THE Irish ambassador to the US, Daniel Mulhall, officially opened the new Spearline headquarters in Skibbereen last Friday.
The event was attended by over 200 guests and the technology company has announced ambitious growth which will see a doubling of its workforce, and some of the jobs to be located in the former De La Salle brothers secondary school.
Spearline is a technology company that monitors phone numbers for audio quality and connectivity globally. It is headquartered in Skibbereen and has offices in Waterford, Romania and India.
The Spearline platform enables enterprises and telecoms service providers to test connectivity and quality on global telecoms networks. Spearline has conducted millions of test calls worldwide and has global network coverage operating a 24-hour service, every day of the year.
Ambassador Mulhall said he applauded the company for this rapid growth and for its success in servicing clients all over the world from its base in West Cork.
‘It is an example of an innovative and dynamic Irish company with ambitious plans for the future. As ambassador, I have always made it a priority to support Irish companies in their export effort and wish Spearline well for the next phase of its development,’ he said.
Cllr Joe Carroll, deputising for Cork’s county mayor, said the building was steeped in history. ‘It has played a central role in this town of Skibbereen for more than 170 years,’ he said.
‘That such a personal link has been retained between the personnel of Spearline – many team members are past pupils – and the town of Skibbereen, is something very special. It is fitting that this building, which operated for so long as an educational facility, should now be used for technological advancements and innovation. It is encouraging to see Spearline’s successes as a major employer locally, nationally and internationally.’
Speaking at the event, co-founder and chief executive officer Kevin Buckley said the new building was opening following a multi-million euro investment.
‘This move allows us to stay true to our roots and create employment,’ he said.
‘By the end of 2020, we will have doubled our workforce with the creation of 75 additional jobs, half of which will be here in Skibbereen. We have plans to expand across the entire business – development, product, support, sales, marketing, customer engagement, operations, HR and finance. As our global customer base increases so, too, will our team.’
Speaking about its ongoing support of Spearline as it continues to expand, Enterprise Ireland’s southern director Martin Corkery said that, by cultivating its global footprint, Spearline is creating opportunities and regionally-based jobs.
‘This is a company with global ambition, working hard to expand in new markets and deliver success in business. We very much applaud the efforts of everyone involved in reaching this stage and in delivering additional employment to Skibbereen through the opening of Spearline’s headquarters,’ he said.
Terri Kearney, Skibbereen Heritage Centre manager and local historian, referred to the importance of restoring the 173-year-old building.
‘The old school building, now renovated and reborn as Spearline’s new premises, opened as a national school during the Great Famine where the children were fed, as well as educated. The building was later a base for other schools which taught diverse subjects including Greek, Latin, and art.
‘This old school building has been the scene of many dramatic events over its long history, including a riot during the Great Hunger in 1846 and a tragic accident in the early months of the Civil War in 1922,’ she pointed out.
In 2017, Spearline purchased its new headquarters in the former St Fachtna’s De La Salle secondary school building.
The property was owned by the diocese of Cork and Ross and comprises 1.25 acres and three buildings.
Mr Buckley is a past-pupil himself, as are many members of the Spearline team, and the main building of the old school is a landmark in Skibbereen, and full of history. It was opened as a school during the Great Irish Famine (1845-52).
For over 170 years the building remained an educational facility – until June 2016 when it closed its doors for the last time, following the building of the new Skibbereen Community School at Gortnaclohy in the town.
Earlier, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, who was in town to visit the nearby Ludgate digital hub, also paid a visit to the Spearline facility.
SKIBBEREEN Heritage Centre manager Terri Kearney said the historic building which could very well have ended in dereliction if Spearline hadn’t chosen to refurbish it.
The approval to build the former school was granted in July 1845 – just weeks before the outbreak of the Great Famine.
The then two-storey school took 6,600 cartloads of stone, and cost £1,400. A scheme run by the British Relief Association during the Famine saw huge numbers of children attending the school during the crisis.
The scheme gave every child attending school a ration of bread and soup, thereby ensuring their survival. By October 1847, some 1725 children were fed and educated in this Skibbereen school every day. That gave an average of over 430 children per room.
Ms Kearney explained how ‘only children with clean hands and combed hair could benefit’ from the scheme. As the main cause of death during the Famine was disease, with the human louse as the vector, this requirement for cleanliness probably saved many lives.
By January 1848, 12,000 children in the Skibbereen Union (stretching from Rosscarbery to the Mizen) were fed by the scheme, with a plan to increase it to 15,00 over the following months.
‘This scheme did, without doubt, save many children from death by starvation. The majority of deaths during the Famine were of the very old and very young so this cohort were particularly vulnerable,’ explained Ms Kearney.
However, a chilling report from 1849 said that the infant girls enrolled were half the numbers on the school’s roll in 1847. ‘What happened to them? We don’t know,’ she said. She also recalled the ‘Caheragh riot’ at the school in September 1846 when starving men came into the town looking for help.