'I had no experience in this type of work but I figured that it was worth a shot so I agreed '

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'I had no experience in this type of work but I figured that it was worth a shot so I agreed '


Harry Browne describes a change in his career and setting up a family business with his brothers.


Harry Browne


Trinity College Dublin




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Harry Browne

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During the early years of our marriage I worked in Roche's Stores, as I said, a five day nine to six job. In 1972, however a decision was taken to close the Grill Bar and I found myself made redundant. This was a considerable shock, I had been continuously employed in the one job for almost eight years and although there was still effective full employment available in the catering industry, the hours were very unsocial. In a six week period after Roche's Stores I worked in several establishments, finding it very hard to settle down. Sometime around then my brother George called me and asked if I would consider a change of career. He was working for Derek Trenaman making Aluminium windows and he needed an assistant. I had no experience in this type of work but I figured that it was worth a shot so I agreed. I had three interviews with Derek's brother Fred and eventually I was hired. We were working in a two car garage in Rathmines with no phone, no running water and no toilet. The office was located in Sandymount and as George did not like using the phone, part of my duties every day was to phone the office and give a production report to Derek. This was done on a public phone with a coin slot. The conversation was the same every day: Derek: 'How many windows did you make today?' Me: 'ten' Derek: 'how many will you make tomorrow?' Me: 'About ten' - end of conversation. The premises was so small that we had to take yesterday's production out into the lane to make room to work inside in order to produce today's quota. If the truck did not arrive in time to remove the day's delivery then we had to bring all the windows back into the premises. The following day the process began all over again. I worked in this company for a number of years, finishing as Production Manager. I then took a position with the Sales Director of the company as production manager and sole window maker in a new venture in Malahide. This job lasted for about a year and my brother George again approached me with a proposal that we should go into business for ourselves. This we did in my uncle Jack's old premises in Dominick Lane where he used to make furniture. We also took another brother, Tony into partnership with us and formed a company called Irish Windows Ltd. There was a grant on offer from the government for replacement windows of one third of the cost up to ԣ600.00 and business was good with many households actively interested in having these jobs done. Soon afterwards we started another company to sell kit form doors to other companies in the replacement window industry, we also invested in a printing company called Seagull Print. Eventually we moved premises to a much larger premises in Ossory Road East Wall. To celebrate the opening of the new factory we threw a huge party in the premises. We invited four or five hundred guests and provided food and drink for all comers. There were a group of lads working in the factory who had a band called Elektra going so we asked them if they would like to play at the party. Early in the evening the boys set up and played a few sets. I immediately shut them down and told them their services were not required. In later times two of the lads - Christy Dignam and Joe Jewell formed a band called Aslan which has a huge cult following to this day. This shows how good a judge of rock music I am. Owing to a combination of mismanagement and the removal of the home improvement grant and the consequent severe downturn in business we were obliged to liquidate all the companies and close all the premises. In order to survive in business we started a new company in Harmonstown Road called Browne Brothers. This succeeded for a number of years but the Garrrett Fitzgerald government announced the introduction of a new home improvement grant. This might appear to be good news on the face of it, but not so. The original inspectors for the grant were no longer employed in that capacity and a new cadre of inspectors had to be employed and trained for the task. In consequence all home improvement contracts were put on hold for six months whilst this training exercise was carried out, Then the inspectors had to carry out inspections, write reports and approve, or not, the grants. Business, therefore, dried up catastrophically for a nine month period whilst people awaited their grant approvals. This dry spell was, of course, followed by a period of frantic activity as the backlog of approvals began to be dealt with. Within eighteen months of the ridiculous decision to introduce grants another decision was taken to abolish the grants altogether. Being a government decision, notice of the intention to close down the grants system had to be given. There followed another frantic surge in orders for windows, but the contracts could not be signed until the grants were approved. The inevitable result was a further seesaw effect which proved too much for the business and we were, once again, forced to close down. If there is a lesson to be learned from this fiasco it is that government should not interfere in private enterprise, either for good or bad reasons. They simply are not competent or knowledgeable enough about market forces and the effects of their meddling in areas which they do not understand. Sadly the demise of the company caused a rift within my family. As the prime mover in the company the decision to close was down to me primarily and I found myself in a minority of one within the family circle. Furthermore as I was immediately employed in another enterprise it may have appeared that I had abandoned the sinking ship. However running a successful enterprise is a complicated exercise and requires input from all parties and a degree of commercial expertise which we simply did not have, or if we did have it we certainly did not exercise it. The rift within the family continues to this day and in some cases has trickled down to the next generation. In recent years I have managed to reconnect with some of my nephews and nieces and that is a source of great satisfaction to me.


Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

Research Coordinator/P.I.

Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

Senior Research Associate

Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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