Special Report (Rural Ireland): ‘We would love to be employers, to employ locally and to invest locally’

Given its location and logistical challenges, Tournafulla doesn’t appear naturally conducive to setting up a business, but two local entrepreneurs are bucking that trend in very different ways.

Special Report (Rural Ireland): ‘We would love to be employers, to employ locally and to invest locally’

At Ward Waste Products, perched on the top of one of the hills overlooking the village, Peter Ward carries on the business his late father, also Peter, started 50 years ago when he bought a truck and began collecting dead animals from local farmers.

The business has expanded considerably since and operates all over Munster under the Department of Agriculture’s Fallen Animals Scheme, as well as offering other waste and recycling services, employing 33 people from the local area.

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Its hilltop location, accessed by an exposed narrow road that requires skill to drive in the best of conditions — nevermind in a heavy truck in heavy weather — seems less than ideal, but Peter wouldn’t think of moving.

“It all began here — that’s the old family house,” he says, pointing to the premises now converted to offices.

“The benefit of being based locally is that you know your staff. In business you have to get to know your customers, but it’s great to really know your staff too.”

“Besides,” he says smiling, knowing well the problem that is a bugbear of the community spread out beneath him, “up here I have broadband.”

Down in the village, BJ Broderick and Trín O’Brien’s business is newly born compared to the Ward operation.

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The long-time friends had an idea in January to make ice-lollies from all natural, wholesome fruits and vegetables and by May they had their first consignment of Wellnice Pops for sale.

They’ve been on the road to local markets and music festivals and have secured a regular spot at the Milk Market in Limerick city.

“At the moment our location isn’t an issue because we were able to register Trín’s kitchen with the environmental health officer, but they have said they’re going to review that after the summer and we probably will be asked to move into a production facility at that stage,” BJ explains.

“Then we’re definitely going to have problems because at the start we had looked into incubation hubs and dedicated production centres but to be honest there wasn’t a lot available.

“There were some in the city but by the time you had your rent and you’re your rates paid it was working out terribly expensive for a start-up.”

Although they have big dreams of exporting their product, ideally they would like to stay local so that they could link in with local growers to provide their ingredients.

“At the moment we’re dealing with a wholesaler inside in Limerick city because they have all their certifications, but down the road we’d like to be able to buy locally.

“In Dromcollogher [about 20km away] we have the Organic College and here in Tournafulla we would have a quite a few people who would have done courses there.

“At the moment we need our paper trail for the health inspector so we need to be able show exactly where everything is coming from, but if local growers were set up with their own food safety management systems then there would be no problem to buy from them.”

Special Report (Rural Ireland): ‘We would love to be employers, to employ locally and to invest locally’

Tournafulla, West Limerick, where the lack of broadband poses difficulties for new and existing businesses.

BJ is grateful to the local enterprise office and the Food Academy initiative run by Bord Bia and SuperValu for their help but says more supports are needed if small business ideas like Wellnice Pops are to progress.

“You would like there to be a food incubation hub — somewhere you can go and test and develop your product without having to spend €100,000 on a kitchen.

“That’s a huge barrier to entry.

“There’s loads of people who have fantastic food ideas but you need an awful lot of money behind you to make it a reality.

“We would love to be employers, to employ locally and invest locally.

“We’ll always have Tournafulla on the label but it would be brilliant if we could be in Tournafulla too.”

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War of Independence Podcast

A special four-part series hosted by Mick Clifford

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Commemorating 100 years since the War of Independence