For February’s ‘Home’ feature Donie Hegarty spoke to West Cork People about his life in the Building Trade.
Castlehaven native Donie Hegarty has been in the building trade for the last 50 years and the experienced builder, 66, has no plans on retiring any time soon. “My mother lived to the great age of 104,” he says with a twinkle in his eye, “so I could have a long while left in me yet.”
In the 1960s, Donie biked it into work in Skibbereen every day, perhaps a factor today in his good health and ability to work past retirement age. He also played with Castlehaven for a number of years and is still actively involved with the club today.
After a number of years training in the industry, in 1973 Donie set up his own company Donal Hegarty Construction Ltd.
The construction industry was booming at the time and being a self-employed builder didn’t leave much time for family and social life. Married to Nora, a Drinagh woman, in 1980, the couple had three children, one of who, Kieran, is now doing his training with FAS and working with Donie in the family business. “I worked six days and evenings for so many years that I didn’t see a lot of my children growing up,” says Donie, “which was the way for most builders and tradespeople in those days. You’re busy, under pressure and you have to deliver on a number of different jobs, so you just put the hours in.
“I didn’t have any employees, big borrowings or large equipment, so I was ok during a time that a lot of bigger builders went to the wall,” says Donie ‘it was just me and my van.”
Although he’s still on the building site, Donie takes things easier now. He doesn’t work evenings or weekends and enjoys being able to spend more time with his family and helping out at this local GAA club. “The work is a lot less labour-intensive today,” he explains “there’s an electric tool for everything!”
Over the past few years, Donie has been doing a lot of reconstruction and renovation work, which he finds very enjoyable and gets great satisfaction from.
He just finished rebuilding an old ruin owned by the Somerville family right at the waters’ edge in Castletownsend. “It was crumbling. Some of the old walls had to be taken away completely and rebuilt and new foundations put in. Although it’s not easy to cost work like that, its very interesting,” says Donie. “It’s really unfortunate that so many old houses are left go to ruin.”
Donie believes the most important in is his line of work is having a good relationship with the client. “I always take the time to clearly explain to them the different stages of the build and the cost involved if they make any changes to the plan at a later stage. Sometimes people get carried away and spend excessively, trying to compete with their peers. Look at the trouble Dermot Bannon runs into and he’s supposed to be qualified!”
Donie’s advice to anyone looking to hire a builder is to ask questions at the beginning. “You need to know they have insurance and that all the tradespeople working on the job have Safe Pass certification. You also need to know the timeframe and cost of the job and always sign a contract at the start. Although there shouldn’t be any extra cost if you don’t make changes, add an extra 10-15 percent to the budget to cover unforeseen circumstances.”
“Build within your means,” advises Donie. “Your kids will grow up and you’ll be left with a big house to heat. Today everyone wants their house 100 per cent complete before they move in. When I came back from my honeymoon I had no door hanging on the bedroom or any of the rooms!” he says smiling. “Save your money and finish your house when you can afford it.”
Donie explains that in a building project payments by the client are made in installments. “It’s usually between 5-10 per cent of cost at the start of a job; the next installment is at base foundation complete; then blockwork/timber frame to roof level; roof complete. After that it’s first fix (electrics, plumbing, door frames, windows fitted etc); second fix (all trades complete); and the final payment is made once the snag list is complete and all jobs are finished to your satisfaction. This may be up to 12 months after the job is finished.
“Do your planning and research at the start, take your time, get your house livable and if you don’t have the budget, do your finishes when you’re living in it, rather than over-extending yourself. You’ll see things a lot differently once you have a feel for the house,” advises Donie.
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