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James Joins Ireland skills squad on Abu Dhabi trip

James McSwiney posing with some of his efforts in the workshop.
This article originally appeared on ThisIsArdee.ie

Ardee native James McSwiney is preparing himself for 10 weeks of intensive training this summer as he prepares to represent Ireland at October’s World Skills Championships in Abu Dhabi.

The joinery apprentice was named National IrelandSkills joinery champion earlier this year, qualifying him for the international event where tradesmen from 50 countries will compete to win awards in their various fields. A 14-strong team of tradesmen from Ireland will fly out to the Middle East for the competition – and James will be flying the flag for Ardee.


It’s a competiton for trades – carpentry, joining, electrician, car maintenance,” he explained to ThisIsArdee.ie. “You get selected from college and if the lecturer thinks you’re good enough, he’ll put you through to it. For the preliminaries, there were 50 lads picked at first and then that was narrowed down to six. The six of us competed in the national final in Cork. I won that.”

James is an apprentice at IT Sligo and works for John Sisk & Son. The IrelandSkills National Competition has been going for 50 years and promotes the pursuit of excellence in tradesmanship and skill. The national finals involved a very high level of competition – so much so that James was forced into a playoff to qualifying for the Worlds.

“There was only two marks between myself and Paul Kearney who came second, which is nothing,” James explains. “We did a playoff in Sligo in the last few weeks and I won then to qualify to go to the World Skills in October. The fact there was only two marks between us meant there was a playoff.”

The WorldSkills competition in Abu Dhabi takes place between October 14th and October 19th but even though it’s three months away, the hard work has already started for the Ballapousta man. He will however have to make time for a special visit before he sets off.

“I have to start training now. I will train in Sligo for ten weeks before it and then go to Dublin to get fitted for suits and work gear and all that before we meet the President at Aras an Uachtarain.”

McSwiney’s effort will see him tackle two efforts in two days, each with an 11 hour clock ticking.

“You have two projects. One is a flat project, like a window. The next is a 3D model like a lectern or a fancy chair. Each one of those is 11 hours so that’s 22 hours in two days. You really haven’t time to scratch your head. The training I’m doing now is to get faster.

“In the playoff I did, we were given a previous World Skills project. It was meant to be done in 11 hours but they gave us 13 hours because we didn’t do the training for it. Even at 13 hours it was tight going, so I’m going to have to knock off two hours by the time I go.

I do this at work but it wouldn’t be to that detail or to the time. Work is more laid back, you have all week to do something like that. Work are giving me time to do it as well. In my own time, whenever I’m free, I’m practising and all that sort of stuff”, he continued.

“I’m looking forward to it. The training will be tough, 10 weeks. It’s just me and another lad. The college is closed for the summer so there’ll be none one else there.”

James (centre) pictured with Chairman of IrelandSkills John Twohig, IT Sligo’s Head of School of Engineering & Design Una Parsons, Dave Tracey of John Sisk & Son and mentor John Joe O’Reilly.

All the time alone, will mean James has plenty of time to further hone his skills and work on his time. He does say however that he’s looking forward to seeing the sights too, when he has some downtime.

“I was always on for going out and seeing what it was like so I’ll use this as a good chance to see what it’s like. I was on for trucking off for a year to Australia or Dubai so I’d like go go out and enjoy it,” he said. “We’re going out for 10 days. The competition is for four days so we have six days to acclimatize and go out and see places.

There’s 14 different tradesmen for Ireland going out and then experts or mentors and head coaches and backroom staff. There’ll be a good squad going out from Ireland,” he hopes.

Given his skill level and interest in what he’s doing, it still comes as a major surprise to James that he’s not this far. The encouragement he’s received from lecturers and mentor John Joe O’Reilly has helped him along the way

I didn’t expect it,” he admits. “I just kind of went along with it from the start. I was told that my preliminary round was one of the best so I took it on the chin then and I doubled down. I thought I have a good chance of this. Especially then when I won the National final, I said I’d give the playoff 100%.

“Work were good to me. A week before the playoff, they gave me the workshop and let me work away at my own stuff. I was doing practice pieces and they were supplying all of the timber and all the machines.”

He’s recently made a brief return to Ardee Community School where he gave a talk to students about taking a trade and getting an apprenticeship, Interestingly, James has followed vice principal Tony Corcoran’s footsteps with his achievement. The woodwork teacher won the national final many years ago.

One thing that James will sacrifice from now until his the end of October is turning out for Ardee Rugby Club. He’s decided to committ to his joinery training before making a return to the sport. For now, it’s workshop before pitch.

“I’ll not be playing now till October. I wouldn’t even chance playing. My mentor had a serious chat with me. I told I wouldn’t play until then. Although, with pre-season training, it might not be a bad thing at all!”

Find out more about the World Skills contest on the World Skills 2017 Abu Dhabi website.

James (bottom row, second from right) pictured with the other National Finalists at Cork IT.

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