John O’Keeffe
10.0015.00 Select options

John O’Keeffe


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

Track 1: John O’Keeffe has lived in various areas of Dublin during his life, though he was born in the city centre. His father worked in Guinness’s until 1979. After leaving the British Army and through a connection of his father’s, John went for interview with Dr Cusack at Clondalkin Paper Mills. He started work there in November 1966, just after the sixteen-week strike. He explains that although his father had been a sergeant in the Irish Army he encouraged him to join the British Army. For personal reasons, he left the army after a three-year term and returned home to his wife Pauline McDonnell. When he started work at the mills he was a general labourer, and worked at the ‘wet end’ of the papermaking machine, work which he describes as tedious. Later, he was transferred to the slitter room to work on the reeler as second assistant, where his work involved loading the cores into the machine. After three years he was transferred to the Jagenberg reeler as first assistant. The man in charge of that machine was the late Kevin Costello whom John replaced when he fell ill. He then worked as reeler man/operator until the factory closed in 1982. He talks about the union he first joined, the Irish Bookbinders Trade Union and he recalls the national maintenance strike in 1969 which affected all workers. The strike pay he received at that time was lower than that paid out by the FWUI, he explains. After the strike ended, he joined the Federated Workers Union of Ireland and three months later he became shop steward, a position he maintained until the 1980s. The senior shop steward at the time was Gerry Courtney. The strike at the mills in 1966 (relating to the introduction of the four shift roster) is remembered, as is that of 1976, which lasted ten weeks and involved a point of principle. The cause of the 1976 strike and the people involved are recalled, and John explains how negotiations were managed by the union and the process of informing the workers about the situation. His work as a shop steward usually took place after his own shift and did not affect his work. John talks about his first impression of Dr Cusack and how he discovered that he was a fair man, though he did not suffer fools gladly. The 1970s negotiations were handled by the late Jim Kelly, the personnel manager, and John relates an anecdote relating to one meeting with Jim. He remembers the darkest moment as being when the workers voted to reject the offer by a show of hands in a meeting in 1982, which resulted in the closure of the mills. In his opinion it should have been a vote by secret ballot, though he says this might not have produced a different result. However, he remarks that when the mills reopened in 1984, the terms and conditions offered to workers were worse than before. John explains the circumstances of the 1982 workers’ meeting and he feels that the workers possibly did not believe that the mills would actually close. Track 2: John remarks that the closure in 1982 related to earnings rather than to a point of principle. In 1966 there were over 1,100 people working at the paper mills, and by 1982 about 600 people were employed. At the time of the 1984 reopening about 400 people were employed. In 1982, the mills were occupied and the liquidator, Mr Bernard Somers, was not allowed to remove anything from the premises, a situation which culminated in a hunger strike in 1984. John describes the various public relations activities engaged in by the committee in order to keep the profile of the mills in the media. At a meeting in the autumn 1983, it was proposed that to bring the situation to a head, a hunger strike would be started. Two men then went on hunger strike which lasted for 17 days and which generated some publicity. John recalls some of the people involved at the time. February 1984 brought a conviction for contempt of court and John discusses the deal done with the liquidator and the takeover by a Canadian company. He examines some photographs and names the men involved and he explains that redundancy was never the aim. He talks about the new company and the steps taken to start up the mills. After the negotiations were finished in 1984, John decided to look elsewhere for employment.

Additional information



Audio series:

Clondalkin Paper Mills Collection


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

9.71 MB, 13.13 MB, 11.63 MB

Number of files:


Product ID:



The trade union perspective

Recorded by:

Maurice O’Keeffe