Few cities have captured the world’s attention quite like London in recent weeks. The recent terrorist atrocity at London Bridge, the fallout from the British General Election and Brexit as well as the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower have all put the capital city firmly in the news.
For a city that has witnessed many changes in the past half century, London is a melting pot of cultures, races and creeds. For those from Roscommon living in the city, London is currently in a state of flux. Few, if any would hazard a guess as to the consequences of all these challenges.
For Ballyleague businessman, Ciaran Horohoe, London is his home. A past pupil of Lanesboro Technical College, Ciaran has lived there since 1988 and runs a successful construction business, Horohoe Construction, which employs 200 people.
Established in 1998, Horohoe Construction Ltd. is enjoying its busiest year to date receiving carpentry and joinery contracts for many prestigious main contractors and developers such as the Berkeley Group, BAM and MACE , employing 200 people.
A separate arm of Ciaran’s business is Horohoe Properties Ltd which he set up ten years ago which is involved in the development and refurbishment of commercial and residential properties throughout the city and home counties, occasionally selling but mostly renting out to blue chip tenants.
“We are going through a period of sustained growth and this has meant that we have outgrown our current premises in Wembley so are currently in the process of building a new state of the art Head Office and Workshop in Kings Langley. We hope to have the project complete and ready to move into by September.
“We already have a substantial amount of contracts on our books that will take us into 2018 so this new space will enable us to expand our office and management teams so we can tender for more projects and have the right staff in place to manage them once won”, says Ciaran.
That said, it hasn’t always been plain sailing for Ciaran and his business, particularly in the teeth of the recent recession: “We were directly affected on a few of our projects where payment never came through, this meant we had to be very thorough in identifying upcoming expenditures and ensure our cash flow projections for the next year were tailored to take into account non-payments.
“When a company can no longer survive and has to shut the door people don’t always realise the knock on affect it has down the line…. Thankfully that looks to be all in the past as the construction industry in London has never been so busy and its looking like the rest of the UK and Ireland is also picking up at a good pace.”
Currently, the fallout of the result of the recent British General Election is being digested across channel causing considerable surprise not alone in Ireland but also for Roscommon people like Ciaran living in Britain. The picture he paints of the fallout however, is not a pretty one:
“The recent election is not good news for Britain and the economy, I am not sure anymore if there is much difference in the parties and their policies, if they concentrated more on running the country instead of trying to make the each other look bad we would all be much better off.
“This country is not in a good place with regards to stability and if this carries on it will cause us to spiral into recession. And to think the DUP and Arlene Foster could have a say in the running of Britain is unimaginable!”, claims Ciaran.
Ciaran is less downbeat about the impact of Brexit upon businesses such as his own and the Roscommon diaspora in general. However he feels the uncertainty in the immediate aftermath of the referendum appears to have stabilised somewhat.
“I knew the British public was going to vote out (leave) as they seem obsessed with immigrants – people from Eastern Europe who are here in the UK are taking up the same trades as the Irish did in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s to date.
“The UK needs these immigrants as by and large they are hardworking individuals who are undertaking a large percentage of the manual jobs in this country and they are paying their taxes.
The Irish in Britain and indeed at home wanted Britain to remain in the EU and I think it is a shame for everybody especially the younger generation that the vote has gone the way it did.
“Following the Brexit vote some of the larger projects we were tendering were put on hold but things appear to be stabilising thankfully and hopefully they will remain that way for the foreseeable future.”
While the threat of Brexit may not be as great as expected, security fears have risen in London, most notably following the recent London Bridge terrorist attacks. It’s a fear that Ciaran and the rest of the Roscommon community share.
“Security has been stepped up massively but I’m afraid we have not seen the worst of it yet. I do feel for the Muslim community as having lived through the IRA campaign in London I know how tough it can be.”
Leaving school at 16, Ciaran started his apprenticeship in Fergus Hanley’s joinery shop in Ballyleague and subsequently attended what was then known as Anco (the training organisation which was a forerunner to FAS) in Athlone, on block release.
Three years after leaving school, after seeing many of his friends leave Ireland, curiosity got the better of Ciaran and so he too took the well-worn path of others: “My older sister Maura had just got married and she and her husband were going to London and I decided to go with them.
“My younger sister Sile had just gone a few weeks earlier and my younger brother Noel was to follow when he finished school but just for his school holidays, a sad time for my parents, Johnnie and Maureen looking back now to lose four kids to Immigration within a few weeks”, recalls Ciaran.
Like many who travelled to London, Ciaran’s initial path to employment was a somewhat circuitous one, as he explains – “I bought the (London) Evening Standard (as everybody looking for work did at the time) and the first guy I spoke to said start Monday which I did.
“I got my bag of tools and hit off on the train into central London, I was the only Irish man on but they were good bunch of guys, the money was not the best in town so after a few weeks I got the paper and called up another firm offering better money, unfortunately I was told by the Irish man that they were full at that moment.”
All was not lost for however, as the man informed Ciaran that he was going to a Mick Flavin concert on the Saturday in ‘The Thatch’ on Holloway Road. “Of course instantly I told him Mick was a neighbour of my mothers in Ballinamuck in North Longford and that my cousin played in the band.
“I told him I would meet him there for a drink. I got my cousin in the band to play a request for him and instantly I got put top of the list and I started the following Monday morning with the Byrne Group in the very prestigious development Chelsea Harbour!”
Despite this good fortune, it wasn’t altogether easy for Ciaran arriving in London, despite the strong social bonds between emigrants. “It was not a great time to be Irish in Britain and once you stepped outside the Irish circle it was very a different scene. Things have changed for the better…our wonderful St Patricks day parade which attracts a quarter of a million people is evidence of that.
“Socially, London was a great place as we had so many great venues such as the Galtymore, The National and The Swan and every weekend and had all the big bands over – sadly almost all the venues the Irish frequented are long gone. It was like home from home.
“London has changed massively since I came here all those years ago, we are no longer the main immigrants doing all the hard work, there are fewer Irish coming to London and the younger Irish are different, they tend to be university educated and want more for the office side of construction rather than the labour element.
“I look at the Romanians and Lithuanians now and they are the new Irish working hard and doing whatever they can to improve their quality of life and to provide for their families back home as we did in our day”, says Ciaran.
Today, the social scene in London for Roscommon people is considerably different and not as vibrant claims Ciaran but feels this may have something to do with less people from the county emigrating to the likes of London.
“I am involved in all things Irish in London and my company sponsor many of the Irish youth football and rugby teams here. We get the Roscommon Herald every week and with that and social media and Irish TV along with chatting the family back home there is not much going on that I do not hear about.
But I suppose social media helps the younger people stay in contact now and they aren’t necessarily interested in going to dinner dances with show bands playing, they will meet in the Irish pubs. There are very few Irish venues left in London where bands play and you can have a dance.
“I have three wonderful, healthy children, Caitlin, aged 16, Roisin 14 and John 12 and although they love London they also love going back to Roscommon to spend time with family. My partner, Marian, was brought up in London by Irish parents so by bringing my three up here will mean they will also be submerged in the Irish community much like Marian was.
“My girls have done Irish dancing since they were able to walk and have both travelled extensively taking part in world championships and bringing home medals. John is a football fanatic playing for soccer and Gaelic teams locally, his dream came true when we met Alex Ferguson at Knock airport and he got a photo with him. “
“Ballyleague is and always will be home. I try to get back there four or five times a year depending on work and the kids school holidays. My parents, two sisters and a brother are all still in Ballyleague, my youngest sister made it all the way to New York from London and is still there now.
“We always time the summer holidays so the cousins from London, New York and Roscommon can all get together at the same time and it’s something the kids all look forward to every year, and my parents love having all the grandchildren together as well.
I love music and never miss any Irish bands when they are in town; the last gig I saw was The Saw Doctors. Cars are my other passion and I have a collection of classic cars the most recent purchase being a DeLorean (once produced in Belfast and featured on the hit film ‘Back to the Future’)!
As to the future, Ciaran is hopeful despite all the challenges and issues affecting London. In true emigrant spirit, he has reached out to many emigrants arriving in London, just as those reached out to him upon his arrival in London.
“I have helped many young Irish and indeed other nationalities with work and also to find accommodation upon their arrival here in London, many of who have turned out to be longstanding members of the Horohoe team which can be very rewarding when you give young guys an opportunity and they grab the bull by the horns and make the most of it.
“London can be a great place but it can also be a very lonely place when people fall down on their luck, The phrase the streets are paved with gold could not be further from the truth but like everywhere if you are willing to work you can get on very well in London.”