A Rossie through and through, Tommy Mulhern hails from near Kilmore, Athleague in West Co. Roscommon.
(Picture Credit - Galway Agri Videos)
It is here that Tommy helps run the family contracting enterprise, Mulhern Bros, a family-run business to the core.
“We have only a small bit of land, we are fully contracting.” said the Roscommon man.
The Mulhern family have dabbled in livestock in the past themselves, with Tommy’s father, Tom, having kept both sheep and cattle at one period of time.
“My father would have farmed a bit. We would only have a small amount of acre-age, but he would have kept sheep and cattle at one stage.”
Although the focus was temporarily shared with the family’s livestock, Tommy admits that “It was always contracting” for the Mulhern family and his father in particular. This is why Tommy’s father first made the leap into the industry over 56 years ago in 1963.
“It is a family affair.” Tommy laughed.
“It was my father that started it in 1963.” Contractor Tommy explained.
For his father, a career behind the wheel was always the dream and the Roscommon man subsequently left school at a very early age (13/14) to take on a role with a local contractor. It was only at the age of 19/20 when things really began to progress for the Athleague man and the business venture officially kicked off with the purchase of a Ford Dexter and a fertiliser shaker, though things quickly got busy and this subsequently led to the purchase of further machinery.
“He bought his first tractor, a Ford Dexter and a fertiliser shaker. He was probably only 19 or 20 when he bought his first tractor.” said Tommy.
“That went well for him and he moved up to a lime spreader after that.” He continued.
The lime spreading was yet another successful venture for Tommy’s father and after a few years, Tommy’s father and his then business partner added a Fordson Super Major tractor to their fleet.
“He spent the first two years loading that with two shovels, himself and another fella.” Tommy explained.
“After that, they bought a Super Major. They put a loader then on the Dexter for loading the lime”
After this first foray into the industry, Tom then spent a period contracting alongside his brother Paddy, starting off in pit silage with a precision chop mower. This marked the official founding of Mulhern Bro’s. It wasn’t to last forever, though, as Paddy had decided on a career as a mechanic, leaving Tom to officially branch out on his own.
“They were at silage for a good few years. They would have started off with the single chop and moved onto the double chop and into precision.” Tommy told Kevin of That’sFarming.
“Paddy went at mechanics then and Tom went contracting full-time on his own.” He adds.
(Tommy pictured with his brother Michael upon purchasing a Lely Tornado)
Tommy’s progression -
Like his father, Tommy himself soon developed a passion for contracting and anything machinery-orientated, as did his brother Michael. Tommy puts this grá down to the many times spent in the cab of a tractor alongside his father.
“Even when we were in school or during the summer, we were always stuck on a tractor somewhere.” Tommy said.
“We were never too far away from a tractor, myself and Michael.”
As is the norm within a contracting family, the first taste of action behind the wheel for the boys, came in their early teenage years. It was these early experiences that aided in the development of their now long-standing addiction to machinery and all things contracting related.
“As soon as we got the licences at 16, that was it we were hooked at that stage.” Tommy laughed.
Almost following his father’s path to a tee, following the completion of his Junior Certificate Tommy decided to abandon the books and make his return home on a full-time basis. He then happily took his place behind the wheel, operating one of the family’s recently purchased hedgecutters.
“I done the Junior Cert and I couldn’t wait for the Leaving Cert, I left school then and I started (contracting) then.” He stated.
“I started off hedge-cutting with my father and then a year and a half or two later, Michael followed us (home) as well.”
After making their return home, Tommy and his brother became increasingly involved in the running of Mulhern brothers and the pair of contractors have now been working alongside each other ever since.
“We kind of kept it going and from then on we got more and more involved.” The 35-year-old noted.
“We had the pit silage going, we had the baling going and we had the hedge-cutting going for the winter.”
Tommy has now been back home for what is almost twenty years and he truly wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“We love what we are at and we hope in the future that we can stay at it.” said Tommy.
“It’s a tough game to be in, but we still would like to build it up and keep it going if we can at all.” He adds.
(A picture from when the team helped clear local roads from snow)
What they do and the team involved -
Although two of eight children within the family, Tommy and his brother Michael remain the only siblings involved in the running of the business today.
“It was just myself and Mikey, the two of us that kept it going.” said the contractor.
A true “family affair”, Tommy admits that his mother (Margaret) and father have always had a heavy involvement since day one and concedes that he and his siblings wouldn’t have anything if it were not for the years of dedication by the pair. Such is their passion and dedication to the cause; Tommy’s mother still makes cups of tea and dinners for some of the many visitors to their house in Kilmore.
“Anyone that comes into the house, there is always a cup of tea and dinner there.” Tommy explains.
“We wouldn’t have anything without them at the heart of it.” He reiterated.
Tom only negated his role within the pit silage side of the enterprise just this season, though still retains a role of his own in the company he started over fifty years prior.
“He was in the harvester up until 2017, he is just not able for the hours anymore.” Tommy noted.
“He is still a big part of the team and we still need his advice…He’s the man…He’s a big help to the cause.”
The main hub of the Mulhern Bros team remains Tommy and his brother Michael. They are, however, helped out by a team of drivers who are taken on from April onwards.
“We would have a nice few lads in the summer when the baling starts.” Tommy explained to That’sFarming.
The team of Mulhern Bros Contractors focus their consolidated efforts on fertiliser spreading, lime spreading and baled silage services, while they also run three hedge-cutters to ensure they have a steady stream of work for winter months. This is why Tommy and Michael try to keep on 1-2 drivers as late into the season as possible.
“It is mainly hedge-cutting for the winter and we have a lot of lime going the last while as well.” Tommy told Kevin.
“We just said we would concentrate on the baling, the hedge-cutting, on the fertiliser and the lime. Keep it simple and keep it moving all year round” he added.
The offer the full baled silage service from start to finish, including mowing, raking, baling, wrapping, drawing bales and stacking. The team had previously offered pit silage services, though abandoned this venture in recent years, to focus solely on bales, a move Tommy says wouldn’t be possible without their loyal customer base.
“We had a good few customers that went with us from pit to bales…We have some good, loyal customers that way.” Tommy said.
“It was a great boost to us because we didn’t know if we did the right thing or not getting out of the pit, it was a big move after my father cutting silage for over 50 years.”
Another venture offered by the team is fencing services.
“We do a bit of fencing as well, just to kind of fill the gaps.” Tommy explained.
Generally, the team cover a 20-25mile radius from their base in Kilmore, also covering parts of Galway.
Currently within the Mulhern Bros fleet is a team of five tractors, comprising of Case, Claas and Valtra machines.
Tractors: Claas 640. Claas 640. Valtra T190. Valtra T150. Case IH MX 135.
Grass: Krone Big M. Claas 2600 rake. Lely Welger Tornado (2017). Lely Welger 245 baler. McHale wrapper 911B.
Other: Volvo L90 loading shovel (with post-driver for fencing). AgriSpread AS55 fertiliser and lime spreader. McConnell Hedgecutter 6500 with flail head (x2), McConnell 7700 with sawhead.
“We kept the Big M, we like it for mowing…We used to run 10ft mowers, but we are gone with a Big M now and we love it.” Tommy said to That’sFarming’s Kevin.
“In 2017, we purchased a Welger Tornado. We absolutely love that machine…We were one of the first ones in Roscommon to get one,” he added.
The family only recently purchased Claas tractors in recent years and have been mightily impressed thus far.
“We like them, they are going well for us.” said the contractor.
The future of Mulhern Bros -
Tommy and the team aim to keep their system as simple as possible over the coming years, as the Roscommon man admits sourcing drivers is starting to become a real problem for the industry.
“We said we are just going to keep it simple anymore because I think drivers are going to be the biggest problem in the next few years.” Tommy said to Kevin.
Content with their level of success in not only the past fifty years of business but also recent times, Tommy and Michael Mulhern aim to continue the work and change of system started just last year. They will continue doing what they do best, keeping their loyal customer base as happy as they possibly can.
“We are hoping the future is bright, we want to stay at what we are at.” Tommy noted.
One aim for 2019, is to see a gradual increase in bale drawing services provided, while Tommy also hopes to add yet another Lely Tornado to their fleet, so impressed he is by the most recent one purchased.
“We want to get into maybe drawing more bales.” Tommy said.
“I would like to get another Tornado maybe. You will never not need a wrapper, but I think the tornado way is the way to go.”
Always looking to improve, Tommy and the team will as always assess their fleet before any decisions on upgrades are made. The 35-year-old admits that tractor upgrades are likely at some stage, though nothing is planned as of yet.
“We will assess it as it comes and keep our eyes out for something new.” He noted.
For the love of Contracting -
Continuing what is now a legacy started half a century ago by his father, for Tommy and his brother Michael there was never any alternative career than one behind the wheel of a tractor.
“Once we were walking, we were sent off for a day in the tractor and we loved it.” The contractor explained to Kevin.
It is this pride in keeping the family name going and a true passion for not only the industry but also machinery that ensures Athleague man Tommy Mulhern retains a strong grá for the sector. To some, loving one’s job seems something of fiction, but to Tommy, it is most definitely a reality.
“We were always stuck behind the driver's seat and once we could get into the driver's seat, we never got out of it.” Tommy laughed.
“It is a pure love for it…It can be tough, tiring and there are unsociable hours, but if I wasn’t at it next year, I don’t know what I’d go at…You wouldn’t be at it, unless you had a fondness for it,” Tommy concluded.
Are you a contractor or working for a local contractor? If so, contact Kevin via email on firstname.lastname@example.org with a short bio and you could be featured next week!