Changing the landscape with Peter O’Brien & Sons

14 Oct , 2016  

For more than half a decade, Peter O’Brien & Sons (Landscaping) Ltd. have been embellishing the landscape in the greater Dublin area and beyond. We visited their Malahide base and met up with managing director Ciaran O’Brien to get an insight into this exceptional, award-winning, market-leading family operation.

Since its inception from humble origins more than half a century ago, Peter O’Brien & Sons (Landscaping) Ltd. has developed into Ireland’s premier landscape and sportsground contractor. Founded in 1963 as a small family-run gardening enterprise, the business has evolved organically to become the partner of choice of local authorities and main contractors – as well as individual clients – throughout the capital and oftentimes further afield.

No job is ever considered too large or too small, with an absolute adherence to excellence guaranteed from start to finish – and even afterwards in the shape of an outstanding maintenance service. Peter O’Brien & Sons (Landscaping) Ltd. is a progressive, pioneering, innovative company that moves with the times and continuously embraces new ideas, procedures, technology and equipment to ensure customers of optimal solutions.

As a member of the ALCI (Association of Landscape Contractors of Ireland), Peter O’Brien & Sons (Landscaping) Ltd. promote high standards in the landscaping industry. Over the years, they have received numerous awards in the demanding, specialist areas of landscaping and sportsground development, collecting the prestigious “Bog Oak Trophy” (All-Ireland Landscape Award) on more than one occasion as well as top prizes at the An Bord Bia Quality Awards and for Public Authority works.

World-class solutions are provided across the board and recognised accordingly. Reflecting on the genesis of one of Ireland’s largest landscaping and sportsground contractors, MD Ciaran O’Brien notes: “My father, Peter, started it off in 1963 and the business grew with the general economy of the time. There was a housing boom in the ‘sixties and he started doing private gardens and working with local builders around the Artane / Coolock area and in the suburbs of the city.

“He then worked with Dublin County Council and Dublin City Council and was involved in Ballymun flats in the ‘70s and Darndale after that. He did landscaping on schools and convents and just kept getting more and more work.”

Such was Peter’s dedication to quality work that the business took on a life of its own, to such an extent that full-time employment is currently generated for a team of 50! “He started in 1962 with a rotavator doing back gardens in the evenings after working all day. He went into it full-time the following year.”

It was back-breaking work and there was plenty of it. “It really was tough going in the early days,” Ciaran relates. “It was a six-days-a week job and he was putting in 60-80 hours every week just to keep things moving. He never said no to anybody and took on whatever work came his way. That’s a philosophy that we have tried to maintain as the business has grown. We’ve made ourselves available to everyone and that’s’ why we’ve held onto so many customers over the decades, including regular work with main contractors.

It’s very much a family affair (thereby guaranteeing a personal touch), with founder Peter – Ireland’s most experienced landscaping professional! – still keeping an eye on proceedings while his son Ciaran oversees the day-to-day running of the business. Ciaran’s brother Dermot looks after drainage, while Peter O’Toole is on hand as a long-serving company director. “Peter is a huge part of the business,” Ciaran points out. “I went to college with him and he spent some time in England before joining us 25 years ago.

Regarding the catchment area covered and the general nature of the work undertaken, Ciaran reveals: “We’re predominantly active in Dublin but we have worked all over Ireland, including Cork, Kilkenny, Carlow, Meath and Kildare. We mostly carry out commercial projects but we do some residential stuff – show houses etc. – as well as a lot of maintenance work.”

One of the projects being undertaken at the time of writing was the provision of new football pitches at St Michael’s College in Dublin 4. “In the 1970s, when all the new schools were being built to facilitate the new housing developments that were going up, we would have started putting in pitches in the schools and we have built on that tradition since,” comments Ciaran. “We’ve become specialists in that area and have worked on Lansdowne Road, where we did an upgrade, and Thomond Park, where we installed the current front and back pitches. We also did a lot of the initial pitch work in UCD and put in two new pitches in Grangegorman last year as well as a variety of pitches for Dublin County Council and Kildare County Council etc.”

Although the work is still predominantly labour-intensive, Ciaran concedes that the days when a man could turn up with a shovel over his shoulder to work on a garden or pitch are long gone (Peter O’Brien & Sons (Landscaping) Ltd. carries approximately €1.5m worth of plant)… “It’s getting close to being a science,” he concurs. “It’s more engineering now than simple landscaping. We use a lot of laser-guided machinery now to make sure that everything is as precise as it can possibly be.

“Maintenance contracts would account for a large percentage of our work and up to half our workforce are engaged in that. We do a large amount of general maintenance around the city as well as for Bray District Council, Dublin County Council, schools, colleges, industrial parks, Blanchardstown Shopping Centre and so on.

“We also specialise in rooftop gardens and construct a lot of new parks for Dublin City Council, including Fr Collins Park five year ago and Cardiff Bridge Park in Finglas three years ago.

“Every job has to be done to exact specification and there’s no job that we won’t do. We have never missed a deadline in the 53 years that the business has been trading and that’s a record we intend to preserve. Of course, we couldn’t do any of this without our staff and it is encouraging that once they come here they tend to stay for the long haul. Many of them have been with us for up to 40 years and we have a good working relationship with them, with regular in-house training and refresher courses taking place to keep everybody up to speed.”

Looking to the future, onwards and upwards is the aim for this superb family business: “Our goal is to increase turnover, increase profits, to remain competitive and to win more projects,” Ciaran concludes. “We’re currently increasing our turnover by 20% annually and we’d like to sustain that rate of growth.”

Peter O’Brien & Sons (Landscaping) Ltd.
Streamstown Wood,
County Dublin.
Tel: 01 8452555

[email protected]
Web: obrienlandscaping.com

Taken from Building Ireland magazine, July 2016, Vol 2, No 3