Wm. O’ Brien has been servicing the construction industry for over 70 years. However, the story begins long before that with William O’Brien Senior – a true entrepreneur – born to create opportunity wherever he went.
William had been at boarding school in Rockwell College and gave up at the age of just 15. He went to Dublin to visit his sister Kathleen where he spotted a shop selling hard boiled sweets. He was fascinated by the place and asked the owner would he show him how to make the sweets. The owner said if he would work for him for free for a week, that he would show him. After the week, William returned home and started making sweets in the spare room of his father’s shop in Glenflesk, Co Kerry.
The room he used was actually one that the travelling doctor rented from his father. He would use it just one day a week and the rest of the time it was idle. The night before the doctor would arrive, William would clean out the room and the doctor would have no clue that the room he was paying rent for 7 days a week was being used for sweet production! William then expanded to making rag dolls and would go to the marts and fairs around Kerry selling his produce.
When William was just 14, the priest in Glenflesk was moving to a new parish. William was tasked with driving him to Dingle in his father’s Model T truck. When William arrived in Dingle he realised that the price of onions were way cheaper there than in Glenflesk. Spotting the opportunity, he loaded the truck up with onions and by the time he got home he had all the onions sold!
His next big venture came in the form of mattresses. In those days people were getting rid of the mattresses stuffed with horse hair as foam was becoming popular. William turned the upstairs of the shed next to his dad’s shop into a factory. He hired a number of local women and bought sewing machines. He would take in people’s old mattresses, remove the horse hair and stuff them with the foam and sell them on. He would also recycle (not a term used back then!) the horse hair by selling it on to another company.