Providing the groundwork

4 Apr , 2018  

Groundworks constitute a vital part of any construction project and Cork-based Coom Construction Ltd. is one of Munster’s more experienced groundworks and site excavating contractors, currently deployed with PJ Hegarty & Sons on the capping and transformation of Haulbowline Island. We travelled to Bantry and met founder & director, Denis O’Brien, to learn more about the company.

Denis O’Brien is an experienced and a hard-working man with an on the ground approach. He’s been working for himself for almost three decades, since he was 19, and has painstakingly developed Coom Construction Ltd. – which he established in 2005 – into one of the South’s leading groundworks specialists.

Over the years, Coom Construction has become a go-to subcontractor of PJ Hegarty & Sons, securing a steady flow of repeat business on the back of providing quality workmanship using a fleet of modern plant & machinery, experienced operators & safe team management. It was no surprise when Denis was appointed to do the groundworks for the remedial work on nine hectares of reclaimed land at Haulbowline Island.

Due for completion in December, 2018, this landmark project comprises the design and build of the remediation and capping of the former Haulbowline East Tip site including metal recovery, perimeter engineered structure, slag processing, site re-profiling, capping and landscaping.

The new public green space will include playing pitches, walking / jogging circuit, picnic areas, viewing points and a car park. “We completed site inductions in mid-September to start site set-up,” Denis told Building Ireland. “It’s going to be a twelve-month contract for us and we’re doing all the groundworks, muck shifting, levelling of clay, etc. They’re capping it and covering the landfill. This involves levelling at various points re- shaping, provision for drainage & services, capping it and covering it with clay. When it’s finished, it’s going to be a fantastic job and hugely beneficial to the local community and Cork as a whole. Cobh is a very scenic area and we’re looking forward to being able to look across at what will be a transformation”

The objective of the Haulbowline Project is to address the legacy associated with the disposal of steelwork waste on a sand spit in Cork Harbour over a 40-year period through the remediation of the site and the creation of a public recreational amenity for the beneficial use of local communities. The transformation of Haulbowline Island into a public park is a prestigious, once-in-a-lifetime project and Denis is delighted to be associated with something so important on his own doorstep.

“Coom currently employs 35 men directly and at present and eight of them are working on site there,” he continues. “I’m hands-on myself but also have four excellent foremen who keep a close eye on everything and ensure that every project is progressing as it should be. As well as managing the business, I enjoy the hands-on approach myself and I would regularly get involved in the groundworks on most, if not all of our current sites. Machine maintenance and regular inspections are a core of any modern groundworks company as well as managing the plant on each site, hence Denis can often be found with a spanner in hand or shifting a machine in the evening from one site to the next. My wife, Breda, is a director in the business and has been a great support to me over the years as well as raising our two boys and two girls. It’s a family business and a team effort.”

Reflecting on the genesis of the company, Denis points out: “I started doing groundworks and one-off houses, sewer works and roadworks. I did a lot of work for Telecom Eireann in the early ‘90s up until the ‘noughties.”

Denis started out with a Komatsu 180-5 excavator, Hitachi EX30 mini digger, a six-tonne site dumper and a 3CX . “That’s all I could afford at the time and I’ve built it up gradually from there,” he says.

Today, Coom Construction runs some 50 pieces of plant, including 15 excavators from mini diggers up to 35 tonne, four of which have recently been purchased new – three Hyundai HX 220s and one Hyundai HX 330, bringing the total number of Hyundai to seven, which are complemented by other brands such as Neuson, Hitachi & Doosan.

“We dealt with Whelan Plant Sales in Clare, main Hyundai dealer, as there is a proven back up with them over the years. They have given Coom an excellent aftersales & support since we started in 05 and George Whelan is an absolute gentleman to deal with.”

Denis also operates four Volvo A25C dump trucks, a nine-tonne site dumper and six six-tonne site dumpers / swivel skips as well as an assortment of attachments such as demolition grabs, concrete pulverisers and crushing buckets. “We have three twin-drum vibrating rollers, seven rock breakers, a JCB telehandler, a 7.5-tonnne Iveco tipper and an Iveco low loader,” he continues. “In this game you must continually re invest in plant to ensure productivity & performance, safety & fuel efficiency.”

For fleet maintenance, Denis has his own fitter on board and also uses the services of a number of main dealers in his locality. “Here in Bantry I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by the likes of Cronin Commercials and John Wholihane of Mealagh Valley Diesel Services Ltd.,” notes the man who has been working almost exclusively for PJ Hegartys since 2008. “They’re a very good company to work with & to do work for. There is a wealth of construction knowledge and expertise within the company which comes to the fore on projects like this.”

Coom Construction have recently worked on the following completed projects with PJ Hegarty & Sons; Cork Prison (new section) & the new Glanbia milk processing plant in Belview, near Waterford City. Business has been very tough since 2009 but with strict management practices & long hours, Denis & his team have managed to grow the business through hard work, passion & commitment.

“We worked hard and we survived largely because we had built up very strong relationships with suppliers like Carbery Oils, Cronin Commercial & Repair Co. Ltd, Eamon Long & Co, Dave Power Plant Ltd, DBK Machinery Ltd, OK Tool Hire Ltd  and Mealagh Valley Diesel Services, all of whom looked after us,” the Cork man notes. “You have to keep working and stick with it. You have to be able to listen to the clients needs, requirements & requests while keeping a close eye on costs as well as productivity & safety.

“I’m a firm believer that you are only as good as your last job so we keep our standards high. I work hard and I have a genuine interest in and enthusiasm for the work, which also helps. Coom Construction has built its reputation on building good working relationships with the client & main contractor as well as being focused & up to date on plant maintenance, safety and paperwork. When you get the work, you must plan the job properly in conjunction with the other teams around you on the site, good communication is paramount.

Denis has also surrounded himself with a great team and reveals that they have been instrumental in the ongoing success of Coom Construction: “Ultimately, you are only as good as the men you have,” he concludes. “I have great men here, many of whom have worked with me since the start of Coom and before it – great drivers and men who roll up their sleeves and get the job done. My office manager & foremen are as interested in the job as I am and are they are good leaders and delegators … and sometimes peacemakers! It’s a lively and dynamic workplace but the atmosphere is always good I’m blessed to have a great team.”

Coom Construction Ltd.,

Coomleigh East,


County Cork.

Tel: 087-2232169

Taken from Building Ireland Magazine, December 2017, Vol 3 No 11