Variety is the spice of auctioneer's life of selling


Trade Names Years ago it was cattle marts and clearance sales, now it's Section 23 apartments and an art gallery, but through it all a New Ross auctioneers has stuck to its strong point: selling. Rose Doyle reports

P N O'Gorman Ltd (IAVI) has been in the business of auctioneering and selling in New Ross for a long time. You could say that the company, and the three generations running things today, have been at the pulse of 20th and 21st century changes in and around this picturesque and always lively town.

You could also say, with justification and a lot of fact, that the P N O'Gorman story is a microcosm of the changes that have brought the country to where it is today.

Anne Carton, born to the business and with an indestructible enthusiasm for every aspect, corner and niche of it, tells the story in all its changing detail - and with an elan born of abiding affection.

"P N O'Gorman was in business in New Ross in the 1920s," she says. (The initials are for Peter Nicholas). "He was involved in the local town council, was chairman on a number of occasions. His wife was one of the O'Callaghans of Dame Street, Dublin and they ran the business together.

"They'd quite a big premises at Rosbercon with a grocery, bar and furniture auction rooms. My mother, June, became P N O'Gorman's secretary in 1946 and my father, Tom Walsh, began an apprenticeship there in 1947. The bulk of the business at the time involved the letting and selling of farmland. Very occasionally a pub or a shop would be sold. New Ross, as a port and market town, had a lot of general and grain merchants with big warehouses."

As always in life, death took a hand in things and, when P N O'Gorman died in 1949, Tom Walsh took over the running of the business for Elizabeth O'Gorman. In the early 1950s he started what became successful sheep sales. The O'Gormans had had no children and, as the decade drew to an end, Elisabeth O'Gorman died and Tom Walsh bought the business. With June Walsh always involved and working with him, things moved ever speedily forward after that.

"He started cattle sales," Anne explains, "when he bought the site at Rosbercon, starting the New Ross Lifestock Marts which became a phenomenal success, shipping cattle out of New Ross through Stafford Shipping. Cattle sales, sheep sales and land leasings became a very important part of the business through the 1950s and 1960s." Monthly furniture auctions, always a feature, went on through it all.

Infrastructure led to the next big change.

"In 1969 we got the new bridge in New Ross," Anne says. "We were at one end of the old bridge and, when a property - an old jewellers shop - came for sale on the town side of the new bridge, we bought it. That's where we are to this day. We sold the old premises where we'd had the bar, grocery and furniture sales room. The chap who managed the bar bought it from us."

Its subsequent fate mirrors things nationwide.

"It was only demolished last year," Anne says, "to make way for Section 23 apartments. I'd the pleasure of selling it again for the owner! There are 55 new apartments in its place now."

She reflects, briefly. "It's very different to look out the window now," she says.

She was young when she first got involved in the business, in the year it all changed in 1969, helping with the cattle sales while still at school. She'd always known the business was for her, never even considered anything else. "There was a bit of resistance on the part of the nuns at school, they thought it not quite the thing."

By 1971 she was fully in the business, "doing all the dogsbody work". In 1972 she headed for Dublin to train with FitzGerald and Partners, working with some of auctioneering's near legendary personalities in Alexis FitzGerald, Denis Bergin and John de Vere White. The good times were, she says, better than good. "Property was quiet but we did our best; it was a fantastic training too."

She spent most of the rest of that decade in Dublin, apart from a six months' trip home when her father had a heart attack in 1974. When she returned for good in 1979, with her husband of two years, the cattle sales had been taken over by the Co-op. Then, and sadly, Tom Walsh suddenly died. It was September 1979.

"We had to consider," Anne says, "whether we could tackle things together, my mother and I, or let the business go. The market was dreadful, interest rates appalling. But we rowed in. My mother had been working in the company all the time and we battled on, my mother and myself, through the 1980s and up to the 1990s."

Change came, to New Ross as elsewhere, in the early 1990s.

"Builders started to look at New Ross as a place to build housing estates," Anne says. "We sold for some of the builders when they came initially and have been very lucky in the last 12-14 years. The residential element of our business is much stronger."

Luck and, though she makes it sound like just a bit of fun, a lot of hard work. But then selling's in her blood.

"I've sold trees and houses and everything. I miss the variety of auction these days. There's no such thing as a land letting now. I've let land in snow and I've gone to lettings by tractor. I've sold cows for the St Louis nuns standing on a bale of hay. In 1985 I sold the St Louis dairy herd in a clearance sale. Ah, no," the longing is in her voice, "you don't have the variety now. Everything is high-tech, focused and specialised now. We've adapted, of course, and have our own website,"

They've also moved into the fine arts area, courtesy of Anne's son Philip, the third generation now on board. Philip Carton's route into the company, via an economics degree in UCD and three years with Sotheby's, was circuitous but somehow inevitable.

"He came home from London for a break and just got stuck in and didn't go back," his mother says. "He's got very involved and, as well as the general auction business, he's started a gallery on the third floor of the building. He's got a passion for contemporary Irish art."

The family can't seem to keep away from the business, in fact.

"My younger sister, Jane, moved home with her husband a few years ago. She works four mornings a week with us now. My mother, June, is full-time, the ageless and consistent one of us all. The bulk of our business these days is probably new houses and Section 23 sales but we still like to keep to variety.

"I sold an old farmhouse on 37 acres recently and, within days, a development site with planning permission for three houses, and the following day a supermarket. There's been a complete explosion of apartments being built in New Ross in the last four years. We've got cranes here, a skyline unlike anything we'd have envisaged in our lifetimes!"

Other things are changing in New Ross, too. "Tesco will be opening this spring and with it 24-hour shopping. Some of the older businesses around will be retiring or changing their focus; we'll have more restaurants, coffee shops and beauty salons. We're on line too for a bypass. New Ross is up and running."