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Danny Boland in the local cemetery Kilballyowen, where his father is buried, outside his home village of Cross in West Clare. Photograph by John Kelly

From crippling debt to near death, Danny’s days were never dull

Ennis College Further Education

From Cross village to Texas for gruelling US Navy training; from running festivals to nearly drowning in debt; from earthquakes in Manila to almost dying in Mondello, Danny Boland has experienced many highs and lows which he shares with Dan Danaher.

WHEN he was working on major construction projects all over the world, Danny Boland always gave thanks for the training he received in Ardnacrusha Power Station.

“It was the greatest training anyone could ever have,” says Danny, “It was unbelievable. I would not have been able to work on any of these projects without the ESB. The training and skills I learned in Ardnacrusha made all these jobs so easy.

“If I ever ran into a problem on a job, I can pick up the phone and get advice from one of the ESB fitters or electricians I worked with.”

“We were trained to weld, operate lathes, maintenance work, construction work, piping. I learned about five different trades in the one trade. I worked with great characters and craftsmen – Mick Burns, Gerry Cowhey, Bill Casey, Sean Treacy – they came into work every day in shirts, ties and Crombie coats.

“They looked like doctors. They took savage pride in their work. You wouldn’t be let near a lathe for about two years until the lads were sure you could use it,” he recalls.

That training stood him in good stead and has seen him travel the globe for a variety of jobs, though sometimes he got more than he bargained for.

Like On January 14, 2020, when he flew to the Philippines for a job as a construction manager at the JC Summit Refinery Expansion; that same day the Taal Volcano erupted.

“When I went to Manila there was four or five inches of ash on the ground from the volcano that was 150 miles away. About one million people were evacuated at the time. I worked about 25 kilometres away from the volcano on the downwind side so we didn’t get any of the sulphur or the smells.

“I went into a hotel for one night in Batangas. At about 1am in the morning I woke up and everything was shaking in the room. It was like someone kicked the bed. There was an earthquake.”

I didn’t know what to do. I was on the third floor. I thought the roof was going to come in on top of me. I got up and went out of the hotel,” he recalled.

When Covid-19 hit in March 2020, he was advised by friends to leave so he flew from Manila, which was like a “ghost town” at the time to Abu Dhabi and then got another flight to Dublin.

The father-of-four got a phone call to work as a mechanical QA/SC lead at a Liquid Natural Gas Plant in Louisiana Texas and jumped at the opportunity. What was supposed to be a six-week post was extended until 18 months.

After taking redundancy from Moneypoint in December 2012, he spent months landscaping the back garden for his father, Danny Senior, who was very sick at the time.

A month after taking up a new job as a mechanical superintendent in Saudi Arabia, he was called home to be with his father who died two days following his return.

When his contract ended in Saudi Arabia, he worked for one year as a block commission superintendent for the $4.5 billion Ecopetrol Oil Refinery in Colombia overseeing 687 employees.

In 2016, he worked as a mechanical construction manager for a West Pharma pharmaceutical plant in Waterford.

A successful interview resulted in two years working as a senior completions and Commissioning QA/QC Mechanical Lead for BP Natural Gas Plant in Baku, Azerbaijan.

His partner for the last 16 years, Marianne Hackney used to visit him in Colombia where he worked for three months before he would get 15 days off.

In 2019, he worked for ten months as Mechanical QA/QC lead for BAM at Google PPK2 Data Centre Extension, Profile Park, Dublin.

During this time, he got very sick and had to spend ten weeks in University Hospital Limerick including twelve days in ICU.

When the data centre extension was completed he worked on the MSD Pharmaceutical Expansion Project, Swords as Mechanical QA/QC Construction/Completions Lead.

Born in Chicago, Danny came back to Cross village when he was six months old. After living in a few different houses in the village, his father bought a dwelling where McCarthy’s is now located and ran a shop for a long period until he opened a bar in the seventies.

Even though Danny applied to get a job as an electrician with the ESB, he was asked to become a fitter during a subsequent interview with the company.

On September 9, 1980, his father, Danny Senior dropped him to the door of Ardnacrusha Power Station where he was met by mechanical supervisor, Jim Collins.

The 17 year-old left Fourth Year in Kilkee Community College to start his four-year apprenticeship as a mechanical apprentice, fitter and turner.

“I didn’t even know what a fitter was but I didn’t care once I got out of school. Two or three weeks of the apprenticeship programme had commenced when I started.

“I stayed in a house in Limerick. My bed and breakfast was 32 pounds and I was earning 29 pounds, so my parents helped me out a lot down through the years.

“There was about 70 apprentices in Ireland at the time including 25 mechanical and 25 electrical apprentices.”

He stayed in digs at the back of Ivan’s shop with a Ms O’Halloran from where his friend Gerry Cowhey gave him a lift in his car to and from work every day.

Three months of every year was spent learning his craft in college, with stints in Ringsend Training Centre, a welding school near Poolbeg and a training centres working on lathes and milling machines.

Exams were completed for senior and juniors trades in Bolton Street, Dublin.

While he was in Dublin, he took up a second job working in a bar near Portobello Bridge a few nights a week. His digs were paid so his wages and pub work totaled 60 Irish pounds a week, which was a lot of money in the eighties.

This helped him to purchase a motorbike during his second year in the capital.

While some part-time welding proved lucrative, he joked that he drank some of his additional earnings.

John Quinlan, Ennis, was his room mate during their apprenticeship and they have still remained good friends.

During his apprenticeship, he was sent to work at Miltown Malbay Power Station and a similar station in Connemara.

Once he returned to Ardnacrusha, his friend Joseph Hassett helped him to get a part-time job in South’s Bar in Limerick City.

In September 1984, he left Ardnacrusha and completed a six-month advanced machinery operator course in Anco, Shannon.

While passing the American Embassy in Dublin around November 1984, he saw a man standing outside in a stunning US Marine uniform and thought how great it would be to parade in that.
Having been born in America, Danny was eligible to join and on May 14, 1985, he went to the American Embassy in London and signed up for the US Navy.

The following day marked his start at the US Navy Boot Camp, Great Lake, Illinois. From there to Naval Air Station, Millington, Tennessee for school to train as a jet engine mechanic.

The 22-year-old got a “rude awakening” when he arrived at a boot camp in Chicago.

“I was there for about three months doing boot camp physical training. The trainers used to scream and roar at you. No matter how fast you ran, they roared even louder.

“We had to get up at 5 am when lads would come in screaming, knocking at lockers and kicking beds. No matter how fast you got out of bed, it wasn’t fast enough. It was constant seven days a week. Military training breaks you down to breaking point. Some lads can’t cope with it. We started out with 130 trainees but 50 didn’t graduate for medical other reasons. It was tough. When they said jump, you said how high.”

“I asked myself why I signed up, but I stuck at it. It taught me respect and discipline and I loved it actually.”

After graduating in ‘A” school, he was sent to Naval Air Station Kingsville Texas in December 1985 where he worked until his return to Ireland in May 1989.

With the benefit of a mechanical trade, he completed exams in a navy school after about ten days training, which normally took others up to six weeks.

“People went into classes and did some practical work. When a person felt they were ready to take the test, they took the test. I had a trade before I went in to the school. Most of the guys didn’t know what a hammer or a vice grips was.

“I went through the school in ten days. It took most people six weeks. After completing the course, there was a letter sent to my parents. One line in the letter read ‘it is men like your son that makes the United States Navy what it is today. When my father read it he turned to my mother and said ‘Jesus, they are not talking about Danny, are they?”

“When I was growing up, I was a bit of a wild child and caused my parents grief they didn’t need. It might be normal today, but it wasn’t normal at the time.

“My parents were publicans and were in the public eye so anything I did would reflect on them. I had a motorbike and they didn’t like the motorbike with good reason.”

In the training base, he worked dismantling and repairing engines from aeroplanes. After a certain period of time, pieces of engines had to be replaced, regardless of whether or not they were worn.

Engines would be tested on a rack to ensure they were in full working order before they would be reinserted into the plane.

At one stage, he planned to join the navy seals and trained very hard seven days a week for a whole year. Having passed a rigorous physical test, he participated in another test in a hyperbaric chamber but failed it. Only 1% fail this test.

“I have a problem with my ear when I am flying on a plane.

“I was dropped 120 feet down in a hyperbaric chamber and held for about 60 seconds. Then you are brought up to 60 feet and held for about 30 minutes.

“I couldn’t equalise as fast as they were diving. I busted my ear drum because I didn’t stop them in time. I trained so hard, I wanted to pass this test.

“I was swimming a mile a day, I was running five miles a day and lifting weights for an hour a day. I was devastated, but looking back I was lucky because if I went into the navy seals, I could have died.”

In May 1989, Danny returned to West Clare where his friends John Bonfil and Peadar Garvey got work for him in Moneypoint Power Station during an overhaul.

While he had planned to return to Chicago, he decided to stay as Cross was a much safer place to raise his children.

His training and experience in Ardnacrusha helped him to get a permanent job in June 1989 as a mechanical fitter in Moneypoint where he remained until December 2012.

Most of the workforce was young at the time and they enjoyed activities such as playing soccer at lunchtime.

“I worked with the greatest bunch of guys in Moneypoint. It was a real family. I enjoyed every minute of it. I sat at the same table for breakfast and dinner for 23 years with a group of lads Billy Roche, Wexford, Chris Creevy, Dublin, Gerry Duddy Mayo, John Bonfil, Kilbaha, Peader Garvey, Newtown, Carrigaholt, Paddy Flanagan, Belaha, John Quinlan, Barefield and Michael McMahon, Kilrush. We had a lotto group going called the “9 F’s” for fitters.”

In 1991, he purchased a house across from the family pub for £31,000. Two years later, he bought the family pub from his parents for a small sum of money before turning it into a restaurant in 1995.

He believes Moneypoint Power Station is still needed today to provide electricity for people and shouldn’t be shut down.

“Ireland’s contribution to greenhouse gases from power stations is very small at a global level. There are hundreds of coal burning power stations in China and India. Gas can be cleaned. The only way forward is nuclear power, it is the cleanest and safest form of energy.”

He started the mini-Feile music concert on the August Bank Holiday weekend in 1995 and held it again in 1996, and it went well both years.

Inclement rain in 1997 and 1998 proved to be a big damper as he had a lot of additional food purchased, booked and paid for bands.

In 1999, he decided to organise a major concert for August, which resulted in huge cost to pay for marquees, well-known bands, tents, containers, fire brigade,

Both sides of Cross village were cordoned off with a six-foot high fence. A camping area was also provided.

Danny outside the local Naomh Eoin GAA grounds at his home village of Cross.

Having secured planning permission to cater for 7,500 patrons, all he needed was 4,500 people to break even.

However, only 500 music fans turned up leaving him with financial losses totalling €228,000.

Very few people knew the concert was taking place, despite his best efforts erecting posters around the country and working on plans and preparation for almost a year.

“In hindsight, the August Bank Holiday weekend was the wrong time. People who go for a break go to the same location for about 30 years.

“I was about ten years too early. There were no satellite concerts at the time. If I got bands like Aslan and Picture House today for a concert, I would probably get 4,500.

“A lot of people couldn’t get tickets unless they had a record store in their locality. There was no facility where people could buy tickets online at the time.

“A major promoter who had a share in a national radio station stopped us from getting advertising and effectively blocked me.”

Relatives and friends did a lot of work without payment getting the field ready. A lot of people didn’t look for payment or just looked for their costs.

“Some people halved their bill. The people who had the most money came down on me the hardest. The people who had very little said give me what you have when you can. I sold my bar licence in 2004. All that concert debt is now cleared. My friend Joe Hassett helped me out financially and I built seven houses in the village, which helped me to pay my debts.”

The following weekend he organised a motorbike rally that attracted 1,500 bikers. He ran this bike rally every year until 2004 when it ended due to insurance premiums that spiralled from €350 to €13,500.

In 2000, he got planning permission for a 52,000-capacity concert in Cross village for June 23, but was blocked again by a major promoter who made it impossible for him to run it.

His biggest regret is his daughters, Ashley, Christine, Danielle and Megan suffered a lot due to the long hours he was forced to work to try and pay his debts.

“I worked hard and was away from home a lot when my children were younger. I had two to three ventures on the go most times and my biggest regret is the time I lost with my children when they were young, I wasn’t there for them when they needed me most, but didn’t realise it at the time. It is now years later that I see the damage that this did.

“When I got up they were sleeping and when I went to bed they were sleeping. I am suffering for that today with huge regret and, if I could go back to change anything, it would be that. To make sure I gave them the time that I should have, which I didn’t. I lost out on a lot but at the time I didn’t see it. I was looking 30 years down the road and forgot about the present.”

Sponsored by the Celtic Motorcycle Company Dublin, Danny competed in a race in 1998, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

On Sunday, May 13, 2001, however he was involved in a major accident during a race in Mondello Park. He had 38 breaks in his chest, punctured both his lungs, shattered his ankle and had contusions to his liver, kidneys and spleen. He went into cardiac arrest twice in Naas hospital and twice more on the way to St James hospital that night.

He spent 17 days on a life support machine and had to learn to walk and swallow again. At one stage he was given the last rites and wasn’t supposed to survive. He was out of work until Christmas 2000.

Knowing he was in huge debt, 20 of his work colleagues put money into a fund for him every week to help him pay the bills. While Danny didn’t want to take it, he had no option as he had to pay bank loans.

“It was unbelievable, they helped me through a very bad stage in my life,” he recalled.

Regardless of what part of the world Danny is working in over the coming years, he will never forget his happy memories of working in Ardnacrusha and Moneypoint Power Stations.

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