Industry accolades for UK’s greatest tunneller

Industry accolades UKs greatest tunneller joseph gallagher

Arranmore fisherman’s son honoured by peers in industry

One of the UK’s most successful tunnellers, Donegal man Josie Gallagher last week received one of the industry’s highest honours at a gathering of his industry peers.

Born in Arranmore, Co Donegal, the son of Ellen and fisherman Patrick Gallagher and one of ten children, Josie first worked in Scotland before arriving on the London tunnelling scene in 1965. From there he began his career on the then new Victoria Line and the New Cross tunnel.

These days his company is a significant player in tunnelling on three continents and his business encompasses Specialist Plant, NRC Plant, Iseki Micro-tunnelling and Johnson Trenchless Solutions. Last week the British Tunnelling Society (BTS) presented Josie with its Lifetime Achievement Award the James Clark Medal.


The James Clark Medal Award is named after James Clark who worked for Charles Brand and Sons on many well-known tunnels, and died in his early sixties. In 1981 his wife, James’s wife Madeline, bequeathed a sum of money to provide a medal to be awarded annually to a British Tunneller to perpetuate James’ memory.

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The criteria for the award are: contemporary achievement in tunnelling; innovation or responsibility for a large project; or a major contribution to the tunnelling industry. BTS Treasurer Ivor Thomas, presenting the award, said Josie – throughout his life as a tunneller and Chairman of Joseph Gallagher Limited – easily fulfilled all those criteria.

In an extensive tribute Mr Thomas said: “For most of us in the room Josie has touched our careers somewhere in our working lives – as his business Joseph Gallaher Limited is involved in so many tunnelling contracts in the UK and overseas.

“So perhaps it’s better to look at some of the small stories surrounding Josie’s career in tunnelling.

“After a spell in Scotland, Josie first arrived on the London tunnelling scene in 1965. London was a very different place then. From those early days Josie developed a relationship with Roscommon man Tim Kilroe, who gave you your first break as a foreman and using that as a spring board, worked for the big tunnelling companies of the time, Mowlem and Nuttall.

“Working with Mowlem on the Victoria Line and Nuttall on the New Cross experimental tunnel – the world’s first use of a bentonite slurry machine.

“In the summer of 1982, Josie set up Joseph Gallagher Limited. After a period of smaller jobs, it got its first big job working for Nuttall on the £11m Bank Station Project.

“From then onwards Joseph Gallagher was involved in nearly every major tunnelling contract.

“In the early ‘80s, Josie was involved in a rescue attempt by sinking a shaft on the Isle of Wight, becoming a TV star in the making with the likes of the BBC and ITV reporting daily on shaft production on the Six O’Clock news.

“In the 90s, Josie’s firm featured in a special edition of the reader’s digest on the Jubilee Line and the Irish Tunnel Tigers.

“A young Irish miner interviewed at the time said his family at home had no concern for his welfare as he was one of Josie’s men.

Industry accolades UKs greatest tunneller joseph gallagher

“At about that time, Mowlem were engaged in a difficult piece of shaft sinking in Cornwall and one Friday afternoon the shaft flooded – why always on a Friday afternoon. Throwing in the towel, the contractor’s agent put a call into Joseph Gallagher to come down and help.

Just the Handshake

“On arrival into his office on the Monday morning at 7 o’clock, the agent was met by Josie and a gang of men ready to sort the problem out, having driven down that morning from London towing a grout pan and other necessary small tools.

“No contract, no price, just the handshake.

“Josie was true to his word; the problem was resolved in quick time. In negotiations with the miners, the agent did agree to pay the miners’ hotel bill but, fortunately for Mowlem, declined to meet their bar bill.”

“Josie’s reputation for fair play and business conducted on the shake of a hand remains as strong now as it ever has.

“In awarding the medal the committee felt that not only were we acknowledging the enormous contribution that you Josie have made to the tunnelling business but also providing a token of the contribution that the people of the West Coast of Ireland have made.”

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