Many years ago, my Dad handed me a copy of our family tree that he had painstakingly put together. Since then I have had an interest in Cork families. Cork has a long history of successful family businesses and being a small intimate city, it is relatively easy to make the connections between those businesses and their families.
Our family business, Dwyer & Co, was started by my great, great, grandfather James Dwyer, in 1820. It successfully passed through five generations of my family including my great grandfather Walter, my grandfather George, my father John, and my brother George until it sadly closed its door in the 1980’s. At one time, the company employed close to 2,000 people.
The Dwyer business name lives on however in the building that originally housed the business, opposite the Courthouse on Washington Street in Cork. Today Paul Montgomery runs a bar/restaurant in the red-bricked building. Paul tells me it is a great place for former employees to meet up over a coffee or a pint to talk about the old days.
A sister company founded by Billy Dwyer (my grandad George’s brother) called Sunbeam Wolsey employed a similar number of people. Sadly, that business, which lasted through three generations, is also gone.
My mum, Frances Daly, was the daughter of Francis J Daly – a Cork businessman. Her mum was Mary Josephine Harding, the granddaughter of John Francis Maguire who was four times Lord Mayor of Cork. In 1841, he also founded the Cork Examiner, now called the Irish Examiner…not sure that he would have approved of the name change!
Because of family connections, the first business premises of City Life (which I founded in 1971) was in a rented attic in a building owned by the legal firm of C.J. Daly & Co. I have watched with interest the extraordinary developments in the C.J. Daly & Co. business as it expanded over the subsequent 50 years or so. In addition, many of my cousins, nephews and other members of our family played a big part in the development of that small Cork legal firm into the largest legal firm in Cork, with substantial offices now also in Galway and Dublin.
Let me tell you a little of their story.
My mother Frances was the second eldest in her family. She was born in 1909. Her eldest brother, Neil Daly, was born in 1907. Neil qualified as a solicitor. He subsequently founded a Cork law firm called C.J. Daly & Co. Her younger brother, Teddy Daly, was born in 1910. He married Clare Egan of Egan’s Opticians (Lavitts Quay). My mum’s younger sister Rosemary, born in 1912, married Sammy Whitaker. My mother and her brothers and sister mentioned above all had future generations of their families involved in the development of C.J. Daly & Co, the firm now known as RDJ (Ronan Daly Jermyn).
My first job in 1969 was working for a few years as a financial advisor in a company owned by Pat Dineen. In March 1971, I made a decision to start up my own business and crossed the South Mall that morning in March to meet my cousin Frank Daly who was working at that time as a solicitor in C.J. Daly & Co on the South Mall.
The legal firm of C.J. Daly founded by my uncle Neil had their offices at 19 South Mall. Neil employed another solicitor, Maurice Ronayne, from Midleton and was subsequently joined by my cousin Frank Daly (eldest son of Teddy Daly). Frank served his apprenticeship with his uncle Neil. Sadly, not long after Frank joined that legal firm, his uncle Neil and Maurice Ronayne both died and Frank was left as the only surviving qualified solicitor in that practice and so took over the running of the business.
When I met with Frank that day in 1971, I told him that I was thinking of starting up my own business as a financial advisor and he asked me was I looking for an office. When I confirmed I was, he said, “follow me” and he showed me the attic of their building which they had recently renovated and which had a separate exit. The rent was reasonable and the attic had three rooms, which was perfect for what I needed to start. A deal was done.
As well as being a fine solicitor and a future president of The Law Society, Frank was also a bit of an entrepreneur (not surprising considering his family background). Frank is my first cousin.
No sooner did Frank take over the running of the legal business but he was talking to his next-door neighbour on the Mall, Eddie Hayes of Hayes & Co Sols, another legal firm. Before long, the company was trading as Daly Hayes & Co. Frank and Eddie enterprisingly knocked a hole in the wall so that the two companies could join up.
Next in line for Frank was the legal practice of John Ronan who had taken over the running of his legal practice from his Dad. John Ronan was a wonderful solicitor and a great friend both to me and my brother George. John served for a time as Chairman of George’s company, Eurostyle, which is now run by two of George’s sons, Alan and Peter. John Ronan was also chairman of Shield Life, now Zurich Life, and many other Irish companies.
So now the legal firm of Ronan Daly Hayes took shape and traded thus for a few years until communications started with one of the oldest legal firms in Cork known as Jermyn & Co. Frank was a born negotiator with high ambitions and John Jermyn agreed to merge his firm with Ronan Daly Hayes.
Ronan Daly Jermyn
It appears that the Hayes name disappeared around this time and the firm started to trade as Ronan Daly Jermyn in 1974 with Frank as the managing partner. Frank continued as managing partner until 1995 – so in many ways you could say that much of the early growth and certainly the consolidations and joining up of many of a few of the old Cork legal firms, took place under Frank Daly’s watch. Interestingly Frank’s younger brother Michael was the in-house accountant at RDJ for many years.
When Frank retired as managing partner in 1995, John Buckley took over the role as managing partner and continued the growth and progress at RDJ. John continued in this role until 2001. At that time, the company employed 50 people so the growth in numbers was substantial.
Immediately, subsequent to John Buckley’s tenure as managing partner, John Dwyer took the reins in 2001 and continued in that role for 11 years to 2012. John is a nephew of mine, being the son of my brother George, and so is closely related to Frank Daly also.
Under the management of John, the firm grew impressively from around 50 to 130 and, in 2008, RDJ approached the firm of Billy Glynn in Galway and subsequently merged with that company to form RDJ Galway.
John finished up in his role as managing partner in 2012 and handed the reins to Richard Martin. You might ask what family connection has Richard??
Richard is the son of Patrick and Margaret Martin. Sadly, his dad Patrick died earlier this year. Patrick had, in his earlier years, been a ships architect in Verholme Dockyard in Cobh. His Mum Margaret was born Margaret Whitaker, daughter to Sam and Rosemary Whitaker, who you will remember was my Mum’s younger sister Rosemary Daly and so the amazing connection between my family and RDJ continues.
Under the dynamic leadership of Richard, RDJ has continued to grow in numbers from around 130 in 2012 to the 260 or more that are currently employed (110 of these being qualified solicitors). In addition, in 2013 a substantial presence was established in Dublin so that RDJ are now a leading firm in Ireland. What is also interesting is that RDJ are the only top 10 Irish Law firm with its headquarters outside of Dublin…well I suppose that Cork is still known as the real capital in certain places!
As I write, RDJ continues under the guidance of Richard Martin with John Dwyer continuing to play an active role. Frank Daly has retired from the practice but the family influence remains strong. My uncle Neil, who was a lovely gentleman, would have been so pleased with the work that his one-time apprentice, his nephew Frank, has done in transforming over a 50 year period the very small Cork legal firm of C.J. Daly & Co into the major Irish legal firm that is RDJ today.
I hope you enjoy my little family story.
Ted Dwyer Family Business