TV man Vincent calls it a day after 45 years



I asked Vincent Beirne, Strokestown’s famous TV repair man, if he ever fell off a roof. Long before Digital TV, ‘health and safety’ regulations, and other such intruders on the way things used to be, there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of cold, wet evenings spent tiptoeing on roof slates at the patient, perilous work of erecting and fixing aerials. When our televisions were ‘down’, Vincent and his hardy team were up – on our roofs, at some risk, doing their thing.

  It turns out that, like Our Lord, Vincent fell three times. Ladders, roofs. The wonder is that I never fell on the same job. (I must declare an interest: I briefly worked for Vincent, over thirty years ago. It turned out that I was as unsuited to the role as Donald Trump would be to giving classes on modesty).

  Back to Vincent…having three mishaps while working on roofs is probably not a bad return after 45 years in the business. Perils of the job, those excursions on to roofs, not to mention all the wiring and electric work required inside the house. Those were the days. Now, having started out in 1974, Vincent Beirne is calling it a day.

  Vincent Beirne’s ‘TV shop’ in Elphin Street, Strokestown is one of those modest yet comforting landmark premises’, certainly for generations of families in the North Roscommon area. When I met my old boss during the summer, he was bashful about the building, muttering about it not looking too good. Not suitable for a photograph, he said with a grin. But Vincent was missing the point. The ‘Beirne Electric’ premises in Elphin Street is timeless; it has its own charisma, its own quaintness. It has character. It is in the present, but it also reminds us of the past, of simpler times.

  He was born in Elphin, a member of a well-known and respected local family. As a young lad, he headed off to Kevin Street in Dublin, where he learned his trade. After passing his exams, he set up business in Elphin Street, opening in November of 1974. (His brother, Padraig, would run Beirne Electric on a much bigger scale in Palmerstown, Dublin – at one stage they had four outlets). In Strokestown, Vincent hit the ground running. He was fixing televisions, erecting aerials, selling televisions and renting them too. In those days, many cash-strapped families – newly-weds too – opted to rent. “People had less money then” Vincent says. “Many local people would rent a TV out, it was a steady source of income for me”.

  In the early years, it was the era of black and white TVs. Televisions in those days were, says Vincent, “not very reliable”. He was constantly on call, and enjoyed being out and about. Driving around the county, tending to televisions, meant that Vincent became very well known. In turn, he became well acquainted with all the highways and byways, all the local families.

  At a certain point, people began to “throw out perfectly good TVs”. TVs became more modern, more sophisticated. Vincent adapted. Business was good. Change kept coming.

  “I saw video recorders come and go. Then TVs went digital. Electronics has changed everything. But we kept adapting”. He says Panasonic remains the make of television that he is fondest and most trusting of.

  A lot of hours and days and years were spent behind the desk in his shop, or further down the back, working away on half-stripped televisions. But a lot of time was spent on the road too. Being on the road was “grand” he says. “I used to love driving around. I met a lot of decent people”.

  In Vincent’s business, the call from the public could come at any time of the day on any day of the week. I ask him about Christmas Day, knowing well what his answer will be.    

  “Oh I often did work for people on Christmas Day, well, if they were friends, if I knew them. What could you do if you got the call? People don’t like to be without the telly on Christmas Day! Especially if there were kids in the house. The telly was very important. I’d set off with a tool box and a spare telly”. 

  A great asset to the Beirne Electric business was a contract Vincent secured with An Garda Síochána, maintaining their “radio communications’ masts”. Whenever there was a problem, Vincent had to respond straight away, and was happy to do so. “If they said be there at 9 am, I was there at 8.50 am”.

  He recalls a squad car arriving at his house one St. Stephen’s Day. The Gardai had been trying to get him on the phone, without success. An aerial in Letterkenny was hanging down, due to heavy snow. If it fell, it could cause serious harm. Vincent had to head for Letterkenny. No problem – “I was well paid!”

  He found ‘the system’ frustrating, with too much ‘red tape’ getting in his way when he tried to train young lads in. Still, when the business was at its peak, he was employing “six, seven, eight” people.

  In recent years, Vincent (now aged 66) has had some health issues. He has decided to call it a day, and looks back with fondness on the decades that flew by. “I made really good friends, loyal friends…and some enemies” he says, with a laugh. Customers were loyal. In some cases, as many as four generations of the one family kept coming back to Beirne Electric. Through it all, there was the love and support of his wife Geraldine and their sons Stephen, David and Kevin.

  Now, retirement. He will tend to his health, enjoy family time, do a bit of farming. Ironically, he was never that keen on watching television (“Well, I’d watch the News, and David Attenborough, and maybe cowboy films”). He “knows nothing about Netflix” he admits. 

  But he knows a lot about televisions. And now, Strokestown’s famous TV repair man has signalled ‘End of transmission’, bringing the curtain down on his career. He has happy memories of the shop in Elphin Street, of the highways and byways, the (TV) pictures and the people.

  And those three falls? “Yeah, I fell off three different roofs. The worst? I was aged 23. The roof was about 22 foot high. The ladder broke and I went down. The woman of the house arrived with a glass of water and the man of the house arrived with a glass of whiskey”.

  He took the whiskey and got back on the job – for another 43 years.