Meet the Maker: Ger Buckley

What is a Master Cooper?

A Master Cooper is someone who has achieved the highest standard in his craft of coopering, the art of barrel making.

How long have you been doing what you do?

39 years this year (2015). It all started with a four-year apprenticeship before I even became a qualified cooper, but the skill has been in my blood for longer – I am the 5th generation cooper.

When did you have your eureka moment?

My eureka moment was inspired through my father who I watched and envied for many years practicing the art of coopering. It’s thanks to him that I got into the coopering trade.

What would you be doing if you weren’t being a cooper?

My great love in life is wood. I would definitely still be involved with it, either as furniture maker or wood turner.

Big up someone that you’ve met along the way?

A fellow senior Cooper I worked with; Donal O’Regan, taught me a lot about the craft of coopering, but also life lessons about my principles and values. Donal had 30 years’ experience with the company and always had a very positive outlook on life. He instilled in me the values of working honestly in repairing and in the making of casks to always achieve the highest standard of work possible.

One of my most treasured possessions was the hammer that Donal worked with his entire life, as did his father before him. Even after two generations of use, they never needed to change the handle. As a consequence, the handle has worn very thin from 75 years of use. The other important thing with the hammer is that there is no wear on the head of the tool, which meant that both generations had a perfect technique. When they used the hammer, they hit everything right in the middle, which in turn meant that no vibration went up the handle into their elbow or shoulder, resulting in no injuries from long term use.

Advice for other people looking to start their own thing?

Find a craft, a trade or a skill that you are in love with that you have passion and desire for. At the end of the day money isn’t everything.

If you had a super power what would it be?

Good question. One answer: Prediction!

What’s been your biggest achievement?

Finding contentment in both my personal and work life.

Who would play you in a movie?

I asked my colleagues for the answer to this one and they said Kevin Spacey.

Tell us something amazing about the industry?

We now have 1.2million casks on site here at the Midleton Distillery in Cork, all destined to end up in one of our blended or Single Pot Still Irish Whiskeys.

Do you have any quirky / OCD rituals?

When I demonstrate the art of coopering to a group, I always have to have my own tools, which have a deep history and have been passed down through many generations. I guard them with my life!

Other brands you respect?

I respect lots of other brands within the drinks industry, but I’d have to say Chivas Regal.

Worst day at the cooperage?

It would have to be returning to work in the Cooperage after my father passed away and using his tools.

Best day / achievement at the cooperage?

Bringing my apprentice in for his first days training in the Cooperage after not having a new apprentice on site for 38 years! I was the last apprentice through the door, so it is an honour to pass on my craft to the next generation.