Connecting HEAD + HEART + HANDS
Introduction – the early years
For those of you who don’t know me my name is Tom Roche. I was born in Chapel Street (and grew up in Clontarf Road), Tullamore, Co Offaly, Ireland. As a young boy I served an apprenticeship as a carpenter in a small family-run workshop in Market Square, Tullamore. It was a fascinating time for me. The workshop provided me with opportunities to engage with a very wide-ranging set of interrelated aspects of craftwork but in particular woodwork from cart and wheel making to joinery and furniture repairs. Also, during that era it was common practice to replace handles in shovels, forks and so on, rather that discard them.
The harvest time was a particularly busy time in the O’Connor workshop as farmers needed ‘grass boards’ for their mowing machines and ‘connecting rods’ for their combine harvesters.
While working for Barney O’Connor was a great learning time for me, I was unknowingly preparing for an adventure that has shaped my life ever since. I was always attracted to ‘far away places’. So after failing the Royal Air Force (RAF) entrance exam in Belfast I applied for a visa to travel to Australia (see my passport below). During the sixties the Australian government were looking for tradesmen-carpenters, plasterers, plumbers and so on. In 1967, just one month after my eighteenth birthday I landed in Melbourne, Australia – a recipient of the Australian government’s ‘Assisted Passage Scheme’ for the sum of 10 pounds.
Picture shows from left to right: My Mum (Bridget (nee Russell) native of Rhode) Deceased – my youngest brother Patsy (London) – my Dad “Jack” Deceased – yours truly (handsom, Huh!) – my sister Marie Donoghue (Allenwood, Co. Kildare) – my sister Nuala Howlett (Calgary, Canada) – my brother Bernard (Tullamore) Deceased – my brother Seán (Boston, USA) and my brother Jim (Boston, USA).
“My love and appreciation for my trade became my ‘passport’ to travel the world.”
I worked for:
- Kingfisher Shopfitters Pty in East Brunswick, Victoria
- Tehan Bros, Flowerdale Sheep Farm, Strathcreek, Victoria
Became a self-employed furniture-maker in 1975
During my time in The Tanyard I was also commissioned by the then National Training Authority (ANCO/FAS) to host a number of very talented furniture makers under the ‘Talented Young Entrants Scheme’. The purpose of the scheme was to afford young and talented students a ‘real life workshop experience’. My students included Niall O’Flynn of Fermoy, Co Cork and Knut Klimmek of Dublin.
Established Just Forests in 1989
Education on its own would not be enough there was also a need to develop corporate and civic policy. Campaigning and advocacy would also be critical to motivating public support.
I looked around to see what other groups were doing to tackle the illegal logging trade and I identified a number of European/international organisations that I approached and became their partner in Ireland.
policy & development
First FSC Contact Person
I was the first Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) endorsed Contact Person for the Republic of Ireland. As FSC Contact person I set about establishing and initiating the FSC process of responsible forest management by inviting all forestry stakeholders in Ireland to come together to develop forest management standards for the Republic of Ireland.
First Chain-of-Custody Auditor
After a number of years as FCS Contact Person I also took on the role of the first Chain-of-Custody (CoC) Timber Auditor for the SmartWood Program of New York-based Rainforest Alliance. During my time as CoC Auditor for Rainforest Alliance I carried out audits on numerous Irish timber companies claiming to sell FSC-certified timber and wood-based products.
Your new workshop initiative will very much be a natural extension of your lifelong contribution to the world’s trees and forests and the ethical and natural use of wood.
The knowledge, enthusiasm and dedication you have shown over many years to trees and timber and the commitment you brought to Just Forest’s many educational initiatives such as the Wood of Life Exhibitions and Thinking Trees reflects your ongoing passion for forests and the wood they produce.
This new venture is an ideal educational opportunity for training in woodworking skills, furniture making and restoration and related areas and I very much wish your initiative and the Rhode Workshop every success in the future.
Here’s to connecting Head, Heart and Hands through Timber. Donal Whelan
A new dawn – back to the bench
WOW, chapter 3 of my story is starting with a bang and a major fight ahead!
Just secured a contract from Concern Worldwide to design and build the Aengus & Jack Finucane Memorial Bench. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer project to start this phase of my life.
There is so much to tell about this project that I’m building a dedicated website so you can follow the progress.So, just click on this post for lots more information and hopefully you might get involved someway.
Also, I have to deal with PTSB’s attempt to take the roof from over my head…because, I might add, of their own irresponsibility and that of the Financial Services Sector here in Ireland…having worked all my life for justice and fair play for forest-dependant people around the world I now find myself looking for a just and fair resolution to my mortgage distress situation.
The Chinese craze for antique-style furniture has given rise to a multi-million dollar timber smuggling operation in Cambodia, and is driving rare trees to extinction.