‘Ireland has changed so much’


A reflective Michael J Burke tells us why it’s still a wonderful life…

Michael J Burke of Burke West Limited, a company based near Tulsk that supplies every manner of lubricants and greases for the agricultural, automotive, commercial, construction, industrial and marine industries, is the very definition of an old school gentleman. I caught up with Michael earlier this week to chat about his business, family, Connemara Ponies, and of course, as it is Christmas week…how life, in general, is treating him.

  At 66 years young, Mr. Burke’s zest for life is so large he’ll be running rings around his younger staff members, whom he reckons “can operate it all without me,” when he’s well into his 80s.

  A devoted family man, Michael is clearly proud of his adult children and his beautiful wife.

  “I’ve got two children with my wife Geraldine. My daughter Bernadette is manager of the Roscommon Credit Union and my son Tommy Joe runs the stud. And there’s Bryan Maloney who runs the office and the garage and sure I’m always in and out,” he laughs.

  Michael is regarded as one of the best-known breeders of Connemara Ponies in the country; and, thanks to oversees interest in these beautiful creatures, the demand has never been greater; much to Michael’s delight.

  “I breed Dun Connemara Ponies; you have to breed them. This is what everybody wants. An old man told me years and years ago, if you want to make proper money you need to breed the Dun Connemara,” says Michael.

  “These ponies are for showjumping, not for pulling carts you understand,” explains Michael, adding: “I’ve got three stallions and two more coming on and I’ve got 42 mares covered for next year for foaling, so we’re all set.

  “They are a very docile animal. If you approach them they’ll come over to you and put their head across your shoulder. I got a lovely letter; it’s from a lady in Newcastle upon Tyne, (UK), she purchased an animal from me and she said she wanted to tell me about the sheer joy it has brought to her life. Now isn’t that a lovely letter to get on Christmas week,” revealed Michael, who was clearly delighted that someone took the time to put pen to paper.

  “It was great to get the letter you know, we’re living in an Ireland that has changed so much. Back in 1962 my dad died and mammy was left with six kids under the age of 12 and 12 acres of land and we were reared on a widow’s pension. It’s all changed now and the State is not taking care of the people like in olden times,” he says wistfully, before adding “people were so good to us (when his father died). There used to be a great community spirit but things are different now. All the characters are gone. The first man that landed when daddy died was Walter J Maguire from Strokestown. He was a county councillor and he helped mammy fill in her forms for her widow’s pension and he came back and he made sure her book was right,” says Michael with genuine gratitude in his voice.

  He also believes it was that same community spirit that helped him get established as the much-respected businessman he is today; fondly lamenting: “I got a grant to employ an apprentice for the garage, that was 50 years ago. You can’t get planning (permission) today…it’s all clipboards and yellow jackets and no-one is helping anyone anymore”.

  Looking ahead to Christmas, I asked Michael where he intended to spend the festivities and if there was anything he would particularly like to see gift-wrapped under the tree.

  “Kinnitty is where Christmas is for us. We go home; always did, ever since daddy died, and we have a fantastic Christmas. But I don’t want any presents, I have everything I want. I’m a very happy man; there’s nothing I don’t have!”

  We couldn’t let Michael get back to work without asking if he had any advice for up and coming Roscommon entrepreneurs in 2018!

  “Pay your bills and you’ll be grand. Everyone has two names…the one you’re born with and the one you make for yourself,” was his sage reply.

And, while gaining the respect of your peers is something which is vitally important in the business world, it’s clear that being honest, ethical, trustworthy and mindful of your employees and your community are definitely the type of qualities which have made Mr. Michael J Burke the ‘go to’ gentleman when it comes to doing business in County Roscommon.