My Story

June 2018: After almost 30 years of coordinating the work of Irish Woodworkers for Africa Ltd (T/A Just Forests) –  an Irish registered charity which I established in 1989, I have decided to return to the bench to use my skills as a furniture maker.

Connecting HEAD + HEART + HANDS

CHAPTER 1:
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 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. 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.

I worked for:

  • Kingfisher Shopfitters Pty in East Brunswick, Victoria
  • Tehan Bros, Flowerdale Sheep Farm, Strathcreek, Victoria
Left to Right:
1. Arrived in Australia – September 1967
2. Co-founder of the LEO Club in Coburg, Victoria
3. Receiving my Director’s Mandate – LEO Club – 1969
4. Non-profit certificate from Boston College – 2001

Became a self-employed furniture-maker in 1975

When I returned home to Tullamore after my adventures in Australia I  worked for a number of local employers including: Dunnes Workshop – Cappincur Joinery – James Spollen Builder – Liam Wyer Builder. However it was my time spent with well-known Tullamore furniture maker and restorer Billy Dann that gave me the confidence to establish my own business in 1974-1990 in ‘The Tanyard’, Tullamore making hand-crafted bespoke furniture.

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.

CHAPTER 2:
Established Just Forests in 1989

During the 1980’s I became acutely aware of the negative impact illegal logging was having on the world’s forests. As a furniture-maker I felt I had a responsibility to ensure the wood I was using in my work should come from responsible sources. Realizing the significance of the problem I was dealing with I set out to create public awareness and impress upon people the importance of making sure their timber needs comes from responsibly-managed forests. This ment that I had to develop personal skills that would empower people to act and solve the problem.

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

collaborated with a number of national forestry companies and international forest conservation organisations

development education

partnered with numerous irish development education association (idea) member organisations
 

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.

 

Tom, wishing you every success with your new workshop and woodworking venture in Rhode and your return to the workbench after founding and the many years you dedicated to developing Just Forests and its related initiatives highlighting the social, economic and environmental importance of the world’s forests.
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

Chairman, Irish Timber Growers Association

campaigning & advocacy

challenged numerous governmental and corporate bodies to adopt responsible timber specification & procurement policies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

 

CHAPTER 3:
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.

 

 

 

‘Shame, silence and stress’ revealed in CAN Report

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Raise the roof

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Protecting forests is key to conserve water resources, says expert

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Finucane Bench

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Tom receives volunteer award in Killarney

Image: All-Ireland winning Kerry minor football manager Peter Keane, guest of honour, Councillor Brendan Cronin, Cathaoirleach, Killarney Municipal District Area, and Eve Kelliher, Editor, Killarney Advertiser, with Tom Roche, volunteer,  at the Killarney Looking Good...

CONNECTING HEAD + HEART + HANDS