Home Limerick People Interviews Fergal Deegan – the real Mayor of Limerick?

Fergal Deegan – the real Mayor of Limerick?

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In some circles Fergal Deegan has the nickname of ‘the real
Mayor of Limerick’. Anyone who knows him would certainly vouch for the fact
that, were he to run for local politics, he would be a shoe in.
Deegan is Limerick through and through. I first came across
Fergal during my time working at Limerick’s Live 95fm. I was always struck by
the fact that Fergal was rarely seen without a smile. He is and energetic, passionate
guy who is also driven by a deep spirituality and a desire to help others.
Born and raised in Limerick city centre Fergal was educated
at CBS Sexton St. He is honest about his lack of academic prowess. In his day
you had to achieve 5 honours and 5 passes in order to secure a Leaving Cert.
Fergal’s results didn’t make that grade.
It was the Limerick Leader that become the institution that
gave Deegan his true education. In fact, Fergal went straight out of school to
work in the Limerick Leader and ultimately spent 27 years working for the
Limerick institution.
The familiar smiling face of Fergal Deegan
“Brendan Halligan was editor at the time and Joe Gleeson was
Managing Director”, Fergal tells me. “I was going to the pictures with my wife
Phil one Saturday evening. Joe Gleeson came out of the front door of the
Limerick Leader offices and told me he had two vacancies – one in photographic
and one in sales. He had earmarked me for the sales role.
“My night at the pictures with the wife was ruined. I didn’t
think I was made for the role. I didn’t want to be seen as a beggar going in
and out of shops looking for money. I decided that night that I wasn’t going to
take the job. Sure enough when Monday morning came I went in and it all
started from there”.
Fergal describes his years in the Leader as akin to having a
second family.
“Over the years the team didn’t change much and it we all
grew up together in a sense behind the doors of the Leader”, he says.
“I struggled initially in the role. I used to go home crying
at night. My father gave me some advice suggesting that I do a sales feature on
our local parish. It wasn’t a bad idea. The following morning, I went into Joe
Donovan who was the sales manager at the time and told him I was going to do a
sales feature on St Joseph’s Parish”.
Fergal as a scout with St Joseph’s
It was this bit of entrepreneurial initiative that really
kickstarted Deegan’s successful career in sales. The paper ended up running a
32-page feature on all the local businesses in the parish. Because Fergal’s family
was well known everybody gave him a turn. It was such a huge success that the
Leader ended up going on to do similar supplements on other parishes across the
city.
“It was this experience that broke me in to meeting
people and building a solid and trusted clientele”, he remembers. “I remember
that Brendan Loughnane’s butchers on William St was the first successful ad I
sold for the Leader.
This was way before the era of computer design. I would
carry a book around that had examples of graphic design in it. I remember the
first thing we used in the ad was a picture of a lamb. It really was very basic
design at that time”.
Even though things have moved on, Fergal believes the
principle of newspaper sales is exactly the same. He is still a firm believer
in three principles of basic sales – meet, eye contact and get in the door.
“Too many people send emails these days and think they have
succeeded in making a sales call. Irish people by nature need face to face
contact. If you eyeball a potential client, you have created a situation where
they will think about it and the door will still be half ajar. Its then up to
you to sell after that”.
Fergal is the eldest in a family of four sons. All his brothers
worked in Dell at some time or another,
“Eoin still works for Dell”, Fergal tells me. “Declan is a
HR manager in Milford Hospice and Colm is working with CPL recruitment. Our
family has great links with Young Munster Rugby Club. We have been and still
are die hard supporters of the Cookies and have a long tradition with the club.
We had a granduncle and an uncle who served as President of Young Munster and I
was privileged to serve in the role myself in 2004”.
After the Limerick Leader Fergal went out to Ennis to work
for the Clare People. It was this experience that Fergal considers as another
of his great learning curves.
“After a long time at the Leader I was thrown into another
non-comfort zone. I didn’t know the patch and had to start all over again. It
was a fascinating year and a half. The paper was run by two businesspeople who
then ran into difficulty. We had to make cuts, downsize and so forth. It was a
really interesting time”.
In 2010 Fergal moved back into Limerick after a position
with Limerick’s Live 95fm. He acknowledges that moving from the world of print
to radio presents a whole new set of challenges.
“When I joined the radio station it was the year of an
election and I thought I would have bumper year getting plenty of sales from
the various political candidates. I quickly learned that they weren’t allow to
advertise so that scuppered my initial confidence.
Person of the month in 2013 was a proud achievement
There are so many rules and regulations with radio. With
outside broadcasts and special shows, you have to be so careful with what you
say. So really I had to begin learning a whole new trade”.
One of Fergal’s proudest achievements is the development of
the Living in a Window campaign with Live 95fm, saw two of the station’s DJs spending
95 hours literally living night and day in the window of Brown Thomas. This progressed
on to become the 95 Stop Tour and Fergal’s team are now well on the way to
hitting the half a million euro figure in fundraising raised over the last few
years.
Deegan is also well known for his involvement as a helper
with the Limerick Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes for the past 33 years.
“My younger brother was born with a hole in his heart”, he
tells me. “Again this was at a time before the evolution of technology so it
really was a big deal back then. He eventually required open heart surgery. My
father and mother were sent by friends along with Colm to Lourdes in the hope
that it would aid his recovery.
My father made a promise that should Colm get better we
would go back every year. Colm thankfully recovered and my dad kept that
promise. Every 20th June we would see him head off to Lourdes. 
When
the time came myself and my brother Declan decided to keep up the tradition and
have done for the past 33 years”.
Despite being well-known as a salesman Fergal had never
thought of raising money as part of his Lourdes trips. It was during a 2007
trip to Lourdes that he developed a notion to organise a cycle trip to Lourdes
the following year to raise money.
“I mentioned the idea to the director of the pilgrimage and
that night he announced it from the altar. Someone came up after that mass and
gave us a €50 donation so we knew at that point there was no turning back”, he
says.
2016 was Fergal and his team’s fourth year cycling to
Lourdes in the biannual event that he says has seen its final year. The trip
this year had an added bonus in that Keith Duffy, former Boyzone member, agreed
to take part in the entire trip.
“Keith’s trust has committed to helping the Cliona
Foundation which is one of the charities our cycle to Lourdes event raises
money for. Cliona was one of the young girls who would come to Lourdes with us
on pilgrimage and unfortunately she passed away a number of years ago after
suffering from a brain tumour”, Fergal says.
Keith Duffy’s support has been a real boost

“I met Keith at a Cliona fundraiser in Bulgaden Castle and
mentioned the cycle trip to him. Initially I asked him if he would launch our
event and he was happy to do so. He expressed some interest in taking part in a
section of the trip himself. Then I got a call to say that Keith had decided to
do the entire trip. I don’t think he fully understood the lunatics he was
getting involved with but I think he really enjoyed it!

Fergal’s family is quite a musical one. His brothers would
be well known as singers, drummers and guitarists with Fergal known as the man
you want at the piano after a party at 3am.  He has always been involved in events that
promote the city and was one of the team behind the successful Paddy Music Expo
which took place in Limerick. He believes that the May Bank Holiday is Limerick’s
weekend.
“We are blessed to have the Great Limerick Run and Riverfest
happening on that weekend. I think this year particularly showed great potential.
We need to expand the event into the city. Having the event based on the river
is fantastic but we also need to create a sense of a festival atmosphere right
into the heart of the city centre. If we can find a way of doing this well I
think we would have a winner on our hands”, he says.
Fergal believes that there is a fantastic sense of
positivity around Limerick at the moment.
“You only need to go into the various restaurants and bars
in the city to get that sense. I remember where the restaurant offer in
Limerick was extremely limited, so much so that you had to book or you hadn’t a
hope. Now we have every type of food you can imagine with new places opening up
all the time”.
“My only concern is on the retail side. From my perspective
as a guy who sells advertising I think the city needs to treat itself as a
shopping centre. If you look at the various shopping centres I would have as clients,
I am dealing with one customer and that is the shopping centre operator’s role.
They do the marketing on behalf of all the shops they have in their domain. We
really need to do something similar in Limerick”.
Deegan believes that we need to improve our retail mix and
to improve the general city centre shopping experience.
“If we could bottle the atmosphere seen in the Milk Market
on a Saturday morning and spread it further uptown we would have a city to beat
so many other cities in the country”, he says.

Fergal Deegan is one of those guys who has Limerick in his
heart. He is a guy who brightens up any room he enters. It’s no wonder his
sales career has been a success. Who knows, we may even see his face up a pole
during a local election in years to come!

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