Joe Stagg
10.0015.00 Select options

Joe Stagg


Want unlimited access to the Irish Life and Lore Oral History Archive? Subscribe by purchasing Gold Subscription, Silver Subscription or Bronze Subscription!

Track 1: Joe Stagg joined Clondalkin Paper Mills in 1960 and remained there for 21 years. He had previously been a State Forester with the Department of Lands. His job at the mills was to look after the timber intake, and he explains that he had to monitor and debark the timber and also to purchase the timber from forests. Initially, he had been employed as a shop assistant and one of his colleagues had told him about the forestry school at Avondale, Co. Wicklow. Joe recalls the competitive nature of the entry process, with 15 places for 1,500 applicants in the 1950s. To gain experience, he worked as a juvenile forestry labourer at Mount Bellew, Co. Galway for a period. He explains in some detail how a plantation is set up, and says that the main species planted were Sika and Norway Spruce, species that produce the greatest volume of timber in the shortest space of time. Joe gives a brief history of forestry in Ireland and the effect of the industrial revolution and the requirements of the British Navy on Irish trees. He mentions the growth in reafforestation since 1900, at which time it was 2%, whereas today it is about 12%. He explains that hardwood forestry is used in Ireland as shelter and as fire belts. Track 2:At Clondalkin Paper Mills, he was working at marketing and tendering for timber. He was competing with five other mills, but Clondalkin Paper Mills was more particular about buying spruces as these were more suitable for making paper. He talks about forestry in Saggart and the continual expansion of land planted over time, and explains that the main operations were thinning and re-planting. Harvesting in his time was done with a chainsaw, with cutting done by the purchaser’s contractor. Now the timber is cut on site by the forestry owner. He recalls that the timber was transported from the forest to the factory, and discusses the equipment purchased for use in the paper mills yard. The importance of hydraulic mechanical lifting nowadays is mentioned. In the 1950s and 1960s, payment for the physical labour of the men was by the ton rather than by the week. When buying timber, Joe would examine the timber when it was standing, and if a residue of wood was ‘too good’ for making pulp, it would be sold on to a sawmill. He recalls that Charlie Tucker, the marketing manager in the department, would send him a list of timber which was for sale, and taking into account the quality of the timber and the distances involved, he would tender for various lots. He says that he would often set out of a day to spend £100,000, and he describes his relationship with Dr Cusack as good. Bowaters in Athy, Scarriff Chipboard and Waterford Chipboard were his main competitors as purchasers of timber. When he started at Clondalkin, he was purchasing 300-400 tons a week, and by the time he finished, he was purchasing about 2,000 tons a week, with a lot of timber being drawn from every county in Ireland except Donegal. Joe recalls the map of the country which hung on his office wall, showing the tonnage he had reserved, and he explains that the employment provided by forestry includes planting, harvesting and transport. Track 3: Joe recalls the effect of the 1966 strike. At that time, staff were allowed to pass a picket, however he says that he had very little to do during the nineteen weeks of strike action. The difficulties encountered at this time with guaranteeing the requirement for timber are discussed. The timber ideally could not remain in the yard longer than three weeks as the bark would dry into the timber and become more difficult to remove. The barking drum is described, and Joe explains that it worked best with fresh timber, and that sometimes, if the timber had got too dry it was sold for firewood. His difficulty was that the quantity of production from day-to-day was unknown. After the de-barking the grinder was used to reduce the timber into a porridge with added water. A sheet of pulp was then produced. Clondalkin Paper Mills produced mechanical rather than chemical pulp. Joe mentions that Mrs Thatcher decided that Irish pulp could not be imported into England, which marked the end of the Groundwood mills in Clondalkin, opened in 1956. Although machinery was imported from America which would pulp without labour, it used too much power which affected the local energy supply. A deal was done and the machinery was replaced, but by then the market was reduced and the ability to produce was low. Clondalkin imported the highest quality chemical pulp to make the finer papers, and Joe thinks that a factor in the UK was that a pulp mills had been opened in Scotland, which was also in recession. Joe was on the staff at Clondalkin, so he signed in at 9 a.m. and was not working on the shift system. He recalls his boss, the late Frank Fagan and the supply chain management, and relationships with contractors countrywide are described. He explains the process from the arrival of timber in the yard, and mentions the recognition he received for his work by means of a bonus. He has now set up a business in Palmerstown called Forest Harvest, which sells items made from timber, and he discusses his love of trees and timber. Track 4: The history of forestry in Ireland is examined, and Joe mentions his unpublished book Down in the Forest which is available in the UCD Forestry Department. He talks about his research and the changes in the use of timber over time. The effect of Ireland being declared an agricultural country by the EEC, and the resultant lack of growth in forestry is discussed. However, the structure has now changed and today 95% of what is planted each year is privately owned. The important contribution of Anglo-Irish landowners to the history of Irish forestry is mentioned. Joe now talks about his own family, explaining that his grandfather, George Stagg, came over to Ireland as a member of the British Army and remained when he retired to become a butler with the Routledge family in Cornfield, Co. Mayo. Joe remarks that George became ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves’. His father became a ganger with the County Council and was the father of thirteen children of whom Joe is the eldest. As he remarks, he had to jump many a hurdle in order to succeed.

Additional information



Audio series:

Clondalkin Paper Mills Collection


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

7.16 MB, 9.67 MB, 13.64 MB, 8.45 MB

Number of files:


Product ID:



The work of the forester

Recorded by:

Maurice O'Keeffe