Jim worked at Mosney in virtually every department between 1953 & 1969, ending up as Assistant General Manager. Thanks to Jim for agreeing to be interviewed and to share his memories and to Jane Leslie for carrying out and typing up the following transcript of the interview.
Jane: According to the history, Mosney opened officially in July 1948, now can you tell me what you remember about that time?
Jim: 1948 was the first year and one of the things I remember about the first year in Mosney was that Butlins didn’t have a licence, they didn't have a bar, and the holidaymakers used to go either to Laytown or to Julianstown nearby to drink and they went by bicycle. There was a huge bicycle store at that time in Mosney that had bicycles for hire and the campers went on the bicycles to the pub and one of the clearest memories I have is that when they came out of the pub, they were incapable of riding the bicycles back to the camp so that a lorry was sent to Staffords in Laytown and Staffords in Julianstown to collect them.
Jane: How many campers would the camp have held at that time?
Jim: Probably 3,500 but they were still building through 1949 and, at the end of the building it would have held approximately 4,500 and 1,200 staff.
Jane: Where did most of the campers come from in those early days?
Jim: In the late 40s and early 50s, most of the visitors came from Britain. They came by ferry and to Collinstown Airport, as Dublin Airport was known then, and they came on a week’s package holiday. Butlins Mosney I’d say were the first package tour operators in Ireland. They brought in about 70 – 80% of their customers from Great Britain and they used to shuttle-bus the people who arrived at the airport to Mosney on the Saturday and then back again at the end of their week and their flights were all special charter flights and they were co-ordinated so that the plane and the fleet of buses that brought the visitors out could then bring the newly arrived visitors in. Most of the visitors were families. There were a lot of people who came over primarily because there was no rationing in Ireland then and meat and all sorts of food were freely available which wasn't the case in Britain at that time.
Jane: It says on the Butlins-Memories website that the church in Mosney was built to placate the Catholic Church. You have a story about your local parish priest.
Jim: Yes indeed. In 1946 when the concept of a holiday camp was first mooted, there was very strong resistance at parochial level. I was actually in the church on the day that the parish priest, Father Johnston preached from the altar that Butlin's would be a den of iniquity and that nobody was to work in it. There was a very anti-Butlin feeling within the Catholic Church at that time and it was very aggressively expressed but my father who was the Garda (police) sergeant in Julianstown, the nearby village, had a particular view which he expressed very forcibly, that every one of the objector's children would eventually work in Mosney. And they did!
Jane: In the early days, there were no amusement/funfair rides or slot machines. Do you know why that was?
Jim: I don't think it was part of the ethos that Billy Butlin was trying to develop. He had a view of what family entertainment was and, bearing in mind that there was a huge programme of entertainment in Butlin's, that did not necessarily require the funfair rides or slot machines. It was later, as tastes changed and developed that they began to install these things.
Jane: Is it true that there were valuable pictures in the church. I read on the computer that one of the pictures there was The Last Supper by Bonifacio Veronese and it was sold for a lot of money by Phelim McCloskey who bought Mosney in the 1980s. Do you know if that is true?
Jim: I can confirm that the picture hung there in the porch and had for years and years. It was part of a job lot of pictures that Billy Butlin bought in some second-hand warehouse or some such place. I recall it clearly and I recall that when the church was being painted inside, the painters used to hose down the picture fterewards to remove the splashes of paint. I know that it was still there in 1969 when I left Mosney. I read subsequently that the picture was sold by Phelim McCloskey, who had bought over the camp from Ranks, for quite a lot of money, in spite of the gay abandon with which it was treated by the painters.
Jane: Can you give me a rundown of the departments you worked in from the time you started to work in Mosney in 1953?
Jim: When I started in 1953, having just completed my secondary education, and having just finished my Leaving Certificate, on the final day of which I swore that I would never write anything again, I arrived home to be told by my father that my application for a job at Butlin's had been successful and I was to start the next morning in the scrutineers' office, where the work was all writing! All the post came through that office. It was sorted, it was tabulated and it was sent to all the various offices, so I was writing nine hours a day. I was there for a year and then I went on what was a typical Butlin management course. I went through all the departments having been chosen as someone who might ultimately make management material. So I went through virtually every department with the exception of the entertainment department. I went through camp management, accommodation, stores, security, travel. In 1963, I was appointed personnel manager and in 1966, I became Deputy General Manager.
Jane: Who was your general manager at that time?
Jim: Desmond Scaife. He had been there since the early 50s. He replaced a Mr. Van Der Zee who was the Camp Controller as they were known at that time.
Jane: Had he been in the army?
Jim: Yes. Most of the management were and the camp was organised on an army system and virtually every head of department in a Butlin Holiday Camp was an ex-army officer. Desmond Scaife had been a major in the SAS and in fact had been parachuted into France six weeks before D-Day. He was virtually my mentor in Mosney over the years. He was a very good friend and he supported me right through the time I was there.
Jane: Other members of your family worked at Mosney as well didn’t they? Can you tell me what they did?
Jim: My sister, Maureen, worked in the sick bay for at least two seasons. My brother, Sean, worked there for at least fifteen years. My other three brothers, Tom, Mick and Paddy, all worked there in various capacities also and another sister worked in the sportswear department. There was only one member of our family who did not work there.
Jane: Your father, as the local Garda sergeant, had responsibility for the camp.
Jim: Yes, the camp fell within his police district and he had responsibility for the general policing structures but the policing of the actual camp itself was performed by Butlin's own security force which, when I was chief security officer, was twenty-six strong. That is as many police as you would have now in a town with a population of 10,000. There was quite a strong policing function within the camp itself which looked after the general day to day issues that arose but when a misdemeanour occurred that required police attention, my father would be called in.
Jane: What would you say the relationship was like between Mosney and what I would call the mainland camps in the UK? Was there much communication with them?
Jim: In the early years, no. There was very little communication with them other than that the records and monthly returns all went to the head office. There was no interchange of staff in the early years. I think the first interchange came in 1953/54 and then there was an interchange with camps like Ayr or Filey or Pwllheli.
Jane: What can you tell me about Mosney House before the estate was bought by Butlins?
Jim: Mosney House was part of the Ballygarth Estate. Ballygarth Castle, which was about two miles from Mosney House was the main residence of the original estate. Mosney House would have been the residence of the farm steward and he would have managed that particular farm. I recall that in 1944/45 when Butlins bought the land, Mosney House was occupied by a man named Johnny Oram whose father had been the steward so the same family had lived there since the 1800s maybe. So Ballygarth was the main house and the owner originally had probably owned the land for about ten miles around.
Jane: When you saw the completed Butlin Holiday Camp at Mosney in 1947/48, what was your initial reaction to it?
Jim: Butlins was an absolutely wonderful concept. It was something out of the imagination of Irish people at that time. It centralised holidays and it provided entertainment of a very high quality and it obviously provided huge employment to the local people in an era when employment was very scarce and the standard of living was very low. Butlins was a wonderland - the way it was laid out, the way it was managed, the way it way it was administered, was something that Irish people had not seen.
Jane: In a country that was all grey at that time, as I remember it, it was full of colour and flowers and beautiful things. I know it was all only temporary but it was just so beautiful.
Jim: Yes, and the entertainment – if you go back to the Ireland of the 1950s, Butlins had the best dance orchestra in the country, the best variety show in the country, the best entertainers and singers, and it was all inclusive in the price which at that time was probably around £6.00 a week and that included three meals, all your entertainment and your accommodation. It was a concept that became extremely popular and Irish people began to come in their numbers through the 1950s and 60s. There were people, regular campers who came year after year after year. There were bookmakers from Belfast, the Eastwood family, the Hannigan family from Dublin, Dr. Trevor Winkworth came every year from Mullingar. I could recall dozens and dozens of regular campers and they were people of substantial means who could have gone anywhere but chose Butlins. It was the introduction of cheap Sun holidays to Spain that began to erode the popularity of the holiday camp concept and numbers began to fall.
Jane: The indoor swimming pool was built in 1960 between the ballroom building and the outdoor pool. What do you remember about that?
Jim: I remember it was built in the winter. I was in management at that time. We started in September and it opened on 27th May and I recall that it was a bitterly cold winter that year and we were building through the night in dreadful frost and muck and all kinds of dreadful conditions and we were swinging in loads of concrete, lorry and all, coming in on a tower crane dropping it where we needed the concrete and then swinging the lorry back out again. We were roofing it in the frost which was against all the principles of building and we lost two Spanish roofers in the course of that, they were killed. It was opened by Eamonn Andrews and I recall that we worked right through the previous night to have the building ready for the opening and the opening was at 10.30 a.m. and Eamonn Andrews and I sat in a cleaner's cupboard drinking a bottle of Paddy whiskey at 10.20 a.m. that morning prior to the official opening.
Jane: Why did you leave Mosney Jim?
Jim: As I told you I became Deputy General Manager in 1966 and we had a huge programme of building at that time. It was very exciting but Butlin's did not pay very well and I recall coming down to the office at 8 p.m. one night and I picked up a newspaper which was opened at an advertisement for a General Manager with a company called Tramore Failte in County Waterford on the south-east coast of Ireland. I put the paper down and went home – I'd been away since 6 a.m. that morning and, when I went in, our son said "Daddy, sit down. We never see you." And I did sit down and that phrase sort of rankled with me for days and days so I went and got the advert and applied to Tramore Failte where I ultimately got the job and I left Mosney in 1969.
Jane: Did you miss it?
Jim: Oh yes. I did.
Jane: Do you still miss it?
Jim: I do. It was a great, great training ground. I applied a lot of the principles that I learned in Mosney to the property I managed in Tramore and a lot of them were very successful. Things like family entertainment on boating lakes and children's playgrounds. I knew how to develop them and I knew how to provide entertainment and recreation for families, all of it learned in Butlin's. And I have to go back to the programme that I was put through in Butlin's by Desmond Scaife who had a mantra that "any man can do anything." Now I didn't have any formal third-level education but, as part of that development programme, Scaife sent me to various management courses and he supported me right through the years that I was there. I was very sorry to leave Mosney but we had three children at the time and I was working all the hours that God gave but still I didn't have the money and I moved to Tramore Failte at exactly twice the salary.
Jane: I think that, reading what people have written on the website from all the other camps, it was this atmosphere of joy that everyone had when they were there. Working in the Mosney for so many years, would you have been aware of that?
Jim: Yes, I would and I would put it down to the staff and the team spirit among them. And if you recall the staff competitions, the redcoat show. Do you remember a Mike Tomkins?
Jane: Yes, indeed I do. Mike Newman was his stage name.
Jim: Well, Mike Tomkins did a one-man show in the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin (with a seating capacity of 2,000) and held the audience in the palm of his hand for an hour. He had been a redcoat and was paid £5.00 a week. That was the sort of talent that there was in the camp among the staff. The staff were all there with the different jobs but with the function of making the campers happy. It was a wonderland. You could never recreate that atmosphere – I didn't in Tramore despite the fact that I had a staff of 150. It just wasn’t possible. There was a work ethic in Butlin's, I think, because most of the staff lived in and they were a team whether on duty or off duty. There was a team spirit which was extremely difficult to replicate.
Jane: Jim thank you so much for sharing all those memories.
This photograph shows (from left to right), Desmond Scaife (General Manager, Butlin's Mosney), Jim Tuohy & Desmond Doyle (Company Secretary)