Nearly 350 neighbours, friends and business associates gathered with the Kiernan family in the Lough Rynn Castle Hotel recently as they celebrated the 25th anniversary of the family business, Kiernan Structural Steel (KSSL).
It was a hugely proud night for Frank Kiernan and he told the large gathering that he honestly never expected to see this day. Not a man normally given to emotion, it was clearly a special night for him and the family and he certainly struck a chord with many when he explained how the success of the business was founded in the values he and his wife, Dolores, learned from their own parents.
Both the Kiernan and Sorohan families were involved in their own respective businesses. Many will remember that Pat and Martha Kiernan sold bottles of milk to families in Longford town and all the family were involved from a very young age in the 1950s and 60s. Said Frank Kiernan : “It taught us the value of money and what it was to work. My mother went around on a Saturday evening to collect the money and you soon learned who paid and who didn’t.”
Around the same time, Dolores Sorohan was learning the ropes in the family’s famous bar and grocery business in Cornageeha, Co Leitrim. The landmark business was a one-stop shop for the local community and it proved to be a great schooling for the young Dolores. Indeed it was fitting that the couple should return to Dolores’ home parish for the 25th anniversary celebrations for their business, as Lough Rynn Castle is in both the Gortletteragh and Mohill parishes. “All Dolores’ people are only a stone’s throw from here and it is something we are very proud of,” Frank explained.
It was in 1972 that Frank Kiernan went to serve his time with Steel Fabricators in Longford. He learnt well and fast and was keen to improve all the time. He went on to work with both Murphy’s in Dublin and Noel C Duggan in Cork, two of the big firms back then, and he remembers, “They were tough people but very fair and it was a great learning curve for me.”
At the same time, Dolores was working her way up the ranks with ICI in Dublin and then a couple of the leading local construction firms, GEM Construction and PJ McLoughlin’s. One of the first tips she picked up and one that remains constant in KSSL to this day was that “if it hasn’t got an official purchase order number then the invoice won’t get paid!”
The couple married and settled down in Frank’s native Killoe. They built their home in 1980 when they got a loan from the Council of £12,000. Interest rates were rampant at the time, around 18%, recalled Frank, and they had to pay back £135 every week.
Work was getting increasingly scarce and the couple had to make a hard decision. With four young children they didn’t feel it was practical to emigrate so they decided to start their own business. With that decision, one of the most formidable and capable business partnerships that Longford has ever seen was forged.
Early every morning with the children still fast asleep, Dolores would help Frank to mark out sheds in an old hayshed at the back of their house. Everything then would be ready for when the workmen came in to get the day underway.
The first bit of good fortune to come their way was the introduction of the Farm Buildings Grant Scheme by the government. Work took off and the sheds were easy to build and assemble. It gave the business the confidence and courage then to go after the industrial market.
It was a bold and courageous step but they didn’t have far to go for the first vote of confidence and it came when they got the job for a new building at Glennon Bros in Longford town. It was the start of a long and valued relationship with many of the local building firms and over the years, KSSL has worked with Frank McKiernan, McLoughlin’s, GEM and many more.
As the business grew though, Frank was ever conscious that the rock and guiding compass was his wife, Dolores. With time they were joined in the business by two of their sons. John, a structural engineer, looks after quality control and Frank Jnr, is contract manager, overseeing the on site element of the business.
As big as KSSL might be, it remains very much a family business and several of the employees have been with the Kiernan family for most of the 25 years. Said Frank; “We have a good team. We’re very near the top but we want to stay there. We all know what happened to Man Utd. Our employees are the best that you could get . From A to Z and from the factory floor to the office, they are the best out there and I could not ask for any better.”
The 25 years weren’t without sadness however and in a landmark year for the business, Frank also felt it was appropriate to remember those no longer with him. Several staff members and relations or close friends of staff have gone on to their eternal reward and Frank wanted to remember them all. He mentioned his late brother-in-law, Val Treacy; Michael Kiernan of the Forge Bar, Killoe; Sean Brady from Drumlish ; Kevin Gallagher from Granard and Joe Mimnagh from Longford town.
Many helped the Kiernan family and KSSL along the way. They got good advice from their accountants, Kinnears in Mullingar, whilst he also singled out the steel suppliers who had the foresight and confidence to invest in him and Dolores and extend their credit terms when the business might otherwise have gone under. He said; “There were Friday evenings and you simply didn’t know where the money to pay the wages was going to come from. But thankfully they had the courage to support us and also the banks. They believed in us and lent the money when it was needed.”
The GAA has played a huge part in the lives of all the Kiernan family and they remain Longford and Killoe stalwarts. “The GAA has always been a very big part of our lives and it always will be,” Frank stated. “The GAA is a huge part of life in rural Ireland and without it, rural Ireland would die.”
Frank Kiernan is a passionate Killoe man and he takes special satisfaction in the fact that he has managed to retain his business in his home parish. His good friend and Killoe clubman, Gerry Hagan, kindly took on the MC duties for the 25th anniversary celebrations, and it was Gerry who probably summed it up best when he said; “Success hasn’t happened by chance. The business has grown through the energy and integrity of Frank and Dolores. They didn’t move to a large urban area because the Kiernan family are all about the community. They are all about their own locality and the sense of community is borne out in the fact that more than 120 people are employed there today.”