Last year, I was invited by Paddy Brazil and Finbarr O’Callaghan to Cork Golf Club to represent the Dwyer family and present the inter-firm trophy to the winning team. The reason for the invite was that the competition was in its 75th year and they wanted to celebrate its success over the years. I might say that Finbarr has been running the event for the last 25 years, aided by Paddy, so our thanks to them.
At the presentation last year, I said a few words about the said William Dwyer who originally presented the cup. Billy, it appears, was quite a character. I want to add at this point that I never knew Billy, I never met him so the stories about him are probably totally without foundation but I can only tell you what I heard. Billy died in 1951 when I was 5.
Billy was my Grandfather, George Dwyer’s, brother and by coincidence he married my Grandmother, Josephine Harding’s, sister Agnes Harding. Cork is a small place! Billy worked in the main Dwyer & Co firm in the building in Washington Street in Cork alongside his cousins and uncles. His grandfather, James, founded the company in 1820. Billy was obviously his own man – very far thinking and ambitious and so he decided that he wanted to start a knitwear division at Dwyer’s. However, his superior family members in the business ruled against him.
If they did Billy upped and left and bought the old Butter Exchange building that now houses the Firkin Crane Theatre just off Shandon Street. There, Billy founded a company called Sunbeam Wolsey in 1929. This company became incredibly successful over the years. As they grew in size they moved from the Firkin Crane building to a green field site in Blackpool where they at one time employed over 2,500 people, mostly women. Very important jobs for Cork back then.
1929 was a very important year for Billy and his wife Agnes. Billy founded Sunbeam that year and in the same year Agnes won the Irish Ladies Close Championship which was played that year at the wonderful golf course at Little Island in Cork.
The first story I remember about Billy was about the wonderful house he bought in Rushbrook near Cobh. I can remember visiting Agnes, who was a lovely lady, with my mother in the late 1950’s. It was a splendid house near Rushbrooke Tennis club overlooking the river. Anyway, the story goes that Billy was a bit of a ladies man – as they would say in Cork, a bit of a boyo! When he bought the house in Rushbrook and showed it to Agnes she said “this is a lovely home, we will be very happy here”. His reply was that he hoped she would be as he legged it back to the city to continue his dalliances.
The other interesting connection that my Dad mentioned to me was that when Cork Golf Club had a major fire in 1945, the year my Dad was captain, the clubhouse burned to the ground. The club didn’t have enough insurance cover and little reserves and basically were unable to rebuild it. Billy came to the rescue and got his own Sunbeam builders on site and basically used his own money to fund most of the rebuild. He told the club to pay him back whenever and my Dad always maintained that Billy was never repaid. Maybe the club might give me a free membership in lieu!
There are also a few religious stories that include Billy and his Dad, Walter. Walter had a daughter, a nun, in The Poor Claire Convent in Tournai in Belgium. As he was getting older he decided that he would like his daughter to be closer to him and so he approached the Bishop of Cork, Thomas O’Callaghan, with the request for his daughter to be transferred back to Cork. Now, apparently, like Billy, Walter was a generous man to the Catholic Church and the Bishop wasn’t going to dismiss his request out of hand. He apparently said to Walter that it was a great idea but the only problem was that there wasn’t a Poor Clare Convent in Cork. “No bother” said Walter “I’ll build one for you” and he found a site on the College Road, just past the Bon Secours Hospital, and build the Poor Clare Convent. That was in 1914 and Sister Maria did come back to Cork and lived there until she died in 1965. The convent is still there and if you are passing call in and pay it a visit. We used to go there for midnight mass on Christmas Eve so I got to meet her which was lovely.
The story told about Billy was the Church of the Assumption in Blackpool. In the same year that Cork Golf Club had its fire in 1945, Billy and his staff at Sunbeam totally funded the building of this magnificent church that features many works by the famous Cork Sculptor Seamus Murphy. The local people in Blackpool call a spade a spade. They decided that Billy’s very generous donation to the church was basically a bribe to God so that, when his time came, God would forgive him his occasional dalliance. As soon as the church was opened they immediately christened it ‘Billy’s Fire Escape’. Billy’s escape to heaven! Let’s hope it worked.
At last year’s presentation of The William Dwyer Trophy, when I said the few words about Billy, I suggested to the organisers that I would try to get a team of all Dwyer’s to take part in the qualifier at the wonderful Mahon Golf Club this year. We took part but didn’t qualify but to have 8 Dwyer family members on the team was a great feeling.
Ted Dwyer Family Business