Dan O’Mahony: From chimney cleaning to Tae Kwon Do teacher

Dan O’Mahony swapped life as a chimney sweep to create a family Tae Kwon Do firm, says Fiona O’Donovan

Dan O’Mahony: From chimney cleaning to Tae Kwon Do teacher

BLACK face by day, black belt by night. That was the running joke about Dan O’Mahony when he was juggling teaching Tae Kwon Do with his chimney cleaning business.

Had the West Cork man anticipated the success the martial art would bring him both personally and professionally, he would have given up the day job sooner.

He stumbled upon the sport through his then eight-year-old son Barry.

“Tae Kwon Do started in Clonakilty and my intention was I would join up with Barry,” he said.

“I was hoping he would be interested and I would slip out the back door again.”

However, neither Barry nor Dan has stopped since.

Dan received his first black belt in 1998, after which his trainer asked him to teach some classes.

The following year when Barry received his black belt, Dan opened his first club in his hometown of Rosscarbery.

“Fifty-three people turned up to the first class. It was phenomenal — we were actually wondering where were we going to put them.”

This trend continued and as student numbers began to grow, so did demand for clubs in other West Cork localities.

By 2001, Dan had five new clubs and was juggling night shifts at the factory where he worked.

At this stage, Dan physically could not manage both, and he felt leaving his job of 20 years would be too risky. “There were times before I left and I felt sick to my stomach because I didn’t know if I was making the right or the wrong choice,” he said.

Dan sought to alleviate the risk, and supplemented his Tae Kwon Do business with a day job as a chimney sweep. What he had not anticipated was the boom of both ventures.

“In the four years I ran the business I was actually passing on work to other chimney sweeps because I couldn’t keep up,” he said.

However, Dan decided to sell the chimney sweeping business and turn his hobby into his livelihood.

“At this point I was actually hoping to step back a bit, maybe even have a day off as Barry had started his own clubs,” he said.

After his Leaving Certificate, Barry was able to take over some of his father’s clubs but this wasn’t enough to satisfy demand or give Dan a day off.

Having met his wife Ann at a martial arts class when they were teenagers, it wasn’t long before she earned her own black belt. What started out as Dan’s hobby was fast becoming a family business.

“Dan needed help with the size of the classes and I told my bosses in work I would have to give up to help him full-time,” said Ann.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however, and clubs such as Gaggin and Timoleague were built up from scratch.

“When I opened a club in Timoleague I only had three students,” said Dan. “It was costing me more to teach them than what I was earning, but I didn’t want to let them down and I knew they were good. Now all three have black belts and the club is also doing well.”

Although they work under the same umbrella, each of the O’Mahonys now has their own individual Tae Kwon Do business.

They often spar each other and maintain their own knowledge and training through an independent UK examiner Master Clive Harrison.

Barry is also a successful entrepreneur with his own graphic design business. “Last year it exploded with business and it is really difficult trying to stay on top of it,” he said.

Between this, increased demand and lengthy car journeys to attend and teach classes, the O’Mahony’s now have additional instructors including Ann’s niece Claire McCarthy.

The success of their students is testament to their hard work and dedication. Anya Curran, who is mentored by Barry, secured three gold medals for the club in the all-style world championships last year. She was named the Junior Sports Star for spring 2012 at the West Cork Sports Awards.

“Over the past seven years we have had somewhere in the region of ten world champions,” said Dan.

“We gave Cape Clear its first world champion, Aoife Sheehan, and we brought back the first British champion, Cáit.”

The proud instructors are now hoping to build on this success with Olympic glory, having recently gained associate membership to the Irish Tae Kwon Do Union.

Although a lot has changed since Dan opened his first club, the ethos of their business remains the same.

Class prices have never changed and despite the level of success their students have had, emphasis is still on participation.

The O’Mahonys now instruct approximately 700 students ranging in age from three to 54. When he opened his first club Dan said his goal was to have a club in every town in West Cork. This dream is almost a reality today.

“If there was time in the day we would go further west, but there just isn’t.”

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