Milk­man Tom is the hero of the dawn

REPORTER DAVID MED­CALF SPOKE TO THE MAN WHO HAS BEEN DROP­PING DAIRY SUP­PLIES ON THE DOORSTEPS OF GREY­STONES AND DEL­GANY FOR 22 YEARS – A JOB THAT STARTED WITH OLD STYLE GLASS BOT­TLES AND NOW RE­LIES ON THE IN­TER­NET.

Bray People - - INTERVIEW -

TWO decades ago, Tom Quinn joined a pro­fes­sion which ap­peared to be slip­ping qui­etly to­wards obliv­ion.

Chang­ing so­cial pat­terns and tastes put door-to-door de­liv­ery of the morn­ing pints on the en­dan­gered species list.

Tom’s de­ci­sion to be­come a milk­man car­ried a risk but it was one that has paid off.

To­day he serves more cus­tomers than ever in a busi­ness that has em­braced the com­puter age.

The Rath­new man is a fa­mil­iar and re­spected fig­ure through­out the Grey­stones and Del­gany area. Now 55 years of age, he first came to gen­eral at­ten­tion as a sport­ing fig­ure of note on Gaelic and soc­cer fields.

His ca­reer with Rath­new Celtic, which ex­tended into the 1990s, earned him his share of cup medals and league ti­tles.

Off the pitch, he learned his trade to work as a butcher, though the in­door life did not suit him at all.

He found some greater mea­sure of freedom on the pay-roll of the Vita fac­tory in Wick­low.

Rather than re­main­ing at base, he pre­ferred to as­sist in the dis­patch of lorry-loads of ra­di­a­tors from the plant.

But Tom knew that the fac­tory life was not for him ei­ther and he was casting around for some other call­ing.

He still han­kered to be out in the fresh air, fol­low- ing his fa­ther and un­cles into land­scape gardening.

Lick­ing pri­vate gar­dens into shape cer­tainly of­fered plenty of the open air which he craved.

How­ever, it was very much a sea­sonal ac­tiv­ity, leav­ing the fa­ther of a young fam­ily idle too of­ten in the win­ter months.

The four months down time each year was a worry for a mar­ried man with four chil­dren and a mort­gage when an­other, stead­ier change of tack pre­sented it­self.

‘A mate of mine had a milk round and he was go­ing on hol­i­days,’ he re­calls.

‘He asked me to de­liver for a week, so I filled in and then I said to my­self “I like this”.’

The mate was Ken Vig­ors whom he knew through his as­so­ci­a­tion with Celtic’s ri­vals New­town Phoenix.

Be­fore too long, Ken agreed to sell up to his buddy from Rath­new, who is still on the beat 22 years later.

Back in 1994, the round was a Premier Dairies round, in com­pe­ti­tion with Golden Vale, Avon­more and Snowcream.

Back in 1994, house­hold­ers woke to the sound of clink­ing glass as their milk came to the doorstep in real bot­tles.

Nowa­days, all the var­i­ous brand names have been ab­sorbed into the dairy gi­ant which is Glan­bia.

And though glass bot­tles are mak­ing a nos­tal­gic come­back in some parts of the coun­try, they have long been his­tory for most.

‘ They did away with the bot­tles in the late 1990s,’

notes Tom who now han­dles car­tons only. ‘ The glass was more awk­ward for me but a lot of cus­tomers pre­ferred them, with the cream at the top.’

Life as a milk­man re­quired Tom to pro­vide his own Ford Tran­sit van spe­cially con­verted for the pur­pose.

He prided him­self on be­ing rea­son­ably fit, while tem­per­a­men­tally un­suited to sit­ting in the one place for six or seven hours at a stretch.

The new job suited him – and it still does, though it has al­tered over the years.

The round he took on had 300 houses on the books in Grey­stones and Del­gany, where he now ser­vices 550.

At the start, he would not be done un­til 9.30 a.m., a work prac­tice which proved in­creas­ingly out of tune with the life­styles of his cus­tomers.

The gath­er­ing pace of the Celtic Tiger meant that peo­ple were leav­ing for their places of em­ploy­ment ever ear­lier in the morn­ings.

The rising tide of pros­per­ity also had the effect of cre­at­ing more and more fam­i­lies with two earn­ers rather than just one.

Par­ents with steady jobs ap­pre­ci­ated their litre of low fat be­ing dropped off – but only if it was wait­ing for them at break­fast time.

‘ The job has be­come a night shift – I have to fin­ish by 6.30 or 7 at the lat­est,’ says Tom. ‘With par­ents go­ing to work, any later and the chances are that they are gone.’

So now he is on the road from 12.30 a.m. to 6.45 a.m, three morn­ings per week at­tend­ing to his scat­tered flock across the sub­urbs of the two towns on his round each Monday, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day.

Es­tates such as the large Eden Gate neigh­bour­hood in Del­gany make for handy de­liv­ery but many of the houses he vis­its are sin­gle prop­er­ties.

His body clock has adapted to the noc­tur­nal regime and he is able to en­joy the days off, giv­ing his dog plenty of long walks.

‘I have built the round up over the years and I still have 240 of the orig­i­nal cus­tomers, though some have died or moved on,’ he re­ports.

His house­hold­ers re­main loyal be­cause they ap­pre­ci­ate the ser­vice.

When re­ces­sion hit, he and his col­leagues feared that they would lose cus­tom but the burst­ing of the eco­nomic bub­ble ac­tu­ally had the op­po­site effect.

Tom Quinn won­ders whether fam­i­lies were wor­ried that if they popped out for their milk, they would end up spend­ing a for­tune on other things – bet­ter to have it dropped off in the mid­dle of the night.

One of the most im­por­tant as­pects of the en­ter­prise is the call to col­lect pay­ment or sim­ply check that ev­ery­thing is in or­der, be­cause main­tain­ing hu­man con­tact re­mains vi­tal even in this com­puter age.

The milk­man is part of the fab­ric of so­ci­ety: ‘It was on the wane in the nineties but it is com­ing back again now. I am 55 and I don’t ever re­mem­ber not hav­ing a milk­man here in Rath­new.

‘We had a Mis­ter Lam­bert from Aughrim. When he gave up, we had Seanie Byrne and a brother of his, New Byrne. Now it’s Pat Dunne.’

The call­ing is be­ing qui­etly rev­o­lu­tionised by upto-date com­mu­ni­ca­tions: ‘When I started, mo­bile phones were only start­ing. My first was as big as a litre of milk. Peo­ple left out a note when they wanted ex­tra but now it’s all emails and texts.’

The in­dus­try has de­vel­oped a na­tional web-site www.mymilk­man.ie with the slo­gan ‘Heroes of the Dawn’ which al­lows the pub­lic not only to find their lo­cal dairy de­liv­ery round but also to or­der and even pay for the ser­vice.

Tom prides him­self on know­ing his cus­tomers very well. He is some­times in­vited to at­tend fam­ily events such as wed­ding re­cep­tions or first Holy Com­mu­nion par­ties.

He hopes that the in­ter­net will not spell and end to all of that and he con­tin­ues to make his house calls to be a fa­mil­iar face.

Time that used to be spent on pa­per­work is now passed peer­ing at the screen of his trusty lap-top and he reck­ons the texts and emails make life eas­ier for him and for those who rely on him.

Whether re­spond­ing to an email or a hand­writ­ten note, Tom main­tains his out of hours pres­ence in the com­mu­nity of Del­gany/ Grey­stones.

He is mis­ter re­li­able, fail­ing to de­liver just once since 1994, stymied one mem­ora ble oc­ca­sion by the bliz­zard of 2010.

‘It was never go­ing to hap­pen that night! Tem­per­a­ture mi­nus 14 and the wind com­ing in off the sea.

‘I will never for­get it. You know you are in trou­ble when it’s warmer in the chill room than it is out­side.’

He has seen the area change, with Del­gany trans­formed from a vil­lage when no one wor­ried if you left your car in the mid­dle of the road to be­come a pop­u­lous dor­mi­tory town – and still an at­trac­tive place to live.

Grey­stones, al­ready ex­pand­ing when he first be­gan drop­ping off his pints, has been ex­pand­ing through­out, with Charles­land emerg­ing as a town in its own right.

He says his van is now run­ning at the full of his ca­pac­ity and he is en­joy­ing life.

‘I am in rea­son­ably good health and I have no plans to re­tire,’ he de­clares.

MY FIRST MO­BILE PHONE WAS AS BIG AS A LITRE OF MILK. THE PEO­PLE THEN LEFT OUT A NOTE WHEN THEY WANTED EX­TRA BUT NOW IT’S ALL EMAILS AND TEXTS

Tom Quinn from Rath­new on one of his fa­mil­iar milk rounds in Eden Gate, Del­gany.

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