FOUR decades of service to local government was honoured last Thursday night as chief executive Tom Barry bade farewell to his council career, seven years of which were spent in Carlow.
More than 230 guests filled the ballroom of the Seven Oaks Hotel, Carlow, including Tom’s wife Fiona and daughter Sinead, elected members past and present, minister Ann Phelan, deputy Pat Deering, County Carlow Chamber president John Brophy, Carlow Tourism CEO Eileen O’Rourke, chief executives from other counties, colleagues Tom had worked with in previous posts in Limerick and Tipperary, Carlow’s former county managers Tom Dowling and Joe Crocket, and the wider community of Carlow.
Guests were entertained on arrival in the foyer of the Seven Oaks by Carlow Youth Orchestra, under the baton of Majella Swan, then in the ballroom by Aspiro, under their musical director Mary Amond O’Brien.
Following dinner, a performance was given by Rí Rá, a group of talented young traditional players from south County Carlow, under their artistic director Ciaran Somers.
Speakers on the night were cathaoirleach of Carlow County Council Fergal Browne, Ger Deering on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Conn Murray on behalf of the City and County Managers’ Association, and Dan McInerney, acting chief executive, with director of service Bernie O’Brien as MC.
Tom began his career in local government 41 years ago in January 1974 in Dublin Corporation. As Tom progressed his career, he moved to Limerick County Council in 1983, then North Tipperary County Council in 1999, before taking up his appointment with Carlow County Council in January 2008, where he served as county manager/chief executive until his retirement last Tuesday.
Tom represented the council on many boards and committees during his seven-year term, including Carlow Tourism, Visual, the governing body of IT Carlow and the county enterprise board, now the local enterprise office.
Among the advances made in the county during Tom’s time at the helm were the opening of Visual, the €20 million Carlow Main Drainage and Flood Relief Scheme, various transportation projects, including the Carlow element of the M9, and a multi-million investment in social housing projects throughout the county.
Tom was described by colleagues as very much ‘a people person’, with an open-door policy and he has always been struck by the strong community and voluntary sector in the county, with which he has closely worked.
“Tonight, we are not only saying farewell to Tom as our chief executive but also as a colleague and friend,” said Dan McInerney.
“As our chief executive, Tom has proven to be a leader of the highest calibre. Previous speakers have referred to the many excellent projects that Tom has led the delivery of. In addition, Tom has that great ability to deliver change,” he said.
“Chief executives must have the ability to make tough decisions in order to deliver the change required, and Tom has that ability in bundles. My colleague Pat Delaney recently referred to the necessity for a chief executive to ‘be all things to all men’, and indeed that is an attribute of Tom’s, but it never diminished the fact that you always know where you stand with him,” said Mr McInerney.
Cathaoirleach Fergal Browne paid tribute to Tom for the immense contribution he has made, in particular to Carlow during the past seven years.
“He started here in January 2008 when the most sudden and severe recession in memory was to hit. Tom had to immediately oversee dramatic cuts in staffing levels, budgets and services. He did this with the calmness he has brought to all the issues with which he dealt,” said cathaoirleach Browne.
“I think his calm approach has underpinned his facilitation and mediation skills and engendered trust in those with whom he interacts, namely: council members, staff, other organisations and members of our community,” he added.
The night concluded with a gathering and sing-song in the hotel bar.