Strabane Uilleann pipe maker Martin Gallen is a man at the top of his game.
The 43 year-old is currently contending for his 16th business award and has designed and made instruments for some of the biggest names in Irish music.
Yet just seven years ago, the former Building Engineer and Safety Consultant was wondering where his next pay cheque would come from as he received one job application rejection letter after another after work dried up in the construction industry.
It has been a remarkable turnaround for the current President of Strabane Chamber of Commerce but he hopes his success story in building his business Banba will help inspire other budding entrepreneurs in the Mourne Derg and Glenelly area to consider starting their own business.
“The recession finished me with the building industry,” he recalled. “When I started in that game everything was prosperous and there was plenty of work for everyone. Almost overnight I came from working on a £35M contract to having nothing, businesses left right and centre were going bust by the handful so I had no choice but to go self-employed but that gradually dried up as the construction industry floundered.”
“Eventually I was left with nothing and had to apply for numerous jobs in the most random fields, even for McDonalds, but these too proved fruitless. After about 100 rejections, I decided I had to take control of my own life. Around about this time I had started playing Uilleann Pipes and my interest in them was growing so I decided to try my hand at this.
Never Looked Back
“I started by teaching myself reed making and a few of our club members started buying them and recommending my work to others who bought more. Word of mouth spread like wildfire and I taught myself different aspects of pipe making and developed the business bit by bit and I’ve never looked back.”
Martin’s skilled craftsmanship in building, repairing and retuning instruments quickly earned him a reputation as one of the best in the business and he admits the biggest thrill so far has been working with some of his musical heroes including Paddy Keenan, Liam O Maonlai and Finbar Furey.
“Every week brings a new highlight it really has been a fantastic journey,” he continued. “I have received so much coverage in the media and I’ve had 15 awards for my work so far. The main highlight though has to be that I get to work with some of the musicians I have loved all my life and many of them I can now call friends.”
Martin’s role with the Strabane Chamber is to represent the business community’s interest in the town and also to promote entrepreneurship and he had a clear message for anyone considering setting up their own business locally.
Help & Advice
“Go for it,” he contended. “Don’t let anyone stop you or talk you down. It’s your move to make. People who say it can’t be done shouldn’t get in the way of those who are doing it. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, mistakes are the best way to learn a lesson. Try to do it without borrowing money as well, this just creates pressure for a business and if it fails you can be in trouble.
“I’ve built mine up from scratch and I still have no debt to anyone and that’s a fantastic feeling.”
For more details about how Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Business Support team can help existing, start up and prospective businesses go here.