timber industry and Mick Holly and John bought back Woodfab Timber in Aughrim.

On August 10th, 2010 disaster struck when the main production line was destroyed by an overnight fire. This was a massive personal blow to John and to the employees, most of whom had to be laid off. The question was where to go from here…could John do it all over again??
He was back in that chair again feeling sorry for himself but determination won through!

John was determined to rebuild a better and more modern sawmill and over 40 years later he again approached the bank for funds to rebuild the mill and once again they placed their trust in him. There is now a state of the art sawmill with the most modern machinery available. As with all modern technology , machinery means there is need for less manpower.

Another change in the business is the way in which timber is bought. Nowadays the log supply is bought at electronic auction sitting in front of a computer screen in John’s office. With the push of a button you can spend €100,000 or €1 million.

This compares to the bygone days of the secret tendering process whereby you walked the forest, inspected the timber you hoped to buy and submitted the tender price by post. You then had to wait for up to 3 weeks to know if the tender was successful…electronic auction results are instant.

Men like John O Halloran, Mick Holly, Pat Murphy and Eugene Murphy who were involved with John in the early days have sadly passed on…he is probably the last man standing to tell this story.

John is 50 Years in the timber business this year and in the last couple of years he has received some lovely awards to recognise his contribution and long service to the industry.

In November 2014 he was awarded Honorary membership of the Society of Irish Foresters and the following November he received the Judges Special Award by the RDS in Castletown House for his outstanding achievements in forestry over the last 50 years.

Woodfab is now a one hundred percent family owned business and John is extremely proud to be passing the baton onto his son Sean who is Joint Managing Director, daughter Emma who is our Financial Controller and nephew David O’Connell who is QES manager.

John feels the mill is in very safe hands for the next generation to come!