Emigration has played its part in all corners of Ireland, and folklore and tales are found in abundance about the destiny of those who left our shores.
One such tale from Ringsend relates the story of Willie Egan, who migrated to England and then to Canada and found great success in Oshawa after being forced to leave because of poor work prospects.
Egan moved first to England, where he met his wife Joyce. After the arrival of children, together with their young family they moved to Toronto, Canada.There, Egan tried a variety of jobs, none of which suited him.
It was then that he took up work in Toronto port, where he worked as a longshoreman. He was accepted into the International Longshoremen’s Association, (ILA) when the St. Lawrence Seaway opened. In 1961 he was voted onto the Executive Board of the local 1842 ILA in Toronto, where he served as a senior board member and negotiator. In 1975, he was approached by the Hub Transportation Service, where he could operate a facility in Oshawa.
There was much local politics involved in setting up this operation. In this, he was partnered with Warren Fluelling, who convinced him to take the offer in Oshawa. Fluelling was a businessman and an old friend with whom he often socialised. He provided the outfacing part of the company such as sales and marketing while Egan organised the crews and dockyard.
In setting up his operation, he had to make peace with the Longshoremen’s Union (the ILA), which threatened to blacklist the fledgling port as they were non-union. In tough negotiations, he was able to secure a place for them in the union.
According to his daughter, “he hand-picked the crews from Toronto and Hamilton and filled the remainder from Oshawa.” It was hardy work on the docks as many in Ringsend know. She described how he found “tough men” who could work all hours in all weather.
Egan knew how to handle people and get the job done. He often mediated between the ILA and the company Under his stewardship, the port was modernised and became a significant point of access for importing steel and exporting raw sugar. His daughter said he never would have retired but for his wife’s declining health recently. He retired to care for her.
Now aged 82, he is reputed to have a fantastic sense of humour and is well-read and ambitious, according to his cousin Jody. His daughter feels that his upbringing in Ringsend and the time he spent on the docks here helped him learn his trade and prosper in Canada.
He is fond of Ringsend and thinks of it often. Sharon declares: “He’s a character. If you ever met him you would never forgot him. He is a real talker and negotiator. He has a wonderful sense of humour.”
By Kevin Mac Sharry