Brendan Barber must have covered thousands of miles travelling from Cormeen to Rath Chairn for so many years. While driving he would have a cigarette or two.

'Be firm, fair and always put the rows behind you'

In another time, another era (when the world was not besieged by a pandemic) Brendan Barber would have been able to enjoy a full-blown traditional Irish shin-dig to mark what is in any circumstances a remarkable achievement; an incredible milestone.

As it was his colleagues in the company he works for - Turmec, based in Rath Chairn - had to be content with presenting him with a cake and a watch with social distancing and mask-wearing top of the agenda.

This month Brendan marked 50 years working with the same commercial entity, which started out as ABM Scaffolding and evolved into Turmec Teoranta Ltd.

He's 67 ("I'll be 68 in April," he will proudly tell you) but even now it's clear he's not ready to bring the final curtain down on his working career just yet. Far from it.

"I was supposed to go at Christmas but I'll be staying on for a while after that and who knows maybe I'll work on for another while after that, if I have good health. I'm not being pushed or anything."

The fact that he didn't call it a day at 65 indicates just how much he enjoys working (even though he has a serious health condition) and you sense that when the time comes for him to finally say farewell it will be a major wrench. Work can a social outlet too and he'll miss that, he says.

Turmec is a company engaged in making a wide range of engineering products. An example, a small example it may be, of what they do can be see outside their extensive premises in Rath Chairn. Lying there, ready to be transported to their destination, are conveyors that are used by recycling companies. The company has carried out engineering projects all over the world including Australia, UK, the United Arab Emirates.

Engineering is something Brendan Barber knows plenty about. He also knows, better than most, what is required for a commercial entity like Turmec to be successful because he has lived with the company through the good times and the not-so-good times.

For 15 years or so he will point out he was closely involved in running the business with a former owner, Terry Nolan, and he evolved some firm views on how any successful commercial entity works. "You have to be fair with the workforce and don't ask them to do anything you wouldn't do yourself," he says outlining his philosophy.

"You might have a row with a fella one day but you have to move on and forget about it the next. If a fella is not with you he's not going to work for you or with you. If you are a member of management you have to show a certain firmness from time to time but you have to be fair too and get on with people and put rows or anything else behind you."

Employees from Turmec in pre social-distancing days.

CORMEEN

The townland of Cormeen is close to Cavan and it is there Brendan Barber grew up and spent his life. He was always happy there, resisting any temptation to emigrate - and he certainly has no plans to move elsewhere now.

He knows, you suspect, every field, hedge, twist and turn in the area. He grew up one of seven children, five boys, two girls. His mother Bridget was, it is clear, was one of those great, resourceful Irish matriarchs who always put their family first. His father, Owen, provided for his family by working hard as a blacksmith with his forge located beside the family home.

As we sit in an office in Turmec, Brendan reflects on his childhood and one powerful image stands out. "When I would come home from school there would often be 10 or 12 horses waiting outside the house. My father, who was also from Cormeen, spent all his life shoeing horses, making trailers and items like that. He did up until he was about 55 when he had an accident and he couldn't do it any more."

Young Brendan was familiar with the sound of metal on metal as the father hammered and prepared the shoes for the horses - and he inherited also father's aptitude for making and shaping things. At 16 when the chance came for him to become an apprentice fabricator young Brendan went for it.

The company was based in Kells but in the early 1970s they were to move their premises to Rath Chairn and eventually evolve into Turmec.

In time Brendan Barber rose through the ranks becoming a charge-hand and, in the early 1980s, production manager with Turmec. There were good times, prosperous, bountiful years. There were times too when recession bit as deeply as the Grand Canyon and people had to be let go, however temporarily. Brendan was to see it all.

He also experienced his share of tragedy. In 1996 his brother Sean suddenly died near Garlow Cross while driving a lorry. He was only 53.

Always someone who enjoyed his football, Brendan felt content working in Rath Chairn and he was eventually to marry a local woman, Eileen Conneely, but they first met a long way from the Meath Gaeltacht.

"Eileen lived in Rath Chairn and I met her in the early 1980s. She was working with Meath County Council at the time but we meet in Gweedore. We used to go, in those days, to play football in Gaeltacht areas all over the country in the summers (in the Comortas Peile na Gaeltachta). One year we went up to Gweedore and it was there I met Eileen."

Brendan and Eileen were to get married, settle in Cormeen and have four children - Eoin, Cormac, Padraic and Fionnuala

COMMUTE

Each day Brendan made the journey from his north Meath home to Rath Chairn with the days building into weeks, the weeks into months, the months into years - but it wasn't like it was a journey up through a packed M50; a mad commute. It was a sedate journey through the Meath countryside when the only hold up might be a herd of cows on their way home to be milked.

Often while he drove Brendan would have a cigarette or two. He smoked since he was a youngster, about 20-a-day, and eventually after fifty years they took their toll.

Five years ago he dug deep into his powers of resilience and resistence and gave them up. He simply had no choice. "I developed COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonery Disease), my lungs are bad, that's with the smoking, cigarettes. I smoked from when I was 14 until five years ago. I couldn't walk, they nearly killed me. I would go through a box of cigarettes every day and at the weekends smoke more.

"I knew that if I go back on them I won't be around - my health was threatened, I wasn't able to walk. I was in hospital a few times with it. My work these days is on the phone, administrative work. I might walk down the shop floor once a day but I haven't done heavy work for a few years now."

During his years of employment in Rath Chairn, Brendan Barber had opportunities to go elsewhere including Tara Mines but he stayed. Turmec carried out a lot of work for Tara Mines down the years and Brendan got a first-hand knowledge of what it was like far underground but he knew the life of a miner, the darkness, the heat, just wasn't for him. So he stayed with Turmec - and he has no regrets.

Away from work Brendan enjoys his football - and particularly following the fortunes of Meath and Kilmainhamwood. There was a time when Cormeen had their own football club and Brendan proudly represented them. Cormeen is where his heart is.

He also enjoys dabbling in farming in a small holding he has. These days he helps his son run a small suckler herd.

He also savours a drink or two in the famous, local hostelry - The Jolly Old Cross - and he's eagerly looking forward to the day it can open again. He loves having the chat and the banter with friends and neighbours. Misses that.

He knows too that when the time comes to call it a day and bring his long stay with Turmec to an end it will be a big move but he feels he's ready for it now.

Those fifty years. Where did they go?

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