‘Living in Brisbane taught me to appreciate home’

Work was plentiful for carpenters in Australia but Ireland was too far away for my family

 

This article forms part of a new series for Irish Times Abroad on the opportunities worldwide (and in Ireland) for Irish construction workers. If you would like to share your own experience of moving abroad or returning home to work in construction, you can do so in our Irish Construction Workers and Emigration Survey.  

His is not the usual story of emigration. By the time he left Ireland for Australia in 2012 Philip Loughran was running his own construction company. He was not short of work, but the economy was still faltering and recovery still looked a long way away.

A carpenter by trade, Loughran started working for himself after finishing his apprenticeship in Belfast. In 1999, he moved from his home in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, to Dublin where he worked for Pierce Healy Developments first as a carpenter, then as a foreman. Soon he was acting as a subcontractor supplying carpenters to PHD and other companies. He also moved into residential construction over the years starting with extensions and one-off houses, as well as projects for commercial clients such as Permanent TSB and Paddy Power.

Moving to Australia was not his first experience of emigration. Loughran had worked in Germany, the US, England, and on the construction of Eurodisney in France.

Loughran has lived in Dublin on and off since 1999 when he first visited here with his brother. “I love it here. Dublin is my home.” He lives in Kinsealy, Co Dublin, with his wife and their three children.

Why did you leave Ireland in 2012?

It was frustration at the economy. We had a good business and hadn’t overextended, but prices were getting unreasonable and it was getting harder to get paid. Some people were looking for ways to get out of paying us after we had finished our jobs for them. I could see the country going down that road. The new Contracts Act should make a difference with that. Now if you have done the work and there are no issues with it, the client has to pay up.

Why Australia?

Some people who had worked for PHD had gone back to live in Australia, so I contacted them to see what was available. We had a history and a relationship. I got work in Brisbane straight away and stayed for three years. During that time I started a company called Oakleaf Construction, supplying carpenters over there too. We worked on some great projects including converting an old warehouse into a microbrewery for Green Beacon in Brisbane. They were great lads to work with.

When did you come home to Ireland? Are you glad you came back?

I moved back with my family in 2015. It was difficult to decide whether to stay there or to come home as we were doing well there. Then one day we were at the airport in Dublin after visiting home and I asked Tadhg, my son, whether he would like to live Ireland or in Australia. He said, “Ireland Daddy, because all my cousins are here”. That helped us to make our minds up. Having lived in Dublin for more than 20 years, I see it as home. Our son Ruarc was born in Australia but Tadhg and Rian were both born here. The distance to Australia is too great.

Was it difficult to get work back in Ireland?

When I returned I had to make the same effort as I had made when I left. Before coming home, I got in touch with some old clients – architects and engineers – and asked to be put on their tender lists. I think I left at a good time and came back at a very good time. There are opportunities if you are willing to get out there and look for them. There is a shortage of skills here. It was not without its obstacles, however.

What are you working on now?

Loughran Construction is finishing off a small development of 16 houses in Wicklow town for Trinity Homes. I have about 16 full-time staff from foremen to project managers. We guarantee we will complete the project on time.

How does working in construction here compare to Australia?

The biggest difference is that health and safety is more vigorous there, which as a result adds about 15 per cent to the overall cost of a job. I do see things getting more like that here and rightly so. Safety is paramount. Regulation is stronger too. When I first arrived I had to sit exams to get a supervisor’s licence. It can take up to three years to get a licence that allows you to build up to two two storeys. Then it takes another two years to get an open licence, which allows you to build high-rise buildings. In Ireland, you don’t need t have any proof of experience as a builder.

The average salary is higher in Australia, but then so are the prices. It’s all relative. We could earn more in Brisbane, but the cost of living was very high.

‘It was difficult to decide whether to stay there or to come home as we were doing well there.’
‘It was difficult to decide whether to stay there or to come home as we were doing well there.’

Would you recommend going abroad for work?

Yes. With the state the economy was in in Ireland at the time, I wouldn’t have had the same opportunities if I had stayed. Travel is a great education and gives the opportunity to meet some great people. It gives you an appreciation for the country you come from too. This is a great country. It took me a long time to realise that. I learned to take nothing for granted and I learned how important family is.

What advice would you give anyone planning to come home?

Do your research before coming home. Update your CV. Set up interviews online and that will help you to hit the ground running rather than wasting time when you get home.

What are your plans for the future?

To complete the projects we are working on. Currently we are tendering for a 90 houses in Castlebar, Co Mayo, with a further 86 in the pipeline in the southeast. I’d also like to develop my company and get into larger housing developments.

What is your impression of the construction sector in Ireland?

There are good opportunities. There is huge demand for homes in Dublin and it’s not just Dublin that needs housing – and that is not going to change for at least the next five years.

- In conversation with Rose Costello

This article forms part of a new series for Irish Times Abroad on the opportunities worldwide (and in Ireland) for Irish construction workers. If you would like to share your own experience of moving abroad or returning home to work in construction, you can do so in our Irish Construction Workers and Emigration Survey.