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Home to the west

The Interview
Declan Foley

Into the west

Having successfully operated a business in Dublin, Declan Foley recently fulfilled his long-held ambition of returning home to the west

The Interview
Emer gallagher

SOME might be surprised to discover that the designer behind Carlsberg’s revolutionary tulip glass, launched onto the market in the early noughties, is a Mayo man. What some might find even more surprising is that he’s a clean-living Kiltimagh man who is rarely found in the pub.
Declan Foley has recently relocated from the bright lights of Dublin city to his home town of Kiltimagh and – as he announced to this reporter cheerily – he hasn’t looked back since.
The 33-year-old graphic designer began his career in the fast-paced industry in Dublin in the late nineties and worked through the brightest days of the Celtic Tiger when big budget advertising campaigns were the order of the day. Through working with many leading advertising and marketing agencies, Declan got the opportunity to work with the kind of big-name companies that others only dream from a distance –Cadbury’s, Coors Light, Budweiser, Aer Lingus and Tayto, to name but a few.
Watermark – a leading Dublin-based advertising agency – was where Declan got a foothold in the hugely competitive graphic design industry and it was there he created Carlsberg’s award-winning distinctive ‘tulip glass’.
“It was a brilliant plus at the time. It was very interesting because it was something I had never done before,” remarks Declan of his design, adding that the drinks giant is probably ‘a little bit cooler of a brand’ as a result.
“The fact that they are still using it in pubs and in advertising and pushing it very much is great. In terms of the design work I have done, it is still one of the best-known.”
“From Waterwark I went into Stratagem, which is one of the top five marketing agencies and I did a lot of work for Baileys and Smirnoff and did advertising campaigns for them. There was a great mix, doing anything from beer mats to advertisements for press. It was really interesting for me. It was also quite strange because I don’t really drink even though I have done a lot of alcohol campaigns,” said Declan. “I gained a huge amount of experience working with them.”
When the time felt right to go, he happily moved on, content with the experience and name recognition he had gained.
“I was in Stratagem for three years and then I felt like my design was going a bit stale and I decided to go freelancing. It was one of the best years – it was absolutely brilliant.
“Once you levitate yourself to those levels where you have worked with those high-profile clients a lot of those agencies will know you are capable of doing the job and dealing with clients directly.”
Declan studied Design Communications in Athlone Institute of Technology where he was awarded a distinction. “Forty-eight of us started the course, 18 left and three of us got distinctions. It was one of the better courses at the time and it still is. I have to admit it is not an easy course.”
Declan alludes to the huge costs and massive budgets involved in the advertising campaigns he worked on, although everything is and was accounted for, even with the Celtic Tiger at its height.
“In the last five or six years clients were getting very well aware of shopping around, whereas ten or eleven years ago the budget was much bigger. There are so many people out there now offering services,” says Declan, adding that the advancement of online stock photography has also led to changes within the industry.
Declan was always eager to set up his own business and when the opportunity arose after the agency he was working with went into liquidation he grasped the chance.
“I was upset for them [the company that went into liquidation] but I decided it was time to go out on my own and I haven’t really looked back since. It just seemed like the right time to move down and I just left like there was an opening for somebody like me.”
“The time I started freelancing was the time that Designwest would have been incepted, which would have been around 2005 and I would have been pushing trying to get my foot in the door down west since then.”
There are many reasons why Declan relocated his business to Kiltimagh, among them his five-year-old daughter. “My daughter is going to be starting school in September. It probably was one of the reasons [I moved] but as I say to people, and as the name suggests, I had always intended moving Designwest home.”
But one of the other significant contributory factors, which may not be as obvious to those deciding to ‘look west’, was Declan’s hobby.
“I am an absolutely fanatical fly fisherman and I would have probably spent 80 per cent of my weekends down here so it was always a rush down on a Friday, fishing on a Saturday and rushing back up on a Sunday,” laughs Declan, who enjoys salmon fishing on the world-famous River Moy in Ballina. “Fanatical probably doesn’t even cover it.”
And as well as being closer to his treasured lakes and rivers, the warmth of the people and the more secure and easygoing lifestyle have reinforced his belief that he made the right decision.
“I have had really positive feedback since I came back to Kiltimagh. People are obviously really delighted to see young people and a young family moving into the area, especially to Kiltimagh. It is always welcome to see businesses coming in rather than going out. It was a perfect solution.
“I do miss the buzz of the city. Dublin was very good to me and I cannot deny that.
But initially I am very happy. For my daughter it is a hundred times better. She is actually allowed out now, which is something you just couldn’t do in Dublin without travelling long distances to get her to a friend’s house. All of that stuff saves time. It takes five minutes to get to the creche in the morning compared to an hour and three quarters round trip in Dublin.”
Content with his lifestyle choice, he is now determined to work hard at making his business brand known, in order to make it a success in its new environment.
“My main aim now is to start broadening on what I already have and, while I would see Designwest as offering a service to entrepreneurs and small businesses, I would like to think that I could deal with some large, bigger returning companies. My aim is to put out some good design out there but my biggest problem is trying to get the word out there of what we do. My biggest barrier since I came to the west has been trying to get my name out there and keep it out there.
“I think a lot of companies – and even individuals – are realising that people are a lot more savvy in terms of design and they seem to know the difference now between stylish and not stylish, between something that’s done well and something that is not, from a van to a website.”
Declan is grateful for the success he has achieved to date and thankful to those who helped him on the way. He encourages all those who are eager to get into the industry to use whatever contacts they have. He may even be able to help them himself, as one of his aims is to set up workshops to help those who have an interest in graphic design.
“It is something I would love to develop – to educate people about what graphic design is. It is a very difficult business to crack and I think that most ‘creatives’ need to be a little bit mad. I don’t see myself as mad but you need to be a little bit ‘out there’ to be aware of things creatively.
“You are constantly under pressure to do things that haven’t been done before. The first thing a client always says is ‘give me a new idea that hasn’t been done before’. It is a very pressurised industry and deadlines can be really tight.”

Many more people looking west

THE benefits of living in the west of Ireland have been well-documented and, through campaigns such as ‘Look West’, those benefits have been highlighted by real people, like Declan.
The cost of living is an obvious factor for many who are opting to make the move.
Mortgages and childcare are cheaper in Mayo and the west of Ireland generally, while research has shown that food and drink are also cheaper here than in Dublin.
Salmon steak is 23 per cent cheaper in the west than in the east, while a 2.5kg bag of potatoes is over 12 per cent cheaper. Even the pint of stout costs nine per cent less in this part of the country.
It may not be something that you would think would draw a person down west but, apparently, the fact that a visit to the hairdresser can save you up to 41 per cent on the Dublin prices is taken into consideration when deciding on the big move.
The fact that house prices and the rental market is cheaper is also an obvious plus.
The Look West campaign has carried out detailed research which has found that people in the east are really looking west. It was found that 36 per cent of them would like to live in the west. These figures are even higher among people under 35 years.
Rural Resettlement Ireland is a voluntary organisation which assists families to relocate from Dublin to rural areas. Since its establishment in 1990 it has assisted over 600 families to relocate.