First Encounters: Fergus Niland and Brendan Walsh

You get straight opinions and good advice’

  ‘We can talk about anything’: Friends Fergus Niland, left, and Brendan Walsh

‘We can talk about anything’: Friends Fergus Niland, left, and Brendan Walsh


Fergus Niland is the in-house designer for cyclewear company Santini and has designed the jersey for the Giro d’Italia which starts in Belfast on May 9th. Born in the UK, he studied at NCAD and worked as an archaeological illustrator. He now lives in Bergamo, Italy

Brendan and I met in November 2005 in the middle of a windswept bog on the outskirts of Charlestown, Co Mayo – he was my boss on an archaeological site. There wasn’t much chat out of him. I knew nothing about archaeology but Brendan was very willing to explain things to me, and was approachable. I had studied at NCAD and became an artist for a couple of years. Then a job for an archaeological illustrator – that’s someone who draws the stuff that’s being found – came up in Mayo.

If you meet someone like Brendan and know you can have a good working relationship with them, that’s a good start, then you get to know them. He’s a cool guy, a straight shooter, very honest.

We both had a love of cycling, so that was part of our friendship initially. I’m not sure how you describe how you make friends with someone – you respect each other initially, then you understand each other, then he was a buddy. Brendan’s teetotal and neither of us was big into the drinking thing. What we considered to be fun was to run a 10k.

When the recession hit, a lot of archaeologists were made redundant. Brendan and I went into business together running a design agency handling archaeological illustrations. Then my dad, Martin, became ill. I’m an only child so I went home to live in Pontoon, near Ballina, and took on the role of carer for him as my mother, Ann, was sick at the time. Working from home, I began to do freelance work for sportswear companies, mainly outside of Ireland. Brendan and I came to the conclusion that we couldn’t continue with our business because I couldn’t devote 100 per cent of my energy to it. It was a very amicable split.

Then Santini had a competition to design apparel for cycling. I entered and won – and was offered a job as head of product development. My dad had died in 2010; in November 2012 I moved to Bergamo, near Milan, to take up the job.

Usually, Santini collaborates with a well-known designer to produce the Giro jersey. This year, since the Giro D’Italia starts in Ireland – I was given the role.

Brendan was definitely more than happy for me and as a cycling fan, knows what it means to be get a job like this. He and his fiancee Deirdre are getting married the weekend before the Giro kicks off in Belfast – and I’m the best man. I wouldn’t have another friend like Brendan: it’s rare nowadays to see someone with convictions, a moral compass as strong as Brendan’s. He’s an incredibly good guy to know, he’d never let you down.

Brendan Walsh is a genealogist with North Mayo Heritage Centre. A graduate of University College Cork, he has worked as an archaeologist in Co Mayo. He lives in Westport

Fergus and I hit it off more or less right away when he came to work on an archaeological site with me in Mayo. I liked his work ethic, I found him easy to talk to; he has a sense of humour. I’m an archaeologist, was his supervisor and one of the things I admired about him was that he was willing to share his skills.

By the end of 2007, with the recession, we both knew we weren’t going to be doing that job any more. Through Fergus I’d become very interested in the idea of illustrating archaeology and publishing it and we decided to give it a go. We set up a partnership to provide archaeological illustrations to companies that wanted to publish them.

The business only lived for a year. When we decided to end the business, it was very typical of the friendship I have with Fergus. We met in our office at the start of 2009, I said a few sentences , he said a few sentences. And that was it. I would say we were better friends after, probably because we were so straightforward with each other.

Fergus was into cycling, as I had been in my teens; he was doing triathlons and we spent a lot of time talking about that sort of stuff. He and a mutual friend got me into running.

His father became ill in 2008 when the business was still going and that was a very difficult year for him. It was very admirable the way he handled it all. He was very open about it, we’d talk a lot about it.

During that whole time Fergus was freelancing, doing his cycle designs: he’s very creative, very capable, doesn’t mind what it takes to do something, he’s good at rolling up sleeves and getting on with it. I was only surprised when Fergus got the job with Santini from the viewpoint that he hadn’t expected to get it: I think Fergus is capable to doing whatever he sets his mind to. He’d put himself through a two-year Italian course here before that job appeared – there was a lot of work put in on the ground.

Anyone who’s a cyclist would know the Santini label – designing the jersey for the Giro is a huge deal, I’m just very, very happy for him.

I met Deirdre in 2010, got engaged last July and I asked Fergus to be my best man – I didn’t really consider anybody else.

I know he’ll do a very good job – you always know with Fergus, you get a straight opinion, good advice and you’ll always get stuff done. Fergus and I have a close relationship, we can talk about anything.

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