40 years ago today I began my working life in Engineering. I started work in the offices of Nicholas O’Dwyer in Dublin. My starting salary was £5,500. I had been offered a job in Dublin Corporation paying £8,200 a year. I chose the private sector believing my career would benefit more from being in that sector in those early working years. And so began a lifetime in the private sector in consulting engineering.
I lived in a flat on the top floor of a 3-story Georgian building in Kenilworth Square in Rathgar. Toilet facilities were shared with those occupying the flat on the floor below and there was one phone for the house in the basement. I cycled the three miles to work in Dundrum every day. I could not afford a car. “The Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor and “Zoom” by Fat Larry were top of the charts and anytime I hear those songs on the radio, I am brought back to memories of those early days. I trained at lunchtime on the tartan track at Belfield with friends from work, running a mile in 5 mins and 20 seconds, or was it 40 seconds, I can’t quite remember. I ran a 4 mile road race in East Wall in 26 minutes, a time I never achieved before or since.
The first man I worked for in Nicholas O’Dwyer was Ned Creed. I wasn’t to know at the time that Ned was the first engineer ever employed by Austin Jennings at what was then A.G. Jennings and Associates. Records from the JOD archives show that Ned started work for Austin Jennings some 30 years earlier in October 1952. He also served as Borough Engineer for Sligo Corporation and was one of the youngest ever Captains of Strandhill Golf Club in the mid 1950s. Ned left Sligo to become Manager of the Irish Glass Bottle Company in Ringsend, Dublin, returning to consulting engineering in his later years. A brilliant engineer, Ned looked after me both inside and outside of work. He was one of the most intelligent men I ever met. We became great friends.
My first workstation was standing up at a sloping board suitable for holding drawings. This was well before computers and AutoCAD and all drawings were in pencil or in ink. Recovering lost ground from mistakes on ink drawings was a nightmare, and the sound of razor blades scratching out mistakes was ever present.
As young engineers, we knew our place. We kept quiet and answered when spoken to. We lived somewhat in fear of the Directors and owners. My ultimate boss was Mr. D. P. Hughes. He smoked a pipe and we could gauge his mood from how he used the pipe. When in bad humour, he closed his office door and tapped the pipe repeatedly on the desk. We knew to stay away. Trying to tell Mr. Hughes something was wrong was difficult and unnerving. I remember accompanying him to a meeting north of Dublin with the then Cavan Urban District Council. Lost in thought, he was driving south towards Naas. Breaking out in sweat, I eventually summoned the courage as we passed through Naas to advise Mr. Hughes we were going the wrong way. On another occasion he asked me to review the contract documents for a major upgrade to the Leixlip Wastewater Treatment Plant which had received Department approval and was ready to go to tender. I undertook a hydraulic review and discovered the upgrade would not work without an intermediate pumping station which had not been provided for. It took me days to prepare myself to go into Mr. Hughes’ office to break the bad news. “What would you know about it anyway boy?” he said. I left the office to the sound of the pipe being repeatedly banged off the table. Ned Creed told me later that Mr. Hughes knew I was right but could not possibly admit that to me.
Thursday night was “Lads night out” and Friday mornings were always a bit ropey and a struggle to somehow muddle through to 5.15pm and finishing time. For all the ups and downs and the austere deferential working environment, I learned a lot in the five years I spent at Nicholas O’Dwyer before leaving to work in America. I made great friends and overall, thoroughly enjoyed the experience. In all those 5 years, I never reached the dizzy heights of the £8,200 salary offered by Dublin Corporation.
My life in consulting engineering began in Carrick House in the then Dundrum Shopping Centre on the 20th of September, on this day, forty years ago in 1982.