Billy Phelan
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Billy Phelan


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Track 1: Billy Phelan, one of five children, hails from Parkgate Street in the centre of Dublin city, and he travelled to work at the paper mills on the bus to Clondalkin. His father was a qualified psychiatric nurse who worked in Great Ormond Mental Hospital. Following the Leaving Certificate examination in 1950 Billy began his employment in the Standards Office at Clondalkin Paper Mills in November 1950. The Association of Industrial Consultants was engaged to run a time and motion study in order to implement optimum production at the mills. Billy was allocated to a particular section to conduct the study using a stopwatch to calculate the time taken to do a certain task. He explains that the aim was not to calculate the maximum but rather the optimum, with safety as a priority. Based on production rates from the daily worksheets, a bonus would be paid, and Billy recalls that the top bonus was 2/6d a day, quite a lot of money at that time. Track 2: He worked with six colleagues in the Standards Office who dealt with the various sections of the factory, and they shared a Friden calculating machine between them. This calculator was very large and heavy. Three women worked in the office, and because the calculator was so heavy one of the men would bring it to their desk when required. A slide rule was also used for calculations. Billy remembers that Mr Godfrey Casey was the boss and he also recalls Niall Gleeson, Jimmy Ross, Margaret Egan, Mary Hogan and Sheila Carroll. Hen he began, the Standards Office was completely new, and after a short period the office was located in what had been known as the Long Hall. The dress code was relatively formal with a tie and sports coat, but Billy recalls that after a visit to various parts of the mills there was no guarantee that his clothes would be clean going home! About three years later he was transferred to the reeler slitting department under Mr Tom Ging, and after a few months Billy was given a brown coat to wear in order to keep his jacket clean. He describes the introduction of a new German slitting machine in about 1953 and he explains how it worked. Billy was told to manage the introduction of the new machine and this involved learning the metric system and the conversion from imperial measurements. He explains in detail how it all worked. Track 3: Billy recalls that due to his particular job he visited all sections of the mills. He explains that when he started, there were 20 men per shift with 10 men on each paper making machine. The speed of the machine was taken into account as was the number of tons per day that it could produce. In the slitting department he was also a ‘progress chaser’. This job involved making sure that when the paper was slit, the smaller rolls would go to the appropriate department. In the 1960s, he was transferred to Production Planning which entailed fulfilling customer orders. His boss was Don Dardis. Billy talks about the pressure for orders to be fulfilled and explains that the mills were working seven days a week. He further explains that he always wanted to do whatever work needed to be done, even it meant suffering financial loss. In all, Billy spent 30 years working at the mills and he finished his career as the reeler house manager. His attitude towards meetings is described, and he talks about an occasion when the Canadians were in charge of the re-opened mills. He explains how the papermaking machine and the reeler interacted, and how work would pile up if any problems arose. Track 4: Billy talks about the last decade during which he worked at the mills. He asked for a transfer from the reeler house because he was less than happy there. His colleagues in the reeler house in the 1960s were Tommy Ging and Tommy O’Neill and Billy was left on his own, so in 1978 he requested a transfer, which was denied as nobody wanted to move into that position. In 1981 he was made redundant, but returned when the mills were restarted. At that point he went back into the Production Planning department and he recalls some people he worked with, particularly Paddy Grimes, Joe Warren, Joe Callaghan, Larry Behan, Jerry Lamb, Billy Skidmore and Ken Stynes. He remembers that there was great variety in his work which suited him well. Miss Cusack, sister of Managing Director Dr Cusack, who was in charge of the No. 3 machine, praised him for his memory.

Additional information



Audio series:

Clondalkin Paper Mills Collection


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

9.91 MB, 11.87 MB, 15.87 MB, 8.15 MB

Number of files:


Product ID:



The Standards Office, the Reeler Slitting Department and the Production Planning Department

Recorded by:

Maurice O’Keeffe