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Maxol – The History of an Irish Family Company

The book was published in 2020 by The Maxol Group and Turtle Bunbury Histories. Designed by Graham Thew (, with additional photography by Gary Belcher (, it was printed in Northern Ireland by W&G Baird.

This is a draft version of the Maxol book, and needs to be properly edited and illustrated.  


‘Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.’
George Bernard Shaw. [1]




In 1920, William McMullan, an apprentice chemist, and his brother JG McMullan registered a new business in Dublin that sold and distributed lubricating oil and paraffin. Boosted by an alliance with one of the country’s foremost hauliers, McMullan Brothers fortune was greatly boosted in 1921 when, on the eve of the partition of Ireland, they became the sole distributor of a popular petrol called Mex Motor Spirit across the thirty-two counties.

By the close of the 1920s, the company had one of the largest truck fleets in the country, and twenty-three fuel depots. Known today as The Maxol Group, the family-owned business is now one of the biggest energy providers in Ireland, and a global leader in terms of food innovation and convenience retail on the forecourts of its 234 service stations.

Maxol’s pioneering stamp can also be found in matters of distribution, publicity, welfare and green energy, as well as in the gas industry, where it was integral to the success of both Calor and Kosangas.

The company has enjoyed a long history as a patron of multiple sports and sporting events, with a particular fruitful focus on the ‘all-Ireland’ sports of amateur boxing, rally driving, rugby and the GAA. A constructive, cross-border outlook also enabled Maxol to complete a successful integration of its northern and southern management teams in the 1990s, providing an inspirational blueprint for other companies seeking to do likewise.

Replete with episodes of brilliance, ingenuity, serendipity and success, this sweeping book tells Maxol’s fascinating story from the formative years of the McMullan family through the drama of global wars, oil crises, political conflict and economic hardship to its present-day responses to climate change, Covid 19 and technological advance.






Our original plan was to launch this book to coincide with the centenary of the company in May 2020. Such ambitions were tripped up by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. This has been one of the biggest challenges in Maxol’s 100-year history but the company has rallied well, thanks to an extraordinary collaborative effort by staff, retailers and suppliers alike.

The lockdown has given the company invaluable experience in remote working and its technology stood up to the test. Between March and early June 2020, nobody worked at the offices in Dublin IFSC and only a few attended Santry and Belfast. Split shift operations also took place in the lubricants blending plant and warehousing. The board held weekly briefings with the CEO and CFO using Microsoft Teams to monitor performance while staff were reallocated new duties to support the business during the pandemic. Although staff in Santry and Belfast returned to their offices, the future is likely to blend office life with working from home.

Maxol sites were amongst the first to introduce Perspex screens, sanitation stations, one-way directional in-store signage and posters on best hygiene behaviours, as well as two-metre social distancing posters and increased cleaning across all touch points. Opening hours were cut and seating areas closed. The majority of its retailers, including the company in each jurisdiction, availed of the governments wage subsidy and furlough schemes, helping to support costs and protect jobs. Such help was greatly appreciated and much needed to support the business. All discretionary and capital expenditure was put on hold during the crisis to protect cashflow.

With people asked to stay within 2km of home from 27th March, traffic all but ceased and fuel consumption dropped by 70% overnight. The supply surplus saw the global oil-price tumble to an unprecedented low. The world’s largest oil producers, including the OPEC cartel and its allies, helped to keep oil prices afloat through the summer by reining in oil production to avoid overwhelming the market with unwanted crude. Such a shake up to the industry is likely to accelerate the shift to a low carbon economy in the coming years.

The lockdown also brought about a decline in coffee and deli sales with the closure of food franchises, although volumes started to recover with the phased reopening of the economy north and south from mid-May. On the other hand, Maxol benefited from the fact that most of its sites are located in neighbourhood communities so that sales of traditional convenience, grocery, household, tobacco and alcohol grew significantly over the same period. Consumers who shopped local clearly trusted the high standards of cleanliness and hygiene at Maxol sites, along with good management of social distancing in store. The company even managed to open its first Burger King in Dolphin’s Barn, Dublin, on 16th July.

July also saw the launch of Bright, Maxol’s new renewable energy business, into the Republic of Ireland. Having secured 3000 customers within its first two months, Bright started trading in Northern Ireland in late October 2020, in tandem with a major advertising campaign. It plans to offer domestic gas in 2021, as well as supplying electricity to businesses.

All up, Covid-19 has thrown up a tremendous challenge to Maxol but, just as it has rallied through economic depressions, world wars and global oil crises in the past, the company will not only survive but it will emerge the stronger for it.




For anyone who lives in Ireland, north or south, the word ‘Maxol’ has been ingrained in their subconscious for several decades now. After all, the company logo currently adorns the pumps and forecourts of 234 stations across the island, north and south. Some motorists may wonder if Maxol is part of a global multinational. There is, after all, something distinctly international about the name Maxol. Mexico, perhaps. And indeed, there is a dash of Mexico in this tale. But Maxol is not an international conglomerate. It is an Irish company. It has always been an Irish company. Moreover, it is a family-owned Irish company and it is owned today by the same family who founded it back in 1920.

Maxol’s evolution over the last hundred years is a story abounding in brilliance, ingenuity, serendipity and triumph. There have also been battles, both personal and corporate, in which true grit, hard work and honest ambition did much to overcome situations of tremendous adversity.[2]

All of those who sit on Maxol’s board of directors today are the grandsons and great-grandsons of William ‘the Boss’ McMullan, an ambitious chemist, who co-founded the company with his older brother JG one hundred years ago. The company was formally registered in Dublin as ‘McMullan Brothers Limited’ on 12 April 1920 and had its first board meeting in Belfast on 17 May of that year.

It is possible that the McMullans’ interest in oils was subliminal, stretching back to an age when their ancestors on the Ards Peninsula of County Down were closely, if not directly, connected to the mechanics of the eighteenth-century linen industry. Oil was certainly omnipresent in the Donaghadee house where the Boss and JG spent their childhood: their father, a leather merchant, sold oil, grease, paint and colours from the same building.

During the First World War, the McMullans sold lubricating oil, wood preservatives and paraffin (kerosene) door-to-door from the back of a horse and cart. Their first breakthrough came just after the war when, with petrol rationing still in force, the Boss began importing and selling a petrol substitute called benzol to Ireland’s motorists. The success of the benzol venture paved the way for an alliance with W.W. Kennedy, one of the country’s foremost hauliers, and a new deal by which McMullan Bros became the sole distributor of Mex Motor Spirit on the island of Ireland. Initially agreed with the Anglo-Mexican Petroleum Company, this arrangement was later transferred to Shell-Mex and BP, with which company Maxol retained an exclusive contract until 1982.

Maxol has had a close affinity with sport since the 1920s, when it sponsored both the Ards TT, the fastest race in Britain or Ireland, and the Irish Grand Prix. The Boss was a tremendous sporting enthusiast, while his children and grandchildren have excelled in sports as diverse as golf, yachting and motor racing. The company itself has been a proud patron of multiple sports and sporting events over the century, with a particular focus on ‘all-Ireland’ sports such as amateur boxing, rally driving, rugby and the GAA. Past employees include a number of people who have represented Ireland internationally at rugby, golf, cricket and hockey, as well as several leading lights from motorsports and the GAA. Jacob Stockdale, the Ireland and Ulster rugby star, became Maxol’s first brand ambassador in 2019.[3]

In the formative decades of the company, distribution was key. The process became inevitably more complex with the passage of time as the scale of the area that the company supplied increased in tandem with the vehicles that now carried its various products. By the end of the 1920s, McMullan Bros had one of the biggest truck fleets in Ireland, and twenty-three depots across Ireland, as well as divisional offices in Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Londonderry.

Lubricating oils have always been key. When the Boss was born in 1887, most machines in Ireland were lubricated with vegetable oil or animal fat. By the time he began selling domestic oils from the Newry pharmacy just over a decade later, most lubricants were by-products of crude oil. From the outset, McMullan Bros had provided oils for the automotive, commercial and agricultural sectors because, as the late Malcom McMullan, director of Maxol Lubricants told me, ‘almost everything that moves needs a little lubricant’.

Profits soared but this ‘all-Irish’ firm was divided into two separate companies in the 1930s, with Northern Ireland henceforth run by an office in Belfast and business in the Republic administered from Dublin. The Second World War brought trade to a virtual halt, but vital contracts with companies such as Siúcra and Bord na Móna helped keep the company going through those difficult days.

The company periodically streamlined its operations. Depots were phased out in favour of bigger storage tanks, bigger trucks and, in time, bigger petrol stations. Time and again, the firm has been an industry pioneer, leading the way with electronic pumps, blending, self-service, higher-capacity vehicles, promotional campaigns, electronic card payments and in-cab technology, as well as concepts such as productivity, decimalisation, computerisation, integration, consignment and green energy.[4] It was also the first company to import LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) into Ireland, enjoying the glory days of the gas industry, first in alliance with Calor, and later with Kosangas.

It stayed afloat during the 1950s when the solus system brought numerous powerful multinationals into the Irish market. In the 1960s, the McMullans opened the doors of management to people outside the family, prompting the birth of the Maxol brand, a comprehensive modernisation of both stations and fleet, and a new policy of productivity for company drivers and other employees.[5] This was also the start of a rewarding venture into the home heating oil business.

The 1970s brought global oil crises and strong challenges from the unions, but also provided an opportunity for Maxol to break free of its exclusive contract with Shell and to strike out on its own. The company subsequently began importing fuel into its own terminals in Drogheda and New Ross.

When Maxol’s business in the Republic was on its uppers with price control in the 1970s and 1980s, the Northern Ireland business kept the company going. The ongoing Troubles brought heartache to so many of those who worked with Maxol. As such, there was something deeply symbolic about the negotiations and cooperation that underpinned Maxol’s determined and transformative integration of its northern and southern management teams in the mid-1990s. Its success provided a blueprint for other ‘all-Ireland’ companies seeking to do likewise.

The amalgamation coincided with the peace process, which brought an end to the conflict. The Northern Irish business continued to face challengers from other fields. An influx of supermarket chains from the UK caused a dynamic shift in shopping behaviour, while the new political situation effectively permitted the illegal sale of laundered fuel on both sides of the border. Maxol again responded with gusto, developing its highly acclaimed Quality Assured Fuels campaign. Today, the company has thirty-two company-owned sites in Northern Ireland and almost 20 per cent of the region’s market share.

Meanwhile, Maxol Ltd, the company’s southern wing, arrived into the new century as a champion of apolitical, progressive commerce, with a team gathered from all walks of Irish life and, since 2016, a CEO from Northern Ireland.[6] For the previous fifty years, Maxol had been a homegrown minnow operating in a world dominated by multinational oil sharks. Most of those sharks have since disappeared, or eaten one another, while a combination of innovative thinking, excellent marketing, dogged persistence and old-fashioned luck have seen this family-owned company secure its place as one of the biggest energy providers in Ireland today.[7]

As of 2023, Maxol’s staff roll, north and south, stood at about eighty-six people between its head office, its fuel card centre, the lubricating oil department and the McMullans themselves.[8]

While it remains one of the biggest suppliers of transportation fuels in Ireland, Maxol is also now a global leader in terms of both food innovation and convenience retail on the forecourts of its 234-strong network. [9]  This part of the business has been developing since at least the 1980s when, like so many Irish businesses faced with a small population and, by extension, small volumes, the company had to think of creative ways to make its sites viable and boost its income outside fuel.[10]  Convenience retailing is crucial to the company’s success, with coffee docks and food courts offering much higher margins than petrol.

Thirty years ago, there were over six-thousand fuel-selling sites on the island of Ireland. Today, that figure has tumbled to about thirteen-hundred, of which Maxol now has a market share of 12 per cent in the Republic and almost 20 per cent in Northern Ireland. The company’s most recent station opened at Rathnew, County Wicklow, on 13 March 2020, just as Covid-19 was gaining its appalling grip and exactly 100 years after the McMullan brothers first registered the company. The Rathnew site is based on the blueprint of several award-winning stations that Maxol has built in the past five years, each one characterised by large, consumer-friendly forecourts, supplying food and beverages from some of the country’s foremost suppliers.

Environmental responsibility is of paramount importance to Maxol.[11] The company has long sought greener fuels, not least with its introduction of E85 bio-ethanol fuel in 2007 as well as its commitment to provide electricity chargers at its stations. In the coming decades, it seems likely that vehicles will be powered by a combination of energy fuels – hydrocarbon but with more biofuel, hydrogen, electric, compressed natural gas, maybe biomass or ethane and something else that’s yet to be invented.[12]

Maxol was started by two entrepreneurial brothers and it is perhaps fitting that, as it enters its second century, one of the company’s most exciting and forward-thinking ventures is a collaboration with another pair of innovative brothers – Ciaran and Stephen Devine, the siblings behind Evermore Energy.

Having captured the attention of the global energy industry on numerous occasions over the past decade, Maxol’s focus is also firmly local. As the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic clearly shows, there will always be unexpected challenges but, in the decades to come, Maxol will continue to advance and develop its relationship with the families and individuals with whom it works on a daily basis. The company has certainly come a long, long way since the days when a couple of young men were trotting around the streets of Belfast selling paraffin oil from the back of a cart.


Chapter 1.


The Origin of the McMullan Family




Image: a. Maps omething that shows the Ards peninsula, where the first McMullan’s lived … and possibly also Galloway in Scotland where the McMullan’s most likely originated. I haven’t had a chance to look at  the website properly yet but they may have one … will you remind me to hunt!


Image b: McMullan crest

Caption: The McMullan coat of arms, featuring a chevron and stars, is based on that granted to the MacMillan clan by the Ulster King of Arms, as recorded in Burke’s ‘General Armory’. (Courtesy of Eddie Geoghegan, Araltas.)


Image c: Sir Hugh Montgomery (awaiting another version)

Caption: Sir Hugh Montgomery (1560-1636), who oversaw the plantation of the Ards Peninsula, employed Hugh McMullin as his physician in the 1630s. (Courtesy of Nicholas Day)





The surname McMullan is of Scottish origin and is most often associated with an area known today as Kirkcudbrightshire but formally called Galloway. The west coast of this region touches upon the Irish Sea and interaction between these rugged lands and Ulster has been ongoing since humans first came to these parts. One of the first known McMullans in Ireland was Hugh McMullin [sic], a physician, who arrived into County Down in the early days of the Plantation of Ulster. In 1636, he was recorded as physician to Sir Hugh Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of the Great Ards, a man now hailed as one of the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the Scots-Irish community.[13]

The ancestors of the McMullan’s of Maxol are believed to have settled in the vicinity of Portaferry on the Ards Peninsula where Alexander McMullan, a Presbyterian by faith, was residing in 1723. Strategically located at the entrance to Strangford Lough, Portaferry was the stronghold of the Nugent-Savage family, whose ancestors built the first castle here in the thirteenth century. Its Presbyterian community, founded in 1642, was one of the earliest in Ireland. By the latter half of the eighteenth century, its port had some forty ships exporting corn and kelp from the locality to the markets in Dublin and across the seas to England and Wales. The Savage family erected a windmill on a hill above the market town in 1771; its stump remains today.

Alexander is thought to have been the father or grandfather of Archibald McMullin [sic] of Mount Ross, near Portaferry, who was married in 1757 to Shusanna Shaw of Dirry (or Derry), a townland located about two kilometres north-east of Portaferry on the Cloughy road. Although it must remain speculation until further evidence comes to light, it is reasonable to suppose that Archibald and Shusana were the grandparents of William McMullan (1790-1871), a Presbyterian farmer, whose eldest son, John Shaw McMullan, was grandfather of the founders of McMullan Bros.


Image d: The McMullan grave at Cloughy. (Have asked Noel if he has a sharper version)

Caption: ‘Erected by William McMullan of Ballyward in memory of his son John McMullan who departed this life the 7th day of January 1852, aged 28 years. Also to the memory of the above William McMullan of Ballyward, who departed this life on the 7th day of November 1871, aged 81 years.’ The above-named John was grandfather to the brothers who founded Maxol.


WILLIAM McMULLAN (1790-1871)


Our knowledge of William McMullan’s life is sketchy. Born in 1790, he almost certainly grew up on the Ards Peninsula in County Down. For at least the first decade of their marriage, William and his wife Elizabeth (née Shaw) lived in the aforementioned townland of Dirry, while their nine children were baptised at Portaferry between 1823 and 1847. [14]

At some time between 1835 and 1839, they moved north by a few miles to Ballyward where William took a lease on 98 acres, the largest farm in the townland.[15]  It is thought he farmed potatoes and grain. Little more is of known of his life save that he died at Ballyward in 1871, aged 81, followed by Elizabeth in 1876.[16] The couple were buried side by side at Slans, the main graveyard for the Cloughey and Kirkistown area, which is spectacularly located within an ancient coastal ringfort. This was where their firstborn son John, grandfather of the founders of Maxol, had been buried in 1852.


Image: e. Kelp (I think a  close up and the b&w, awaiting hi-res version of b&w)

Caption: Kelp gatherers at work on the Ulster shore in the 1890s. (National Museum of Northern Ireland)





In 1845 William McMullan of Ballyward came second in a class for two-year-old heifers at the Portaferry Farming Society’s annual show.[17] While cattle breeding was evidently part of his livelihood, he almost certainly farmed crops such as oats, wheat and potatoes as well. The Ards not only boasts the lowest rainfall in Ireland but also the longest growing season in Ulster, with crops typically ripening two weeks before the rest of County Down. During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the farmers of this fertile area were widely admired for their efficiency and output. Men like William McMullan greatly increased productivity by using potatoes as a soil-cleansing root-crop, as well as applying fertilizers such as lime, guano, compost, manure and kelp seaweed.

Given the McMullan’s later interest in chemical formula, it is tempting to imagine that at least some of the family were involved with the extensive kelp industry that Strangford Lough was famed for in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Kelp is the commercial name for the burned ashes of coarse brown seaweed. Rich in nitrogen, phosphate and potash, it is not only a terrific soil fertiliser but also produces an impure form of soda (sodium carbonate, or washing soda) which, as an alkali, was much desired for industrial processes, especially the manufacture of glass and soap, as an agent in bleaching linen and, of particular interest to this tale, as a bonding agent for dyes in the textile industry.[18]

Kelp was grown commercially on the Ards seashore from at least 1717. By 1750 there were bleach greens across the peninsula, including the market town of Portaferry, from where it was shipped to the glass-house factories of Dublin and Bristol, as well as the linen manufacturers of County Down.[19] Fires from the stone kilns where the kelp was dried and burned would have been seen all around the coast in the summer months.[20] The industry went into decline in the early 1820s, pre-empting a mass exodus of Presbyterians from the Ards Peninsula to Amherst Island, a 16,000-acre island on Lake Ontario, Canada. One can but imagine the effect this migration had on the morale of those who stayed.

Flax was another of the Ards biggest crops during the eighteenth century; a bleachworks and a small linen market were established in Portaferry in the 1750s while hundreds of women from the port and its surrounding townlands were employed to embroider muslin for Belfast’s linen merchants.

The sea was also a prime source of income for the Ards community. Ballyhalbert fielded one of the largest herring boat fleets in Ulster, Kircubbin men dredged Strangford Lough for oysters and Portaferry had a strong market for turbot, salmon and whitefish. That said, the sea was not for the faint of heart; seventy vessels were wrecked and 43 men drowned off Portaferry between 1833 and 1867.[21]


Image: f. Ballynahinch

Caption: ‘The Battle of Ballynahinch’ by Thomas Robinson, depicting the death of Captain Henry Evatt, who was shot by a sniper, on 12 June 1798.




William’s earliest memories would have included the sound of fife and drum echoing through the Ards peninsula as the United Irishmen grew in stature on the eve of their doomed rebellion. The democratic ideals of the American and French revolutions were of considerable appeal to the Presbyterian farmers of the Ards. One of the United Irishmen’s main bases was at Innishargie, near Kircubbin, where a Presbyterian by name of William McMullan was among the most prominent leaders.[22]

In June 1796 a group from Innishargie and Ballywalter armed with pitchforks attempted to overpower government forces in Portaferry. Nine men were killed, after which the government soldiers ran amok across the peninsula, destroying crops and assaulting men, women and children. By the end of the year, two companies of York Fencibles were marching around the Ards in an attempt to impose martial law.

During the violent summer of 1798, the United Irishmen’s rebellion engulfed Ulster. The rebels seized the whole of north County Down, including the Ards. Access to the southern half of the peninsula was controlled from Innishargie by William McMullan and his comrades. Portaferry also came under severe attack. However, such dangers petered out after four hundred rebels were slain at the cataclysmic battle of Ballynahinch. After the rebellion was crushed, savage reprisals ensued and a vengeful British cavalry wrought further devastation on the peninsula. Fourteen men were hanged while four more were transported to Australia and an unspecified number were flogged and imprisoned. Among those arrested was the Reverend William Steel Dickson, the outspoken Moderator of the General Synod of Ulster. The Rev Dickson had been minister at Portaferry since 1780 and, as such, it seems likely that he had baptised William.


JOHN McMULLAN (1823-1852)


Image: g. Kirkistown Castle

Caption: The village of Cloghy is still dominated by Kirkistown Castle, an early 17th century tower house, which was revamped by the Montgomery’s of Grey Abbey during John McMullan’s childhood.


William and Elizabeth’s son John Shaw McMullan was born in 1823, six years before Daniel O’Connell secured Emancipation for Ireland’s Catholic population. On 22 April 1847, he married 21-year-old Agnes ‘Nancy’ Gowan (1825-1886), the daughter of a Presbyterian merchant, at Glastry Meeting House on the Ards Peninsula.[23]

1847 would become notorious as Black ‘47, the worst year of the Great Hunger and, even as John and Nancy made their vows, long queues for coarse bread and soup were gathering in nearby Ardkeen and Kircubbin. The Ards was less affected than many parts of the country because of all the alternative food sources – fish and shellfish, red dulse seaweed, dairy produce, cattle and sheep, cereal and milled flour. Nonetheless, approximately 15% of the population south of Kircubbin were lost, either to fever or emigration, while admissions to the Newtownards Workhouse  quadrupled between October 1846 and July 1847.

In 1850, John McMullan is reported to have taken up the grain mill at Cloghy, overlooking the Irish Sea from the Ards’ bleak east coast. [24] The village of Cloghy (or Cloughey) is still dominated by Kirkistown Castle, an early 17th century tower house, which was revamped by the Montgomery’s of Grey Abbey during John’s childhood. The locality is best known today for the Kirkistown Motor Racing Circuit, opened by the 500 Motor Racing Club of Ireland (500 MRCI) in 1953 on what had been an RAF airfield during the Second World War. Considered one of the fastest and flattest courses in the province of Ulster, it hosts seven car race meetings, four sprints and a single venue rally every year, as well as at least two motorbike race meetings, kart-races, bicycle races and duathlons.

Who knows who will walk in our footsteps in generations to come? Or drive. In the early 1970s, Eric McMullan, John’s great-grandson, raced an MG Midget around the Kirkistown circuit, suitably decked out in Maxol livery.

John and Nancy had one son James, whose sons founded McMullan Bros., and at least two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, before John’s premature death at the age of 28 on 7 January 1852.[25] He was buried at Slans near Cloughy.[26]


Image: Ballygilbert Church by Frank Robinson 

Caption: Ballygilbert Presbyterian Church where James McMullan and Sarah Ann Morgan. (Photo: Frank Robinson).


JAMES MCMULLAN (1848-c.1937)


August 1894. William Morgan, captain of the Voltaic, must have blinked several times in the moment that his eyes lit upon James McMullan. He had not seen his brother-in-law in four years. Nobody had. The scoundrel was supposed to be dead, a corpse laid to rest somewhere in the USA. Yet here he was, very much alive, returning to Ireland from Liverpool on Captain Morgan’s own ship. It cannot have taken long for the captain to register the immensity of the situation. His youngest sister, Sarah Ann, had married James McMullan fifteen years earlier and together they had six children. James, never a model husband, had then abandoned the family, sailed for America and vanished. In 1893, word came back that he was dead; Sarah Ann took the plunge and married her lover, a baker by name of Sam McAnuff. And all was well until James McMullan’s return; within ten days, Sarah Ann was to take her stand in court, charged with bigamy.


James McMullan, the only known son of John and Nancy, was born in County Down in 1848 at the height of the Great Hunger. Nothing is known of his younger years save that his father died when he was four years old and that his widowed mother then took James and his sisters to live in Donaghadee on the northeast coast of the Ards Peninsula. It’s not known when they made the move but in 1877, mother and son were recorded in the Belfast / Ulster Street Directory as ‘grocer’ and ‘leather merchant’ at Bow Street, Donaghadee, where they rented three houses. Leather merchants needed to possess a strong knowledge of lubricating oils and greases, which was to become the principal business of James’s sons in the coming century.  As well as the grocery and leather business, James was also serving as a ticket-agent for the White Star line by 1879.[27]

The house on Bow Street was originally No. 30, but changed to no. 15 when the houses in Donaghadee were renumbered in 1895. The McMullan’s landlord was Daniel De la Cherois, a barrister and prominent Donaghadee landowner, whose forbear Major de la Cherois, a French Huguenot officer in the army of William of Orange (later William III), took the surrender of 1,500 Jacobites at the battle of the Boyne in 1690. By the time the McMullan’s moved to the seaside town, its prosperity was booming with the aid of a saltworks and a tannery. A telegraph line from Donaghadee to Portpatrick in Scotland was opened by the Magnetic Telegraph Company in 1853, while the Belfast and County Down railway reached the town in 1861. The railway station was right next door to the McMullan’s house on Bow Street.

As Donaghadee historian Angélique Day explains: ‘Bow Street is one of the oldest streets in the town with some fine houses and it is parallel to High Street.  It would be one of the important streets in the town.  There are some large houses, very likely built on a 17th century footprint but 18th and 19th century in construction, built back and up from the harbour and sandy shore where the fishing and mariner cabins would have been. Donaghadee was a place where people came and went from Scotland as you know, and many people travelled through either trying to get away from Scotland or get away from Ireland!  Many of the houses were built for people to wait for the tides to take them where they wanted and many of the houses were called Blow houses, for the blow of the wind which would take them to their destination.’

According to one account, James was ‘teaching music’ in the coastal village of Groomsport, four miles north west of Donaghadee, in 1879 when he met Sarah Ann Morgan (1859-1945), a nineteen-year-old school teacher. [28] She was the youngest of eight children – six daughters and two sons, including Captain William Morgan – born to Daniel Morgan, a Groomsport carpenter, and his wife Margaret (née Hamilton) from Bangor.[29] Sarah Ann’s grandfather, also Daniel Morgan, was born in Wales but moved to Groomsport when he married a local woman, Sarah Robinson, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The village had a relatively large fishing fleet and most of its population were employed mainly in agriculture, fishing and loom weaving. The coming of the railway in 1865 further boosted Groomsport’s attraction as a place to live. Sarah Ann’s parents were ‘honest’ people who ‘respectably reared’ her; sixteen years later, she would be described in the press as ‘a good-looking woman’

On 16 July 1879 – the depths of a very wet and gloomy summer – James and Sarah Ann were married in Ballygilbert Presbyterian Church, which stood about eight miles equidistant from James’s house in Donaghadee and the Morgan’s home in Groomsport. An announcement of their marriage appeared in the Northern Standard which noted that the Rev. James Latimer, MA, rector of the bride’s church in Groomsport, had officiated, with help from the Rev. Dr W.W. Hamilton, LL.B., of Donaghadee.[30] Sarah Ann’s older sister Mary Jane Morgan was one of the witnesses; the other was John Angus, one of Donaghadee’s prominent hardware merchants:

‘John Angus, carpenter, shop, hardware, paints, oils and Colours, room papers, timber, groceries, china, glass and earthenware, cement and alabaster, New Street.’[31]

It is possible John Angus was Daniel Morgan’s boss; many years later, he would identify Sarah Ann from a witness box.

The McMullan’s are said to have frowned upon James marriage to ‘a mere local Schoolteacher.’ The story runs that he was, in consequence, disowned. However, given that his father and grandfather were both dead, it’s not clear who would actually have disowned him. It is notable that his grandmother Elizebeth McMullan died in 1879.

Sarah Ann marked her twentieth birthday nine days after the wedding. By then, she and her new husband were both in Donaghadee, where James was back running the Bow Street grocery and leather shop. Somewhere along the line, the family acquired the mantra “Six miles from Bangor to Donaghadee.” Unfortunately, James proved an abusive husband, furiously hurling a basin of water over his sickly bride within three months of their marriage. With time, the abuse became systematic. Sarah Ann was frequently obliged to gather up their children and seek refuge with kindly neighbours. During one such absence, she went to work as a nursery governess, or lady’s help, in Banbridge, in order to bring money in for her family.

Their first child, Mary Jane, was born at 4 Thompson Road, Mountpottinger, East Belfast, on 19 April 1879, almost nine months to the day after the wedding.[32] She was baptised at the Shore Road Presbyterian church in Donaghadee on 30 May. A son Daniel Morgan McMullan was born at the Morgan family home in Groomsport on 5 April 1882. Another son John arrived on 28 August 1883, at which time Sarah Ann was back on Bow Street, Donaghadee. James Gowan McMullan, the third son, was also born at Bow Street, on 20 December 1884; William, the fourth son, was born almost three years later on 28 August 1887. William’s grandmother Nancy McMullan had passed away in the same house just over a year earlier.[33]

James McMullan’s business appears to have been struggling since at least 1882 when the Northern Whig carried an advertisement for James’s shop on Bow Street ‘as a going Concern, in the Grocery, Leather, and Boot Trade…The Stock can be had at valuation.’ The notice also observed that ‘the proprietor wished to resign.’[34] There were no takers and so James carried on, apparently spending £150 on improvements to the property in 1886. However, the following year (November 1887), with his mother dead and the business failing, James placed the fee farm grant for all three Donaghadee properties on the market.[35]

The McMullan’s moved to Belfast on 1 May 1888 to start anew but things did not improve; James was twice jailed for abusing his wife, once for two months, the next time for six. Thomas, their fifth son and final child, was born at 112 Woodstock Road, Belfast, on 14 June 1889. The couple had separated by 3 May 1890 when James bolted for the USA, boarding the State of Nebraska at Moville on the Donegal shore of Lough Foyle. The passenger list shows that he arrived in New York Harbour on 14 May 1890, armed with two pieces of luggage.[36] He is also assumed to have had a considerable chunk of the £405 he was paid when he sold the Bow Street house in 1888. (See Appendix).

When James left, Sarah Ann was a thirty-year-old mother of six, living in Belfast; her oldest child was about ten, while the youngest was ‘an infant on her breast.’ A letter arrived from James from New York, its contents unknown, but thereafter Sarah Ann heard no more. Her father had died two years earlier; her mother was also long since dead. In July 1890, she moved her young family to Newry where her twice widowed older sister Esther ‘Essie’ Black lived.

Essie Morgan, the second or third child of Daniel and Margaret Morgan, is thought to have first married a man called Clifford. As Noel McMullan observes, he ‘must have been very likeable as there is so many occurrences of the name Clifford in subsequent generations.’ When he died, she was married secondly to a Mr. Black, who also died. Although Essie had no children of her own, her nephews and nieces adored her and she would become known to the coming generations as “Auntie Black.”

Essie lived at 15 Monaghan Street, Newry, where she ran a six-room boarding house and restaurant. Sarah-Ann and her children appear to have moved into the house to help Auntie Black run the business. Shortly before Christmas 1890, Essie Black took in a widower from Rathfriland by name of Samuel ‘Sam’ McAnuff, along with his two small sons.

Sam’s father Hugh and grandfather Robert had both been tailors but Sam was a baker by trade. Almost a decade earlier, on 3 February 1882, he had married Margaret Gouldtrap, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer from Rathfriland. She bore him two sons, William on 15 June 1882 and Samuel (Jun.) on 28 June 1883, but tragically their third child was stillborn on 31st December 1884 and 28-year-old Margaret died of the ensuing complications.

Sarah Ann and Sam became so close that in June 1891 he asked her to marry him. Sarah Ann declined on the reasonable grounds that she was already married. However, with no word from her husband, she wrote to a woman in America with whom James was known to have ‘stopped’; the woman replied that James was leading ‘a very bad life’ and stated that ‘he probably would not be very long alive.’

During 1892, Sarah Ann’s relationship with Sam deepened when, as she put it, ‘I got enciente’ (ie: pregnant). On 15 June 1892, she gave birth to a daughter, Margaret, but the child did not survive.[37] Two months after Margaret’s birth, Sam went to work in Mr Thomas P Willis’s bakery at 51 Monaghan Street. He also seems to have moved to 39 Canal Street, where Sarah Ann had now set up a small shop and opened a lodging house. Canal Street’s subsequent claims to fame include Newry’s first cinema (the “Picture Palace”); the jail in which future President Eamon De Valera was held over-night; the first Public Baths; and the first Sisters of Mercy’s first school in Northern Ireland.

At about this time, Sarah Ann met a man lately returned from America who told her that James was dead. A similar rumour reached her from ‘M’Mullan’s native place.’  She had not heard from her husband since his solitary letter from New York two years earlier. (James later claimed that he wrote to his wife several times, as well a letter to their eldest daughter in February 1894, but that he received no replies.)

With the news of James’s death now the talk of Newry, Sam renewed his marriage proposal and this time Sarah Ann said yes. The couple were wed on 17th June 1893 by Mr James Burns, in Newry Registry Office, also on Monaghan Street, with John Gracey and Patrick Francis Keenan as witnesses. Three months later, Sarah Ann gave her new husband a son called Robert but tragically the boy only survived a month before succumbing to ‘convulsions’ on 10 October.

Meanwhile, ‘kind and thoughtful’ Sam proved an ‘excellent husband’, doing all he could to support Sarah Ann and to ‘clothe, educate, and feed’ her six children by James and, his two sons by his first wife. As Sam himself remarked: ‘I always found her an upright woman.’

On the evening of Monday 20 August 1894, William Morgan was on the bridge of S.S. Voltaic preparing to sail out of the Prince’s Dock in Liverpool when he spotted the familiar frame of James McMullan coming on board as a steerage passenger. It transpired that, after four years of destitution and heavy-drinking in America, James had set sail from New York to Liverpool on 11 August. One account suggests he had come from ‘Baltimore, New York’, which may feasibly refer to the town of New Baltimore in the Catskill mountains of New York.[38] Once his ship reached Liverpool, he had boarded Voltaic for Belfast, presumably unaware that the ship was under the command of his brother-in-law.

William Morgan, a master mariner and distinguished captain with the Belfast Steamship Company, commanded the Voltaic from at least 1888 until at least 1901. The handsome 750-ton screw steamship had been constructed in 1868 and spent its days to-ing and fro-ing across the Irish Sea thrice weekly, between Belfast and ports such as Bristol and Liverpool, carrying cargo, livestock and passengers.[39] The captain managed to avoid meeting James for the duration of the overnight voyage. As soon as his ship landed at the Prince’s Dock in Belfast next morning, he legged it to Groomsport to inform his sister Mary Jane Murdock (1848-1940) and her husband Ross. Mary Jane then dispatched an urgent telegram to Newry to warn Sarah Ann and Sam of the startling development.

At 9:30am on the morning of Tuesday 21 August 1894, Sam was at work in Mr Willis’s bakery when a boy arrived and told him that his wife’s sister, Mrs Black, also of Monaghan Street, ‘desired see him.’ Sam made his way to Mrs Black who had seemingly received Mary Jane’s telegram. She delivered the bleak news that James McMullan was not only alive but on his way to Newry, penniless, in pursuit of his lawful wife.

Sam ‘immediately proceeded’ to his own house at 39, Canal Street, and broke the news to Sarah Ann who promptly fainted. When she recovered, they decided to present themselves without delay to the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks on Canal Street and ‘surrender … to the authorities.’ Moments after they left their house, James arrived at the door, having somehow discovered this was where his wife now lived. Following his arrival in Belfast, he had made it south to Newry and tracked down Essie Black’s house. However, as James later put it, Essie ‘closed the door against him.’ The Irish Examiner later remarked that he had ‘only a halfpenny in his pocket after paying his way’ home from New York, and that ‘when he was turned away from his wife’s door, he had got no breakfast.’[40]

It was actually his wife’s sister who turned him away. James advanced to Sarah-Ann’s house on Canal Street but narrowly missed her. Hearing his unanswered door knocks, a boy told him he had just seen Sarah Ann and ‘another man’ head off down the street. James galloped onwards and caught up with them on New Street, just before they reached the police barracks. He offered his hand to his wife, who refused and said, ‘Let me go.’ At this moment, Sam rather brilliantly remarked: ‘It’s a fine day.’ They continued into the barracks where Sam said to James, ‘Come in here and hear what my wife has to say against me.’ And that is when James worked out that his wife had married again.

At the station, the situation was explained to Head-Constable McLoughlin who duly ‘took Sarah-Ann McMullan, alias M’Anuff, into custody, on a charge of bigamy.’ She was remanded until the Ballybot Petty Sessions nearly two weeks later, and obliged to pay £20 plus two sureties of £10 each. [41]

On 3 September 1894, Sarah Anne appeared before at the Ballybot Petty Sessions where the magistrates (James F Erskine, William Davies and Thomas O’Hare) were headed up by Henry Turner, Resident Magistrate. A newspaper described her as ‘a good-looking woman of about forty-five years of age, and the mother of eight.’ According to the Irish Examiner, James McMullan appeared but sat nowhere near her. He ‘appears to be a man about fifty years of age, and appears to be completely broken down both in health and in circumstances – indeed, so destitute is he that he applied for and was admitted to the Newry Workhouse’ shortly after his return.[42]

The details of the case were trawled through in some detail, with Sam McAnuff and John Angus among those summoned as witnesses. However, as William Johnson, Sarah Ann’s solicitor, stated: ‘In conducting this defence I am labouring under the serious disadvantage that the law debars me from placing Sarah Ann McMullan in the box to give evidence on her own behalf.’ He urged the magistrates to ‘feel deep compassion for a wronged and outraged wife, and indignation and scorn for as cowardly and brutal a husband as ever violated his marriage vows.’ He urged them to ‘discharge her, and not intensify all the suffering she has endured, or aggravate all the miseries that have fallen to her lot, by darkening her life for the next six months with the shadow of a threatened felon.’

William Johnson’s summary was passionate and truthful but it failed. Sarah Ann was sent for trial to the Armagh assizes the following March; she was, however, admitted to bail. The shame for the family was considerable, not least with the case being widely reported in the local press under the heading of “The Newry Bigamy Case.” Margaret Hamilton Murdock (a daughter of Sarah Ann’s sister Mary Jane, who was known to later generations as Auntie Button) was eleven years old at the time and recalled being taunted at school by other children shouting ‘Your Auntie’s going to Jail.’

At the Armagh Assizes in March 1895, Sarah Ann appeared before Christopher Palles, Lord Chief of the Exchequer, who, after hearing all the evidence, recommended she be acquitted. The jury agreed and declared her ‘not guilty.’ When the kindly Chief Baron approved their verdict, there was sustained applause from all sides in the Court.[43]

Sarah Ann never sought either divorce or legal separation from James. She continued to live with Sam as husband and wife; they were married again after James’s eventual death in a Belfast Poorhouse. The late Eric McMullan believed James lived for a time at a Salvation Army Hostel in Belfast City. He died in about 1936-8 but the Salvation Army archives do not seem to hold any clues. His youngest sons William and Thom had him buried in Belfast’s City Cemetery, albeit in a pauper’s grave.

Between 1895 and 1901, Sam and Sarah Ann McAnuff had three surviving sons– Bertie, Clifford and Ross – about whom more anon. This meant Sarah Ann now had nine of her own children, as well as Sam’s two sons. By the time of the 1901 Census of Ireland, the children were split between 39 Canal Street, where Sarah Ann and Sam lived, and Auntie Black’s home on Monaghan Street. Sarah-Ann was also by now a grandmother; her eldest child Mary Jane married Davy McCullough on 8 December 1899 and had a son, Thomas, known as Tuggy or Teagles; all three McCulloughs were also living with Auntie Black.

After Mary Jane, the next to wed was John who married Rachel McKeown at Ryan’s in the Parish of Newry on 15 September 1909. Rachel was the daughter of James McKeown, a farmer from Sheeptown, Co. Down. The two witnesses were John and Minnie McCracken






Intro Text: Abandoned by his father when he was a boy, William McMullan left school at 12 to work in a pharmacy that sold domestic household oils. After a stint in London, where he is thought to have met the revolutionary Michael Collins, he moved to Cork City and married Sadie Collins, the daughter of a Catholic farmer and stonemason. The couple later moved to Londonderry where William continued to develop his knowledge of the pharmacy and oils industry. In 1914, he was head-hunted to manage a new depot in Belfast but within a few years, he had established his own company with his older brother, JG McMullan, selling benzole and lubricating oils to motorcar owners.


On Monday 29 August 1887, readers of the Belfast Newsletter were informed that ‘the wife of James McMullan’ had delivered a son at their home on Bow Street, Donaghadee, Co. Down. The boy – James and Sarah Ann’s fourth son – was born the previous day in a bedroom above his father’s ailing grocery, boot and leather shop. Just over a month later, he was baptised in Shore Road Presbyterian Church in Donaghadee, where his four older siblings had also been baptised. His parents named him William, presumably after James’s paternal grandfather, the Ards farmer.

William ‘Willie’ McMullan was still a baby when the McMullans relocated to Belfast. Shortly before his third birthday, his father abandoned the family and Sarah Ann moved her children once again, this time to Newry where William went to the Model School. By the time he was ten, William’s mother had married Sam McAnuff. As well as his four brothers and older sister, his family included two stepbrothers from Sam’s first marriage and, in time, three half-brothers born to Sam and Sarah Ann.

The first automobile was brought into Ireland in March 1896 – a Serpollet steam car imported by John S. Brown of Dunmurray, County Antrim. The cycling boom is also now at its peak.




In 1899, twelve-year-old William McMullan left school to work as an apprentice for Connor & Sons pharmacy at 79, Hill Street, Newry, which, according to the Chemist and Druggist, was ‘one of the best-run pharmacies in Ireland’. The business was established by Dr Samuel Connor (1836-1894), a Presbyterian apothecary and druggist who had previously worked for Dr Butler’s Medical Hall in Dublin. Under Dr Connor, the pharmacy sold ‘all patent and proprietary medicines of repute’, as well as ‘veterinary medicines carefully prepared; select perfumery; silk and cotton elastic stockings’; and ‘lamp, and other oils, for domestic and machinery uses.’[44] Of particular interest to the Maxol story, Connors were also agents for the Anglo-American Oil Company, as well as various kerosene manufacturers.[45]

In William’s day, the business was run by two of Samuel’s younger sons John Edgar Connor (1866-1851) and William Horatius Connor (1868-1922).[46] At the time of the 1901 census, the Connors had five apprentices in Newry, aged between 16 and 21, as well as four assistants, a housekeeper and a servant. By 1911, there were six apprentices and two assistants, with William Connor running the operation; John Edgar Connor was then living at Warrenpoint, Co. Down, where the family had another pharmacy, along with their widowed mother and a brother George Washington Connors (1872-1936), who worked as a dental surgeon. Their oldest brother Dr Samuel Grahame Connor (1865-1945) was appointed medical officer to the Westminster Union in 1911. John Edgar Connor, who was educated in Coleraine, Newry and Edinburgh (where he studied medicine), went on to serve as President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland from 1920-1921.

At Connor’s, William was taken under the wing of a pharmacist by name of Philip McKee. Nothing more of him is known but one of the two assistants recorded at Connors in the 1911 census was John McKee, a 27-year-old registered druggist from Armagh. Either way, Philip McKee is said to have taught William everything he knew about the pharmacy business and is regarded as the greatest influence on the youngster’s life. In time, William would remember his mentor.

As he mixed the machinery oils at the Newry pharmacy, one wonders whether young William was also channelling genetic skills of ancestors who had converted kelp into pot-ash in the mid-Ards a century earlier, or indeed whether his earliest memories of oiling leather in his father’s shop played a role in his future career choice.




In his late teens, William moved to London to acquire wider experience in the pharmaceutical trade, working for a chemist in Putney. It is not known who he worked for or where he stayed at this time.

His older brother James Gowan McMullan (1884-1956), known as JG, was already in London working for the Post Office Savings Bank in West Kensington. JG lived in a nearby flat over a ground-floor dairy at nearby 5 Netherwood Road, where his landlords were the Willison Brothers. In 1914-1915, JG would share the house with two siblings from Cork, namely Johanna ‘Hannie’ Collins, a ledger clerk at the same bank, and her younger brother Michael, who had just left his job at the post office to  become a clerk at the Board of Trade in Whitehall. Michael Collins would become arguably the greatest Irish patriot of his generation.[47]

In 1914-1915, JG would share the house with two siblings from Cork, namely Johanna ‘Hannie’ Collins, a ledger clerk at the same bank, and her younger brother Michael, who had just left his job at the post office to  become a clerk at the Board of Trade in Whitehall. Michael Collins would become arguably the greatest Irish patriot of his generation.




The Collins connection continued to be relevant into 1909 when 22-year-old William McMullan moved to Cork City to work at a pharmacy, finding accommodation at No. 2, Emmett Place. While there, he met Sarah ‘Sadie’ Collins (1889-1936), a cousin of Michael and Hannah Collins. Her parents Timothy and Sarah (daughter of Jeremiah Kingston of Aghafore) originally had a farm at Artiteigue (Templetrine) near Timoleague but circumstances obliged them to move before Sadie’s birth on 13 October 1889. They eventually settled at Carrignavar, a village about five miles north of Cork, where Sadie’s father found work as a stonemason. Educated at the local school, Sadie then moved to Cork City where she was living on George’s Quay at the time of her marriage. [48]

William and Sadie were married in the Roman Catholic Church of St. Finbarr, Cork, on 26 February 1910. The witnesses were John Bacon and Francis Sheehan. Their first child, Sarah, was born on 13 July 1910, at Dominick Cottage, Dominick Street, Cork, which may have been the home of Sadie’s father, who had died in the same house on 17 June 1910. Slater’s Directory of 1881 shows a Timothy Collins who worked a boot-maker and lived on Dominick Street. Baby Sarah’s health was so bad that William took compassionate leave in order to bring the sick child north to his mother in Newry for treatment. Unfortunately, all efforts failed and Sarah died of pneumonia and meningitis on 14 January 1911 at 39 Canal Street. This was the home of William’s mother, Sarah Ann, and his stepfather, Sam McAnuff.




William McMullan then went to Londonderry to work for ‘Fred Maxwell’s Pharmacy’ on the Diamond. It seems likely this was Arthur Frederick Maxwell, a 26-year-old chemist, who was living at 47 Northland Road, Londonderry, in 1911, along with his father, William Maxwell, a Presbyterian druggist and grocer. Working in cahoots with Stewart Greer, the company became known as Maxwell, Greer & Co and, towards the end of 1905, they had opened a shop at 38 Foyle Street, offering their services as Pharmaceutical Chemists and Sight-testing Opticians.[49] In 1914, the company ran an advertisement in the Pharmaceutical Journal for a hair preparation called ‘Nurserine’.[50] By 1915 they also had a ‘fine range of cameras’ on display; customers were invited to learn how to take portrait and holiday photographs.

While working for Maxwell, William lodged just over twenty minutes’ walk away at 3 Grafton Terrace in Rosemount, just south of Creggan Burn Park. At the time of the census in April 1911, the McMullans were boarding at 49 Bishop Street, Londonderry, along with a 19-year-old chemist, William Black, who, born in Donegal, may feasibly have been connected to William’s aunt, Essie Black. The house was owned by John Wylie Close, a Presbyterian miller, and his wife Maria.

Sadie gave birth to their first son Clifford at 3 Grafton Street on 13 July 1911. (It seems remarkable that this was the exact date that their ill-fated first daughter Sarah was born). Clifford nearly went the same way as Sarah when, at just eighteen months old, he swallowed some pure, sweet-smelling and very poisonous carbolic acid which was presumably connected to his father’s lubricating oils. Nearly quarter of a century later, William endowed a bed at the Londonderry Infirmary, inscribed: “The Clifford J. McMullan bed, named by his father as a token of gratitude for great attention received by us both.” [51] Clifford would go on to become the senior most figure at McMullan Bros.

A few months after Clifford’s near fatal poisoning, Sadie had a second son David, who was born at 20 Magazine Street, near the Derry City Walls, on 25 June 1913.[52] By that time, William and Sadie were living at 9 Grove Place. Sadie is said to have opened a cafeteria beside the City Walls, which may explain their presence on Magazine Street. William McMullan of 24 Magazine Street, Londonderry, was recorded as a signatory of the Ulster Covenant in opposition to Home Rule in 1912.

William’s stepbrother Clifford McAnuff, who was in his early teens at this time, recalled going on holiday to Londonderry to see them. He was put on a train in Newry with a label pinned to his lapel. He had to change trains at Portadown and Dungannon before arriving at Londonderry. However, William met the wrong train and so Clifford had to pay a Jarvey 1/6 (negotiated down from 2/6) to get him the rest of the way to the McMullan’s home.





In 1914, the year the Great War broke out, William McMullan moved to Belfast to become manager of a new business premises at 69, Great Victoria Street, operated by William Preston & Co., which, by 1915, claimed to be ‘the largest importer in Ireland of petroleum products (burning and fuel oil excepted).’ [53]

Born in County Down in 1877, William Edmund Preston, a Protestant chemist, had bucked the trend in December 1899 by marrying Josephine Bowers, a Catholic, at St Andrew’s Church in Dublin. She was co-heiress to her bachelor uncle, William Henry Bowers, a Dublin pharmacist, who was based at 164 Great Brunswick Street, now Pearse Street. [54]  Following W. H. Bowers’ death in 1895, Josephine and her sister Margaret McDermott succeeded to the business although William Preston quickly emerged as the main player, describing himself as a ‘chemical merchant’ on the 1901 census. Two years later, some 1,500 cars arrived in Ireland to either compete in the Gordon Bennett Cup Race or tour the Irish countryside in tandem with the event. Given that there were only about 300 cars in Ireland at the time, the race was a complete game-changer for the motor industry in Ireland. However, for Preston, the most interesting aspect of the 524km race on 2 July 1903 was that Camille Jenatzy, the Belgian victor, attributed his success to a motor spirit called Carburine. Not missing a beat, William Preston ordered 700 barrels of Carburine the very same week as Jenatzy’s win, and built a 150 feet square corrugated-iron magazine to store it all at Great Brunswick Street.[55] In 1905 and 1906, the company employed Millar and Symes, architects, and the Collen Brothers, contractors, to build a new oil and colour warehouse on site, as well a new store in Park View Lane, just off Westland Row.

In 1907, while William McMullan was cutting his cloth in London, William Preston achieved another coup when W. F. Cotton, the Chief Engineer of the Alliance and Dublin Consumer’s Gas Company, the largest in Ireland, gave Preston’s motor spirit Morganol (‘an oil adapted especially for gears’) a glowing testimonial, published in the Dublin Daily Express.[56] [Given that William McMullan’s mother Sarah Ann was born a Morgan, it is tempting to suggest a family link to the name Morganol but that remains entirely speculative.] Morganol Lubricants, which were advertised in Irish newspapers from June 1907 until at least 1924, catered to cars, motorbikes, tractors, mowers, reapers, bonders, electric motorsoil engines, gas engines, dynamos, threshing machines and stone breaking machines.

Preston’s also took a stand at the 1907 Dublin Motor Show in Ballsbridge, offering a variety of lubricating oils, greases and high-grade motor spirit, including Morganol, B.F. (a medium “water-cooled” oil) and C. F. (the heavy version of B.F.). It was noted that they were also agents for Carburine, Jenatzy’s spirit of choice, ‘which has met with success both in the Irish and Scottish Reliability trials and the Isle of Man trials.’[57] The following year, the company were able to show that 60 per cent of the competing cars in the Irish Reliability Trial went through the event with Carburine and that 52 per cent were lubricated with Morganol Motor Oil.

In 1913, shortly before William McMullan joined the company, readers of the Northern Whig were likewise assured that the reason why R. C. Robb of Victor H. Robb & Co achieved the fastest time in an open event at the very first Craigantlent Motor Trials was simply because his 12-16 horse-power Sunbeam was using Morganol.[58] The 1913 speed trials at Craigantlet were organised by the Ulster Automobile Club. Among the many competitors was Harry Ferguson, the County Down man who not only developed the modern tractor (now enshrined in the Massy Ferguson brand) and the first four-wheel drive Formula One car (the Ferguson P99), but who was also the first person in Ireland to build and fly their own aeroplane.

By 1911, William and Josephine Preston were living at 26 Herbert Park Road, a Crampton-built redbrick in Dublin 4, with their three small daughters, Ethel, Kathleen and Patricia.[59] As well as their Dublin base (which moved from Great Brunswick Street to East Wall), they had business premises on Drinan Street in central Cork, as well as 69 Great Victoria Street (and later 56 Bridge End) in Belfast. The latter was where William McMullan was based when he became manager of Preston’s Ulster enterprise. It is not clear when he started but he and Sadie were living at 96 Larkfield Road in East Belfast by the time their daughter Mary was born on 6 November 1914.

The market for motor oils and lubricants had never been bigger. In the three short years since Clifford’s birth, the number of motorcars and motorcycles registered in Ireland had almost quadrupled to 19,554. By April 1914, there were 6,262 motorcars and motorcycles in Ulster, with one councillor estimating that there were 2,400 cars in Belfast alone.[60] The Belfast car dealers Victor H. Robb & Company claimed it had fifty cars ‘in stock ready to drive away.’ The marketing department at Preston also opted to use the Western Front to promote their wares. On 5 August 1915, readers of the Freeman’s Journal were advised that Preston’s Morganol Oils ‘stands in the same relation to other lubricants as the 75-gun stands in to other artillery.’ By this they meant, ‘the wonderful French field gun of 75MM [which] has made history because it will do what no other gun in Europe can do. It is the best.’

As well as Morganol, Carburine and a range of paints and colours from Lewis Berger (of which Preston’s was the sole wholesale distributor), William McMullan kept a close eye on Glico, a form of motor benzole, for which Preston’s also had an exclusive wholesale agency for Ireland from the Gas Lighting Improvement Company.


WANTED, Stores, or Covered Yard with good floor might suit, vicinity of Victoria Street, Bridge End, Middlepath Street, or Oxford Street, large floor space essential. – State lowest terms to William Preston & Co., Ltd., 69 Victoria Street.

Belfast Newsletter, 2 March 1916.




SITUATIONS VACANT. WM. PRESTON & CO., LTD., Dublin, Belfast, and Cork, require the services of a capable, energetic Man as Assistant to Wholesale Paint, Oil, and Petrol business; good opportunity for a really smart man.—Apply, with, copies of references, stating age and salary expected, to the Manager, 69, Victoria Street, Belfast. (Belfast News-Letter – Wednesday 01 March 1916)


Having arrived at Preston’s, William ‘wasted no time’ in persuading his older brother, JG, to return to Belfast from London and take up the position of Commercial Traveller with the company. JG was with them by 1916, which was to prove a particularly devastating year on the Western Front for the sons of Ulster. The Belfast engineer Victor Robb, founder of the eponymous car firm, was one of thousands killed in the nightmare at the Somme.[61] Dickie Magrath, later to become manager of the McMullan’s Cork Depot, lost a brother on the Somme.[62]  RM Pryde, later the company’s representative for County Antrim, was one of the few survivors from his battalion at the same battle. Robert Pollin, eldest son of the McMullan’s solicitor, was slain at Passchendaele the following year. The war also made a broader impact on the motorcar industry. Petrol rationing was introduced in July 1916, the month the Somme began, while a tax doubled the cost of gallon of petrol by six-pence to a shilling.


Image: Kerosene with Razi.

Image: In the 9th century, the Persian scholar al-Rāzī described the production of kerosene and its use as a lamp oil. He is depicted here with a glowing lamp in the 13th century work by the Italian translator, Gerard of Cremona.




As well as all motor oils, Preston’s were also buying kerosene (or lamp oil) from Charnock Brothers. Established in 1798, Charnock’s had a strong claim to be the oldest lubricating oil merchant firm in Ireland and, at its peak held every important grease contract in Ireland, including the railways.[63] In July 1908, the company was sold for £650 to William J. Gibson and Samuel Gibson, JP, who had strong connections in the grease and oil worlds, particularly in the south and west of Ireland. The Gibsons imported oil into the company refinery at Scrabo Street, Belfast, from where they did their own blending. One of their main brands was ‘Fastol’, an oil and grease used ‘for every type of machinery and every technical process.’ They were also direct shippers, importers and blenders.[64]




  1. A COMPANY IS BORN / Texo .

Caption: Published in the Belfast News Letter on 25 November 1918, the first known McMullan Bros advertisement was for Texo roof sealant.


The history of corporate triumph is replete with instances where a single conversation convinced somebody to move in a direction in which they would never otherwise have gone. It seems unlikely that William McMullan would ever have settled for being a mere employee.

Ever since he walked out the gates of the Model School in Newry, he had displayed a restless ambition that had given him an insight into the workings of four cities, namely London, Cork, Derry and, latterly, Belfast. As his thirtieth birthday hove into view in 1917, he found himself becoming ever friendlier with Bob Gibson, the principal at the Charnock Brothers refinery in Belfast. Company lore credits Bob Gibson with persuading William and JG to break away from their employer and set up their own business as oil importers, blenders and distributors. When Ulster Bank rejected the McMullans’ initial request for a loan because they lacked the required security, Bob Gibson agreed to stand as guarantor.

‘McMullan Bros’ is thought to have commenced operations in late 1916 or early 1917. Launching a new business in the middle of a global war was always going to be challenging but, as William must have wagered, it is an ill wind that blows no good. Based at 24 Seaforde Street in inner-city Belfast, their primary business was the sale of paraffin, paint, oils, soaps and disinfectants. They also promoted a plastic compound called Texo, which ‘Cures all Leaky Roofs’, according to a front-page advertisement they placed in the Belfast News Letter six times during the run-up to Christmas 1918.







  • Churchill

Caption: Winston Churchill clearly understood that oil would be the twentieth century’s core energy source. During his first term as First Lord of the Admiralty (1911–1915), he converted the Royal Navy to oil.

  • 1919 – Major’s Pyramid Motor Benzole

Caption: An advertisement by McMullan Bros for ‘Pyramid’ Motor Benzole, published in the Belfast News Letter, 31 May 1919.

  • Middlepath see NI Map site I haven’t looked at yet via—1963-  … the M on the low res one indicates the place on Middlepath Street where McMullans had their depot] … I’d definitely like to include a 1920s map of central Belfast, showing Middlepath and Seaforde Streets where McMullan’s were based – perhaps you have more experience than I in sourcing such things!?


Caption: The McMullans’ first depot, marked ‘M’, was on Middlepath Street in the heart of a very industrial Belfast.


On 21 November 1918, ten days after the Armistice ended the Great War, Lord Curzon, a leading member of Britain’s wartime cabinet, attended a euphoric dinner at the Inter-Allied Petroleum Conference in London. To tremendous applause, he declared that the Allies had ‘floated to victory on a wave of oil’. Lord Curzon was referring to the fact that Britain’s unimpeded access to oil had enabled the Allies to run such an efficient fleet of motor trucks that they ultimately triumphed over Germany’s coal-fired railroads. He was also giving a nod to a decision taken in 1911 by Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, to convert the driving systems of every vessel in the Royal Navy from coal to oil.

It was all about the accessibility of oil.

William McMullan’s business acumen was very much in tune with Lord Curzon’s verdict. In early 1919, he set off for Hull in East Yorkshire to talk with John Lewis Major (1861–1945), chairman and managing director of Major & Co. Ltd. Based in Sculcoates, just north of Hull, John Lewis Major was a founding member of the National Benzole Association. The NBA was established in February 1919 to set quality standards on benzole, a coal-tar based motor spirit chiefly composed of benzene and toluene that could power automobiles. Fuel rationing had kicked in across Britain in the hot summer of 1918. The only way a car owner could obtain petrol was with a coupon, which meant persuading the authorities that their vehicle was providing an ‘essential service’.

It occurred to William that if a motor car could run on benzole, then benzole was surely just the thing for all those wealthy drivers itching to rev up their motors after five long years of austerity. Major & Co. had a large quantity of this fuel in storage, a brand known as Pyramid Motor Benzole. William bought a chunk and shipped it back to Belfast.

The first consignment to arrive on Belfast’s Coal Quay is said to have consisted of five 80-gallon barrels, ten 50-gallon barrels and 200 2-gallon cans, packed into wooden cases, six cans a case. The cargo was taken to the company’s new ‘Benzole and Spirit Stores’ on Middlepath Street; the stables where the McMullans kept their horses and cart had recently been vacated by Wordie & Co., a railway haulage carrier. At about this time, William was unloading some cans when a teenage boy offered him a hand. The boy’s name was Hughie McMillan and not only did he become the company’s first employee, but he would also give a remarkably long and loyal service to the business, retiring as the company’s depot inspector for Northern Ireland.

By May 1919, McMullan Bros had secured the contract to be the ‘Sole Wholesale Distributor for Ireland’ for Major & Co., and were advertising themselves as ‘Direct Oil & Benzole Importers’. Pyramid was certainly a top quality benzole, which the McMullans duly marketed for ‘its purity, efficiency and economy’. However, even the best benzole was an imperfect petrol substitute. For starters, carburettor settings had to be altered to use it, which was a costly and complicated process. Moreover, benzole’s well-earned reputation as a paint stripper alarmed anyone with an American car as their elegant carburettor floats were invariably made of varnished cork. Nonetheless, within a very short time, every petrol dealer in Ulster was approaching the McMullans with a view to buying some of this useful, coupon-free fuel. The McMullans maintained a strict policy by which their benzole was allocated to existing customers. If they had a surplus, they would offer it to non-customers – but the crafty catch was that non-customers had to sign a contract in order to avail of the offer.





  • Solignum.
  • Horse Show products.

Caption: A notice in the Irish Times referring to the McMullans’ three main products on sale at the Dublin Horse Show in 1919.

  • Silensol Folder – please use as you see fit, probably the 1929 ad. It would be nice to use the Silensol bottle, but I presume its way too small … if it was, I’d cut it out of the background, play around with it …

Caption: The McMullans began selling Silensol Motor Lubricants in 1919.


In August 1919, the McMullans took stand no. 13 at the Royal Dublin Society’s Horse Show. Their ‘interesting and artistic exhibit’ caught the eye of an Irish Times correspondent, who noted their role as Irish agents for Major & Co., and that they were selling Pyramid Motor Benzole as well as another Major product, Solignum, a creosote-like wood preservative and stain. ‘In these days of timber shortage,’ remarked the Irish Times, ‘it should appeal strongly to all users of woodwork in any shape or form. It stains, preserves, and beautifies all classes of wood, and is a certain preservative of, and cure for, “dry rot”.’

A third exhibit observed at the Horse Show stand was Silensol Motor Lubricants, a new brand for which McMullan Bros were sole wholesale distributors.[65] They would advertise ‘Silensol’ in the Belfast News Letter throughout 1919 alongside their celebrated ‘Motor Maxims’ and the caption ‘The Oils That Get You There’.

Within months, McMullan Bros had also become the Irish agents for Thornley & Knight, a high-class Birmingham-based paints company that had been established back in the reign of King George III. They were soon selling paints, colours, varnishes and enamels on Thornley & Knight’s behalf. [66]  Other products that McMullan Bros were distributing at this time included Tarzol disinfectant and, an anomaly of sorts, buttermilk powder.

The Irish Times correspondent must have felt a degree of pleasure in later life that he had focused such attention on McMullan Bros at the Horse Show. By the close of the coming decade, this determined ‘start-up’ would be one of the biggest importers of oil in Ireland.


Image: 1919 – Please use images of 3 x Motor Maxims from the PDF as per texts below, or similar. (I know the images I am giving you are word orientated, being ads … could we run some sort of colour around them to differentiate them from the main text?)

Caption.: Billing themselves as ‘Oil Importers, Blenders & Distributors’, McMullan Bros published the first of their celebrated ‘Motor Maxims’ in the Belfast News Letter on 15 March 1919. Customers were invited to contact them by telegram (via ‘Silensol’, Belfast) or telephone (Belfast 1777).


MOTOR MAXIMS. The finest car in the world is in reality only so much scrap unless it is properly lubricated. Silensol Motor Lubricants will lubricate it properly. Therefore ask your dealer for Silensol.


MOTOR MAXIMS. Proper lubrication consists of the interposition of a thin film of oil between all wearing parts. This film is frequently all that lies between you and a repair bill. If it is a film of Silensol, the Super Refined Motor Lubricants, the repair bill is a long way off. Ask your dealer for Silensol.


MOTOR MAXIMS. A “foul” engine is the almost certain result of using inferior lubricants. Such oils usually contain traces of Carbon and Free Alkali, but if you insist on using Silensol, the Super Refined Motor Lubricants, your engine will always be clean and in good running order. Ask your dealer for Silensol.


Chapter 3





[Intro text] The formal registration of McMullan Bros Ltd on 12 April 1920 came in direct consequence of a brilliant scoop by William ‘The Boss’ McMullan when he persuaded the Anglo-Mexican Petroleum Company to give his company the exclusive agency to sell Mex petrol in Ireland.

Along with the new company came a new partner, William Whan Kennedy, a Belfast haulier who would provide McMullan Bros with the biggest fleet of Ford trucks in Northern Ireland. The Boss and his brother JG also established a network of 23 depots that ran from Derry south to Cork City, including the major Dublin depot at East Wall.

The partition of the island into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State presented numerous challenges but the McMullan’s persevered and profits soared. Unfortunately, the relationship between the brothers themselves would sour, leaving the Boss in sole command by the end of the decade.






  • Image: William McMullan (young)

Caption:William McMullan as a young man.


  • McMullan Clan (an important pic)

Caption: William ‘the Boss’ McMullan with his wife Sadie and their four children, c. 1926. L–R: David (DG), Mary, William (aka ‘the Boss), Clifford, Sadie and Billy. All except Sadie were directors of McMullan Bros.


  • Image: Mex ads. (Use combo as you see fit. It was a major product for McMullan’s, their biggest seller – motor spirit was the original word for petrol – so any that you don’t use here, keep a copy of to use elsewhere in the book, or even further down in this chapter with THE BIRTH OF SHELL-MEX … Feel free to crop the Mex sign or Mex can, or to polish either image up if you like.

Caption: The McMullan’s greatest breakthrough came in 1920 when they became sole distributor of Mex Motor Spirit in Ireland on behalf of the Anglo-Mexican Petroleum Company. Originally sold by the Bowring Petroleum Company, Mex petrol was advertised using slogans such as ‘Mex Speeds the Motor’ and ‘When on Mex you’ve something to Crow about’.


  • Images: AMPC
  • Image: Weetman_Pearson_1st_Viscount_Cowdray

Caption: Weetman Pearson, the English owner of the Anglo-Mexican Petroleum Company, was one of the wealthiest men of his age. He was created 1st Viscount Cowdray for his assistance to the Allied war effort.


  • Image: Mexican Eagle Oil Company –crop so that we just have the logo beginning ‘Compania Mexicana …’ and ending ‘Company Limited’? May be too small.


  • Image: Eagle Oil and Shipping Company flag

Caption: The flag of the Eagle Oil Transport Company, which Weetman Pearson sold to Royal Dutch Shell in 1919.


By January 1920, McMullan Bros had established a strong foothold in East Belfast, with their headquarters and a warehouse on Seaforde Street, close to the shipyards. They also had their ‘Oil and General Stores’ at 24 Kilmood Street (now Bryson Court) and their ‘Benzole and Spirit Stores’ on nearby Middlepath Street.

In Dublin, they had taken over the former William Preston & Co. premises on Great Brunswick Street. However, the ongoing Anglo-Irish War was causing much difficulty, not least because of a prohibition by Ireland’s military authorities on the use of cars and motorbikes by anyone without a permit. Moreover, with petrol supplies slowly but assuredly reviving, it was increasingly evident that the benzole bonanza was coming to an end. An imminent coal strike was also likely to impede the availability of coal shale, a core ingredient of benzole.

If benzole was no longer in the picture, Silensol and Solignum would not be enough to sustain the commercial empire that the thirty-two-year-old William McMullan was determined to create. He weighed up the odds and decided it was time to do what he had done a year earlier – go to England to resolve the situation.

William’s mission was to persuade one of the world’s biggest petrol companies to give him the distribution rights for Ireland. In the spring of 1920, he took a ship to Liverpool and a train to London, where he called at the offices of the Anglo-American Oil Company at Bishopsgate. They would not entertain him. Nor did he have any luck with Shell. However, he scored his vital breakthrough when he called at the Kerosene and Motor Spirit Department of the Anglo-Mexican Petroleum Company (AMPC) at 16 Finsbury Circus. When he asked to speak to the manager, the secretary asked if he had an appointment. William gamely replied, ‘No! But if he does not see me, he will live to regret it.’

And so it was that he bluffed his way through the magic door.

AMPC was part of the Mexican Eagle Oil Company (Compañía Mexicana de Petróleo El Águila SA), a major player in the global oil industry at this time. The company was founded in 1909 by Weetman Pearson, a Yorkshire-born construction magnate and civil engineer, who had acquired extensive oil fields in Mexico, then the world’s third-largest oil producing company after the United States and Russia. [67]  The company sent its oil down pipelines from the oil fields to tankers waiting offshore at Tuxpan, a port city 11km (6.8 miles) upstream of the Gulf of Mexico.[68] Pearson, who became one of the wealthiest men of his generation, was created 1st Viscount Cowdray for his assistance to the Allied war effort. His investment was profoundly endangered in 1917 when the famous Zimmermann Telegram was leaked to the press, revealing that Germany had offered to recover the states of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico for Mexico on condition the Mexicans went to war against the US. Woodrow Wilson, the US president, began sizing up a military invasion of Mexico in response but back-tracked when Venustiano Carranza, the Mexican president, threatened to destroy the oil fields. Mexico was producing over 55 million barrels of crude oil a year at this time.

Shortly before the Great War, AMPC had acquired the English fuel oil business of the Bowring Petroleum Company of Finsbury Court, London. By 1919, it had also taken over Bowring’s kerosene and motor spirit department, which is where William McMullan now found himself. Bowring’s big seller was a motor spirit (or petrol, to use the modern word) made from Mexican oil, that went under the trade name of ‘Mex’. This was sold using slogans such as ‘Mex Speeds the Motor’ and ‘When on Mex you’ve something to Crow about.’ Bowring, who are said to have been the first importer of barrelled oil into the UK, also produced the “All’s Well”, “Oberon”, “Dominion” and “Hercules” brands of lubricant.[69] It transpired that AMPC were already seeking to bring Mex into the Irish market and that they were just looking for the right person to be their agent.

William returned from London victorious. At the close of March 1920, he announced in the Belfast News Letter that McMullan Bros had secured the contract to sell Mex – ‘the brand you need, for miles and speed’ – on behalf of the AMPC. Crucially the deal gave the McMullans the sole distribution rights across the whole of Ireland. The passage of the Government of Ireland Act in December 1920 would see the island partitioned within six months. That the AMPC contract included all 32 counties was either due to vigilance on the part of James Moore Pollin, the McMullans’ solicitor, or sheer good fortune. As for William, he would henceforth be known in the company as ‘the Boss’.





Image: Queen’s Bridge, Belfast (Ardfern)

Caption: The McMullans’ first cargo of Mex came into Belfast on a ship that docked alongside Queen’s Bridge. (Photo: Ardfern)


Clifford McAnuff, the Boss’s half-brother, was one of the company’s earliest employees. He was on hand to witness the arrival of the first shipment of Mex into Belfast. The cargo consisted of 75 40-gallon barrels, containing 3,000 gallons of fuel. As the ship arrived alongside Queen’s Bridge, a squad of policemen armed with red flags were assigned to keep dockers and curious onlookers at a safe distance, and to ensure that nobody flicked a foolish cigarette into the air. In compliance with fire regulations, two more red flags were hoisted high on the steamer’s masts.

It was thus with mounting panic that Clifford watched two of W.W. Kennedy’s coal-fired Foden steam wagons chug around the corner to collect the hazardous cargo. The wagons reversed up to the side of the ship, with smoke and sparks belching from their engines, while two of Mr Kennedy’s men restoked the fire-boxes for the journey onwards to the McMullans’ depot. ‘It’s a wonder they did not blow the whole place up,’ observed Clifford many years later. ‘When you look back on those days, it’s funny the ideas people had on safety.’

The 40-gallon cans were then brought to Middlepath Street where a one-gallon hand pump slowly transferred the petrol into more portable two-gallon cans for resale. These cans were then heaved on to the back of one of the company’s horse-drawn vehicles and delivered to the various garages, cycling agencies, hotels and other customers that the McMullans had lined up.





Image: Mex 1 hp Paraffin Tanker

Caption: A ‘one-horse-power’ tank delivering Motor Mex Spirit in the early 1920s.


Image: McMullan drivers and helpers

Caption: A group of McMullan drivers with their boy helpers. One of the boys was Hughie McMillan who went on to become the company’s depot inspector for Northern Ireland.


During the 1920s, McMullan Bros kept a stock of horses for its transport operations, requiring a constant supply of mash, hay and water. An army of teenage boys was on hand to clear up the mess, wash the horses and ‘Brasso’ the harnesses, while there was always plenty of work for farriers and vets.

Over the course of the 1920s, the horse-drawn vehicles were replaced by motorised transport. A particularly symbolic moment was reached in 1927 when Jim Kerr, later the Boss’s chauffeur, obtained his licence to drive a truck – Jim’s father bred at least ten of the horses that had to’d and fro’d from the Middlepath Street depot.

Not everyone succumbed to the charms of the truck. John ‘Mex’ Murphy was manager of the company’s Kilkenny depot, which lay alongside the railway station (now MacDonagh Station). A former master of the adjacent Kilkenny Workhouse, which closed in 1923, Mex Murphy was often to be seen sporting a black Victorian top hat while he carted two-gallon cans around the streets of the Marble City by horse and dray.

The late Freddie Hopkins, one of the McMullans most charismatic salesmen, also continued to make fuel deliveries around Dublin by horse-drawn transport into the 1930s. He always kept a bucket and fork close to hand. This was especially important at Myler’s Garage on Merrion Row, where he could only access the fuel tank for their Mex pump by reversing his horse and cart back into the pristine showroom. Freddie also had to ensure he picked up any horse ‘messages’ from the street outside. If he failed to do so, he could be sure that the depot in East Wall would receive a call from the manager of the nearby Shelbourne Hotel.






Image: See the cool new headed paper we can add to the mix …


Image: WW Kennedy

Caption: W.W. Kennedy, the first chairman of McMullan Brothers, was one of Northern Ireland’s biggest hauliers.


Image: WW Kennedy warehouse van

Caption: A warehouse van belonging to W.W. Kennedy, the McMullans business partner, parked near Queen Street, Belfast, in November 1932.


For the McMullan brothers to make a success of the Mex agency, it was absolutely critical that they developed a rock-solid distribution strategy. To that end, they joined forces with the quick-thinking William Whan Kennedy (1873–1926), one of Belfast’s leading hauliers. Mr Kennedy grew up at Connor, near Ballymena, famed as the place where Ulster’s Christian Revival began in 1859. As a young man, he became manager of the Belfast office of the carrier firm, John Wallis and Sons. He also worked in the Belfast office of McCrea and McFarland, a prominent Derry-based engineering contractor.

Mr Kennedy was renowned for ‘moving with the times’, and clearly realised the potential of motorised transport. In 1908, he established W.W. Kennedy & Company, which, although based in Belfast, also had warehouses on Upper Dorset Street in Dublin. By the time the Great War was underway, he could offer the British government the use of ‘the resources of his command’, namely two hundred motors and horse-drawn vehicles, to help with haulage and general cartage.[70]

The Boss met W.W. Kennedy at the haulier’s headquarters on Academy Street and made a pitch. Mr Kennedy was so convinced that he agreed to loan the required capital of £5,725, in return for which he would become an equal share-holding partner in the company, alongside the Boss and JG McMullan.

As well as the alliance with Mr Kennedy, the McMullans established a crucial network of distribution depots to which all their products could be delivered in order to bring them closer to their rapidly growing customer base. By the close of 1920, they had depots in Belfast, Londonderry, Dublin, Ballymena, Portadown and Newry. The following year, three further depots were established at Maghera, Downpatrick and Newtownards on the Ards Peninsula.






1924 Staff Meeting Close Up

Caption: Sitting on chairs, L–R: Sadie McMullan, the Boss, Mrs W.W. Kennedy, William Whan Kennedy, James Gowan (JG) McMullan, Mrs Laura McMullan.

On JG’s knee, his daughter Audrey (1917-1928). On Laura’s knee, her son Roy McMullan (1921-2015).

Sitting on Ground, L–R: The Boss’s daughter Mary McMullan (born 1914), son Clifford McMullan (born 1911), unknown, unknown, and the Boss’s son David McMullan (born 1913).




James Moore Pollin, the first company solicitor, was born in Belfast in 1873 and baptized into the Church of Ireland. He served his apprenticeship with Robert Kelly & Son in Belfast before establishing his own practice at 41 Donegall Street.[71]


James Moore Pollin’s eldest son Robert Kelly Pollin was a solicitor’s apprentice when he joined the Royal Irish Rifles in 1916. The following year, the twenty-year-old officer was killed during a charge on the first day of the bloody battle of Passchendaele.  His body was never recovered and his name is listed on the Menin Gate ‘Memorial to the Missing’ in Ypres (now Ieper), Belgium.[72]


Image: Clifford McAnuff

Caption: Clifford McAnuff (1898-1999), the first company secretary, was a half-brother of JG and William ‘the Boss’ McMullan. [73] He resigned the position in 1922 and went on to run the company depot in his home town of Newry. Daisy Lamp Oil is said to have been named for his wife Daisy (née Alexander), whose father was Station Master in Clones or Monaghan.


With the Mex contract and the Kennedy fleet in place, business began expanding so rapidly that James Moore Pollin, the McMullans’ solicitor, and James Boyd, their accountant, urged William and JG to register their company as speedily as possible. McMullan Bros was duly registered as a limited company in Dublin on 12 April 1920, with an agreement that Ulster Bank would look after the finances.

The first meeting of the board of directors of McMullan Bros Ltd was held in James Boyd’s offices at Raleigh House, Queen Street, Belfast, at 4 p.m. on Monday, 17 May 1920. The board comprised of W.W. Kennedy (chairman), William McMullan, JG McMullan, James Pollin and James Boyd (auditor). Clifford Maxwell McAnuff, the McMullans’ half-brother, was appointed company secretary.[74]





In December 1920, the month the McMullans brought in their first consignment of Mex to Derry, all of the Anglo-Mexican Petroleum Company’s petrol outlets in the United Kingdom were combined with those of the Royal Dutch Shell Group into a new entity called Shell-Mex. [75]  Shell, which was to become a major rival of McMullan Bros in the decades to come, was founded in 1897 as the Shell Transport and Trading Company. Its initial purpose was to handle the transportation of vast quantities of Russian kerosene from the Black Sea through the Suez Canal to the Far East. Marcus Samuel, its founder, named the company for the painted seashells that his father, a Jewish Mesopotamian, had sold from an antique shop in Houndsditch in the City of London.

In 1903, Shell embarked upon its first joint venture with the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, which had been established in 1890 to develop oil fields in the East Indies, or Indonesia, as the archipelago is now called. In 1907, the two companies were formally merged in an operation managed by Calouste Gulbenkian, the son of an Armenian oil trader, was known as ‘Mr Five Per cent’ for his policy of retaining 5 per cent of the shares from each oil company that he took over. Mr Gulbenkian subsequently became Shell’s principal shareholder. Under his guidance, Shell became the world’s principal selling agent for ‘East Indies’ oil.

Shell had been selling products in Ireland since 1902, when one of its subsidiaries established a depot in Dublin for the distribution of lamp oil and kerosene. By 1905, it was also selling the increasingly popular Shell Motor Spirit.[76] The company’s main terminal was at Alexandra Road in Dublin Port, where they first took up a lease in 1908. Shell scored a major publicity coup in August 1919 when Alcock and Brown completed the first ever non-stop transatlantic flight, having used Shell’s aviation spirit to power them across the Atlantic.

In April 1919, Shell secured control of Mexican Eagle and, by extension, AMPC. Shell’s takeover of AMPC resulted in the formation of a new company, Shell-Mex (Dublin) Ltd. When the amalgamation of AMPC and Shell was first announced in November 1920, the McMullans went to meet AMPC in London to try to keep their Mex Motor Spirit agency alive. It must have been with a degree of optimism that the Boss returned with the news that AMPC had agreed to let their agreement run its full term. However, on 16 December 1920, readers of the Belfast News Letter were informed that Shell Motor Spirit would henceforth be marketed under the brand name ‘Shell-Mex’. This appears to be the first public record of the name Shell-Mex and it must have caused considerable indigestion for the Boss. It was barely nine months since he had secured exclusive rights to sell Mex Motor Spirit throughout Ireland.

In February 1921, the AMPC agreement was transferred to Shell-Mex Ltd. That same month, Clifford McAnuff’s minutes of a board meeting noted that while the construction of McMullan Bros’s new Dublin premises was underway, they had struck a deal with Shell-Mex Ltd to draw supplies from their Alexandra Road terminal at a cost of a penny per gallon. This meant that McMullans would effectively be competing with their own supplier. Perhaps Shell hoped they could persuade McMullans to hand over the name Mex, enabling them to standardise Shell-Mex as a brand name. There may have been some debate as the McMullans did not advertise Mex in any newspapers during 1921. In January 1922, they ran an ad in the Belfast News Letter promoting their paint, enamel, varnish, distemper and Solignum wood preservative, but there was still no mention of Mex.

Conversely, the Shell-Mex marketing office in Dublin ran a major promotion campaign for Shell-Mex Motor Spirit in the Irish market throughout that year. However, Shell’s confidence wavered with the establishment of the Irish Free State and the outbreak of the Civil War when, for instance, one of their lorries was commandeered at gunpoint. By March 1922, McMullan Bros Ltd. had regained the upper hand and was firmly advertising itself as the ‘Sole Irish Distributor’ of Mex, ‘in grades to suit every conceivable purpose’.

And yet, to complicate matters, Shell-Mex was also the McMullan Bros supplier so all Mex sales had to be lodged to a Shell Mex bank account. At the end of the month, the accounts department at Shell-Mex added up the commission per gallon and remitted it to the McMullan Bros bank account in Belfast. The directors then transferred 5 ¾ old pence (d) on each gallon sold by the Dublin office to the Dublin bank account, out of which they had to pay their selling, delivery and rebate expenses.

On 17 February 1923, an Anglo-Mexican Petroleum Company truck was hijacked near Blessington. The hijackers, anti-Treaty, then poured the 70 tins of petrol all over the furniture at Mullaboden, General Sir Bryan Mahon’s home near Ballymore Eustace. General Mahon was one of the seven founding directors of the Naas Race Company. The raiders also  broke the house windows before applying the matches. Two grooms who came upon the scene while exercising horses were told to ‘clear off’ by a man wielding a short-barrelled shotgun. One member of the burning party dressed himself in one of the general’s army tunics for a photo. Another carried a gramophone out of the house, placed it on the front steps, and wound it up so that music echoed around the crackling flames. The house was thoroughly destroyed by the time the Curragh military fire brigade arrived on the scene.




In 1925, the Boss took time out to help his old mentor Philip McKee, who had tired of his work at Connor & Sons pharmacy in Newry and come to Belfast to start anew. The Boss provided him with sufficient capital to open his own pharmacy, the Keemac Drug Stores (or Medical Hall), at 148 Peter’s Hill, off the Shankill Road. The name Keemac derived from the ‘Kee’ in McKee while the ‘Mac’ was a nod to the McMullans.

Philip McKee was to become widely known in Belfast as ‘the Doc’, and it is said that he knew more about medicine than most doctors. He was also a homeopathic enthusiast. The Keemac Medical Hall was still in existence at the time the 1960 Belfast Street Directory was compiled.






  • Magilligan SeaHorse, The Graphic, 22 Oct 1927. [Please crop out words]

Caption: A driver competing in the Ulster Motor Trials on Magilligan Strand in 1927. Mex and Silensol were used by many of the competitors.


  • Strachan and McCoull Wins, Belfast telegraph, 5 May 1927

Caption: G.C. Strachan and M.J. McCoull, who reigned supreme in the races on Magilligan Strand, used Mex and Silensol.


  • Balmoral Stand

Caption: An advertisement for the 1926 Balmoral Show showcases five of the McMullans’ main products – Mex, Silensol, Karlac, Milwaukee Pumps and Thornley & Knight.


Business was evidently tricky by the time the board of McMullan Bros held its second AGM on 15 May 1922, with the multiple repercussions of pogrom, riots, partition and civil war unfurling all around them. As they debated the company’s survival prospects, the McMullan brothers took a pay cut while W.W. Kennedy waived his fee entirely. At the same meeting, Clifford McAnuff stepped down as secretary. It is said that he could not handle the incessant rows between the Boss and JG. The vacated position was filled by Irvine Abbott, an accountant from James Boyd & Co., who was promptly assigned the task of improving the bookkeeping system.  Meanwhile, Clifford was dispatched to run the company’s depot in his home town of Newry.

The financial outlook had not improved a year later, at which point W.W. Kennedy proposed to the board that they wind up all operations outside Belfast. They decided to keep the Dublin depot open while an auditor completed a proper study of the accounts. Meanwhile, in the summer of 1923, they mortgaged both the Dublin and Londonderry depots in order to help persuade Ulster Bank to give them a £10,000 overdraft, writing off debts accrued by both the Boss and JG. They also opened an account with the Munster and Leinster Bank.

By March 1924, the company was sufficiently solvent to enable the Boss and JG to increase their annual salaries back to £500 and £400 respectively. It was also noted that there had been an abnormal expenditure on a Humber car, which the Boss bought from W.W. Kennedy. The Boss, who was living at Kensington Road, Knock, by this time, had suffered a serious but unidentified illness that caused his absence from work for a period. In February 1925, the McMullan brothers bumped their salaries up again by £100 each, while all three directors took a £300 bonus. All this salary raising may explain the uplifting announcement in December 1924 that Mex would henceforth be sold in lavender-painted cans. ‘We could not improve the quality of the Spirit,’ they counselled, ‘so we improved the Package.’




Ford Model T.

Caption: A Ford Model TT one-ton truck from 1926, similar to those that would have been used by McMullan Bros.


10T tank wagon (No.101, 45 Chichester Street, Belfast). See

Caption: A 10-ton tank wagon (No. 101) which operated out of 45 Chichester Street, Belfast, photographed on 19 February 1930. (Charles Roberts Collection / Historical Model Railway Society).

14T tank wagon (No. 203) See

Caption: McMullan Bros 14-ton tank wagon (No. 203), Ravensdale Road, East Wall, Dublin, photographed on 7 October 1930. (Charles Roberts Collection / Historical Model Railway Society).


Business was certainly on track by March 1926 when the directors gave themselves another £200 pay rise. W.W. Kennedy’s demise just three months later was an unexpected blow. The Boss and J.G. subsequently purchased his thousand company shares from his widow for £4,500. They did so by awarding themselves an untaxed dividend, a move that understandably caught the eye of the Revenue Commissioners.

At the time of W.W. Kennedy’s death, McMullans had the biggest fleet of company-owned Ford Model TT one-ton trucks in Ireland, distributing Mex to garages all across the island. Mr Kennedy’s passing may have prompted the McMullans’ decision to make all their vehicles company-owned and to give their drivers fixed salaries. In August 1929, they held a sale of Ford trucks at Bridge End, advising that their fleet had since been ‘replaced by larger vehicles’. An edition of ‘Mex’ Motor Magazine, published by McMullan Bros that same month, included a full-page advertisement for the new Dennis lorries – ‘the biggest and cheapest three tonner on the market’ – distributed in Ireland by Charles Hurst Ltd, and it seems likely these vehicles formed part of the McMullans’ upgraded fleet.

By 1930, the company had upped the stakes again, purchasing tank wagons capable of carrying between ten and fourteen tons of fuel. Some of these vehicles appear to have been either built or maintained by the Clarence Engineering Company of Belfast.




Image: Belfast Get-Together

Caption: McMullan Bros hosted a Christmas party for their staff in 1926. Pictured at the top table were the Boss (aka William McMullan), James Boyd and Bertie McAnuff. (Belfast News Letter, 20 December 1926)


Milwaukee Tanks

Caption A: Advertisements for the Milwaukee Tank Works of Wisconsin. McMullan Bros sold their pumps from 1925, while the company also organised the transport of fuel tanks to the McMullan depots.

Caption B: Letter from the Milwaukee Tank Works acknowledging orders for four big tanks for McMullans in 1926.


In May 1927, the company scored a publicity coup at the Ulster Automobile Sports Club car races on Magilligan Strand; the one mile, 10-mile and 25-mile events for standard touring cars were all won by cars using Mex and Silensol. [77]  By the following month, profits were soaring to such an extent that the directors took a tax-free bonus of £2,250 each. In October 1928, the Belfast News Letter observed that Mex sales in Ireland now ‘run into millions of gallons per annum’. The eloquent journalist added, ‘Gratified users testify in eulogistic terms to its ability to give increased mileage and meritorious power performance in hilly districts, and on bad roads.’

The Belfast Telegraph was equally proud about the ‘epic rise to prominence’ of this ‘purely local firm’ in the face of ‘keen competition’ from giants like Shell, BP and the Anglo-American Oil Company (aka Esso).  ‘It is worthy of the admiration of all who find pleasure in the continued progress of the Province and the country.’ [78]

As well as ‘the immense gallonage’ of Mex motor spirit, Silensol lubricating oils and Daisy Lamp Oil sold by McMullan Bros, the company also became the sole distributor of ‘Karlac’, a well-regarded motor enamel lacquer, in 1926. It continued to handle the distribution of high-class paints, colours and varnishes for Thornley & Knight. [79]  Another leading client was the Milwaukee Tank Works Company, for whom McMullan Bros became sole distributor of pumps and tanks for petrol installations.[80] At the Royal Ulster Show in May 1929, the McMullan stand included an exhibit of ‘specimens of the Hardoll pump installation.’[81]

In 1928, Shell-Mex agreed to continue supplying the McMullans’ Londonderry depot. However, in June 1929, the company struck a new deal with Munster Simms & Co. Ltd. (MSC) to pay a flat rate commission of 3.25 pence on condition that they purchased over a million gallons per year. Operating as timber merchants and ship brokers since 1810, Munster Simms had become an early agent for the Consolidated Petroleum Company, selling rock-light lamp oil on behalf of the Nobel and Rothschild dynasties. [82]




Image 11: 1924 Staff Outing (I think this could be a double page spread)


Caption: (Awaiting details from Noel as to who’s who): A staff outing to the Glens of Antrim Hotel, Cushendall, in about 1924. Among those pictured are William ‘the Boss’ McMullan, with his wife Sadie and their sons Clifford and David (DG) and his co-directors, JG McMullan and W.W. Kennedy.





Maxol Depots

Caption: A mirror at the McMullans’ Belfast depot names and locates all the depots.


Steel Barrell Co

Caption: An advertisement for the Steel Barrel Company of Uxbridge, England, which supplied the tanks for McMullan Bros in 1926.


Connsbank Depot 1

Connsbank Depot 2.


Caption:  McMullans’ employees at the Belfast depot on Connsbank Road, circa 1928, pictured cleaning two-gallon cans, possibly with steam, and refilling them for redistribution. The cans are visible in a stack outside the depot from where they were placed on the back of the eight or nine flat Ford Model TT trucks. The Boss’s car is in the foreground, with his chauffeur in a white cap standing beside it.


At the close of the 1920s, the McMullans’ ‘large and highly-organised transport service’, with its fleet of ‘up-to-date tank lorries’, was operating across most of Ireland. As well as the divisional offices and depots in Belfast, Londonderry, Cork and Dublin, there were another nineteen depots at Newtownards, Newry, Portadown, Ballymena, Portrush, Cookstown, Enniskillen, Strabane, Carlow, Limerick, Dunmanway, Clonmel, Macroom, Ballyshannon, Letterkenny, Kilkenny, Navan, Naas and Dundalk.

Most of these depots were at rail sidings, and comprised storage tanks and a filling station. One contemporary remarked that they ‘embody all the latest ideas in modern efficiency, and every precaution is taken to ensure that the spirit is delivered to the consumer or dealer in excellent condition, whether it be in bulk, barrels, or cans. It may be mentioned that the labour involved in the distribution of these commodities is drawn from the districts in which the depots are established.’ [83] Not all McMullan products travelled by lorry; some were transported by rail to the provincial towns and collected directly by depot managers and garage owners.

Initially, all the two-gallon Mex cans had to be collected when empty and brought back to the various depots, after which they were reloaded onto wooden cases, trucked to the ferry port and shipped back across the Irish Sea to the refinery for refilling. The McMullans soon adopted a more efficient system by which the petrol arrived in 40-gallon wooden barrels, which were then hand-pumped into header tanks at the depots. The fuel was gravity fed down to two-gallon cans that were then sealed, ready for delivery, before the empty barrels were sent back across the sea.

The tanks subsequently went underground. The first two 500-gallon underground tanks for Mex fuel are said to have been installed at Rowland & Harris Motors on Hill Street, Newry, close to Connor & Sons pharmacy where the Boss had his first job. However, with fresh supplies now flowing constantly across the Irish Sea, the requirement for more capacious storage at the various McMullan depots became a matter of pressing importance.

In the autumn of 1926, they placed an order through the London offices of the Milwaukee Tank Works for four tanks, capable of holding 5,000, 7,500, 10,000 and 15,000 gallons respectively. Built by the Steel Barrel Company of Uxbridge, England, the tanks were shipped across to Ireland by the Clyde Shipping Company in the early weeks of January 1927.





FOLDER 13/Belfast


  • Two-gallon can.


Caption: During the 1920s and early 1930s, the Belfast offices of McMullan Bros were at 45a Chichester Street, pictured. In this perspective, looking towards Donegall Square North, Victor Robb’s garage is on the right. (Sourcing hi-res via NMNI)


Caption: Map showing Middlepath and Seaforde Streets in Belfast where the company was based in the 1920s.


  • STEEL CONSTRUCTION OF ROOF FOR McMULLAN Bros GARAGE – HOYFM.HW.3242_w (Ally can source hi-res if this works)

Caption: The McMullan Bros new premises at Bridge End under construction by Harland and Wolff. (NMNI)


  • Bridge End, c. 1999

Caption: Bridge End, circa 1999. The wall behind the property is the Belfast to Bangor railway line. The company’s original depot was on the other side of the line on Middlepath Street, as was nearby Seaford Street.



Based on Seaforde Street in the ‘horse and cart’ days, McMullan Bros had moved their offices to the second floor of 45a Chichester Street by May 1922, holding their first board meeting there on 20 March 1925. [84] Booth Bros, agents for Wolseley Cars, had the building next door. The McMullans may have felt inclined to exit Seaforde Street when the area was engulfed by sectarian riots during the summer of 1920.

In 1925, the company upped its game and leased a site from Shell-Mex at Connsbank Road, on the banks of the River Conn, near the present-day George Best Belfast City Airport, where they built a new depot. Two years later, Belfast’s City Surveyor approved plans by local architect John MacGeagh (1901–1985) to build ‘additional garage premises’ for McMullan Bros at Bridge End, close to their depot in Middlepath Street. [85]








Image: 1920 Bill of Lading

Caption: The Bill of Lading issued on 11 December 1920 for a shipment of 26,536 gallons of petrol from Barrow-in-Furness in England to the McMullans’ Londonderry depot. The fuel arrived on the SS Ardachy in 3,317 cases, each case containing four 2-gallon cans.


Image 17b: JV Johnston Letter

Caption: A letter from architect, civil engineer and surveyor J.V. Johnston concerning plans to erect a depot in Derry in 1920; he also notes rioting around the McMullans’ Belfast offices at Seaforde Street that summer.


Image: Bertie McAnuff, 1933.


On 7 June 1920, Albert ‘Bertie’ McAnuff (1895-1966), the twenty-four-year-old half-brother of JG and the Boss, was appointed manager of the Derry/Londonderry depot at an annual salary of £150, half that of Samuel Green in Dublin.[86]

Like his younger brothers Clifford and Ross, Bertie was educated at the Sabbath School in Newry, where he had grown up with his father, Sam McAnuff, the baker, and mother, Sarah Ann.[87]. He enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, aka the ‘Skins’, in 1915 and went through the battle of the Somme during which his best friend is said to have been shot dead beside him. [88]  He had reached the rank of lance-corporal by the time he was wounded in September 1917. Discharged from the army eight months later, he went to work for McMullan Bros. During the War of Independence, he was apparently taken hostage by the IRA while delivering a lorry load of oil to a British Army barracks in Donegal. The McMullans managed to negotiate the return of both Bertie and the truck, although the latter was predictably empty.

On 11 December 1920, the SS Ardachy docked in Londonderry with a consignment of 3,317 cases of Mex from the AMPC. This was the first recorded arrival of a cargo for McMullans into Londonderry and marked a logical step to making an inroad into the north-west of Ireland. The anticipation of such cargo necessitated the construction of a depot on Londonderry’s Foyle Road, which was built by local architect James Valentine Johnston (1882–1932) at a cost of almost £3,000. [89]

AMPC subsequently sent their fuel to Ireland in 42-gallon oil drums made of steel.  For those who worked at the depot, one of the principal chores was to hoist these hefty 300lb drums up to a header tank and empty them in, after which the fuel could be gravity fed into the smaller two-gallon cans below.

Bertie McAnuff remained manager of the depot for five years before he succeeded Irvine Abbott as Company Secretary in January 1925. The new depot manager was Harry Lyttle of 29 Grafton Street, Londonderry, who received a salary of £260 p.a. [90]

Bertie, who was also a director of McMullan’s Kosangas (NI), became Company Secretary and General Manager for McMullan’s Ltd in 1935, retaining the posts until he retired in 1960. During his time at the Derry depot, he became enamoured of his secretary, Dorothy ‘Doree’ McIntyre, whose brother Jimmy McIntyre also worked for the company. Bertie and Doree were married and settled in Stranmillis in south Belfast where Bertie died aged 71 in 1966. The Derry/Londonderry depot closed the following year. [91]





HN McAdoo of Oldtown Street, Cookstown, was the agent for the Cookstown depot in 1925. Advertisements published in the Mid-Ulster Mail that summer advised that he was the go-to man for Mex (the ‘celebrated petrol unsurpassed for quality and purity’), Silensol and Eezol lubricants, as well as tractor oil and ‘Ford oil’.[92] However, he was replaced in September 1925 by Oliver Taylor of Millburn Street, Cookstown. Three years later, Mr Taylor described himself as a motor driver with McMullans, on a weekly salary of £2 and five shillings.[93]







Caption: McMullan Bros were agents to the Armis Cycle Company, a motorcycle manufacturer from Birmingham.



Caption: A statue of Sir Daniel Dixon outside Belfast City Hall. He owned the land in East Wall leased by the McMullans for their Dublin depot.


1924-1931 – Mex Ads. Pdf

Caption: Advertisements for the McMullan Bros depot at East Wall.


On 7 June 1920, the board of McMullan Bros appointed Samuel Green as Dublin manager. As well as his annual salary of £300, which was twice what Bertie McAnuff was paid, he was to receive a commission of a shilling and eight pence on every gallon sold. Given that the Dublin depot was handling upwards of 750,000 gallons annually, this commission increased his earnings to at least £700.

As part of the new strategy for Dublin, the company closed down the offices on Great Brunswick Street and crossed the River Liffey to start anew with a two-room office above Hyland Motors garage on Middle Abbey Street. While he set about furnishing the new offices, Mr Green was also instructed to contract a lorry to deliver company products on a daily basis, Monday to Friday. [94] Conversations were also ongoing with the AMPC about the possibilities of shipping petrol from Dublin to Athlone via the Grand Canal at a fee of ten shillings per ton.

In May 1921, McMullan Bros signed a 950-year sub-lease on a site in East Wall in Dublin’s docklands for an annual rent of £213. Mr Gibson, architect, was given £1,700 to build a depot on the site, which would later become 31–51 Ravensdale Road. [95]  The McMullans’ landlord at East Wall was Thomas Dixon & Sons, a company founded by Sir Daniel Dixon, a prominent Belfast-born timber and slate merchant and shipowner who served three terms as Lord Mayor of Belfast.[96] Sir Thomas Dixon, 2nd Baronet, PC (NI), his eldest son and heir, was a member of the Senate of Northern Ireland from 1924 to 1950.

The East Wall depot was critical to the McMullans’ success, not least with the creation of the Irish Free State just over six months after the Dixon lease was signed. As well as petrol and lubricants, the depot would be the hub for their other business interests in the twenty-six counties. For instance, in November 1920, McMullan Bros became agents across ‘all Ireland’ for the Hutchinson Tyre Company, on a commission of no less than 15%. This was no small contract for the McMullans, given that Hutchinsons’ had lately expanded their operations from their original business of manufacturing tyres for bicycles, motorbikes and automobiles into fields such as clothing, textiles, shoes, belts and gaskets. Three months later, McMullan Bros also became agents for the Armis Cycle Company, a motorcycle manufacturer from Birmingham.

Samuel Green continued to head up the Dublin depot for the remainder of the 1920s. In the latter years, this coincided with the arrival of JG McMullan into Dublin, as well as the construction of new premises in East Wall. In November 1929 he was summoned to a board meeting in Belfast where the Great Northern Railway seems to have been the subject of much focus. In January 1930 he left the firm and was presented with a clock in thanks for his service. After a stint as an agent of Glyco Petroleum, a subsidiary of Esso and thus a rival of Mex, he bought a petrol station in Finaghy, south Belfast, and signed a contract with McMullan Bros to supply Mex.




McMullan Bros’s divisional office, depot and storage facility in Cork’s docklands occupied a perfectly positioned corner site on the junctions of Centre Park Road, Victoria Road and Monahan Road, close to the Fordson tractor factory. The depot was initially under the command of W. R. Williamson, whose simple brief was to increase sales of Mex, Silensol and Daisy Lamp Oil throughout the province of Munster. He remained in charge until 1929 when, following an internal investigation into expenditure and other ‘irregularities’, the Cork department briefly came under the control of Dublin. [97]

On 30 March 1929, Dan McMullan, the oldest brother of JG and the Boss, was dispatched to take charge of the Cork depot. He would retain the post until the arrival of Dickie Magrath in the mid-1930s.




Image 1a: David & Clifford winning the Ulster Rally in an Alvis Speed 20.

Caption: David and Clifford McMullan beside the Alvis Speed 20 in which they won the Ulster Rally in 1932.


Image 1b. 1924-1931 – Mex Ads. Pdf

Caption: ‘Proof that Mex Motor Spirit is Better.’


As purveyors of petrol and lubricants, Maxol have inevitably had a long-standing interest in motorsports. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Boss was particularly well known amongst the motor racing fraternity and the Motor Agents’ Association in both parts of Ireland. In 1927, he steered the company to a fabulous publicity coup when the victorious cars in the one-mile, 10-mile and 25-mile events at the Ulster Automobile Sports Club races were all proud users of both Mex and Silensol. [98]  The company had a close association with the Ards TT, the Irish Grand Prix and the Circuit.




Image 1c: Irish Grand Prix Bob Montgomery image

Caption: McMullan Bros sponsored the Irish Grand Prix from 1929 to 1931. (RIAC Archive)


Image 1c: 1929 Irish Grand Prix – I am seeking to include image at  – have made enquiry]

Caption: Drivers run to their cars at the start of the 1929 Grand Prix at Phoenix Park, Dublin. (LAT Photographic)


Image: Waltie Kehoe

Caption: At the 1931 Grand Prix, Clifford McMullan’s MG Midget was driven by Walter ‘Waltie’ Kehoe junior of Milford, County Carlow.[99] Running on Mex and Silensol, the MG, finished 12th. Waltie, a well-known motorcyclist and close friend of the family, joined McMullan’s in 1928 and was based at their depot in Maryborough, or Portlaoise as it became known the next year. He had the added distinction of being a kinsman of Captain Myles Keogh, the cavalry man who died alongside Colonel Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.


The company’s public profile in the Irish Free State rocketed when it became one of the principal advertisers at the Irish International Grand Prix held at Phoenix Park, Dublin, from 1929 to 1931. The 1929 event got underway when all of the competing drivers had to sprint to their cars, which were awaiting them beneath a gigantic scoreboard emblazoned with the words ‘McMULLAN BROS.’, ‘MEX’ and ‘SILENSOL’.

The Grand Prix comprised two separate handicap races, namely the Saorstát Cup (for cars up to 1500 cc) and the Éireann Cup (for over 1500cc). The Russian driver Boris Ivanowski triumphed in 1929 in a 1,500-cc Alfa Romeo, defeating several much larger Bentleys. The following year, Germany’s Rudolf Caracciola claimed the race for Mercedes. In 1931, the enigmatic Tim Birkin won the Éireann Cup by driving an Alfa Romeo at a breakneck speed of 88 mph, but the overall winner was Norman Black in another MG Midget. Sadly, a lack of finances brought a premature end to the Irish Grand Prix in 1932.[100]


Image: Mex ad for the Ulster TT is on page 28 at


Image 1d: Mex Magazine

Caption: As a tie-in with the event, McMullan Bros published The “Mex” Motor Magazine, profiling the entrants and the course, alongside handy tips on engine maintenance and lengthier features about Northern Ireland’s beauty spots for the visitor’s interest. (Image courtesy of Raymond Walls)





Image 1e: Ards TT

Caption: Racing cars in the pits during a practice session ahead of the Ards International TT in 1934.


The McMullans were deeply involved with the Royal Automobile Club’s International Tourist Trophy Race, aka the Ards TT, which was Northern Ireland’s premier sporting event from 1928 until 1936. Billed as the fastest races in Britain or Ireland, they took place on the Ards Circuit in County Down, following a clockwise route that encompassed Newtownards, Comber and Dundonald. Upwards of quarter of a million people showed up to watch every year.





The McMullans themselves did not shy away from taking the wheel and, in 1932, Clifford and DG McMullan triumphed at the 750-mile Ulster Motor Rally in the Boss’s 2,100cc Alvis Sport Twenty, winning £100 in prize money.[101]  Now known as the Circuit of Ireland International Rally, this annual rally had only started the previous year, making it the third-oldest rally in the world. The Circuit, as it is colloquially known, is organised by the Ulster Automobile Club and is traditionally held over the Easter holiday weekend. In 1936, ladies were invited to compete for the first time; the Boss’s daughter Mary McMullan duly completed the race in a Morris.[102]




Belfast Omnibus (hoping Bob Montgomery might have an image)

Caption: The McMullans were shareholders in Belfast Omnibus, which was sold in 1935.


Portrush Excursions / Portrush beach (optional, we can get hi res)


In spite of all the success the relationship between the Boss and JG was not an easy one. The brothers were men of very different fiscal temperaments. As the Boss’s grandson Noel McMullan recounts: ‘If William had a pound in his pocket, he would spend ten, but JG had to have ten pounds in his pocket before he’d spend one.’

In August 1928, a temporary solution to their squabbling was reached when JG was given £600 to set up a new head office in Dublin. He was also entrusted with running the depots in the twenty-six counties of the Irish Free State, while the Boss was to focus on business in the six counties of Northern Ireland. However, the Boss was all too soon drawing any profits made in Dublin up into the Ulster Bank account of the Belfast branch, and spending the money as fast as it came in.

The brothers were by now on salaries of £1,000 each and, as the company minutes recorded in April 1929, business was ‘exceedingly satisfactory’. They had also bought a thousand shares in the Belfast Omnibus Company, an investment that paid off handsomely when all public road transport in Northern Ireland came under control of the Northern Ireland Road Transport Board in 1935. [103]

The McMullans were careful to ensure their good fortune percolated through the ranks of their staff. One Saturday each August, they closed all their offices and installations and brought their employees on an excursion to coastal towns such as Cushendall or Portrush. The outing to Portrush on 24 August 1929 was their biggest to date and the Boss seized an opportunity during luncheon to thank everyone for ‘their loyal cooperation’ in making the business such ‘a huge success’. That afternoon, there were sporting events for all, rounded off with a golf competition and a dance for ‘the younger people’. [104]

Everything was looking just rosy.

And then, just over four weeks after the staff outing, the London Stock Exchange crashed. Another month would pass before the knock-on effect would bring the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street crashing down too.




Image 17. JG McMullan

Caption: JG McMullan, the Boss’s older brother, was a director of the company from 1920 until 1932.


Woodies outside depot.

Caption: JG McMullan’s Ford V8, aka ‘Woodie’, parked outside a company depot.


Born in Donaghadee in 1885, JG McMullan was christened ‘James’ after his father and ‘Gowan’ after his mother’s family. As a young man he went to work with the Post Office Savings Bank in London, briefly sharing digs with the revolutionary Michael Collins. Having moved to Belfast to help the Boss administer his accounts at William Preston & Co, JG – or Jimmy, as he was known to some – became one of the three founding shareholders when McMullan Bros was established in 1920.

JG’s relationship with the Boss was a fraught one as he tried in vain to control his brother’s spendthrift ways. Their half-brother Clifford McAnuff became so frustrated by their constant arguments that he threw in the towel and resigned as company secretary.

The decision to send JG to run the new head office in Dublin in 1928 made sense as it was the home city of his wife Laura, whose father Joseph Vance was a court-crier at the Four Courts. [105]  A former nurse with an interest in theatre, she gave him a son, Roy, and a daughter, Joy. In April 1930, JG sold his share of the company to the Boss. The transfer was minuted at a board meeting on 2 May 1930 when JG was put on a service agreement as general manager for six months while “recovering from Ill-health” but this was terminated in October. He subsequently used the money from the sale to buy the Westbrook Motor Company at 19 Parnell Street, Dublin. He is assumed to have bought it after a fire decimated the garage in August 1932, destroying five cars and badly damaging many more.[106]

JG appears to have bought an eight-cylinder Hupmobile (registration no. 7206T ) from the Dawson Street garage of MacLysaght & Douglas, agents to the Hupp Motor Car Company in Detroit. [107] Another Hupmobile was bought in the name of McMullan Bros and transferred to John Milliken, the manager of the Dublin office. Family lore holds that when the Boss got wind of JG’s purchases, he ordered a Hupmobile for himself. JG later drove a Ford V8, colloquially called a Woodie, which Max and Noel McMullan have fond memories of piling into. Its panels were made out of wood harvested from Henry Ford’s own trees in Michigan.

JG was 72 years old when he died suddenly at the County Hospital in Castlebar, County Mayo, in 1956.[108] His widow Laura survived him by four years, passing away on Christmas Day 1960. Their son Roy, a bachelor, took up the running of Westbrook Motors but sold it before it was destroyed when the Parnell Street area was blown up in 1974. Roy died aged 93 in 2015.[109]

JG and Laura’s daughter Joy, who passed away at the age of 94 in 2018, was educated at Alexandra College and married Andrew Balbirnie, with whom she had three children, Sharman (George), Linda (Gaughran) and Ashley. Her grandson, also Andrew Balbirnie, is a prominent member of Ireland’s cricket team, which will compete at the 2021 ICC T20 World Cup tournament in Australia. In July 2020, he scored his 2,000th run in One Day International cricket, leading Ireland to a famous seven wicket win over England in the third and final match of the series. In January 2022, he was on the team that triumphed over the West Indies 2-1 in Kingston to clinch a famous series win.





Chapter 4

The 1930s



[Introductory text] The economic recession that blighted so much of the world during the 1930s did not affect the oil industry as badly as other trades. Petrol was simply too big to fail. In Ireland, the hunger for cars, trucks and tractors had never been greater. Nor had the demand for the fuel that powered them.

With the Boss in the driving seat, McMullan Bros soared through the decade with such vigour that in 1935 this ‘all-Irish’ firm was divided into two separate companies. While the Boss would run the business in Northern Ireland, his sons Clifford and DG (David) were now to helm operations in the Irish Free State.

Under pressure from their suppliers at Shell-Mex, the company streamlined its operations and modernised its fleet and depots with bigger tanks and new pumps. Major McMahon, an inspirational if mysterious member of the team, secured a valuable new client, Siúcra, while another powerful string was added to the bow when McMullans became the exclusive agents for Calor Gas on the island of Ireland.



Image: When Empty Please Return This Wagon to McMullan Bros

Caption: No need for one.


Image: McMullan Headed Paper – I think the head of one of these would work, with the Calor Gas perhaps?


Image: DG McMullan

Caption: David Gamble McMullan (1913–1999), aka DG – father of Maxol’s present director, Noel McMullan – was dispatched by his father to run the Dublin office in 1930.


Image: Clifford under a watchful eye.

Caption: Clifford McMullan under a watchful eye.





On 14 November 1929, McMullan Bros signed two new supply deals, one with Shell-Mex and the other with Munster Simms. It was not yet three weeks since share prices on the New York Stock Exchange had collapsed, triggering the Wall Street Crash and what would become a long global depression.

Such changing fortunes did not deter the Boss from buying his brother JG out of the business in April 1930 for £20,000, which he got together with the help of a £15,000 company dividend. The policy dispute that caused the buy-out led to a break between the two that was absolute – the brothers never spoke again and when JG died in 1956, the Boss did not attend his funeral.[110]

With JG no longer in the company, the Boss – or ‘The Governing Director’ as he was henceforth referred to in company memos – decided to send his young son David south to Dublin to fill the void. David, or DG as he was known, had barely finished his education at Portora Royal School in Enniskillen when he arrived in Dublin in 1930. He checked into the Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street, which was his base until his father purchased a family home at Shielmartin in Portmarnock in 1933.





  1. All-Irish Firm:


Image: 1937 Mex Ad

Caption: During the 1930s, McMullan Bros homed in on their credentials as an Irish company to win a broader customer base in the Irish Free State.


Image: 1924-1931 – Mex Ads. Pdf

Caption: In 1931 the company moved its Dublin head office to 28 O’Connell Street, taking the floors above the famous Findlater’s Corner food and wine emporium. The building stood at the corner of O’Connell Street and Cathal Brugha Street.


Image: 28 O’Connell Street

Caption: As above.


Image: McMullan Bros check from 1931

Caption: A McMullan Bros check from 1931, signed by the Boss.



In 1931, Royal Dutch Shell and British Petroleum (BP) merged their UK marketing operations into ‘Shell-Mex and BP Ltd’, a decision that was partly a response to the testing economic conditions. By extension, Shell-Mex (Dublin) Ltd was amalgamated with the Irish BP Company to form ‘Shell and BP (Irish Free State) Ltd’, an entity that lasted until 1976.[111]

The creation of such a global oil giant evidently inspired McMullan Bros to start trading on their homegrown credentials. From 1931, they were advertising themselves in the Free State media as ‘the All-Irish Firm’ and ‘McMullan’s of Ireland’.[112] Their campaign extended to hoardings throughout the principal towns and cities of Ireland. They also began using the name ‘Mac’s’, which would, in time, inspire the creation of the ‘Maxol’ brand.[113]

The new campaign coincided with the move of their divisional office in Dublin from Ravensdale Road in East Wall to 28 Upper O’Connell Street, where they occupied the floors above the Findlater’s Corner food and wine emporium. [114]

McMullan Bros’ positive outlook caught the attention of the Waterford Standard, which applauded ‘the extraordinary strides’ the company was making in the face of Ireland’s ‘too prevalent pessimistic attitudes’.[115] That they were selling such significant volumes in ‘a crowded field’ was, the writer continued, a testament to the ‘sheer merit’ of products like Mex, Silensol and Daisy Oil.





From January 1930, the Dublin depot in East Wall was managed by John S. Milliken. With a salary of £1,000 p.a., he was the company’s second highest paid employee after the Boss, who was on £2,500. His salary notably exceeded that of the Londonderry and Cork depot managers, both of whom were McMullan family members.

John Milliken’s wife, Olive, was a daughter of John White of Liffey-Bank House near Chapelizod, County Dublin.[116] Originally from Enniskillen, the Whites bred large numbers of horses for the British Army before and during the First World War. In 1944, Olive’s brother Jack White would take charge of the ‘French’ and ‘English’ horses ridden during an epic fifteen-minute re-enactment of the Battle of Agincourt, filmed at Enniskerry, County Wicklow, for Laurence Olivier’s directorial debut, Henry V.

Mr Milliken remained in charge of the Dublin depot until June 1940. His departure may have been connected to a takeover of the oil industry by the government with the onset of the Emergency. He died prematurely in about 1945, leaving his widow with three sons under twelve.

Olive later worked at Maxol’s self-service station on Mespil Road in Dublin and died in about 1980. Her eldest son, Cameron Millikin, went on to become Honorary Consul of Ireland in Calgary and played a big part in the peace process in Northern Ireland prior to his sudden death, aged eighty, in 2013. Another son Chesley, a record-label executive, was credited with discovering the great Texas guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and was also closely involved with bands such as the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead and the Chieftains. Chesley Millikin was also a friend of the novelist and playwright Brendan Behan.[117]







Mex Regular Globe


Mex Pump, 1936


Prior to the 1930s, hand-operated petrol pumps stood about ten foot tall, and were equipped with a beautiful heavy brass swing-arm and a long brass piston. This slowly but forcefully pumped the petrol up from a tank six-foot below the ground to a pair of glass one-gallon (4.5 litre) bottles lying side by side. The hand-pump filled the first bottle, after which the filling action automatically transferred to the second bottle while the first one discharged the full gallon through a hose into the vehicle tank. The process was then reversed again.

As such, these pumps could only measure complete gallons for as long as the pumping continued; the fuel was sold as a half-gallon, or ‘a whole’, or two gallons or three gallons. When they worked out how to pump fuel without recourse to the two bottles, oil companies began putting decorative, internally-lit globes on top of the pumps, adorned with the brand logo. In the 1950s, rival oil companies were known to shoot one another’s globes with .22 rifles.





  1. Jean Borotra

Caption: The French tennis ace Jean Borotra was instrumental in getting McMullan Bros the agency to sell Hardoll pumps in Ireland. (Private Collection).


Known to his contemporaries as ‘The Bounding Basque,’ Jean Borotra (1898–1994) was one of the world’s most famous tennis stars in the 1920s and 1930s. He won fifteen Grand Slam titles, including singles victories in the French Open, the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the Davis Cup. In 1924 he became the first player from outside the English-speaking world to win at Wimbledon.

On a visit to Manhattan in 1923, Monsieur Borotra was profoundly impressed by the kerb-side gasoline pumps he passed. Within a year he was in charge of general commercial affairs for Société Hardoll, the French pump-manufacturer.[118]  McMullan Bros was the first Irish company to recognise the potential of these pumps, exhibiting various ‘specimens of the Hardoll pump installation’ at their stand during the Royal Ulster Show in May 1929.

In March 1932 Jean Borotra joined the board of Avery-Hardoll Ltd, a new company that manufactured electric petrol pumps in Britain. At the end of that same month, Northern Ireland’s first electric pumps were installed close to the McMullans’ Belfast offices  at Victor Robb & Co.’s petrol station on Chichester Street.[119]  McMullan Bros subsequently secured the exclusive agency from Avery-Hardoll to sell their pumps throughout Ireland, a concession they retained until the 1960s.[120]

By April 1933, it was noted that ‘throughout the country, “MEX” pumps are to be seen in ever increasing numbers, a sure indication that Irish motorists are appreciating its anti-knocking, non-pinking and easy-starting qualities.’[121]

Jean Borotra went on to become 1st General Commissioner for Education and Sports during Vichy France. Arrested by the Gestapo, the tennis champion was deported to a concentration camp in Germany but survived the ordeal and died at the age of 95.





  1. FL Halford, The Sphere, 4 February 1933

Caption: F.L. Halford, the General Manager of Shell-Mex and BP, did not give the Boss an easy ride when they met in London just before Christmas in 1933.


In March 1932, Éamon de Valera’s Fianna Fáil party was elected to power in the Irish Free State.[122] Seán Lemass, the new Minister for Industry and Commerce (1932–1939) recognised the danger that multinationals like Shell were posing to Irish companies like McMullan Bros. Although he endeavoured to provide some form of protection, the multinationals inevitably dominated.[123]

Europe’s political outlook was changing rapidly. With Hitler’s election in January 1933, the Nazis were to rule Germany for the next twelve years. In December 1933, the Boss returned to London to meet Frank Halford, the general manager at Shell-Mex and BP, in order to discuss the terms of a new five-year supply deal. The meeting was by no means serene. For starters, the Boss felt instantly wrong-footed because he thought he had already confirmed everything with Fenton Hort, area manager for Shell-Mex and BP in Northern Ireland. [124] Such assumptions fell apart when Mr Halford not only derided the figures that the Boss and Hort had worked out as ‘ridiculous and preposterous’, but berated Hort in front of the Boss, making him, in the Boss’s words, ‘look a very small boy indeed’.[125]

Mr Halford then castigated the Boss for running a network of poorly managed, uneconomical depots. The Boss argued that Halford was basing his opinion on petrol sales alone, rather than petrol and kerosene sales. Nonetheless, Halford proposed sending two of his own men across the Irish Sea to examine the McMullan Bros accounts and advise the Irish company on how to better market their products. One of these two men was almost certainly A.W. Lawson, who had spent the previous twelve years orchestrating a successful overhaul of Shell’s depot and installation charges in the UK.

The Boss was not interested in receiving such counsel from a rival, whatever his credentials. ‘I told him there were certain items in our books I would not care to disclose,’ he wrote in his lengthy report afterwards. ‘These were our personal books, and I did not want anybody to come over and teach me … which would naturally infer that I had no brains or ability whatever.’[126]

With the global recession now entering its fifth year, the Shell-Mex boss clearly felt McMullans were too small fry. The lowest volume that he was willing to offer was 6.65 million gallons (30 million litres) a year, at 3d per gallon, on a five-year contract, with the payment of a fine if they failed to sell that amount. The Boss thought his behaviour ‘harsh’ but Mr Halford ‘refused to budge’. The conundrum for McMullans was that they already had a sub-contractual relationship to take 1.72 million gallons (7.8 million litres) a year from Munster Simms. Hence, they would now need to offload 8.37 million gallons (38 million litres) annually to stay on track.

The Boss weighed up the costs of freight, wages, drivers, commercial travellers, rent and all the other expenses before concluding that they would need every vehicle in their fleet to transport at least 8,000 gallons (36,300 litres) of kerosene and petrol per month in order to make the Shell-Mex deal worthwhile.[127] He conceded that such volumes would be more feasible in some places than others but reckoned that if they could ‘whip up’ output in places that fell short, the deal might just be ‘possible’. He also proposed a tightening of belts and ‘a complete overhaul of our business’, including a reduction in staff wages.[128]




  1. 1935 Cork Depot 2 –

Caption 1: Dickie Magrath, aka ‘The Bum Sales Manager’, stands alongside an old-fashioned pump with a Mex globe, a BP body and Esso lubricating oil at the lower level.


Caption 2: ‘All Set for the Inspector’ – The Cork depot and office on Centre Park Road; the site is now on lease to a second-hand car dealership.


Dick Magrath

Caption: Dickie Magrath, manager of the company’s Cork depot, was capped for Ireland in 1909.



Dickie Magrath, who was manager of the Cork depot from 1932 to 1962 [checking date], racked up a dozen caps for Munster, as well as one for Ireland during his rugby-playing career. Born in 1878, he served in the Anglo-Boer War as a young man and later worked as a reporter for the Cork Constitution newspaper (later the Cork Examiner). A founding member of Cork Boat Club, he was stroke on the victorious Leander crew in 1905.

In 1912, he became manager of Cork’s iconic Everyman Palace Theatre on MacCurtain Street. On his watch, the theatre hosted performances from Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, George Formby and a host of vaudeville stars.

He went on to become president of the Munster branch of the IRFU and coached the great Tom Kiernan, captain of the British Lions tour to South Africa in 1968.[129] Tom Kiernan subsequently won the Maxol Motor Industry Personality of the Year Award.

Dickie was one of the best-connected people in the city, with excellent links to the Merchant Prince families such as Crosbie and Barry. One imagines he was also on close terms with Major McMahon, a kinsman of the Barry’s. However, he did not get on with Dan McMullan, who left Cork soon after his arrival and went to work in the Belfast office.[130]

Austin Hastings recalls the excellent relationship that Dickie cultivated with his staff at the Cork depot on Centre Park Road. ‘He would go to great lengths on their behalf and they in turn were fiercely loyal to him and would do anything he asked of them.’





Among the sales staff working for McMullan Bros in Northern Ireland in 1932 was Major George Howard Brush (1865–1944). He also served in the Anglo-Boer War as a young man, living through the siege of Ladysmith and was severely wounded at the Battle of Colenso in 1899. During the Great War, he commanded the 11th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and was mentioned in despatches. He remained with the company until 1940 when he became governor of Armagh Prison. Prior to his death in 1944, he was also commissioner of Donaghadee and a general inspector in the local government department of the Ministry of Home Affairs. [131]

Horace Calvert, who became the company’s depot inspector on 4 April 1934, is said to have joined the Black Watch at the age of seventeen and served in the war. Despite his diminutive stature, his military background made him a most formidable inspector right through until his retirement in 1960. His duties were to check all depots and vehicles for irregularities and leakage.[132]

Captain Robert Moore Pryde, who served as the McMullan Bros representative for County Antrim, was one of the few survivors of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles – most of the battalion was killed at the Somme on 1 July 1916. The son of a Ballymena linen manufacturer, Captain Pryde was later taken prisoner. Upon his return home at the end of the war, he founded the Ballymena branch of the British Legion. He died in 1958.

Two more Great War veterans who worked for the firm were a Mr Pentland and Major A. E. Blythe Jackson (d. 1962). The latter, a fishing and pigeon racing enthusiast, had been a director of the Loop Bridge Weaving Company in Belfast.[133]







Image: 1934 Sales Staff

Caption: McMullan Bros Ltd Dublin-based sales staff, August 1934. The Boss sits between his sons Clifford and DG, while Dickie Magrath, the Cork depot manager, is seated to the right of the man in the dicky bow.


Image: Mex Pump, The Irish Press, 15 Sept 1936

Caption: An advertisement for a Mex pump from the Irish Press, 15 September 1936.


Image: From 6. Cork Depot 1935 (ie: specific folder) Caption:

  • Mex pump outside Noble’s garage on Queen’s Square, Fermoy.
  • The Cork depot awaits the arrival of the McMullan Bros depot inspector Horace Calvert, a veteran of the Black Watch, May 1935.[134]


Image: McMullans Waterford ad – Waterford Standard – 03 March 1934

Caption: As part of its extended network, a new depot was opened at a large railway siding in Waterford City ‘to facilitate deliveries of their products to their many customers’ in the area. J. J. Harris of Bolton Street, Waterford, was duly appointed agent.


In line with the Boss’s conclusions after his meeting with Shell-Mex, the company’s depots, installations and railway facilities were updated, while its road and railway fleet were likewise modernised to include the latest tank wagons and bulk distribution methods.[135]  By 1934, the company had a huge workforce of over five hundred employees, including sales managers, area superintendents, garage and installation managers, and depot superintendents, as well as those in accounting and advertising departments, and all those involved in secretarial work at the head offices in Dublin and Belfast or the soon-to-close offices in Cork, Foynes and Londonderry.[136]

The company overhaul and the advertising campaigns paid off. By 1934, McMullan Bros had never been busier. New clients were continually coming on board and, rather than finding new business, the greater challenge was maintaining stock. Sales of petroleum products like Mex, Daisy and Silensol were so rampant that the McMullans’ press office had to publish a series of missives to manage customer expectations.

‘Daily from North, South, East, and West come letters, telegrams, phone calls, asking for fresh supplies,’ announced one.[137] ‘The demand has been almost overwhelming, with many consequent difficulties, but the determination and the will to please is building up a network of service depots throughout the country second to none.’

As part of this network, a new depot was opened at a large railway siding in Waterford City ‘to facilitate deliveries of their products to their many customers’ in the area. J. J. Harris of Bolton Street, Waterford, was duly appointed agent.[138] [Text repeated in caption]




Images: 5. Golf – Cecil Ewing, Jimmy Bruen, John Burke and also ideally Clifford and DG McMullan. Cartoon could work …
Image 1: John Patterson and David G. McMullan, Dunlop Cup, Delgany, 1949

Caption: David G. McMullan with car dealer John Patterson from Bangor at the Dunlop Cup, the annual stroke competition of the Irish Motorcycle and Allied Trades Golfing Association, at Delgany, County Wicklow, 1949. Mr Patterson emigrated to Australia shortly afterwards.

Image: Clifford McM and John (Sean) Burke as the Irish Amateur Golf Team
Caption: Clifford McMullan and John Burke, Mex area manager (County Limerick), who made up the Irish Amateur golf team.


‘A keen golfer is a keen businessman and able to confine both to its proper sphere’ – William ‘the Boss’ McMullan


Cecil Ewing, 1935.

Golf has long been a Maxol mainstay. It was the favourite recreation of William McMullan, the company’s co-founder, who was vice president of the Ulster Golfers’ Alliance and president of the Irish Cycle and Motor Traders’ Golfing Association.[139] The Boss’s personal friends included leading Irish professional golfers Syd Fairweather and Joe McCartney, as well as England’s Archie Compston. The Boss was captain of the prosperous Knock Golf Club beside Stormont in east Belfast for four seasons.[140] He paid for the installation of Knock’s steel railings and beautiful cast iron gates; the club secretary reputedly added an ingenious rider to the agreement that stated that they’d be painted every two years at the expense of McMullan Bros.

Other entries on the Boss’s golfing CV show that he was a member of at least eight other golf clubs, namely Kinsale (where he was a life member), County Sligo (at Rosses Point, of which he was also a notable patron), Warrenpoint (where he was vice-president), Cliftonville, Portmarnock, Little Island, Douglas and Royal Portrush.[141]

Maxol director Clifford McMullan, eldest son of the Boss, was an Irish international golfer. He also played out of Knock in his early days but moved to Portmarnock in the mid 1930s. According to one contemporary, he had ‘the ability of never being disturbed even when taking part in a championship game’. Having been runner-up in the West of Ireland championship in 1930, he was a semi-finalist in both the Irish Amateur Open (at Royal Dublin) and the Irish Amateur Close (at Royal Portrush) in 1932. The following year, he was runner-up in the Irish Close (at Cork) and reached the semi-final of the Addington Foursomes, a golf tournament played at Addington Golf Club near Croydon, South London.[142] In 1937, he was on Portmarnock’s winning Senior Cup team.  He played for Ireland in the Home Internationals in 1933, 1934 and 1935, and represented Leinster in the first Inter-provincials in 1938. His last significant performance was when he partnered the Ulster pro Joe McCartney to win the Hermitage Amateur and Professional Scratch Foursomes in 1939.[143]

D.G. McMullan, the Boss’s younger son, was a member of Knock, Woodbrook and Portmarnock Golf Clubs, winning the Captain’s prize at the latter in 1933. That same year, he won the Irish Cycle and Motor Traders’ Golfing Association’s Dunlop Cup. D.G.’s sister, Mary King French, was also a talented golfer.

A deep passion for golf pervaded the ranks of the company, as exemplified when the Boss and his sons joined other staff from McMullan Bros to defeat their rivals at Shell-Mex in ‘an enjoyable match’ played over the Knock course in July 1933.[144] The company was big enough to have separate golfing societies for its north and south operations that frequently met for cross-border contests prior to the Troubles.

Clifford was one of five international golfers connected to McMullans who played for Ireland in the 1930s.

Cecil Ewing (1910–1973), from the County Sligo Golf Club, won forty-six caps for Ireland. He played on the Walker Cup team six times and won the West of Ireland Championship ten times. He also won the Irish Open Championship in 1948 and 1951, as well as the Irish Close Championships in the latter year. As non-playing captain of the Irish team, the big Sligoman led the country to victory at the European Team Championship in Sandwich in 1965 and in Turin in 1967.[145] Cecil’s brother Harry was one of the firm’s leading sales reps.

John ‘Sean’ Burke (1899–1974), the company’s Limerick area manager, played for the Walker Cup team in 1932 and became known as the ‘King of Lahinch’ after he won the South of Ireland amateur golf championship at Lahinch ten times.[146]A long hitter with a deep Limerick accent, he was the all-powerful Irish amateur of his generation and also won the Irish Close five times. The Castletroy man served with the IRA’s 4th Battalion, Mid-Clare Brigade, throughout the War of Independence, and participated in the notorious Rineen ambush, in which six members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were killed.

Jimmy Bruen (1920–1972) of Muskerry Golf Club won the (British) Boys Championship in 1936 and the (British) Amateur Championship in 1946, being the first Irish player to win either title. He also won the Irish Close twice and played on the Walker Cup team in 1938, 1949 and 1951; he was just eighteen years old when first selected for the team. Unfortunately, a wrist injury put paid to his career and he retired after the 1951 Walker Cup.

Another Irish international affiliated with McMullan Bros was Redmond Simcox (Little Island, Cork), a five-time winner of the Cork Scratch Cup. Jack McLoughlin, who joined McMullan’s Chichester Street office in Belfast in 1933, won the John Lumsden Memorial Cup in 1929 and went on to capture his first championship – the 1937 West of Ireland – at the expense of Cecil Ewing.[147]





Image: Stanley Woods
Caption: Motorcycle racer Stanley Woods (1903–1993) won 29 motorcycle Grand Prix races during the 1920s and 1930s, as well as the Isle of Man TT races ten times. When he broke the record to win the Athy 75 in 1929, he did so with Mex supplied by McMullans.

Image: Walter Rusk
Caption: Walter Rusk (1910–1940), one of the greatest motorcyclists of his generation, was sponsored by McMullan Bros. Nicknamed the Blonde Bombshell, Rusk clocked the first 90 mph and 100 mph laps at the Ulster Grand Prix’s Clady circuit in 1934 and 1939 respectively. He joined the Royal Air Force during the Second World War but was tragically killed while test-flying a Hawker Hart biplane.





One of the principal cast members in the Maxol story during the middle decades of the twentieth century was Major Bernard James McMahon. Major McMahon was something of a ‘fixer,’ retaining close links to the Irish government right up until his death in 1973.

He was born in Milltown, County Kerry, in 1895, where his father, also Bernard, was a sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary.[148] The family later moved to Killaloe, County Clare, where Bernard senior fetched up as a Head Constable until pensioned off as ‘unfit for further service’ on 21 May 1916. The timing is notable given that his son had been active with the Irish Volunteers during the Easter Rising just three weeks earlier.[149]

Barney, as he was known, had joined E Company in the 2nd Battalion of the Dublin Brigade and served under Thomas MacDonagh during the fighting at Barmack’s Malthouse on Fumbally Lane and at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory on Bishop Street. Measuring 5’10”, the black-haired, blue-eyed young man somehow avoided arrest after the surrender. He re-emerged in the War of Independence when he was involved in a number of incidents, including a seizure of gelignite from Amiens Street, the removal of arms from a boat at Alexandra Basin and the hold-up of a train at Newcomen Bridge. In 1920, he was arrested in County Clare and sentenced to eighteen months hard labour. He served his time in England, being released in January 1922.

During the Civil War, Barney took the Pro-Treaty side, serving on the barracks staff of the National Army at Beggars Bush. [150] According to his obituary in the Irish Independent, he was a close friend of Michael Collins, JG McMullan’s former housemate, now the Commander-in-Chief of the Free State army. Indeed, Major McMahon was allegedly in the convoy when General Collins was killed at Béal na Bláth.[151] Intriguing as this is, there is no corroborative record of his presence.

In 1926, he married Moira Barry, eldest daughter of the Cork tea merchant, James J. Barry.[152] At the time of his marriage, he was two years into his service with the 16th Infantry Battalion, Cork, part of the reorganised Defence Forces. He remained in the battalion until February 1929, when he retired at the rank of major.

In May 1930, he joined McMullan Bros as an assistant sales manager.[153] The position was potentially precarious; a fellow sales manager would not get into his car until he’d thoroughly investigated it with his walking stick to check there wasn’t a bomb under the seat.[154]

And yet, whether through his military contacts or those of his in-laws, he was impeccably well connected and clearly had political clout with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. It is said that when de Valera’s new government was struggling to pay the wages for the Defence Forces and the Garda Síochána in 1932, Major McMahon acted as the go-between and negotiated a payment from McMullan Bros and other companies to cover the bill.[155] It is perhaps no coincidence that the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces and Major-General Hugo MacNeill, commander of the 2nd (Spearhead) Division of the Irish Defence Forces during the Emergency, were among those who attended the McMullans’ annual dance.[156]

The McMullans certainly cultivated excellent relations with the government during the early days of the Free State. This might explain how the company was able to acquire some ten rail-side properties from the government – in places such as Waterford, Naas (The Crossing), Macroom, Portlaoise and Bridgend in Donegal – where they built depots.

When the company relocated its head office to Findlater’s Corner on O’Connell Street in 1931, Major McMahon was given a modest, windowless room beneath the stairs where, according to company lore, he liked to have a little snooze.

Austin Hastings remembers the major as ‘a tall man, very pleasant, very chatty and well spoken’. John Brady likewise recalls him as a ‘lovely’ white-haired old man, bumbling and funny, yet undeniably ‘mysterious.’ [157] ‘He did absolutely nothing that anybody could see and yet he came into the office every morning and chatted with people in a very casual way about the weather and that sort of thing. The only work I ever saw him do was to go into the reps’ room and cut a block of tobacco into strips with a paper guillotine.’

Major McMahon was still working with the company when Max McMullan joined. ‘He used to wander in about ten o’clock, have a cup of coffee or tea, and then go out for lunch. Then he’d come back and go to sleep in the afternoons.’

Barney McMahon is also thought to have helped McMullan Bros secure the contract to supply fuel-oil to Siúcra (aka Cómhlucht Siúicre Éireann, or the Irish Sugar Company), when de Valera nationalised the sugar manufacturing industry in 1933. For the rest of the century, McMullan trucks would drive to the Siúcra factories at Carlow, Mallow, Thurles and Tuam, delivering the fuel oil that helped to boil the sugar out of the beet.[158]

Major McMahon re-joined the Defence Forces’ Eastern Command in 1939 and served through the Emergency and up until 1953, becoming a Lieutenant Colonel with the Reserve. He retired from McMullan Bros on his sixty-fifth birthday and died aged 78. His wife’s cousin Peter Barry, the Minister for Transport and Power, represented Liam Cosgrave’s Fine Gael government at his funeral.[159]




In September 1933, with both Clifford and DG now based in Dublin, the Boss bought Shielmartin, a fine house set upon the white quartzite rocks of Portmarnock. This was to be the McMullans’ Dublin abode for the rest of the 1930s. It was the Boss’s preferred place of residence whenever he was in Dublin, as well as a home for his daughter Mary prior to her marriage to Lance King-French in 1939. The house was sold in about 1940.

‘You should come in to the Office at nine o’clock in the morning occasionally to see that everybody is up to time. You will find that slackness shows itself in this way if an eye is not kept on this.’

The Boss’s Advice to his sons about how to run the Dublin office.





  1. The Two Companies


Image: Clifford McM, James Boyd, James Pollin, The Boss.

Caption: Clifford McMullan, the sales director, with from left to right, James Boyd (accountant), James Pollin (solicitor) and his father, William ‘The Boss’ McMullan, at the company’s offices on Linenhall Street, Belfast, circa 1934. Note the company’s Mex logo on the window.


Image: Silence Requested – Linenhall Street

Caption: McMullans staff at work in the Linenhall Street office; silence requested. Note the Mex and Silensol advertisements in the windows.


Image: Linen-Hall – Quill Pens at the ready.

Caption: Typewriters and quill pens at the ready.


Image: James Boyd – A stern mind within

Captions: James Boyd, the company’s first accountant.


In the 1930s, everything that the company did in Northern Ireland seemed to be duplicated in the Irish Free State. The Boss not only had houses in Belfast and Dublin, but the company had a head office in both cities, with a full set of staff in each. And yet Ireland was two different countries, which created complications that were not so much political as legal and fiscal.

On 15 August 1935, the firm finally conceded that partition was here to stay and formally registered two separate trading concerns. McMullans Limited was formed in Belfast as a subsidiary of McMullan Brothers Limited, to oversee trade within the six counties of Northern Ireland.[160] Meanwhile, McMullan Brothers Limited would handle operations in the twenty-six counties of the Free State, or Éire as it became known when the new Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) came into force at the end of 1937.

  1. M. Pollin and James Boyd resigned their seats on the board of directors in April and May 1935 respectively; Mr Boyd was paid £5,000 compensation but Mr Pollin refused any such payment. This meant that the board was now a family affair with just three executive directors, namely the Boss, Clifford and DG. Within a few years, the Boss’s younger children Mary and Billy had also joined the board. John McMullan, a brother of the Boss, was appointed Company Secretary and General Manager to the Free State company, while Bertie McAnuff now became Company Secretary and General Manager of the Northern Irish company.[161]

McMullans still had a supply agreement in place with Shell for petrol and kerosene, although the company was also now setting its sights on a new product, Liquid Petroleum Gas.[162] Perhaps anticipating the coming war, the Boss wrote to Fenton Hort at Shell in March 1938 and offered to sell either some or all of the business for £150,000. Fortunately, the offer was declined.




9. Calor / Image:
A lamplighter tending a street gas lamp in Duncairn Gardens, Belfast. Air raid shelters can be seen in the background.

Image: 1937-Calor Gas re McMullan Bros-The Irish Press-Wed 21 April
Caption: In April 1937, McMullan (Calor Gas) Ltd named over 200 of its nationwide agencies and Special Fitter Agents in the Irish Press. 

Image: Eric and Calor Gas
Caption: The Boss’s son Eric McMullan stands beside a McMullan (Calor Gas) delivery van in 1946.

Image: Calor Gas Caravan – McMullan Bros
Caption: Promotional caravans circulated the Irish countryside, visiting towns on market days and fair days, to demonstrate the manifold uses of LPG to farmers and housewives.[163]


In 1936, the Boss made what his grandson Noel McMullan regards as ‘probably the best business decision of his life’ when he set out to secure the exclusive concession to sell and distribute Calor Gas in the 32 counties of Ireland. His efforts were successful and McMullan Bros would retain the agency until they switched to Kosangas nearly twenty years later.

Calor Gas, which takes its name from the Latin word for heat, had been established in England in 1935 by Cornish entrepreneur Ritchie Gill and chemical engineer Harold Pickering. They caught the zeitgeist by selling Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) for lighting, heating and cooking to anyone not connected to the mains gas network. Within less than two years, over half a million British householders had installed the fabulously simple gas units. The demand was such that there was initially no LPG available to send to a small market like Ireland. That changed in March 1936 when the news broke that McMullan Bros would soon be distributing Calor Gas across Ulster.[164]

The McMullans’ timing was impeccable: rural Ireland was hungry for a new energy source. Prior to the arrival of gas, most people in the countryside still cooked over an open turf fire or on a coal-fired range, with candles and paraffin lamps for lighting. A hint of the desire to change came with the opening of the Shannon hydroelectric scheme at Ardnacrusha in 1929, when many of those who could afford it installed electric cookers and lights. Gas was more economical than electricity. It was also portable, clean and very efficient. LPG vastly improved life for men, women and children across Ireland who could now heat their houses with ease and read into the night beneath brilliant bright white gas-lights. Gas cookers with hobs also enabled people to cook food with a degree of culinary precision rather than just having to boil or fry everything.

By May 1936, when the McMullans took a stand at the annual Balmoral Show, Northern Ireland’s biggest agricultural show, they were finding it ‘almost impossible to cope’ with demand.[165] Nonetheless, the following month, they also began selling their steel cylinders of Calor Gas in the Irish Free State. Promotional caravans circulated the Irish countryside, visiting towns on market days and fair days, to demonstrate the manifold uses of LPG to farmers and housewives.[166] [Text repeated as caption] The company had fully equipped showrooms at their head office on O’Connell Street, as well as on MacCurtain Street in Cork. McMullans also took a stand in the Industries Hall for the Royal Dublin Society’s Spring Show in Ballsbridge, Dublin, the main event of the agricultural year in those days.

A network of over two hundred gas agents was established across the land, including eight in County Limerick, seven in County Cavan and four in County Carlow. One of McMullans’ biggest agencies was D.E. Williams, of Tullamore Dew whiskey fame, which looked after much of Offaly and Westmeath. From the Big House to the bungalow, rural Ireland was transformed. Hospitals, churches and public halls readily adopted gas, as did caterers, yachtsmen and a huge number of caravanners and camping enthusiasts like the Boss himself.

On 1 January 1937, the arrangement was formalised by the establishment of a new public company, McMullan (Calor Gas) 1937 Ltd, set up to market and distribute LPG throughout Ireland. A shares prospectus published in the Irish Times that April advised that the Boss was to be chairman while the rest of the board comprised of Clifford McMullan (managing director), DG McMullan, Major McMahon and Robert J.G. Parr, a former inspector of the Imperial Bank of India, who would later become managing director of the Calor Gas Company.[167]

In honour of the new venture, a large neon sign advertising Calor Gas and Mex petrol was hung outside the Dublin offices on O’Connell Street. Art deco gas-lights were also installed on ceilings throughout their offices, each with its own pair of chains to switch the LPG supply on and off. Company lore recalls how Clifford and DG, the Boss’s parsimonious sons, would advance down the corridors switching lights on and off, as and when illumination was required.

The sales promotion department for Calor Gas was headed up by Ken O’Dea, who joined McMullan Bros in October 1935. A talented pianist in his own right, Ken was a brother of Jimmy O’Dea, the celebrated actor and comedian. Their father was an ironmonger from Capel Street, Dublin, while their mother ran a toyshop. Two other brothers Joseph and Lal were in the Radio Éireann Repertory Players. Ken O’Dea, who went on to become part of the McMullan Kosangas sales team, was the first secretary to the McMullan Bros Dance Committee.




By 1927, the Boss was driving a Rolls Royce with the Belfast registration number of AZ4893. In July 1935, DG took the Rolls south to Timoleague in County Cork with his mother, Sadie, and his sister Mary to attend the marriage of their cousin Sheila O’Driscoll to Colonel Hughie McCarthy.[168]

The Rolls was still in service when DG’s son Noel was a small boy in the 1950s. Sometimes Noel and his siblings were collected by the Boss’s chauffeur for an outing to Dublin Zoo. On one such outing, Noel vividly recalls getting car sick on the back seat.

The Rolls was subsequently sold to Jeremiah O’Connor, a Cork undertaker, who decided it drank so much petrol that he sacrilegiously replaced the engine with one from a Ford V8. Jeremiah also converted the saloon part into a hearse. It was said around Cork that ‘people were dying for a spin in it’.





  1. Sadie and Dalmatian.


1936 was a momentous year for McMullan Bros with its division into the ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ companies and the acquisition of the ground-breaking agency to sell domestic bottled gas into the country. It was also a year of heartbreak for the Boss with the death on 21 August of Sadie McMullan, née Collins, his wife of just over a quarter of a century and mother to his four children.[169] She contracted septicaemia and died at the Merrion Nursing Home, Dublin, aged 46. She was laid to rest in Bangor, County Down.





Photo: Five Dashing Men

Caption: Five dashing men at the company dress dance in the Gresham Hotel, c.1970, namely Dave O’Loughlin (with moustache and beard), the late Pat Phelan, Jim Brett (company architect), the late Joe Reale and the late Don Wilson.


Image: 1936 Mex Dance Regal Rooms

Caption: Invitation to the second McMullan Bros dance, February 1936, with a Hardoll pump and, on the left, a nod to ‘Mac Sol,’ which would later inspire the birth of the ‘Maxol’ brand.


Photo: Mex Dance – choose any one or more as you see fit; I will caption later.


In February 1935, McMullan Bros hosted their inaugural company ‘dress dance’ at Dublin’s Regal Rooms beside the Theatre Royale on Hawkins Street. Ken O’Dea, brother of the celebrated comedian Jimmy O’Dea, was secretary to the Dance Committee. (Text possibly repeated above, delete one or other) The event was such an ‘unqualified success’ that everyone was invited back the following year to enjoy a five-course supper, a cabaret, ‘novelties’ and music from the Jimmy Campbell band.[170]  The Boss, it may be noted, was an esteemed honorary vice-president of the Londonderry Philharmonic Society at this time.[171]

In April 1937, the dress dance was relocated to the Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street, Dublin – Toddy O’Sullivan, the manager, had become a good friend of DG McMullan during the latter’s residency at the hotel. The dance, by now an annual event, would remain at the Gresham for the next few decades and became such an institution that the Irish Times used to list the dignitaries in attendance. In the delicate words of another newspaper, ‘this Firm’s Dances always obtain such a patronage as to entail “closing of doors”.’[172] As well as all the directors and staff and their wives, attendees included the chief of staff of the Defence Forces and many of the Boss’s friends such as a quiet Dutchman who was nicknamed ‘Van Kluck’ by Dickie Magrath.[173]

Joe Brannigan, a former shop steward for McMullans, recalls his parents getting ‘all dolled up’ to attend the annual dance at the Gresham in the 1940s and 1950s. Noel McMullan remembers hosting a table for ten friends at the hotel before he even started working for the company in 1971.

By that stage, much of the organisation was in the hands of the purchasing department, run by P.J. Ward, Colm Keegan, Dave O’Loughlin and John Denning. Their considerable challenge was to gather the names of about five hundred guests, print invitations, post them to the right house or depot, and process the RSVPs, including all accommodation and transport requests. The company’s generosity was such that they booked and paid for the hotel rooms and travel expenses for all those who came ‘up from the country’.[174] Dave O’Loughlin was at the door to mark off each person’s name as they arrived, and to ensure they were all armed with a take-home gift when they left, such as the miniature petrol pump that both Noel McMullan and Joe Brannigan still hold in their collections of Maxol memorabilia.

The dress dance, or ‘Maxol Ball’ as some called it, was the social highlight for the staff. ‘You met everybody,’ says Frank Dormer, ‘and you could finally put a face to a name.’ Dave O’Loughlin concurs: ‘There were people like Austin Hastings and John Brady who I spoke to on the phone practically every day but I never met the guys until the dress dance!’

In about 1972, the event moved to the Shelbourne Hotel where it took place on the last Friday in October for the next few years. At one dance, proceedings were much enlivened when a number of Irish and Scottish international rugby players gatecrashed. The event was supposed to end at two o’clock but Max McMullan provided the precedent for an ‘extension’ when he offered to pay the Sonny Knowles Band to keep on playing. Thereafter, the annual dance often continued until three.

However, with the economic doldrums of the late 1970s, the event simply became too costly to justify, with extensive expenditure on transport, accommodation, bands, drink and food. In 1976, the dance shifted to the Green Isle Hotel on the Naas Road in south Dublin – the drivers insisted the venue be a ‘union hotel’ rather than an independent one such as the Burlington. After two modestly attended dances at the Green Isle, the event was reduced to a ‘dinner dance’.[175] As Commandant Ward had once predicted, ‘the day it becomes a dinner dance is the day it finishes’. And so it was that the dress dance came to an end.

Maxol’s purchasing department continued to arrange the annual office Christmas party until the early 2000s. Dave O’Loughlin and Frank Dormer still organise a ‘past pupils’ Christmas lunch and get-together’ at Wynn’s Hotel on Lower Abbey Street, Dublin.


Chapter 5 – The 1940s


(Intro Text) In 1939 Hitler invaded Poland and the world tumbled into the chaos of the Second World War, or the Emergency as it became known in Éire. Nobody was in any doubt about how vital fuel supplies would be to winning the war. When Hitler’s tanks launched their Blitzkrieg offensive, there was an astonishing sight as the Panzers filled up their fuel tanks at the French filling stations they had captured. Faced with a possible German invasion, Britain began planning how to destroy and dismantle its own fuel stations in the event that German tanks arrived in pursuit of fuel. One wonders what the Irish government planned in this regard?

Not surprisingly, the oil industries in both Britain and Ireland would be taken over by their respective governments for most of the 1940s. Petroleum products were the first commodities to be rationed in both jurisdictions. In their absence, most cars were stowed away in garages until long after the war. The decade would also be characterised by a high degree of obligatory cooperation between the oil companies.




Image: Miss Hall

Caption: Miss Hall was one of nearly thirty McMullan staff who joined the Pool Board during the Second World War.


The British government fully understood the importance of petrol to the UK’s global power. With the outbreak of war in 1939, control of the oil industry within the UK was assigned to the carefully planned Petroleum Board, better known as the Pool. McMullans in Northern Ireland was one of almost a hundred oil companies subsumed into the Pool. Each company agreed to suspend competition until the war was over. Branding was removed from pumps and stations, and the delivery lorries were all painted grey and marked with the word ‘Pool’.

In February 1940, McMullans placed much of their Belfast fleet of Ford vans, two-ton trucks and double-compartment tanker wagons up for sale.[176] Perhaps they anticipated that defeating Hitler could take some time. The company also relocated the Belfast office from Chichester Street to ‘McMullan House’ at 13 Linenhall Street, where it would be based for the next seventeen years.

At least four employees from the Northern Ireland company had joined the armed services by 1 April 1940, namely Major E.L. Holland, Private G. Whiteside, L/Sgt J.B. O’Callaghan and Captain R.M. Pryde, the firm’s Country Antrim representative, who re-joined his old regiment, the Royal Irish Rifles, and served at the home bases.

With the Pool in place, anyone working within the oil industry was given the option to leave the business and return to their job when the war was over, or to continue as an employee of the government. However, the catch with staying on was that the Pool Board were obliged to transfer you to another area as they did not want employees giving special treatment to friends and family in their local areas. At least twenty-eight members of the Ulster staff went to the Pool, including Hughie MacMillan and the ‘very capable and experienced’ Miss Hall.

Clifford McAnuff, the Newry depot manager, had lived all of his working life in Warrenpoint. When he agreed to stay on with the Pool, he was transferred to Belfast and so found himself living at Cedar Grove with his half-brother, the Boss.





Following Sadie’s death in 1936, the Boss’s daughter, Mary, deduced that he would need a housekeeper to keep his life on track. She interviewed a number of women and settled on Betty Huggins from County Tyrone.

At this time, the Boss was living on his own at Cedar Grove, a beautiful hillside mansion on Belfast’s Knockbreda Road, set amid two acres of crazy paved gardens that included a teak pergola, a greenhouse, an orchard, a rose garden and a 9-hole putting green.[177] When he was joined by his half-brother Clifford McAnuff in 1940, the two men lived in harmony on the slopes of the Castlereagh Hills, with Betty Huggins attending to the housekeeping.

Clifford McAnuff, who died three weeks before his 102nd birthday, recalled coming down to breakfast one morning to find the house empty and a note on the table from the Boss that stated, ‘Betty and I have gone to Newry to get married.’ Betty bore a son for the Boss in 1940, namely Eric. Five years later came a second son, Robin.

In July 1945, having moved to a new house with his wife and his two younger sons, the Boss put Cedar Grove on the market. He then relocated to Limavady, where he lived at The Moorings on Rathmore Road. He also established a fruit-tree orchard, which he called Tintabelle, near Ardmore on the Drumsurn Road, just south-east of Limavady.





South of the border in neutral Éire, de Valera’s government likewise took control of the state’s limited fuel resources with the establishment of the Ministry of Supplies under Seán

Lemass on 8 September 1939. All fuel was henceforth to be pooled, so there was no longer any distinction between McMullan Bros and any of the other companies.

With war clouds gathering, the Irish government tried to persuade the oil companies to stockpile but the big conglomerates like Irish Shell, the Irish American Oil Company and Texas (Ireland) repeatedly refused to cooperate. By the close of September, the fuel supply had fallen by 2¼ million gallons (10 million litres) since August, although the chief of staff of the Defence Forces declared that the remaining 5.3 million gallons (24 million litres) would be ‘ample for the Army and essential civilian needs’.[178]

In October 1939, Lemass introduced partial petrol rationing to Ireland, by which private motorists with 10 h.p. cars were allowed a generous twelve gallons (45 litres) per month, almost twice the British ration. However, Éire’s neutrality took its toll on Anglo-Irish relations when Britain cut back its contribution to the Irish petrol supply in December 1940. Churchill’s government may also have been concerned that a German invasion of Ireland would have allowed such supplies to fall into enemy hands.

The situation became increasingly serious as the supply dwindled and petrol pumps began to run dry, leaving vehicles stranded all over the country. In a bid to extend the supplies, the government requested that McMullan Bros and other oil companies blend petrol with alcohol made from a potato surplus. However, the general demand was too high to cope. When a shipment of a million gallons (4.5 million litres) arrived on 1 January 1941, it was swallowed up within three days.[179] Lemass slashed the ration to two gallons (nine litres) per month, although priests, doctors, midwives, vets, and members of the Oireachtas were still allowed twelve. A preferential flat rate was also given to taxis and commercial goods vehicles supplying outlying rural areas, but private motorists were now basically off the road for the rest of the war.




The impact of such severe petrol rationing was instant. Trade fell, garages closed, mechanics were out of work. The McMullan contract with Siúcra was apparently suspended. Bicycle sales shot up, the horse and cart came back into vogue and they even revived a stagecoach service in County Limerick. Some innovative MacGyver types put boilers in their trucks and ran them on steam. Others converted their vehicles to run on town gas stored in rubberised tanks on their car roofs but this practice was wiped out when coal was also rationed. Sport became much more local as the GAA and League of Ireland suspended their national contests. The Naas races  meeting on Saturday, 1 February was reminiscent of the 1890s as hundreds of race-goers arrived either on foot or by trap, dogcart and jaunting car.

The restriction of emergency vehicles also bit with a rise in diseases such as diphtheria caused by rural doctors being unable to reach children needing immunisation.

A nascent black market opened up where, according to one Fine Gael Deputy, ‘oceans of petrol’ could be bought and sold using forged and illegal petrol coupons. How was one to control such activity? One Fianna Fáil TD contended that ‘you will require an inspector at every cross-roads, probably a committee inspecting him, and even an inspector inspecting the inspectors’.

The response from the Department of Supplies in May 1942 was drastic. All non-essential private vehicles were banned from the road, as were most commercial goods vehicles, including McMullans’ extensive network of salesmen, fitters and painters. Coupled with the petrol ration, the ban caused widespread resentment in Ireland.[180] The national monthly petrol consumption fell from just under three million gallons (13 million litres) in 1940 to around a million gallons (4.5 million litres) in 1942 and down again to three quarters of a million gallons (3.4 million litres) in 1943.


Caption: A poem written on the occasion of DG McMullan’s marriage to Audrey Ladley in 1943.


Possible stand-alone quote:

‘And here Neutrality, harps, art exhibitions, reviews, libels, back-chat, high-tea, cold, no petrol, no light, no coal, no trains; Irish language, partition, propaganda, propaganda, propaganda, rumour, counter-rumour, flat Georgian facades, Guinness, double Irish, single Scotch, sherry, Censors, morals, rain home to all.’

John Betjeman, 10 January 1941.




In 1940, Clifford James McMullan (1911–1992) married Audrée (Mini) Watson at the Methodist Church in Sandymount, Dublin. Audrée was a daughter of the family who owned Watson’s Fish & Poultry Merchants on Westmoreland Street. Her sister Doris had the distinction of being consecutively married to a Mr White and a Mr Black.

Shielmartin was sold soon after the marriage, and Clifford and Audrée moved to Dublin’s southside where they raised their seven children, Vicki, Max, Sally, Mary-Lynn, Malcolm, Lisa and Julie.[181] Max and Malcolm went on to become Maxol company directors.

            In 1943, DG McMullan married Audrey Ladley, the daughter of George and Margaret Ladley of The Cottage, Portmarnock, County Dublin. Her father is reputed to have been the only non-Irish speaking employee at the Department of Finance after 1922. Recorded as a Higher Executive Officer with the department in 1931, George Ladley later became a Valuation Officer.[182] He died in 1968, followed by Margaret two years later.

In spite of the ban on non-essential private vehicles, DG managed to take his bride by car on honeymoon to Killarney. Mick Duffy, a company rep, was employed to chauffeur Audrey around while DG went fishing in Waterville. It must have been sensational to have seen the Killarney lakes with nobody else on the Kerry roads. [183]

At the time of their marriage, DG lived in Clontarf. In 1945, he and Audrey moved to Portmarnock, and onwards to Howth in 1957 with their children, Noel, Paul, Penny, Pam and Howard.





‘Mr Clifford’ did not always look like a director. Once, while making his way up the back stairs to a board meeting at the office in Ormeau Road, Belfast, he met Lily the tea lady. ‘Ock, I wouldn’t go up there today,’ she kindly counselled, ‘the directors are up there.’ Her face paled when she brought tea into the boardroom a short while later and saw the same man seated around the table.[184]

The same thing happened at the Dublin office when a cleaner found Clifford snoozing on the boardroom floor. Not recognising him, she tried to shoo him out before the directors arrived. Lying on the floor was a favourite pastime for Clifford, particularly if it was sunny.[185] With his hands behind his head, he would lie in the path of the warm rays that beat through the window, revolving his position in sync with the sun. ‘He was like a sundial,’ recalled one witness. ‘You could tell the time by where he was lying on the floor.’





It wasn’t just the warmth of the sun that appealed to Clifford. During Austin Hastings’ first interview with the firm in 1946, ‘Mr Clifford’ kept prodding the open coal fire in ‘Mr David’s’ office to try and bring some extra heat into the room. Austin remembers DG finally snapped at his brother and growled in his thick Ulster accent, ‘Get out and poke your own fire.’

‘My father was very particular about how you build a fire,’ explains Noel, DG’s son. ‘For me, I just whoosh a scuttle of coal and off you go but he would place each piece very carefully, building it up one nugget at a time.’ And yet, in spite of DG’s fire-making skills, lighting his pipe presented a constant challenge. ‘He’d use nearly a whole box of matches to get one pipe-load lit,’ recalls Noel.[186]



BILLY McMULLAN (1922–1976)


William S. McMullan, known as Billy, was the Boss’s youngest son by his first marriage, to Sadie Collins. Born in 1922, he was renowned as a terrific character, charming but also utterly irresponsible. As a sixteen-year-old, his golfing prowess caught the eye of the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News who, cognisant of his older brother Clifford’s success, pegged Billy as a ‘Crack Golfer of the Future’. [187] In 1942, he won the Gordon Inglis Cup at Bundoran.[188]

During the latter part of the Second World War, Billy served as a flight sergeant (No. 1796028) with a Royal Air Force crew stationed in Kinloss barracks, Morayshire, in the far north of Scotland. At this time, he married Joan Doubleday of near Coventry, Warwickshire, with whom he had a son, Michael, and a daughter, Jane. Demobbed from the RAF, Billy returned to Ireland and joined the family company.

Having initially lived in Foxrock with his brother Clifford, he was dispatched to the Cork depot where it was hoped that the manager Dickie Magrath might control Billy’s penchant for fast cars and good times. However, Billy’s mischievous ways proved too deeply ingrained and, eventually, his father bought him a one-way flight to New Zealand.

Billy died tragically when his apartment caught fire in 1976. Clifford McMullan flew to New Zealand for the funeral. Billy left his share in the family business to his estranged wife and children.





It could be argued that Hitler lost the Second World War because he did not have direct access to petrol. Certainly, Nazi Germany’s failure to provide General Rommel’s forces with fuel lost them the Desert War in North Africa. At the height of that conflict, the Eagle Oil and Shipping Co., for which McMullans were agents, played a pivotal role as managers of the SS Ohio, an oil tanker that supplied crucial fuel supplies to the Allied fighter planes on the Mediterranean island of Malta in 1942.




During the company’s formative decades, every driver had a boy helper, or lorry boy. Generally aged between thirteen and seventeen, the main job for these hardy young fellows was to get out of the lorry every time it stopped at a customer’s house or station, connect up all the hoses and clamber on top of the tank to ensure the correct amount of fuel was delivered.[189] Drivers just left them to it and at least one driver was known to seize the opportunity to try and sell second-hand clothes to any housewives they met on their travels.[190]

By the 1960s, a helper’s weekly wage was not much more than £5. Some of the boys were streetwise, others were sweet innocents. ‘You can’t sack me, I’m not eighteen yet,’ protested one callow soul when he accidentally rolled a barrel into the depot manager’s scooter.[191]

Helpers were let go when they turned eighteen, although many were then hired to work in the oil stores or in one of the garages.[192] Brian Torrens, who started as a boy helper in 1962, became general manager of Maxol NI, while Joe Brannigan, another helper, succeeded his father as shop steward at the Dublin depot.[193]

Boy helpers were phased out with productivity in the mid-1960s, as it was obvious to everyone that a driver should be able to do both jobs.[194] Simon Purcell maintains that there were no helpers left in Maxol by the time he started work as a driver in 1972.





Among those working in East Wall when the war broke out was Mick ‘Butts’ Colgan who had joined the company as a boy helper when there were just a few houses along Ravensdale Road. In 1939, he enlisted in the British Army; he was taken prisoner by the Japanese and put to work driving a truck and trailer on the Burma Road. He survived and re-joined the company as a driver after the war. McMullan Bros continued to pay his wage to his mother while he was in service.[195]




Image: Greenore party.

Caption: ‘McMullans Unlimited.’ The McMullan’s directors and staff celebrate the return of petrol to the Irish market with a Guinness-fuelled dinner in Greenore, County Louth, on 3 December 1945. The Boss is at the head of the table with his two oldest sons either side of him. (Image courtesy of Barry Kehoe).


Rationing remained the norm until late 1945 when the petrol supply began to be restored. On 15 November 1945, pure petrol (as opposed to alcohol-blended) for private cars was back on sale in Éire for the first time in six years. Just over two weeks later, the company celebrated with a lively get-together at the Greenore Hotel in County Louth. However, partial petrol rationing was to remain in force for several more years.

One notable occasion when petrol was more freely distributed came in the autumn of 1946 when it looked as through the harvest would be destroyed by flooding. As thousands of men and women responded to the government’s call to help save the wheat, private car owners were supplied with petrol to ferry the volunteers to the farms. Joe Brannigan was a boy at the time and recalls driving with his father in a McMullan Bros truck to a farm where they did their bit to bring in the harvest.[196] Afterwards, they were rewarded with a farmhouse dinner that Joe recalls as ‘the biggest feed I ever seen in my life, with pots of spuds and beans and other goodies that I never even knew existed’.

In October 1948, a correspondent with the Sligo Champion observed:

‘On the North Wall, where the big oil and petrol companies have their depots, there has been much activity over the past few months. The companies have imported and assembled scores of new lorries and small armies of mechanics, fitters and painters have been busy making them ready for the road. The activity was preparation for the ending of the system by which all the companies pooled their resources and their petrol, a wartime plan that has long ago come to an end.’

Branded petrol finally went back on sale on 1 January 1949 when the Petrol Pool and the ‘Combined Delivery Scheme’ were dissolved.[197] Rationing did not officially end in the Republic until 17 December 1951 but it was, at long last, the official line that the Emergency had passed. The McMullan fleet was reactivated as drivers and sales reps began once more to traverse the roads of Ireland with petrol trucks and gas vans.

Car ownership instantly went on the rise: over 15,000 new cars were registered in 1949, prompting much-needed capital expenditure on the roads.[198] The escalation in demand for petrol meant that over 45 million gallons (200 million litres) of oil was imported that same year for private road transport and home usage. The global oil price fell to such an extent that it was able to compete with coal, and the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) began building oil-fired plants. The demand for aeroplane fuel was also rising steeply with 17,000 flights, carrying 213,000 passengers, heading in or out of Dublin airport over the course of 1949.

The pendulum was swinging fast, and the cooperation that had existed between the oil companies during the war was about to change dramatically with the introduction of the solus system and the birth of the single-brand petrol station.




Between 1942 and 1947, over half a million tons of turf was hauled into Dublin from the countryside bogs to a massive stockpile along Chesterfield Avenue in the Phoenix Park. Destined to keep the home fires burning, most of the turf was carried in by canal, train and army truck, but some was apparently brought in by McMullan Bros flat trucks.[199] The road alongside which these vast mountains of turf were stacked had been known as ‘The Long Straight’ in the glory days of the Irish Grand Prix; it would now become known as the New Bog Road.

When Bord na Móna, the Irish Peat Board, was created by the Turf Development Act in 1946, it appears that Major MacMahon was once again on hand to ensure McMullan Bros won the lucrative contract to supply the new company with light fuel oil for the machinery working the bogs. McMullan Bros had up to six large trucks with trailers operating on a full-time basis during the cutting and saving season. [200]




During the war years, LPG became exceedingly scarce in Northern Ireland and completely unavailable in the Free State, depriving McMullan Bros of a significant part of their income for the next six or seven years. With the end of the war, the company sent a fresh wave of ‘fitter salesmen’, or sales representatives, back on the road.

By 1946, the company had fourteen Calor Gas reps dotted across Ireland, servicing perhaps a thousand domestic customers. Their depots were very basic galvanised sheds, devoid of heat, electricity or telephones. The fitter at the Sligo depot looked after everyone from Killybegs, County Donegal, to Belmullet, County Mayo, while the rest of Donegal was assigned to the fitter in Bridgend. If a phone conversation was required, the rep had to make his way to the local post office to put in a call, while head office would dispatch its orders and bulletins by posting out triplicate memos direct to the depots. The depot inspector himself would also arrive in person once or twice a year.

The long hard winter of 1947, one of the worst recorded, had a silver lining for McMullans as LPG was now very much back on the menu for rural Ireland. The principal challenge was how to deliver gas and appliances to customers trapped at the end of those treacherous snow-covered roads, a deeply unpleasant task for the sales team driving their unheated vans. Calor Gas received a welcome morale boost when its gas was used to fuel the flame at the London Olympics. However, while LPG was abundant once more by 1949, there was stiff competition from the Electricity Supply Board, whose rural electrification scheme was now powering through the land.



Image: Mary King-French


Mary McMullan, the only surviving daughter of the Boss and his first wife Sadie, was one of two women to date who have been directors of the company, the other being her stepmother, Betty McMullan.[201] Born in 1915, Mary was every bit as courageous as her older brothers when it came to driving. At the age of twenty-one, she completed the circuit when women were first invited to participate in the Ulster Rally. She was also a talented golfer and a handicraft knitter who made pictures out of old cloth.

In June 1939, she married Lance King-French (1916–1972). After their marriage Lance and Mary moved to a house near Shielmartin where they raised two daughters. A well-known auctioneer with Goff’s, the Irish bloodstock sales company, Lance later worked in the administrative side of McMullans Kosangas, while he and Mary also ran a market garden business in Malahide. Captain Michael King-French, Lance’s father, was president of the Dublin Stock Exchange between 1947 and 1948.

Mary and Lance’s eldest daughter Dr Iona Pratt was one of Ireland’s best-known international scientists prior to her tragic death in Honduras in 2014. Iona’s sister Wendy co-ran the Nish Pharmacy in Skerries.


Chapter 6

The 1950s


Intro text: The 1950s was a decade in which the Irish oil industry was dominated by major international distributors seizing control of a new way of retailing fuel known as the ‘solus system’, which worked to the detriment of relative minnows like McMullan Bros.

Stimulated by the end of petrol rationing and the closure of so many railway lines, the number of private cars on Irish roads increased by 73 per cent over the course of the decade. There was a 45 per cent rise in 1954 alone.[202] Hand in hand with that, petrol sales nearly doubled to 80 million gallons (36 million litres) during the same period, although the demand per car actually fell because of the increased efficiency of engines and fuel.[203]

While international crises in Iran and the Suez impacted upon the broader oil industry, there were massive developments within McMullan Bros itself, not least the move to a new head office in Belfast and the birth of McMullan’s Kosangas. At the same time, the company’s distribution facilities were considerably improved by the introduction of a new wave of road tankers, as well as upgraded equipment in the depots.





Prior to 1950, it was standard practice for Irish filling stations to have a bank of different pumps offering essentially the same fuel but by rival oil companies. Sales reps were notorious for inducing pump attendants to persuade incoming customers to choose their brand over another.[204]

In November 1950, Esso introduced the ‘solus system’ to Ireland as a means of preventing new entities from coming into the market.[205] This was a formal, exclusive arrangement by which each station or retail outlet agreed to purchase all of their fuel supplies from one particular company for a set period. In return they were offered an advance payment, known as the solus rebate, which was supposed to be spent on improving and marketing the site. Harry Ewing, one of McMullan Bros’ best salesmen, always referred to the rebate as ‘the bonus form’ on the basis that participating stations also received an end-of-year bonus of three eighths of a penny for every gallon they sold.

Other incentives included staff training, complimentary uniforms, assistance with sales promotions, regular repainting of pumps and, in some instances, the promise of loan facilities on favourable terms.[206] Once a station had signed up, they were prohibited from buying fuel from anyone else for the duration of these solus agreements. In the beginning, such contracts were usually for one year but they were gradually extended to five, ten and, finally, a whopping twenty years.

This prompted a vigorous, if chaotic, scramble to tie as many sites as possible into solus agreements. Such a system inevitably favoured Shell, Esso and Caltex (later Texaco), the three cash-rich oil companies that supplied over 80 per cent of the Irish market. The livery of those companies already adorned the pumps and windows of most of the best sites by the time McMullan Bros reluctantly joined the system in 1951. Solus was eventually adopted by all six wholesale petrol companies in Ireland, namely McMullan Bros, Shamrock and Munster Simms, as well as the aforementioned big three.[207]

According to Clifford McMullan, they were invited to join by Shell, who had themselves joined in March 1951. He later declared that his preference would have been to remain independent to allow the firm to offer a wider range of products but economic circumstances obliged them to get involved.[208]

The introduction of the solus system was accompanied by a massive increase in the number of fuel retail sites around Ireland, which more than doubled from 1,630 to 3,470 over the course of the 1950s. By 1959, 98 per cent of fuel retail outlets in Ireland were operating on the system. Most sold fuel in conjunction with the sale and/or repair of vehicles, or an ancillary business like a shop, pub or hotel.[209]

In 1958, the Irish Motor Traders’ Association (IMTA) asked the government to set up a Fair-Trade Commission inquiry into the system. They also called for an independent licensing authority to regulate the growth of new retail outlets on the basis of public need. Clifford and DG McMullan were the company representatives at one such public inquiry at which the principal subjects up for discussion were the major oil companies’ utter dominance of price control and the length of solus contracts.[210] The McMullans agreed with the Commission’s decision to cut the duration of solus contracts back to ten and, later, to five years. While five years remains the maximum permitted length of such contracts, three years is now the average duration. The Commission also insisted on an additional clause to ensure that a five-year agreement was passed on to a new owner in the event that the original signatory retired, sold up or died.





Image: O’Sullivans – choose one

Caption: Mex pumps outside O’Sullivans’ filling station in Inchigeela, County Cork.


Timmy Johnny O’Sullivan and his wife, Dora, opened their all-purpose store at Inchigeela, County Cork, in 1919. With its corrugated-iron sides and barrel roof, the shop was constructed on the foundations of an old bridge; Timmy Johnny ingeniously extended the shop by running steel train tracks over the bridge’s arches.

From the 1950s through until the 1990s, the shop sold petrol from a roadside Mex pump seven days a week, with the fuel stored in two tanks beneath the roadway. Sunday sales were always good because of all the tourists passing by en route to Gougane Barra and Glengarriff. However, manning the pumps was a dull chore for the O’Sullivans’ grandchildren, especially on Sundays when they longed to swim in the Derrivane River, which flows under the shop. The pump was removed in the late 1990s, while the O’Sullivan’s granddaughter Dorothy O’Tuama now runs the shop as the ‘Store of Memories’ museum.





Another lively soul was Timmy Kavanagh of Ventry, near Dingle, who told how he had supplied foodstuffs to German submarines operating in Irish waters during the First World War. ‘He’d bring them out sides of bacon and they’d give him wine in return,’ recalls Austin Hastings, who installed Timmy’s Mex pump. ‘How they arranged it, I don’t know!’





The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) was founded by William Knox D’Arcy, the son of a farmer from County Mayo, who made his fortune exploiting gold in Australia in the 1890s. In 1901 he secured the exclusive rights to prospect for oil for sixty years in a vast tract of territory that included most of present-day Iran, or Persia as it was. When D’Arcy’s team struck oil in 1908, his company rapidly became one of the most profitable on the planet. In 1914 D’Arcy sold 51 per cent of the company to the British government.

In 1951, the Iranian parliament voted to nationalise the British-controlled AIOC interests in Iran, shortly before electing Mohammad Mosaddegh, a leading nationalist, as the new prime minister. The expulsion of ‘Western’ companies from the oil refineries in the Iranian island city of Abadan prompted a major international crisis. The AIOC transferred its interests to Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Persian Gulf, while Britain applied so much pressure on its allies to cease purchasing Iranian oil that Abadan’s refineries were compelled to close.

In 1954, Mosaddegh’s democratically-elected government was ousted in a coup d’état orchestrated by the UK and the US. The new Iranian government permitted a consortium of international oil companies, including Shell and the AIOC, to manage production and refining at Abadan. On the back of the crisis, the AIOC was renamed the British Petroleum Company, aka BP.[211]



TOM McMULLAN (1889–1964)


Image: Councillor Thomas McMullan presented to the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret

Caption: Councillor Thomas McMullan presented to the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.


Image: Tom McMullan’s Family L-R Trevor, Tom, Meta, Patrica Wright Gossipp and two more boys

Caption: Tom McMullan (standing, back left) with his wife Meta, their three sons and their daughter.


Image: The Boss and Tom McMullan with Tom’s daughter Patricia Wright-Gossip

Caption: The Boss and his brother Tom McMullan with Tom’s daughter Patricia.


In 1951, McMullan Bros acquired the services of a new publicity manager in the shape of the Boss’s youngest brother, Tom McMullan. Born in 1889, Tom had been working as a journalist since at least 1911. He served as circulation manager and then works manager for the Belfast Telegraph before joining the McMullan Belfast office, where he was based for the next eight years.

In 1955, Tom was elected a councillor for Belfast Corporation’s Ormeau Ward, representing the Ulster Unionist party. As chairman of the estates and markets committee of Belfast Corporation, he switched on the first communal television aerial relay system at Parkmount Flats, Shore Road, Belfast, in November 1960. He was also a justice of the peace and deputy commissioner for the Boy Scouts in Belfast.

Tom McMullan died in 1964, aged 75. He was survived by his wife Meta, three sons and a daughter.[212]




Image: Rasmus Tholstrup
Caption: Rasmus Tholstrup became the first Kosangas LPG tanker to reach Dublin in 1954. Designed by a Danish engineer, the pioneering ship was built at Gothenburg, Sweden.[213] The ship was broken up for scrap in Thailand in 1993.

Image: Seeking.
Caption: A dozen vans and drivers from McMullans Kosangas pose at the Balmoral Show in south Belfast, with Harberton Park behind them. Some of the vans are emblazoned with the logo, ‘The Housewife’s Friend’.


The McMullans Kosangas team on Rasmus Tholstrup, from left: Clifford McMullan, Knud Tholstrup, Jorgen Tholstrup, the ship’s captain, Bertie McAnuff (Company Secretary), David McMullan and Svend Tholstrup.

Ever since it secured the Calor Gas agency in 1937, McMullan Bros had won fame as the firm that introduced liquified petroleum gas to Ireland. However, the mathematics of the Calor contract did not add up. The main problem was the high cost of refilling empty gas bottles. Every single bottle had to be gathered up, transported back to Dublin, returned to the refinery in south Wales for refilling and then shipped back to Ireland again for collection by McMullans. ‘It was such a waste of money,’ says Noel McMullan. ‘Those things are very heavy when they’re empty, never mind when you put gas in them.’

McMullans urged Calor to construct a bottling plant in Dublin or Belfast to cut down on freight costs, but the company declined. As such, McMullans were obliged to explore other options. In May 1954, they exhibited Calor Gas at their Balmoral Show stand in south Belfast for the last time. Within two months, they had terminated their contract with Calor and joined forces with a Danish company called Kosangas.[214] Founded in Denmark in 1929, Kosangas had been taken over in 1941 by the Tholstrup family. They were descendants of Rasmus Tholstrup, founder of Castello, the Danish cheese company, which was once the largest privately-owned dairy in Europe.

On 1 July 1954, two new companies were registered in Ireland, north and south, namely McMullans Kosangas Ltd and McMullans Kosangas (Northern Ireland) Ltd. Operating out of the company offices in Dublin and Belfast respectively, this was a joint venture between the Tholstrup and McMullan families, with the McMullans holding the controlling interest through a 51 per cent stake. Their stated objective was to transport, import, export and deal in coal, oil, turf and peat gases – although that fundamentally boiled down to the sale, installation and distribution of Kosangas in liquid form across the thirty-two counties. The company directors were listed as William McMullan (aka the Boss), Clifford McMullan, DG McMullan and Bertie McAnuff, along with Knud, Henrik, Laurits and Paul Tholstrup.[215]

As part of the deal, Kosangas installed cylinder-filling plants in Belfast, Dublin and, from 1965, at the Whitegate Refinery in Cork Harbour. This led to a reduction in the price of gas which, in turn, lessened the costs for cooking, heating, lighting, washing and such like for the end user. McMullans had long promoted LPG as efficient, economical and easy to install. Their customers were certainly impressed by the brilliant yet simple click-on regulator that Kosangas had devised, which could be attached to gas bottles with minimum fuss. Empty gas bottles were painted a distinctive yellow, and repainted every time they came back to base, so that the cylinders themselves became marketing tools when households began to treat them as kitchen ‘furniture’.

Adding to the excitement was the vessel that brought the first shipment of Kosangas into Ireland in 1954. The M.V. Rasmus Tholstrup was the first tanker in the world to be purpose built to carry liquid gas in tanks, bringing 320 tons of gas across the sea in twelve vertical tanks, thus eliminating the freight costs for full and empty bottles. Three years later, the Danish tanker Kitta Tholstrup made her maiden voyage from Denmark to Dublin’s Alexandra Basin with another 220 tons of pressurised LPG for McMullan’s Kosangas.[216] Kitta Tholstrup was the first vessel in the world to carry spherical tanks; each of its four tanks could carry 60 tons of butane.


Image: Maxol Diesel – Noel, do we have a suitable image?

Caption: Named for the German inventor and mechanic engineer Rudolf Diesel (1858–1913), diesel became the fuel of choice for most farmers and truck operators after the Second World War because it was safer, easily managed and more efficient.[217]


By 1956, petroleum products accounted for 39 per cent of Ireland’s energy needs. At that time, two-thirds of Europe’s petrol came to the continent via the Suez Canal.[218] It thus caused tremendous alarm when the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the canal in July 1956. Three months later, combined forces from the UK, France and Israel invaded Egypt in an attempt to regain control of the waterway and to depose Nasser. Outrage across the Middle East was instant. A major pipeline was blown up, as were numerous oil tanks and installations, while King Saud of Saudi Arabia imposed a total oil embargo on Britain and France. The invasion was also slammed by the US, the USSR and the United Nations who quickly convinced the three aggressors to call off their attack.[219]

The instability to the production and distribution of oil generated by the Suez Crisis lead to the brief reintroduction of rationing to the Republic of Ireland in November 1956. It also prompted McMullans to take a much greater interest in diesel. Named for the German inventor and mechanic engineer Rudolf Diesel (1858–1913), diesel was rapidly becoming the fuel of choice for most farmers and truck operators because it was safer, easily managed and more efficient. [repeated from caption]

Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ), the Republic of Ireland’s national public transport provider, ran most of Ireland’s railway lines, 3,675 miles of which were open to traffic. In early 1956, they bought thirty-four diesel electric locomotives from Metropolitan-Vickers in the UK. McMullan Bros were invited to supply a portion of CIÉ’s diesel requirements, which caused something of a rumpus with both Esso and Shell, the McMullans’ supplier at the time. [220]

Prior to the arrival of diesel, virtually all agricultural tractors ran on TVO (Tractor Vaporising Oil), a product which McMullans sold under the trade name of Everve. Indeed, despite the arrival of diesel, many farmers doggedly continued to burn TVO until their tractors literally fell apart. Others chanced illegally ran their cars on TVO but the smell was so acrid that there was every chance they would be caught by the Gardai.

In the days when McMullans offered two grades of petrol, Plus and Mex Regular, every third delivery was a blend of Regular and alcohol. Known as PAB, or Petrol Alcohol Blend, this was highly prized by 1950s motor bike enthusiasts as it was considered to be a higher octane rating than normal petrol.





By 1955, Ireland was consuming 262 million gallons (1190 million litres) of petroleum products a year.[221] Every week brought more cars, lorries and tractors to the country. Industrial production was on the up and the demand for electricity soared. Oil had never been more fundamental to the state’s economy.

In 1957 a consortium of Shell, Texaco and Esso united to construct an oil refinery in Ireland where imported crude oil could be refined into finished products. The refinery was built at Whitegate on Corkbeg Island in Cork Harbour.[222] As well as being one of the biggest natural harbours in the world, its exceptional depth allows 60,000-ton tankers to enter the waters without anxiety.

The Whitegate Refinery opened in 1959, complete with dry docks, jetties, sea towers, free port facilities and fifty storage tanks with a capacity of 23,000 tons each.[223] It began importing crude oil from the North Sea, West Africa and North Africa, which it duly refined, supplying heating oils, transport fuels and more refined products to Ireland’s domestic market. The residue, or heavy fuel oil (HFO), was exported to overseas refineries for further refining.

Since 2016, Whitegate has belonged to Irving Oil, a family-owned Canadian company. Over sixty years after it first opened, it continues to be Ireland’s only crude-oil refinery, importing mostly from Norway, as well as the UK, Azerbaijan, Algeria and Nigeria. Products refined at Whitegate provide about 44 per cent of Ireland’s present-day road transport fuels (petrol, diesel and LPG) and home heating oil (LPG, kerosene and gas oil).






In 1956, John McMullan, the Boss’s brother, stepped down as secretary and general manager, having held the two offices since 1931. He was succeeded by W.G. Dukes, who had joined the company as an accounts clerk in 1936. Known as Wally or Bill, Mr Dukes also became  Company Secretary in 1957. As such, he oversaw company operations in the Republic until his retirement in August 1979.




Image: Curta

Caption: The Curta, a portable mechanical calculator, was designed by Austrian engineer Curt Herzstark during the Second World War.


John Brady, who went on to become area manager for Carlow-Kilkenny, was with the company for forty-one years from October 1954 until he retired in 1995. His grandfather ran a hat-trick of saddleries in Dublin, selling tack to the army. Born in London in 1935, John’s childhood coincided with the Blitz in which his little friend Sylvia was among the tens of thousands killed. The bombing persuaded his parents to relocate to Dublin where John’s father worked in property.[224]

Educated at the Catholic University School on Leeson Street, John went on to study accountancy at the College of Commerce in Rathmines Town Hall.[225] In 1954, Patrick Crowley, the college principal, sent him to McMullan Bros’ head office on O’Connell Street for some work experience. After an interview with ‘Mr Clifford’ (aka Clifford McMullan) and ‘Mr John’ (aka John McMullan, the then company secretary), he joined the accounts department, working nine to five, Monday to Friday, with a half day on Saturday, for about £200 a year.[226]

He recalls the experience as ‘deeply Dickensian … everybody scratching away with pens’, and he initially had little opportunity to apply the accountancy practices he had learned at college. The chief bookkeeper was Bertie McMullan, who later became the Dublin depot manager, while the chief cashier and office manager was Jack Thompson, who cycled into work from Clontarf every day. Jack was no fan of technological mechanisms that did the sums, not least because of his uncanny ability to make completely accurate calculations in a quarter of the time that it took any machine to do it.[227] ‘Jack was a very kind person,’ says John, ‘but he had a foghorn of a voice. We used to say that there was no need for him to use a telephone. He could just open the window and shout.’[228]

After a short stint in accounts, John was moved to statistics where he remained until 1961, totting up figures for W.G. Dukes, who had succeeded John McMullan as company secretary.[229]

‘I was counting virtually everything – leakage, sales, everything that was sold – and working it out in percentages and presenting it to the board. We didn’t have computers but we had an adding machine where you’d put in your figure and pull a big handle and it goes ‘click’, like a cash register. And we had a Curta, a little thing that looked like a coffee grinder, that was supposed to work out percentages. No two were the same and the only person who knew how to use it was Wally Dukes – but he was never willing to let anyone use it so I ended up doing it all by hand.’[230]

Leakage was one of the company’s biggest problems: large quantities of fuel either vaporised while being pumped on and off trucks, or else disappeared because of a straight-up temperature change during the journey between depot and station. As such, John’s most important monthly task was to add up every single sale of every product sold at every depot – and there were still fifteen depots at the time – to calculate whether the leakage percentage was in excess of 0.25 per cent, the accepted rate.[231] If it came in above 0.25 per cent, the depot inspector would be dispatched to find out why.





When the Boss was born in 1887, the vast majority of lubricating oils used in Ireland derived from vegetable oil or animal fat.[232] By the time he began selling domestic oils from the Newry pharmacy just over a decade later, most lubes were by-products of crude oil. The business that he established would initially focus on providing oils for the automotive, commercial and agricultural sectors.

From the birth of McMullan Bros in 1920 through until the 1960s, their biggest selling lube was Silensol, followed by a brand called Eezol. During those decades, car owners were advised to pour a drop of oil into their engine even if they were just going on a short outing to the seaside. Malcolm McMullan, who died in 2022, remembered having to change the oil in his first car, a Mini, every three thousand miles.[233] Until the mainstream adoption of piston rings, which regulated engine oil consumption, most of the lubes that went into a car simply went out the exhaust pipe. The quality of engine oils has evolved enormously since then; twenty-first-century cars are designed to comfortably handle fifteen- to twenty-thousand miles without an oil change.

The agricultural sector was also an immensely important market for McMullan Bros, with the number of tractors in the Republic of Ireland rocketing from seven hundred to twenty-seven thousand between 1938 and 1955. The company sold a variety of diesel engine oils and vaporising oils, such as Everve and DERV, for the petrol-paraffin tractor engines that were commonplace before diesel came in. They also supplied sheep dip and other disinfectants.  ‘Whether you show, sow, hoe or mow, you will require these products for first-class farm work,’ was the catchphrase of one company advertisement from 1956. [234]

As well as high-performance engine oils, the company offered synthetic cutting oils for the metal-working industry; mould oils to prevent concrete sticking to shutters; and household oils such as Dinkelite green paraffin, an incubator oil, and Daisy lamp oil.





Image: Daisy Paraffin Globe


In 1954, Esso’s successful ‘Use Only Esso Blue Paraffin’ campaign caused a brief hiccough in the sales of McMullan Bros’ Daisy lamp oil.[235] However, Dinny McLaughlin – a driver whose days were spent selling Daisy oil door-to-door in Dublin’s various housing estates – picked up the gauntlet. A stout, slightly lopsided man with a contagious sense of humour and a penchant for whistling and singing, Dinny still wore the long brown overcoat he had worn in his former days as a milkman, along with a fine felt hat.

When Dinny’s customer began opining that they would only use blue paraffin, he popped into Lennox Chemicals by the Lincoln Gate to Trinity College Dublin and purchased a case of small bottles of blue dye. He duly added a few drops to his otherwise clear stock of Daisy oil, returned to his customers and persuaded them to buy his ‘blue’ paraffin.

All went swimmingly until Lennox Chemicals ran out of dye. Dinny decided the time had come to end this fallacy. He went on his rounds, apologised that he was temporarily out of blue paraffin and assured all his customers that clear paraffin was just as good. They agreed but, to his bemusement, when he returned the following week, household after household complained that the ‘clear’ paraffin hadn’t worked nearly as well as the blue – that it had smoked, or wouldn’t light, or had caused a problem with the burner. He had to conclude that the power of advertising had overridden all logic.





In 1958, Dinny McLaughlin delivered a load of fuel to the Seamrog 11, the newly-launched Dublin Corporation vessel that carried all the sewage sludge out from Ringsend to be dumped into Dublin Bay. While the fuel was being pumped on board, the captain invited Dinny on to the bridge to explain how the vessel worked. When Dinny saw a tank on the bow and asked what it did, the captain replied, ‘Ah, that’s for taking the farts out.’





Image: 1954 Restored Truck

Caption: A restored 1954 Bedford truck with Maxol livery.


Joe Byrne was fifteen years old when he cycled down to the McMullan Bros depot in East Wall and secured himself a job as a ‘breaster’, as the drivers’ assistants or boy helpers were called. Joe’s grandfather worked part-time on the roads for Dublin County Council and lived off a smallholding they held in the north of the county.

Joe’s father drove a horse and cart for Fitzpatricks of Hanover Quay, a carrier company that operated all along the docklands. As a boy, Joe was sometimes sent down to feed the Fitzpatricks’ horses on Hanover Street. Educated by the Christian Brothers – ‘who knocked lumps out of me’, as he recalls – he left school at thirteen and went straight to work, selling ice cream in the Mary Street cinema long into the night.[236]

In 1958 his father sent him down to the McMullan Bros yard to meet with Mick Murray, the foreman in the oil stores, who was looking for a boy helper. Joe’s first four months were a baptism of fire as he was assigned to help Tommy ‘Cagey’ Cahill with his deliveries. Cagey Cahill was a curmudgeonly Dublin-born driver who loved American detective novels and claimed to have carried messages for the IRA during the Easter Rising. He drove an ancient long-nosed Ford Thames ’96, which Joe was instructed to keep clean, wiping the windows and shining up its red exterior with a diesel-soaked rag.

Having arrived at the depot at the crack of dawn, Joe would load up Cagey’s truck with fuel and then accompany Cagey to his house on South Circular Road, where the driver enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. Joe was left in the truck until Cagey was ready. ‘He never asked if I had a mouth on me.’

The truck was not a joy to travel in. ‘We had a windscreen and we just about had wipers but no radio and no heater,’ On cold days, the only way to keep warm was to sit on your hands and bang your feet. They inserted pieces of cardboard in front of its old Perkins engine to try and throw some heat back but the results were negligible.

Fuel deliveries were never big, mostly 200 or 300 gallons (900-1350 litres); 500 gallons (2200 litres) would be ‘a big, big delivery at that time,’ says Joe. Although most of their customers were in Dublin City, they had the occasional country run down to, for instance, the Hopkins garage and hardware store in the centre of Wicklow town. ‘Going to Wicklow was like going to the moon,’ says Joe. ‘You could be gone all day.’[237]

Cagey was so mean-spirited that, during their city runs, he would deliberately drop Joe several miles away from the depot. Joe spent so much of his time running or hitching lifts to get back on time that he was nicknamed the Long-Distance Runner. At length, Johnny Brannigan, the shop steward, intervened and Joe was reassigned to Dinny McLaughlin, the aforementioned champion of blue paraffin. The vacancy may have arisen after Dinny’s former helper, a boy named Humscum, got so drunk on a staff barge cruise on the Shannon that he started twiddling Fred Bullick’s waxed moustache – for which he received a box on the noggin.[238]

At about this time, Noel ‘Muckster’ Dunne decided to take Cagey down a peg. He acquired a pair of overalls, stuffed them with the packing straw that the Mex globes arrived in and fitted a pair of Wellington boots on to them. When Cagey next came in to collect his lorry, Muckster sneaked out and placed his straw man under the back wheel of his truck. As Cagey began reversing out, Muckster ran out screaming, ‘Stop, stop, stop!’ Cagey looked in his mirror, saw a pair of legs sticking up in the air, wellies and all, and nearly passed out on the spot.[239]





Image: 1951 STAFF OUTING

Caption: Staff outing of McMullans Ltd from Linenhall Street, Belfast, to William ‘The Boss’ McMullan’s ‘Tintabelle’ Orchard at Ardmore, Limavady, County Derry, on 12 May 1951.


Image: Ormeau Road Belfast


Since 1940, the head office for the company’s Northern Ireland operation had been at McMullan House on Linenhall Street in central Belfast. In February 1957, the staff of both McMullans Ltd and McMullans Kosangas (NI) moved south across the River Lagan to the modern and ‘eminently accessible’ Park House at 261/3 Ormeau Road.[240] The three-storey redbrick block was built by R. J. Malcolmson in 1956 to a design by the architect G.J.F. Long of Donald Whatmore Bell & Company.

A commodious black-and-white tiled entrance led to a reception area decorated with mosaic tiling by Robert Kirk Ltd and landscapes painted by Frank McKelvey, RHA, a friend of the Boss. The reception’s stand-out feature was an aquarium – supplied by the Ulster Aquatic Company and built into a central wall – so that anyone awaiting an appointment could rest their eyes upon the tropical fish swimming within. The ground floor also included a Kosangas showroom.

Making liberal use of steel and glass, the Park House offices were spacious and bright, thanks to an enormous three-storey window that rose up alongside the staircase. Willie Thompson, the office manager, had his office on the ground floor. He joined the company as a junior clerk at the age of fifteen, with a weekly wage of fifteen shillings, and served over fifty years with the company. From 1954 until his retirement twenty years later, he always took a five mile walk during his daily lunch break.[241] Jean Vance, who worked as a clerk typist at Park House for nearly forty years, recounts that, upon his return, he would ‘take off his mutton dummies and set them down beside the heat’. Mutton-dummies, for the uninitiated, is Belfast slang for a pair of slippers.

Most of the activity took place on the first floor, which was also home to the accounts department, headed up by Ross McWilliams.[242] Brian Torrens, who went on to become general manager, served as an assistant accountant here. Jean Vance recalls ‘a huge, long desk’ on the first floor when she started working under Ivan Martin, the lube oil manager, in 1971. Although there were partitions throughout, the offices had an open-plan appearance because the partitions were all glass. There were two private offices – one belonged to Kyle Gibson, the then sales manager, and the other to Harwood Brown, the company secretary.[243] Also on the first floor was the company boardroom, notable for a large portrait of the Boss by Frank McKelvey. ‘No matter where you went, the eyes followed you,’ recalls Bobby Hueston.

The second floor housed the offices of Lawson Cochrane and Clifford Bell, the company architect, as well as a canteen equipped with cookers, heating and lights that ran on Kosangas. It also had a balcony overlooking Ormeau Park. On the flat roof above this was a penthouse, nicknamed ‘The Bungalow’, which the Boss used as his city residence when he came in from his Limavady home. The penthouse served as the base for his son Eric during the 1960s, and was later briefly occupied by George Dykes, the caretaker, before he was relocated to a company-bought house on Delhi Street. The bedroom furniture was later replaced by desks and the suite incorporated into an office for the advertising department. Others based on the top floor over the years included Clifford McAnuff and his assistant Ted Lawson.

The company moved out of Park House in 2000, after which the building was occupied by the property developer John Miskelly (who famously tried to buy Liverpool Football Club) and, later, the Botanic Inns pub group.




The Boss is said to have fancied himself as a singer; his favourite song was ‘The Hills of Donegal’ by Bridie Gallagher. During the 1950s, Dick Browne was in charge of Mex business in the Macroom area, County Cork. The Boss could never understand his strong accent but Dick had a beautiful voice and he could sing as sweetly as a bird. So, if the Boss couldn’t understand him, he’d say, ‘Sing it to me Dick.’[244] When Dick passed away, his son Con took over responsibility for all sales in the Macroom area. Con Browne would eventually transfer to the Cork depot in Centre Park Road where he worked as a clerk.



Image: The Newry Depot

Caption: The Newry depot was situated on the “middle bank” of the Clanrye River between the Mall and Merchant’s Quay.


In 1959, a driver arrived into the Newry depot with a 2000-gallon (9000-litre) tanker that, unbeknownst to him, had caught fire. Given that there were 10,000 gallons (45,000 litres) of high-octane fuel in the depot’s underground tanks at the time, it is no wonder that several employees took to their heels and haven’t been seen since. Fortunately, courageous firefighters managed to control the blaze, although the tanker and four storage tanks were badly damaged.[245]

Fire was, of course, always a tremendous hazard at petrol depots. Two years later, a feckless employee with a cigarette lighter nearly burned down the Belfast installation at Connsbank Road.[246]





William ‘The Boss’ McMullan became an enthusiastic caravanner in 1951 when his doctor advised him that six months in the south of France would ease his chronic asthma. His shingle-roof caravan was built in the McMullan’s yard in Belfast. He travelled with his chauffeur Peter Gibbons and a second caravan that was driven, on the Boss’s request, by Jim Kerr senior. Jim, who had never left Ireland before, was a son of the man who had bred workhorses for the McMullan’s Belfast depot during the early years. The bond between the two families had strengthened during the Second World War when McMullan Bros recompensed the Kerrs after a German bomber destroyed their home in Derry. As of December 2020, the Boss’s caravan was located with the Ruddy family in County Tyrone.

As well as their Pyrenees adventure, the Boss and Mr Kerr visited the coastal fjords of Norway and the Kingdom of Kerry. During the latter trip, Jim Kerr rendered the Boss speechless when he told him that he was just zipping over to Waterville for dinner with the Charlie Chaplin and his wife, Oona.





A story is told that the chairman of the Cunard Shipping Line was travelling through the Irish countryside in an enormous Rolls Royce. He pulled up outside a small filling station and asked for the attendant to fill the car’s two fuel tanks with Mex.

‘Begob, this is a marvellous vehicle,’ said the attendant. ‘What do you do to have such a car?’

‘I work for Cunard,’ replied the chairman.

‘Well, I work feckin’ hard too but nobody ever gave me a car like that.’



THE 1960s


At the start of the 1960s, McMullan Bros and McMullan Ltd were still purchasing refined products from Shell and BP respectively, which they then resold under the Mex trade name.

The decade would see the company’s first shift towards independence with the birth of the Maxol brand.

With the number of private cars on the roads multiplying annually, Maxol established a chain of company-owned and -operated filling stations throughout the country. The company also introduced blending and self-service pumps, as well as a fleet of new tankers to supply all their stations.

Major new clients came on stream including Marathon Petroleum, Youghal Carpets and Carbery Milk Products. The age of productivity saw a marked improvement in the distribution of products, the efficiency of the Maxol workforce and the development of retail prospects.[247] While the Belfast office remained at Ormeau Road, its southern counterpart moved to new premises on O’Connell Street in Dublin.

With the Cold War playing out in the wider world, the decade was also marked by the passing of the company founder, William ‘the Boss’ McMullan; the break-up of McMullans Kosangas; the Green Shields Stamp promotion; and the construction of a new oil terminal at Whiddy Island.





At the end of March 1961, both McMullan Bros Ltd and McMullans Kosangas in Dublin moved from their head office above Findlater’s Corner to the vacated offices of Esso (formerly the Irish-American Oil Company) a little further south at 1–2 Upper O’Connell Street.[248] The move was orchestrated by W.G. Dukes, the company secretary.[249]

Staff were spread over the first floor where there were separate departments for sales, accounts, typing and debt control, as well as a room where the commercial travellers (aka the sales team) came in to rest and chat when they weren’t on the road.[250] In the accounts office, eight people sat behind three rows of desks on a brown linoleum floor, with Jack Thompson supervising from a bigger desk at one end as if they were in a classroom. The directors and managing supervisors were on the second floor.

The five-storey building also housed the Danish consulate of their Kosangas colleague, Jorgen Tholstrup.[251] When Dave O’Loughlin first visited the offices in 1966, there was a lift attendant to open the gates to let him in and out.

The new offices looked directly out at Nelson’s Pillar. John Brady, who was with the company when they moved, recalled being at the office during a thunderstorm on 1 April 1965. ‘There was an almighty flash-bang right over our head and I ran over to the window and shouted, “Look! They’ve blown up Nelson’s Pillar.” Everybody rushed over to look, and I said, “Ha-ha – April fool’s!” And then, a year later, they did blow it up!’ Some of the stone from the blast fetched up on the floor of DG McMullan’s office.




Image: Fred Bullick


Image: Fred Buillick(Sales Man McMB) and Val Browne (McML Advert. Agent)

Caption: Fred Bullick, General Sales Manager of McMullan Bros until 1968, with Val Browne, advertising agent from McMullan Ltd. Raised in Saintfield, County Down, Fred volunteered to serve in anti-Mau Mau patrols in the 1950s, becoming the youngest district commandant and staff officer in the Kenya Police Reserve.[252] Prior to joining Maxol, he oversaw Kenya’s police transport services, just as his father had looked after transport for the Royal Ulster Constabulary before the Second World War.

Despite being injured in a car crash in 1962, the moustachioed Mr Bullick continued to oversee company sales from the Dublin office until 1968. After a brief interim when Max McMullan took charge, Barry Murch became the new General Sales Manager in 1969.



Maxol station at Royal Oak.





Harry Ewing

During the 1950s and 1960s, the foremost McMullan Bros salesman in the Republic was Harry Ewing, a brother of the prominent golfer, Cecil Ewing. Their father Aubrey Ewing was head of the firm’s Sligo branch. A larger than life character, Harry’s expertise was in securing fuel oil contracts with companies like Youghal Carpet Yarns in County Cork, the Tara Mines in County Meath and the Tynagh Mines in County Galway.[253]

He also signed up a large number of smaller ‘Mex’ stations such as the Royal Oak station in County Carlow, the first on the Dublin-Waterford road, and Horan’s of Castledermot, County Kildare. Harry, who kept his oar in with the Irish Sweep, owned a number of pubs. He later became divisional manager for the southern division of McMullans Ltd, retiring in 1979.




Frank Dormer was seventeen years and seventeen days old when he started work for Maxol as an office junior in 1966. Raised between Dublin and County Offaly, he had previously worked for Baxendales, a builders’ providers on Capel Street, where he was once sent from one floor to another to get a long stand. ‘I’m here for the long stand,’ he said, and he stood there for ages until it dawned on him that he’d been had.[254]

Frank spent his first two and a half years with the company working as an office boy in the Dublin head office. His workstation was in the basement where the ‘very busy’ post desks of both McMullan Brothers (where two staff worked full-time) and McMullans Kosangas (a much bigger operation, with five or six employees) were located. He had to open all incoming post in front of a cashier who took all the cheques and invoices. He then distributed the ordinary post, either directly to the recipient or into the internal pigeonholes set aside for senior employees.

During the day, he was constantly in and out of the typing office, collecting the ‘vast amount’ of outgoing post. At 5.25 p.m., Frank McGarry, the company’s debt control officer, would arrive into the basement, armed with ‘absolutely huge volumes of post’ that Frank then had to carry across the road to the GPO before it closed at six o’clock. Customers whose payments were a month overdue would receive a letter from Mr McGarry in an envelope that featured a small dog with a speech bubble, saying, ‘Hating having to hound you’.[255]

Racing up and down steps and corridors, knocking on doors and delivering letters to the company’s senior staff gave Frank an invaluable ‘feel’ for what the business was all about. Everything was very formal and structured in the 1960s,’ he recalls. ‘There was a channel through which you did everything, a routine that you followed and, slowly but surely, I was formed by that structure.’

‘When I joined in 1966, religion was not at all a factor in Dublin,’ he says. ‘While the company had a legacy of a distinct Protestant hue, especially in senior roles, all supervisors and junior management were Catholics.’[256] John Holmes, who started as a sales clerk in 1967, wryly notes that while there were plenty of people called Mervyn, Stewart and Herbert in the Dublin office, ‘there wasn’t a Pádraic or a Mícheál in sight’.

Like most staff, Frank went home for his lunch every day. This involved catching the No. 11 bus at half twelve to his digs on Mobhi Road, a quick bite and then about-turning to be back in the basement for two o’clock.

Most staff cycled or walked to work, although the directors and sales team generally drove, parking around the corner on North Earl Street or Cathedral Street. As late as 1969, a Maxol service engineer named Hugh Boyle could park his van without fuss right outside the O’Connell Street office while Frank came out to top him up with stationery and send him on his way.

As well as post, Frank was tasked with duplicating all the company circulars and drivers’ productivity agreements that arrived into the basement. Each stencil was duplicated with a circular mimeograph, an early form of photocopier. Joe Cunniam, one of the Kosangas duplicators, subsequently became managing director of Canon Ireland and Origo Ltd, a part of the Sisk Group.

Frank was also on hand whenever the company janitor Mick Quigley, an ex-army man from Wexford, was on holidays. The job entailed opening the offices at half seven in the morning and going to the KCR bakery in Moore Street, or the nearby Kylemore bakery, to gather up cakes, jam doughnuts, eclairs, cream slices and rock buns for the staff.[257]

Fergus McAlevey, the office manager, advised Frank that the only way to get on to the permanent staff was to do his Leaving Certificate. Frank duly studied at a night school on Parnell Square, revising late into the night in Mick Quigley’s cubbyhole on the second floor, living on cups of tea and any leftover cakes. In 1969, with his Leaving Cert under his belt, Frank Dormer was promoted to the staff, succeeding Paul Watson as Stock Control Clerk.




One of Frank Dormer’s contemporaries was Dougie Goodwin, who started as an office boy at the Dublin head office in the 1950s. Dougie was capped forty-three times for the Irish cricket team between 1965 and 1975, and excelled as a pace bowler. He captained the Irish team during its famous victory over the West Indies in 1969.





At the head office in Dublin there was a book into which all clerks had to enter their time of arrival alongside their signature. A line was drawn at 9 o’clock and if your name was under that line, you were summoned before Fergus McAlevey to explain yourself.

Sometimes a kindly clerk would leave a gap above their name to enable a colleague who was late to squeeze their name in. A rarer, riskier and more ingenious ruse was the invention of ‘McGuimilt’, a fictitious employee who signed in, on occasion, scribbling his name in Irish. Thus one lucky clerk could slip in late and claim to be McGuimilt.[258]





Image 2: Frank Melia Mex Area Supervisor, Mrs David G. McMullan, Unknown, Jean Appleby Customer, Dunlop Cup, Elm Park, 1965.jpg

Caption: Frank Melia, Mex area supervisor, with Audrey McMullan, Jean Appleby and an unknown customer at the Dunlop Cup, Elm Park, Donnybrook, 1965.


During the 1960s and 1970s, three members of senior management from the border counties were nicknamed the Northern Mafia. Joe Ward, the operations manager, was a retired commandant from the Irish Army Transport Corps and served with Maxol from 1960 until 1985. He hailed from the townland of Bloomfield, between Carrickmacross and Castleblaney, in County Monaghan.

Fergus McAlevey, the chief accountant and office manager, was from Jenkinstown on the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth. Having come to Maxol from Griffin Lynch & Co., chartered accountants, he would later oversee the move to Apollo House. Fergus was a keen soccer player and played for Dundalk Football Club.

Frank Melia, who retired as Maxol’s sales manager in 1984, was from Dromiskin, also in County Louth. A gentle, refined man, he served in the Irish Army during the Emergency and went to work at Meehan’s Garage before becoming the Dundalk area rep for Maxol. A talented amateur actor, he was president of the Globe Players in Dundalk. When Frank Aiken, a future tánaiste of Ireland, organised a mass escape from prison during the Civil War, it is said that he hid out in the Melias’ house.[259]





The Boss & Frazer Doherty


Image: William The Boss McMullan

Caption: William ‘the Boss’ McMullan in later life.


Image: 1961 – Frazer Doherty on day of retirement withe Boss

Caption: William ‘the Boss’ McMullan shaking hands with Frazer Doherty in 1961. Mr Doherty, who passed away in 1968, was a well-known entertainer and humorist and had been acquainted with the Boss since at least 1935. When taken on by the Pool Board during the Second World War, Frazer was described as ‘a most excellent salesman; extremely well thought of by customers and the general public; dependable and capable of any responsible clerical or superintending work; has a way with staff and is extremely obliging’.

The Boss’s last years were not without their difficulties. An asthmatic diabetic with an irrepressible taste for the good life, he had become so corpulent that during one visit to the Cork depot, he was unable to alight from his vehicle. He also had to contend with a growing rift between the sons of his first and second marriages. On 10 April 1961 he acknowledged that ‘certain difficulties and misunderstandings have arisen between the various members of the family in regard to the management of the group in general’. Two months later he devised a solution by which McMullan Bros would continue to be run by Clifford and DG, while McMullan Limited would be run by the Boss and his two younger sons, Eric and Robin. Boo

In February 1963, William ‘the Boss’ McMullan died in Limavady at the age of 76. Contemporaries applauded the foresight and business acumen of the one-time chemist’s apprentice who had lit the torch over four decades earlier to establish what was, by 1963, the biggest Irish-owned petrol and oil distributing company on the island.[260]





With the advent of the 1960s came a new buzz word: productivity. It was all about making more efficient use of one’s resources, workforce, capital, energy, information and anything else that might be relevant to producing a higher output and greater sales. McMullan Bros was well placed to master productivity: the UK, wherein its Belfast office lay, had the highest level of productivity in Europe in 1960.

From the overall company’s perspective, the new emphasis on productivity would ultimately mean persuading petrol stations to install bigger tanks. However, the first task was to restructure the way that drivers operated.[261] Prior to productivity, drivers were not famously punctual. They were prone to dilly-dally if opportunity knocked – with a leisurely lunch perhaps, or ‘a few pints’ on the way home.

Kevin Parsons, an ‘organisation and methods’ officer, was sent to the East Wall depot with the unenviable task of bringing an end to these habits.[262] Having studied the schedules, the maps, the clocks, the odometers and the drivers themselves, he devised a new ‘Time and Motion’ productivity system. It worked a treat because although the company was now paying much higher wages to the drivers, the distribution strategy was now so quick and efficient that it covered the cost.

Some drivers responded particularly well to productivity. On one occasion, Horace Calvert, the depot inspector, arrived in Carlow for a spot-check before 8 o’clock one morning and spent the next three hours preparing to lambast the driver who had seemingly failed to show up. However, when the driver arrived and Horace pounced, it transpired that the driver had been into the depot at 5:45am, loaded up and had already completed his deliveries.

A new uniform took shape. Each driver was presented with two sets of overalls, a long gaberdine overcoat and a well-cushioned peaked cap with a ‘Mex’ badge. By the 1970s, the company was also providing drivers with shirts, ties, rubber gloves and steel-toe-capped boots. Such boots were particularly welcome among those working at the depots and installations. At East Wall, for instance, young Joe Byrne found that while his crêpe-soled suede shoes may have cut a dash at the rock n’ roll dance clubs, they didn’t last long at work. ‘You stood in a patch of diesel, and it just spread and rotted them.’


‘Pride in his appearance and that of his vehicle. Careful and courteous driving allied with good manners at all times are the means by which the driver can make his contribution to the goodwill existing between the company, its customers and the general public.’
General instructions to Maxol drivers, June 1968.
Maxol House, Ormeau Road, Belfast.





Image: Rigid Tanker

Caption: A Mex ‘rigid tanker’ from the early 1960s.


Image: The Leprechaun

Caption: When Brian Torrens started with the company in 1963, aged sixteen, he occasionally travelled in ‘The Leprechaun’ as a boy helper to its driver, Tommy Grey. His first job was a delivery to the Enniskillen depot, which serviced Erne Engineering and other companies.


The concept of productivity also made its mark on the distribution of fuel. Prior to 1964, McMullans’ ten outlying depots were all supplied by the big yards in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. This meant trucking the fuel out to each depot, decanting the fuel into storage tanks and then reloading it on to another truck for delivery to the customer. As well as being extremely laborious, this resulted in significant losses through evaporation.

In 1964, Joe Ward was appointed operations manager and placed in charge of transport and distribution, as well as the mechanics, painters and central heating boiler servicemen at East Wall.[263] He introduced a much more effective system by which rigid tankers, as they were called, shuttled out to the depots with a full 3,000-gallon (13,600 litre) tank, as well as a detachable trailer containing a further 3,000 gallons on the back. These trucks, which specialised in long journeys, would arrive into the terminal, unhitch their 3,000-gallon trailers, unload the other 3,000 gallons into a waiting tank, hitch up to an empty trailer and return to the terminal for another load.[264]

In due course, rigid trucks and trailers were replaced by tractors and articulated lorries, or ‘artics’, which had a fifth wheel for towing the trailer. The trailers themselves also evolved into lighter, more space-efficient tanks. Older Maxol drivers like Rasher Halligan and Mick Colgan were so used to the older trucks and trailers that they struggled to drive the artics and often asked the younger men to reverse and park them.

Joe Ward’s arrival coincided with a changing of the company colours. Prior to 1963, all oil tankers in Ireland were painted red as a health and safety measure. The sole exception were the Mex tankers in Northern Ireland which, at the Boss’s insistence, had been a greeny- mustard colour with red lettering. In 1963, McMullan Bros pioneered the ‘Safety White’ tankers in the Republic by adopting a new livery of white with a blue-and-yellow stripe.[265]





During the 1950s and 1960s, the company had at least ten drivers working full-time from the East Wall yard in Dublin. Known as the ‘Sexy Mex’, they were stout drinkers who favoured Cusack’s on the North Strand or The Sailor’s Rest [where was it?].[266] In the early days, their cargo could have been petrol, gas oil, fuel oil or lubes, although the lubes drivers became part of a separate company when Maxol Lubricants Ltd was established in 1990.

The three city drivers were Tommy ‘Cagey’ Cahill, Paddy Kerins and Harry ‘Har-Scar’ Twamley, while the yard’s other drivers included Mick ‘Butts’ Colgan (who served in the Burma campaign during the Second World War) and Billy ‘True Gel’ Murray (so called because his hair was always slicked back with Brylcreem). [267]

Among the company’s long-distance drivers were Martin ‘The Rasher’ Halligan, Pat O’Brien and Johnny Brannigan, a diminutive driver who became known as ‘The Fuhrer’ when he was promoted to shop steward. [268] These men frequently drove to the depots in Waterford, Kilkenny, Carlow, Longford, Clones, Drogheda and, for a time, Naas. They drove in Leyland Octopuses, the biggest trucks on the road, carrying close to 8,000 gallons (36,000 litres) of fuel.[269]

Rasher Halligan was a Mayo man and not to be trifled with. While travelling to Limerick, he once came upon some roadworks. With a double axel at both the back and front, the Octopuses were not easy to manoeuvre – Rasher was unable to slalom around the posts, so he lowered his window and asked the workmen to move some posts to let him through. They obliged but their irate foreman rushed onto the scene and demanded they put the posts back. When he turned his back on the protesting Rasher, the latter saw red, hopped out of his cab, yanked up the posts, hurled them on to the ground, returned to the cab and drove his lorry through. The foreman was watching gobsmacked as Rasher passed; Rasher leant out of his door, bonked him on the top of the head and continued on down the road. The following day Rasher had to return through the same roadworks. There was no sign of the foreman so he gingerly wound down a window to enquire as to the man’s whereabouts – at which there was a loud cheer from all the workmen who declared his thumping of the foreman to be the best thing that had happened in eons.

Tommy Leonard and John Brilly were two other Maxol drivers who ‘came from the turf’ of County Mayo. Such men were ideal for the Bord na Móna contracts because they knew every peat bog in the land, no matter how remote. They also knew how to carry several tonnes of heavy wet turf over bridges with a stated capacity of one tonne; although memories of the wooden bridge in Shannonbridge, just south of Athlone, still make all the drivers shudder.[270]

One notoriously heart-stopping route was to the turf bog at Bellacorick in north Mayo, which involved crossing a bailey bridge that could only promise to sustain a maximum load of fifteen tonnes. As each truck and trailer carried about forty-six tonnes of diesel, most drivers unhitched their trailer at the east end of the bridge, drove across and emptied their trucks before coming back to collect the trailer and bring that across. Even so, each load might still be a perilous twenty tonnes or more. Eager to cut time, some drivers were known to trundle across the bridge with the full forty-six-tonne cargo, despite it being three times the recommended weight. ‘The bridge would ripple up in front of you,’ recalls one driver.

In his early days as a driver, Joe Brannigan was sent to Cosgrove’s depot in Clones, County Monaghan, with an articulated truck carrying 5,000 gallons (23,000 litres) of diesel. Having overshot his destination, he about turned and was on his way back when he saw two trucks coming towards him, side by side. ‘They were getting nearer and nearer and I was inching in and inching in, but then the side of the road caved in and my truck went over, and rolled two-and-a-half times into a field.’ Health and safety didn’t exist in those days. In fact, instead of any seatbelts in the driver’s cabin, there was a wooden box full of sharp tools – fortunately the toolbox bypassed Joe in the twists. By a further stroke of luck, the truck stopped rolling driver-side up so Joe was able to push up the door and exit. An old man sitting on the roadside had watched the whole thing happen. It transpired that the two lorries that forced Joe off the road were renowned pig smugglers. Maxol’s rescue team raced north from Dublin and managed to offload the fuel into another artic that took it off to Clones, and not a single drop was lost in the process. Within twenty-four hours, both Joe and his truck were back on the road, ready for the return trip to Dublin.




Brian Torrens

Brian Torrens, who became General Manager of Maxol NI in the 1990s, started as a lorry boy in the Belfast depot in 1962. At the time, there were three overhead tanks at the depot for Super, Plus and Regular, all of which were piped across from the nearby Shell and BP depot. [271]  There was, Brian recalls, ‘no finesse’ about the transfer of fuel in those days, and scant regard for overage, leakage and shrinkage. A fellow lorry boy once nearly burned the entire place down when he inadvertently set fire to a truck with a cigarette lighter. Billy Hughes, a young man at the time, managed to shut all the valves on the overhead tanks while a driver closed the lids on all the vehicles. Together they got the fire under control and extinguished the flames, for which they were rewarded with a very useful ten pounds each, the equivalent of two weeks’ wages.

Brian’s initial job was to simply stand behind lorries and guide drivers who were using their rear-view mirrors to reverse.’[272] When the big snow of 1963 arrived, he was put to work with a shovel. He also went out on the road as a boy helper in a truck called The Leprechaun.

Boy helpers had to work every second Saturday. On one such Saturday, Brian arrived to find Hughie McMillen, the depot manager, in a foul mood. A lorry had left the installation earlier that morning to fuel the fishing fleet at Ardglass. Hughie had since received a phone call from Ardglass to say the truck was no longer required as the weather had worsened so no trawlers were going out. Hughie rang the police who tracked down the driver and asked him to turn around. Hughie then got another call from Ardglass: the weather had improved and they were thinking to make the tide after all. Hughie phoned the police who duly asked the lorry driver to turn around again. And then the tide turned too quickly so Ardglass phoned to say they didn’t need the fuel anymore. It was all too much for Hughie who left the depot soon afterwards although he was subsequently promoted to depot inspector.[273]





Image: David Surridge / David Surridge (Gen. Man McM Limited)


Throughout the Maxol hierarchy, it is acknowledged that David Surridge revolutionised the company, particularly in Northern Ireland.[274] Born in Cheshire in 1930, he served as a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force during the 1950s.[275] He subsequently entered the petroleum business, latterly joining Murco Petroleum Ltd, a UK-based oil refining company set up in 1960.

In 1963, Mr Surridge was head-hunted to become sales manager of McMullans Ltd (Northern Ireland), a position he held until 1974. (In January 1966, the title was upgraded to general sales manager.) As well as being the first employee to have extensive knowledge and experience of the oil industry, he was to become the most influential non-family member of staff since Major MacMahon.

For the previous three decades, most of the company’s stations had been shops, pubs and other dealers who bought their fuel from McMullans to resell. Convinced that the company’s future lay in retail, Surridge initiated a plan to build twenty new American-style filling stations in Northern Ireland. This was part of a broader scheme to replace the rural depots with company-owned-and-operated petrol stations. Each station would provide customers with the novel feature of a self-service car wash, as well as offering a swift and complimentary oil change, windscreen cleaning, warm and spotless restrooms and essential foodstuffs. Each station was to have white slatted fencing and, where possible, pump islands were to be positioned to allow four lanes of traffic onto the forecourt.

The first of these pioneering Maxol stations opened at Longstone Street, Lisburn, in October 1964 and became known as Chapel Hill.[276] Over the next two months, further stations opened at Belfast, Bangor, Enniskillen and Ballymena.[277] Each station was equipped with a 6,000-gallon (27,000 litre) underground tank, a huge leap forward given that most tanks had a capacity of 500-gallons (2,250 litres) or less at the time. To ensure complete control, the company’s own personnel were employed as supervisors and managers.

Mr Surridge made sure to regularly inspect each station. Senior staff members still shiver slightly at the recollection of his unexpected visits. ‘He’d walk in and look at everything and even if it was all perfect, he’d run his finger along the top of the door, say, “Get that cleaned,” and walk out.’

The Enniskillen, Derry and Portadown depots closed in the 1960s and their customers were subsumed into the Omagh and Belfast depots. Omagh now also covered the area around Limavady and Strabane. When the Derry depot closed in 1967, Jim Kerr was made redundant but handwritten letters from both the Boss and Eric McMullan assured him that he could stay on as a driver if he transferred to Omagh.[278]





Image: English of Cullen

Caption: One of the first ‘new’ pumps to replace the original hand-operated ones was at Donie English’s station in Cullen, North Tipperary. Donie, who died in 2019, was father to Nicky English, the Tipperary hurler.


Image: Blending Ad – Belfast Telegraph – 22 April 1965

Caption: A pictorial explanation of how a Mex blending pump works from the Belfast Telegraph, 1965.


Image: Tates Avenue

Caption: Rally driver Rosemary Smith having her Hillman Imp filled by Florrie at the Tates Avenue station in Belfast.


On 23 April 1965, Irene Calvert, the president of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, operated a petrol pump for the very first time when she filled a car at the new McMullan station on Shore Road, Belfast. The car belonged to Paddy Hopkirk, the Mex-backed winner of the Circuit of Ireland rally.[279]

The innovative pump that Mrs Calvert operated was a complex device, perfected by the Wayne Pump Company, offering seven different qualities of octane grade petrol by means of a blending system linked to two underground tanks that stocked just two grades of pure petrol, Regular (91 octane) and Super (97 octane). As such, petrol could be tailor-made – the two grades combined to suit any make or year of car and, with a dial on the pump offering customers the choice of blends between 91 and 97, motorists could save two or three pence a gallon.[280]

A second Belfast ‘blending station’ opened at Tates Avenue four weeks later. [281] By the late 1960s, the company had either built or taken a long lease on nearly forty prestige sites across Northern Ireland.[282]

Blending lasted through the 1970s but as engine technology improved and electronic ignition became standard, it became unnecessary, and the petrol was gradually whittled down to a single grade, 95-octane, which predominates on the forecourt today.





Following its long association with motorsports, Maxol backed two icons of the sport in the 1960s, namely Paddy Hopkirk (winner of the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally, and five-time winner of the Circuit of Ireland) and Tony Fall (winner of the 1966 Circuit of Ireland). Their Mini Coopers were both powered by ‘Mex Motor Spirit’.

At the hard-driven Monte Carlo Rally in 1966, Ernie McMillan (Maxol’s insurance broker) and Brian Metcalfe won the Auto Sports Trophy for privately entered cars by driving a Ford Corsair on Maxol Premium 20W/30 lubricating oil. Seven years later, Maxol sponsored the three-man auto-test team that competed at the Fergus Sager Auto Gymkhana in Sweden.[283]





Image: Freddie the Dreamer – the hat says Maxol while the pump says Mex

Caption: Freddie Garrity, the 5-foot-3-inch-tall frontman of Freddie and the Dreamers, a British rock and roll band, helped to promote the new Maxol brand in the 1960s. The birth of Maxolisation coincided with the band’s peak, when ‘I’m Telling You Now’ reached No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart. In this picture, the ladies’ cap says Maxol while the pump below Freddie says Mex.


While the introduction of company-owned sites and blending pumps were big steps, David Surridge’s greatest legacy was to create the Maxol brand. ‘He Maxolised us,’ says Noel McMullan. ‘We were McMullans Limited in Northern Ireland and McMullan Brothers in the Republic but on his watch, we became Maxol Oil Limited and Maxol Limited respectively. We called it Maxolisation.’

One motive for changing from Mex to Maxol was to enable the company to break free from its restrictive supply contracts with Shell in the Republic and BP in Northern Ireland. While the long-standing contracts had given them exclusive use of the Mex trademark, the value of this exclusivity had been reduced when Shell began marketing Mex as a lower grade petrol in the UK and, by extension, Northern Ireland.

Moreover, the contracts did not permit the company to buy petroleum supplies from anybody else. Given that both BP and Shell were their competitors, as well as their suppliers, this arrangement made little financial sense.

And so it was that on 30 April 1964, the McMullans announced the creation of the new ‘Maxol’ brand to a group of eighty garage proprietors and managers at the Conway Hotel in Dunmurry, Belfast.[284] Devised by an American public relations firm, Maxol was a play on the words ‘Mac’ and ‘Sol’ that ticked the box with its hints of McMullan, Mex and Silensol, as well as ‘oil’ and ‘maximum’.[285]

As part of the new image, the old cream-and-black pumps from the ‘Pool’ age were dispensed with in favour of the new Maxol house colours: blue, yellow and white. This was the livery that would henceforth adorn the pumps and canopies of Maxol filling stations, as well as the company tankers. Some years later, a senior Maxol representative visited the home of a contractor in the west of Ireland and was amazed to see that his house, rather than his forecourt, had been painted in the Maxol colours.

By the mid-1970s, all McMullan products had been rebranded as Maxol.[286] As Noel explains: ‘David Surridge’s attitude was that there’s no point in calling your petrol “Mex”, your oil “Silensol” and your paraffin “Daisy”. That’s too many brands. Pick one name and push it.’

All the original products were renamed so that, for instance, Farmula One, the amusingly named tractor oil, became Maxol Superfarm, while they also released two grades of a new lubricating oil, Maxol, specially blended for Irish conditions. The profit margin for oils was extremely attractive, not least when Maxol later developed a system that enabled them to produce the exact equivalent of any other lube on the market.[287] Some of the older Maxol stations made more money out of lubes than petrol. One station in Cork reputedly sold over a hundred gallons of lube oil for every gallon of petrol.

As part of the campaign, Mr Surridge introduced an eye-catching new uniform for female staff at company-owned filling stations, comprising short skirts and air hostess-style hats. Maxol opted not to impose such racy attire on the service staff south of the border.

He also introduced a policy that all senior Maxol employees should have a degree. Among those who came in on his watch were John Turner, later group marketing manager, and Michael Bain, a multi-lingual and exceptionally intelligent statistician who specialised in sales analysis.




Image: Maxol Self-Service Ad – Belfast Telegraph – 5 October 1967.pdf


Image: Autocars 1966

Caption: In February 1966 the Naismith family’s Autocars Ireland Ltd (formerly Argyle’s) on Fenian Street in Dublin became the first self-service filling station in the Republic of Ireland. The new station was open from 8.30 a.m. until midnight every day except Sunday and featured easy-to-use push-button Wayne pumps that dispensed Mex at 2d a gallon less than the going rate. The Liffey Wanderers met behind the station.


Image: Timmie Murphy

Caption: In August 1968, Fred Bullick and Michael Kenna – Maxol’s general sales and promotions managers – were on hand for the opening of Timmie Murphy’s new station at Moynehall, County Cavan. To mark the event, the station’s first customers were rewarded with free dusters, pencils, tax-disc holders, maps and badges, as well as Green Shield stamps.


In February 1966 the Naismith family’s Autocars Ireland Ltd (formerly Argyle’s) on Fenian Street in Dublin became the first self-service filling station in the Republic of Ireland. The new station was open from 8.30 a.m. until midnight every day except Sunday and featured easy-to-use push-button Wayne pumps that dispensed Mex at 2d a gallon less than the going rate. (Text repeated in caption above, please choose one).

Eighteen months later, McMullans also became the first oil company to introduce self-service pumps to Northern Ireland.[288] These were unveiled on 6 October 1967 when Lord O’Neill officially opened the new McMullan’s station at Church Road, Newtownabbey, County Antrim.[289] A reporter from the Belfast Telegraph who attended the event wrote:

It is exciting and significant that a local firm should be the first to launch into this, the obvious system of the future … McMullans realise that it will not be economically possible to employ forecourt attendants in ten years’ time, and are therefore prepared to invest larger amounts of money, thus making their additional stations self-service. The procedure for your first experience of self-service petrol is simply to drive into the forecourt as normal; you will then be addressed by the pump! (or rather, the pretty Control Receptionist speaking by inter-com, through the pump). You are then requested to insert the nozzle into the tank and press trigger: The controller then releases the petrol by remote control – the customer takes the required amount, pays the neatly uniformed receptionist on leaving, and departs.

This benefits the motorist in that he does not have any irritating waits for service … The usual forecourt aids, namely tyre inflator, water and distilled water, windscreen cleaning equipment, will be available. McMullans place a lot of emphasis on their toilet accommodation, which is unsurpassed in the petrol trade in the province.

McMullans, who were the forerunners of the Blend system, have selected the two most popular blends from the range and christened them MAXOL PREMIUM (98 Octane) and MAXOL REGULAR (91 Octane).

The now familiar range of MAXOL LUBRICANTS, which have been specially blended for Irish motoring conditions, will be available. There is also a well-stocked, self-service accessory shop for the convenience of customers in a hurry.

Not everyone completely got the way it worked. At the Brookville station in Drogheda, a motorist lifted the nozzle and heard a voice asking her how much fuel she wanted. She diligently put the nozzle to her mouth and replied into it, “ Ten pounds worth, please”.

The company continued to open more cost-cutting self-service stations north and south of the border for the remainder of the decade.[290] In August 1968, Fred Bullick and Michael Kenna – Maxol’s general sales and promotions managers – were on hand for the opening of Timmie Murphy’s new station at Moynehall, County Cavan. To mark the event, the station’s first customers were rewarded with free dusters, pencils, tax-disc holders, maps and badges, as well as Green Shield stamps.[291] [Text repeated in caption, choose one]

In June 1969, the balladeer Tommy Makem was on hand to cut the ribbon when Michael Kerley and Heber Russell opened the shimmering new Kersell Motors garage in Dundalk; Fred Bullick and Max McMullan were both present for the occasion.[292] In October 1969, Michael Kenna and Harry Sinnott, the company’s Limerick area manager, attended the launch of another ‘Mex’ garage on Henry Street, Limerick; the self-service station was owned by the Jones brothers while Charles Mitchell, Ireland’s first television newsreader, was the guest of honour at the opening. The first fully automated self-service station in the Republic opened in 1971 on Beech Road, Sandymount, Dublin.





During one of the forty-seven Electricity Supply Board strikes between 1960 and 1979, Martin Forde’s Maxol station in Prospect Hill, Galway, became the talk of the country when the inventive site owner connected the drive pulley of an electric petrol pump to the tyreless back wheel of a bicycle that his son then pedalled in order to drive the pump and fill the customers’ vehicles.




During the 1960s, Maxol sold considerable amounts of fuel oil, the heavy, black, treacle-like residue of the crude oil refining process. Many big consumers regarded it as an economical energy source for operating their boilers and furnaces. It was particularly popular with dairy co-ops, including a chain of creameries in County Kerry that Maxol supplied, who used it for pasteurising milk. The company’s biggest dairy account was with the Carbery Milk Products factory at Ballineen, County Cork, which started in 1967 as a joint venture between the Express Dairy Company of England and the brilliant businessman Bernie Cahill (1930–2001).[293]

Another significant account was Youghal Carpets at Carrigtwohill near Cork City, which opened in 1969 and employed over eight hundred people at its peak. Its plant manufactured raw materials and dyed yarns for carpet-makers that it exported to European and US markets until its closure in 2001. Maxol initially won the fuel oil contract through Harry Ewing; it was later managed by Austin Hastings.

Other fuel oil customers included the Tara Mines, Siúcra and the Beamish and Crawford brewery in Cork, where Austin Hastings’s grandfather had been a wheelwright two generations earlier.

Transporting fuel oil to the desired location was always nerve-wracking as fuel oil thickens into a solid tar if it falls below a certain temperature. As such, a truck would load up from the heated, insulated tank at the terminal and then make haste for the customer where the fuel oil would be swiftly pumped into another heated tank. During the journey from terminal to customer, the fuel oil was neither heated nor insulated. If there was any hold up – a breakdown or a traffic jam, for instance – there was every possibility that the load would be nothing more than black gum or hard tar by the time the truck reached its destination.[294]

Likewise, even within its insulated storage tanks, fuel oil had to be heated by steam pumps running around the clock to keep it liquid. The fuel oil tank at an oil terminal is consequently identifiable by the steam pump attached to its corrugated exterior.

The demand for fuel oil died quickly after the discovery of natural gas off Kinsale in 1973. Linking one’s factory to the natural gas pipe was an infinitely cheaper, cleaner and less stressful option than the mad dashes across the country with thickening fuel oil. Production at the Kinsale gas field began in 1978 and peaked in 1995. Natural gas continued to be produced at the field until its closure in July 2020.

During the 1980s, global oil companies developed a technique called catalytic cracking by which a combination of high electricity charges and scorching temperatures could break down the heavy molecular chains of the fuel oil to produce more of the lighter, desirable middle distillates like petrol, diesel and LPG. Cracking proved so successful that fuel oil became a premium product once again but only for refineries with a cat cracker. As there were no cat crackers in Ireland, fuel oil was transported to one of the Milford Haven refineries.[295]





One of Maxol’s biggest accounts was Marathon Petroleum, formerly Ohio Oil, which won the concession to drill for gas and oil off the coast of Cork in 1965. The deal was instigated by DG McMullan who linked Austin Hastings, Maxol’s Cork rep, with Marathon’s principal. Given that it was running twenty-four hours a day, the American rig required a lot of oil. However, fuelling it by trundling a road tanker back and forth between Whitegate Refinery and Cork’s docks was not going to be cost effective.

The key to this riddle was two Smith-Lloyd supply boats from Rotterdam that shuttled between Cork Harbour and the rig, bringing drill pipes and other supplies. DG McMullan arranged a unique deal with the refinery by which these nifty service ships could load up with fuel at the refinery and then go directly to the rig to unload. This removed the expense of a road tanker, as well as harbour duty. Austin Hastings concocted a clever pipe extension that greatly increased the speed at which the fuel could be pumped on and off the supply boats.[296]  Over the next decade, the two boats delivered an enormous volume of oil to power Marathon’s drills, as well as a fleet of dredgers and cranes that were dredging and in-filling the sea floor. ‘There was a danger that they would run the Whitegate dry,’ Austin marvels.

In 1973, Marathon found commercially viable quantities of natural gas off the Old Head of Kinsale. They subsequently built a pipeline from the rig to Whitegate and installed a colossal tank that took nearly a million gallons (4.5 million litres). The pipe was linked to a network that delivered the gas direct to industry and households in all the biggest cities and towns throughout the land.





By 1967, Ireland imported most of its oil from Libya and Algeria. As such it was not directly impacted by the closure of the Suez Canal during the Six-Day War, aka the 3rd Arab-Israeli war. However, a total or partial oil embargo that the united Arab nations placed on those who supported Israel did lead to a brief but dramatic rise in oil prices. The war’s longer-term consequence was to inspire the formation of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) as a forum for the political discussion of oil and other energy policies.

The war also prompted the construction of the massive crude oil terminal at Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay by the Gulf Oil Corporation between 1966 and 1969. When the Suez Canal reopened, the Egyptian government had imposed a new set of size restraints on the tankers permitted to use it. At the time, the oil companies’ vessel of choice were Ultra Large Crude Carriers (ULCC), capable of carrying 350–500,000 tonnes deadweight (DWT). To avoid the Suez, these now had to go all the way from the Middle East around the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of South Africa and back up again to get to Europe.

Bantry Bay was one of the few ports in Europe that could handle these mammoth tankers, offering broad, sheltered waters with unlimited depths. This inspired Gulf Oil to build a tank farm at Whiddy Island at which smaller coaster vessels loaded up before taking the fuel off to the refineries in Rotterdam and elsewhere in Europe. The farm was initially capable of holding 1.3 million tonnes of crude oil but was later extended to have a 7.5-million capacity. The opening of the terminal in May 1969 was celebrated in the Clancy Brothers sea shanty ‘Bringin’ Home the Oil’.[297]





Larry Gilmore, Eric Campbell, Vincent Lyons, Joey O’Meara at Mullingar sales conference 1990.

During the late 1960s, Maxol had between fifteen and twenty sales reps operating around the Republic, selling fuel, petrol and heating oil. In 1966, the Dublin office signed up four new reps on the same day, namely Irish rugby internationals Johnny Quirke and Eric Campbell, all-round sportsman Joey O’Meara and an ex-Garda by name of Pat Laffan.[298]

Johnny Quirke won three caps as Ireland’s scrum half during in the 1960s. He earned the first of these in 1962 when he was still seventeen, making him the second youngest player ever to be capped for Ireland. A knee injury put paid to his rugby playing for several years but, while working as a Maxol fuel rep, he courageously bounced back to win a third cap in 1968, setting up a try that helped defeat Scotland.[299]

The late Eric Campbell won his only Irish cap playing second row against South Africa in 1970. The Irish team wore white for the game and Eric was thus immortalised in pub quiz lore as the only man to win a cap for Ireland who never wore the green jersey. He went on to become a selector for the Irish team.[300] Gordon Milne, who played rugby with Eric in Old Wesley, recalls how he used to do squats in training with one of the props on his shoulders. Eric was also an exceptional cricketer who played for Irish Schools while at Mountjoy School in the early 1960s.

Vincent Lyons, head of the fuel department, assigned Messrs Quirke and Campbell to look after the fuel oil needs of Greater Dublin, while Messrs O’Meara and Laffan were to focus on petrol sales. Their cars were connected by a radio system enabling them all to communicate with each other, and with the sales office, through a radio mast that Maxol installed on the top of Howth Hill. Johnny was Echo 52 and Joey O’Meara was Echo 53.

‘We were like fighter pilots,’ recalls Johnny Quirke wistfully. Johnny, who was also Maxol’s sales representative in the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, spent eight years with the company, during which time he studied law at night school. Awarded a law degree from Trinity College Dublin and called to the bar in 1974, he went on to serve as a judge of the high court from 1997–2012.[301]




Between 1954 and 1967, Clifford McMullan oversaw gas operations for McMullans Kosangas while his brother DG looked after McMullan Bros’ oil interests.[302] The company utterly dominated the Irish bottled gas market by 1967 when the Tholstrups invited the McMullans to buy out their share.[303] The McMullans pitched the concept to Ulster Bank but, perhaps fortuitously, the bank declined.

In spite of their market domination, the business still had a problem with the domestic gas bottles. Made in Spain, these came in at two sizes – 11 kg. and 47 kg – and cost the company close to £20 each to buy, paint and maintain. At its peak, the plant at Whitegate was filling 3.5 million bottles a year, with four trucks on the road delivering 5,000 bottles a week each, as well as a bulk storage tanker filling larger tanks for customers like Guinness and Waterford Glass. Given the constant need to order more bottles because customers kept failing to hand back the empties, the bottles were an enormous investment that was now eating into the profits of the petroleum business. [304] Added to that was the tremendous success of the Electricity Supply Board’s rural electrification scheme, which had connected almost every house and farmstead in Ireland to the grid by the late 1960s.[305]

In 1968, Clifford and DG persuaded the board of directors of McMullans Kosangas that they simply couldn’t fund both companies. The partnership with the Tholstrups broke up and the business was sold to LPG Limited, a new company set up by Ken Bishop and Charterhouse (Ireland) Ltd.[306] The proceeds of the sale helped to take the pressure off the working capital requirements for the petroleum business and to purchase the shares of some of the shareholders who wanted to follow their own interests.[307]




In the late 1960s, Maxol became an outlet for the Green Shield Stamps company, founded by the retail entrepreneur Richard Tompkins. The stamps were given away at Maxol filling stations, amongst other places. A customer earned a stamp for every half-shilling or sixpence spent. When they had collected enough stamps, they could claim merchandise such as cassette players, transistor radios, records and power drills from a catalogue or select Green Shield gift house.

As part of the campaign, Maxol teamed up with Shay O’Hanlon, Ireland’s top amateur road racing cyclist of the 1960s and four-time winner of the Rás Tailteann stage race. Shay was invited into Maxol’s head office at 1–2 Upper O’Connell Street where he was photographed alongside huge boxes stuffed with Green Shield Stamps before they were divvied up into individual lots and sent out to the filling stations.

The Green Shields campaign prospered during the 1970s as more and more companies signed up to it. It wound up in 1983, but enjoyed a short revival between 1987 and 1991.





The McMullan brothers were not averse to a little flutter. Shortly after he joined the company in 1967, John Holmes ran an office sweep for the Aintree Grand National. As there were more horses than staff, he decided to give the directors the option to back two horses each.

‘I’ll just take one,’ said DG. ‘Only one can win.’

John then called in to Clifford’s office where, true to form, the eldest McMullan brother was lying on the floor, sunbathing.

‘How many did my brother buy?’ asked Clifford.

‘He just bought one,’ replied John. ‘He said only one can win.’

‘Well,’ laughed Clifford. ‘I’ll take my two and I’ll also take the one that he didn’t buy.’

As it happened, that was the year the 100–1 outsider Foinavon sidestepped a mass pile-up to win the race. Neither brother won.





Dave O’Loughlin was eighteen years old when he joined Maxol’s purchasing department in 1966. Although he had not particularly wanted the job, he impressed his interviewers, Fergus McAlevey and Commandant Joe Ward, with his Leaving Cert results from the Christian Brother School on Synge Street and a letter from his parish priest stating that he had been an altar boy.[308] Prior to 1971, the purchasing department under Colm Keegan was located at the East Wall depot on Ravensdale Road, which is where Dave worked for his first five years at Maxol, from 9 to 5.30 with a generous ninety-minute lunch break each day.

The office where he worked was also the base for Joe Ward, the head of operations, who oversaw all drivers, mechanics and manual labourers. East Wall had also been home to the Kosangas store, run by Micky Stamp, before McMullans Kosangas closed in 1967. There were three or four women working in the office, including Clodagh Bacon and Mrs McConnell, who had been DG’s secretary before she became Joe Ward’s secretary. The office was also used by the depot supervisor, a post held by Mick Murray when Dave started, and then by Liam Quinn. After a short run under Max McMullan, the depot was taken up by Bertie McMullan, a nephew of the Boss. Otto Behan and Billy McCrea managed the trucks while their routing was overseen by Dave Malone and Brendan Bermingham.

Dave O’Loughlin’s primary role was to buy in materials such as the barrels, bottles and cartons for the lube oil, as well as spare parts, clothing, stationery, printing and promotional materials. Most purchases were made by posting out purchase orders, with the occasional phone call or Telex message. (Telex was the preferred means of communication for organising and confirming shipping from refineries at the time.) Much diligence was required to match up receipts with orders, and to ensure people were not ordering anything without approval.

‘East Wall was a fantastic place to work,’ says Dave, who was astounded by the size of the depot when he arrived. ‘There was so much activity, with everyone walking around the yard, working and singing and whistling.’ Dave was one of about twenty clerical staff, working alongside fifty drivers and manual staff.[309] Many of these men were robust Dubs, seasoned drinkers, with a taste for mischief and merriment. ‘What surprised me more than anything else was the huge array of workshops down there,’ Dave recalls. In one workshop full of ramps, four mechanics and two apprentices repaired trucks and cars. Next door was a large storeroom for truck parts, including a bay where the truck tyres were pumped up inside a metal cage to ensure nobody got hurt by flying steel and rubber if the tyre blew up.[310]

The painters’ shed was another substantial workshop where a team of at least four painted all of the trucks in the company colours and stuck on the lettering. They also painted other equipment, such as the barrels, while three teams of painters went around the country in vans during the summer, painting pumps and canopies at the stations that the area reps had requested them to doll up.[311] One of the vans was robbed of its pots out west – a customer was later busted for having painted his entire house in the Maxol blue and yellow. Pat McKenna, the foreman of the painters’ Shed, declined vans in favour of an old-fashioned motorbike on which he travelled throughout Ireland with his son, camping along the way.

Among the painters was John Tyrell whose brother Joe was the pianist with the ill-fated Miami Showband. When station owners complained about the colour of the paint, John’s stock response was: ‘Ma’am, I’m only here to spread it.’[312] Another painter was Danny ‘The Gunner’ Brady who loved movies and Ella FitzGerald; he cycled into work on a high nelly and wore a cap all the time, even when he slept.[313]

Next door to the paint shop was the oil-bottling plant where the company’s lube business was based.[314] The oil was imported in bulk into Dublin Port on ships and skid tankers and then taken by truck in bulk to the oil stores at the Ravensdale Road depot. Pumped up high into overhead tanks, it was then manually gravity fed into different size containers – forty-five-gallon (200 litre) barrels, five-gallon (22 litre) KCCs and pint bottles. A KCC drum was a container about three-foot-high with a handle in its top panel for lifting, as well as an opening through which it was filled and a lid then fitted to it.  ‘The KCC was quite heavy,’ recalls Frank Dormer, ‘but the fork lift helped!’

Among the others who worked at the oil stores in the 1960s were Tommy Tierney, Bill Nolan, Harry Doyle and Noel ‘Muckster’ Dunne. The latter was a renowned trickster. Once upon a time, a new lubes tank was installed at the oil stores. An elderly carpenter called Peter Dunne was asked to chisel a hole through a concrete wall so that they could run a pipe up to the tank. Peter was ‘a thundering great worker of the old stock’, recalls Joe Brannigan, but he was also nicknamed ‘The Needler’ because it was so easy to get a rise out of him. Peter diligently began chiselling the wall but, after a while, he still hadn’t cracked through. And yet when he walked around to the other side of the wall to check the situation, there was a nice big hole. He returned to his original spot, looked through and, to his bewilderment, saw that the hole was blocked. So off he went again, banging away with his chisel, stomping from one side of the wall to the other, unable to match the hole on the one side with his efforts on the other. It took him close to an hour before he realised that Muckster Dunne had been tiptoeing out from a nearby shed and holding a block up against the wall whenever the Needler went back to his chisel.

As well as all the workshops, there was the yard itself, where the Maxol trucks filled up with fuel and parked at night. Before he was sent up to the stores in Parkgate Street, Joe Brannigan spent about eighteen months working as a storeman in the yard, driving a van. The yard’s two big DERV (diesel) tanks were exclusively for the use of trucks and vans during the week but staff were permitted to fill up their cars on Saturday mornings, availing of a cheaper rate than standard pumps in the city offered at that time.[315]

The depot keys were held by Bob Roche, a driver who lived right beside it on Ravensdale Road; his wife Jenny was cleaner of the depot offices. Bob later became a plant operator at Parkgate Street.[316]

In summertime, when the demand for central heating was low, drivers and helpers alike could find themselves at a loose end. ‘We weren’t always busy in those days,’ explains Joe Byrne. ‘You could be in the yard for a while so you’d have to entertain yourself.’[317]

Boredom creates trouble, albeit creative trouble at times. At the paint shop there were stencils for stencilling the ‘Mex’ name onto oil barrels. Some of the East Wall gang worked out how to lure seagulls into their arms, using pieces of bread on a string. They would then stencil the word ‘Mex’ onto the underside of the bird’s wings, before sending them back off into the skies. It was not long before the first complaints came back from rival companies about seagulls flying around promoting the Mex brand.

A more predictable diversion was soccer. The men would sweep the yard and pull the old garage doors shut to make one goal, with the other up at the back wall. The footballing skills on display were not to be sniffed at. Tommy ‘TT’ Tierney and Bill ‘The Header’ Nolan lined out in the maroon and white colours of Portrane Athletic FC during the clubs’ historic defeat of Home Farm at Tolka Park, winning the prestigious AUL Bradmola Cup in 1959.[318]

Bill Nolan was also an accomplished poultry butcher. Every Christmas, the East Wall canteen was awash with turkey feathers while he plucked, cleaned and dressed the birds, ‘New York style’ (ie; with head, feet and entrails intact) for his colleagues.






In 1969, Maxol relocated both the oil stores and the paint stores to a sprawling 3.5-acre site at Parkgate Street at the west end of Dublin city centre. The site was usefully located less than two hundred metres from Heuston Station, and close to a major CIÉ depot. It was formerly the headquarters of the Lucan Dairies, one of Maxol’s biggest customers, and was replete with outhouses and sheds, some of which doubled as a gift redemption centre during Maxol’s promotional campaigns in the 1980s.[319]

Maxol installed a new state-of-the-art bottling plant for lubes, with an assembly line of automated machines, not unlike a dairy, where oil was injected into bottles that were then shunted on to the capper.

‘There were men at the beginning and men at the end but there was no need for anybody in the middle at all,’ recalls Frank Dormer, who, as the company’s stock control clerk, came to dip the Parkgate Street tanks as part of the monthly stocktake. Bertie McMullan, the manager at East Wall, was now also appointed to manage Parkgate Street. The workforce comprised about sixteen plant operators, including Joe Quinn, Frank McQueston, Tony Malone, Gus Duffy, Harry Duffy and Bob Roche, a driver whose wife Jenny was cleaner of the Ravensdale Road offices. The original foreman Mick Murray was succeeded by Frank Malcolmson, one of the bottling team, who was famed for singing ballads like ‘Muirsheen Durkin’ and ‘Black Velvet Band’, or songs such as ‘Ferry Across the Mersey’ while he worked. Jim Sperrin, a colleague in sales, sometimes joined in by whistling.

Also present were the painters and sign writers, Paddy Brennan, Ernie Harold and Hilliard Doyle, with their own foreman, John Tyrrell, as well as the two company carpenters, Peter Dunne and Derek Slevin.

Christy Roe was superintendent in charge of the five-strong sales team, namely Frank Conroy (Portlaoise), John Magee (Cork), Martin Browne (Galway), Maurice Kelly (Waterford) and Jim Sperrin (Dublin). Martin and Maurice were both former storemen, while Jim Sperrin was the whistling salesman who excelled at bringing Dublin motor factor business in for Maxol. Four van drivers also set off from the plant once a week, transferring the lube oil bottles to the numerous McMullan depots and filling stations, or delivering directly to the creameries, breweries and other businesses that were on the company’s client list.[320]


Chapter 8

The 1970s



In May 1970, Maxol celebrated its fiftieth birthday and prepared to move its Dublin head office to new quarters at Apollo House. Within a few years, it was the third biggest Irish-owned company operating on both sides of the border.[321] Business was booming in consequence of the productivity policy and a fleet of new tankers with a capacity for up to 7,000 gallons (32,000 litres). Under the guidance of the third generation of McMullans, the company once again pushed its credentials as ‘the only all-Irish company operating on the Irish market’, directly competing with bigger rivals like Shell and Esso.[322]

By the end of the decade, it had a network of almost a thousand company-owned or dealer sites, north and south, as well as nearly a thousand employees. In the Republic, the company controlled about 10 per cent of the retail petrol market, while it also held perhaps 15 per cent of the market share in Northern Ireland.

And yet the 1970s was not an easy decade for the oil industry. The price of fuel more than doubled across the world in the face of two major international oil crises, at a time when two-thirds of Ireland’s total energy demand was supplied by oil. While the Troubles intensified in Northern Ireland, there was also strife with drivers’ unions in the Republic that culminated in a nationwide strike.






Caption: Dave O’Loughlin at his desk in the purchasing department at Apollo House.


In October 1970, the Dublin head office moved from O’Connell Street, across the River Liffey, to Apollo House on the corner of Tara Street and Poolbeg Street.[323] Built by the architectural practice of David Keane and Jack McCormack, its name was probably a nod to the Apollo 11 mission that landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon while the ten-storey building was under construction.[324] It may also have been a reference to the Apollo Tavern that once stood on nearby Hawkins Street. The building itself occupies the site of a large Catholic church that was built in the eighteenth century and revealed during the 2019 excavations.

Maxol took the eighth and ninth floors, overlooking the Tara Street bath house. The swift move of office furniture and computers to these offices was expertly orchestrated by Fergus McAlevey, the office manager and, later, the company’s chief accountant.[325] He subsequently transformed the financial system, computerising the accounts and bringing Maxol into the new era. W. G. Dukes continued as the company secretary and general manager until 1978.

The new offices were sufficiently palatial to accommodate all of Maxol’s clerical staff.[326] Dave O’Loughlin had spent the previous five years working at the East Wall depot when he and his purchasing department colleagues Colm Keegan and John Denning were relocated to Apollo House.

‘It was a major culture shock,’ he recalls. ‘We were so used to the free life on the depot where there was no signing in and nobody checking anything. Suddenly we had to wear shirts and ties and suits, and we had the directors down below. At the depot, you were with the mechanics and painters and the fellows in lubes. We didn’t know anybody from the office apart from those we might have said hello to at a dress dance. I knew a lot of their voices from the phone but I didn’t actually know anybody. It was like starting a new job all over again.

‘There was nobody singing rebel songs in the office. It was all very quiet except for a bank of six girls sitting at Imperial typewriters right in the centre. I can still remember the noise from the typewriters! We later got them state-of-the-art golf-ball typewriters from Norton’s in Abbey Street. I believe it’s very quiet when you go into head office now because there’s no typewriters.’

The floors directly below Maxol were occupied by the Revenue Commissioners. On the 14th of every month, Frank Dormer or one of the other office clerks would simply pop downstairs with a cheque to pay the PAYE and PRSI.





In 1970, Maxol’s total workforce numbered close to 750 between all the offices, depots and filling station staff, as well as the drivers, mechanics, fitters, servicemen and painters. There were about 450 in the north and 300 in the Republic.

By the end of the decade that number had risen to nearly 1,000, with perhaps 100 drivers and 400 pump attendants and service staff working at the 121 company-owned sites, 83 in the south and 38 in the north.[327] Each of the twelve outlying depots had an area rep, a storekeeper and at least a handful of drivers.[328]

With rising costs and ongoing pressures from the trade unions, there were constant rumours that the company was about to be taken over although nobody could ever confirm who the buyer might be. The fact that the company was not sold did much to boost staff loyalty to the directors.[329]

Nonetheless, productivity was still a key policy, which was one reason why the operations at East Wall were downsized. The painters and lubes department were transferred to Parkgate Street at the same time that the purchasing department moved to Apollo House. By the early 1980s, the depot was little more than a place where Maxol trucks parked by night.





While they didn’t have Mad Men-style drinks cabinets in their offices, liquid lunches were run of the mill for many Maxol staff members during the 1960s and 1970s. From the O’Connell Street offices, they frequented Madigan’s and Mooney’s in North Earl Street, where government ministers would also be enjoying a tipple. Those visiting the lubes department at Parkgate Street were liable to be magically sucked into Ryan’s.

When the company moved to Apollo House, the pubs of choice became Mulligan’s on Poolbeg Street, O’Connell Bridge House and, not least on Christmas Eves, the quayside White Horse Inn by Butt Bridge.

Staff tended to park in front of the Custom House and walk across Butt Bridge to work.[330] For a long time a couple who had become secretly romantically involved were unaware that everyone on the eighth floor would race over to the window to watch them hold hands as they crossed the bridge down below. The couple later married.[331]





From the 1940s until the 1990s, Clifford and DG McMullan were the principal figures on Maxol’s board of directors, rotating the chairmanship between them annually and buying up the vast majority of the shares in the company. Despite their commanding status, the brothers had a reputation among the staff for being always approachable’.[332]

In 1971, following the move to Apollo House, the brothers opened the board to the next generation, appointing their sons Max and Noel as directors. Eric McMullan, their half-brother, who had been a director of the Northern Ireland company since 1961, also became a director of the parent company that year, but resigned in 1976. Thereafter, control was progressively handed over to Max and Noel. Malcolm McMullan, another son of Clifford, joined the board in 1981.




During the 1970s, Maxol’s lubricants, or lubes, department was headed up by Peter Blanckensee, a technical expert who travelled around much of Ireland advising clients on what oils to use. The company was selling about 1.5 million litres (330,000 gallons) a year by the time young Malcolm McMullan took the reins in 1979.  Within five years, he had increased the volume of sales to four million litres (880,000 gallons).

McMullans Ltd, the Northern Ireland company, obtained all of its lubes from Dublin. The sales were orchestrated by Ivan Martin at the company’s Ormeau Road headquarters in Belfast. [333] When he placed an order, it afforded one of the few occasions when company members from the two regions actually met one another as the drivers from East Wall motored across the border with a load of lubes. At one such fleeting encounter, the southern drivers informed the northern drivers of the pensions deal they had reached with the union in Dublin. Two years later, the same pension was applied in the north. [334]

The oil was actually ‘exported’ from Dublin to Northern Ireland through Loxal, a company established by McMullan Bros to avail of the transfer pricing standards of the time.

At the Belfast depot, the oil drums were packaged, sealed and loaded by the two Billys, namely Billy Hughes and Billy Maxwell. One Billy was a Catholic and the other a Protestant. Billy Hughes lived in Divis flats, right in the heart of republican west Belfast, while Billy Maxwell played bagpipes with the Field Marshall Montgomery band. ‘They got on brilliantly,’ remembers Jean Vance, who was Ivan Martin’s clerk typist at the time.  ‘They were the best of friends, particularly when the Troubles started. Once they walked in through the Maxol gate, the real world stayed outside.’ Roy Pollitt, the operations manager, later installed a machine at the depot that proved perfectly adept at filling the five- and twenty-five-litre drums automatically.

Once the two Billys had the oil ready to go, it was dispatched with one of the two Belfast-based truck-drivers, Geordie Brannigan (who was as ‘tough as a wee bull’) or Fred Gracey (a brilliant mimic).

When not selling lubes, Ivan Martin was captain of the Shandon Park Golf Club and chairman of the Belfast and District Golf Clubs. He was also an Irish international table-tennis player and an expert snooker player.


ERIC McMULLAN (1940–2001)


Eric McMullan

Eric Winston McMullan, the Boss’s elder son by his second marriage, was a director of the company from 1961 until March 1977. A flamboyant and charismatic individual, Eric was renowned for his generosity. He established himself as a ‘living legend’ in Northern Ireland during his twenties by hosting lavish parties at his palatial home in Cultra, County Down, while ostensibly working from Maxol’s office in Belfast.

He was especially well known in hill-climbing and motor-club circles, often driving an MG Midget or Austin Healy Sprite, and he seems to have inherited the family knack for golf. He even lined out for Maxol’s football team during the City Manufacturers League in the 1970s. However, the placement was somewhat honorary. Many of the matches were played on a pitch near Newtownards Airport and his teammates recall how ‘Mr Eric’ tended to simply sit down on the pitch, watching the aeroplanes overhead, while the game proceeded around him.[335]

Eric’s passion for nocturnal pursuits accounted for much of the money he made as a shareholder when Kosangas was sold in 1968. He moved south to Dublin for a few years and became equally famed there for the endless succession of dinners and dances he hosted at venues such as the Hibernian Hotel and Fitzpatrick Castle.

He subsequently sold his company shares to his half-brother Clifford and emigrated to Spain where he ran La Mancha, a highly rated restaurant in Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol. Eric died in 2001 and was survived by his first wife, Yvonne, and their four children, and by his second wife, Hilary.

Robin McMullan (1945–2006), Eric’s younger brother, ran a hotel in San Diego and became well-known as a trader in Irish goods such as Aran sweaters and shillelaghs. Robin’s wife Mary Nimmo fronted a successful New Zealand showband called Mary and the Maori Hi-Fives.




David Surridge learned how to fly just after the war. By the early 1970s, he was flying an average of two hundred hours a year around Britain and Ireland on company business. In 1970 he managed to safely land his four-seater Piper Comanche in a barley field when the engine exploded without warning; his wife Penny and their two sons were on board at the time. All four survived uninjured. This close call did not stop Mr Surridge becoming one of the most competitive pilots of his generation.

By 1972 he was flying a twin-engine Beechcraft Baron (top-speed 120 knots), which he had persuaded Maxol to buy in return for a reduction in his salary. He went on to win the Guernsey International Rally in 1973, as well as the Malta Air Rally on three occasions. Sponsored by the Belfast Telegraph, he also came second in the Jersey Air Rally of 1973, one of the most difficult competitions in Europe, and fourth in the Scottish Rally that same year.

Terry Frew, a sales rep for Maxol in Northern Ireland, was his regular co-pilot and navigator, but he was occasionally accompanied by other Maxol staff such as Michael Bain (his assistant), Clifford Bell (the company architect) and Roy Politt (operations manager).

The Beechcraft was much slower than a commercial plane but it sometimes suited the directors to use it. On one occasion, Noel McMullan was on a ‘long’ flight from Belfast to Northolt in London with Mr Surridge and Terry Frew and found himself day-dreaming about a sandwich and a cup of coffee. To his initial joy, he watched David Surridge reach under his seat, whip out a Tupperware container and remove the lid. Noel’s optimistic smile faded when the general manager then undid his trouser buttons and peed in the pot. ‘Some sandwich,’ remarks Noel.

David Surridge left Maxol in 1974 to work with Paktank, an independent bulk liquid storage company near Henley-on-Thames.




Kyle Gibson, who succeeded David Surridge as general sales manager, had an abhorrence of flying – in stark contrast to his predecessor – although he was renowned as a fast driver. Born in Belfast, Kyle joined the company as a clerk in 1958 and soon became area rep for County Fermanagh. Having excelled as a salesman, he rose through the ranks to become Mr Surridge’s deputy in the late 1960s. As such, he was the natural successor to run the northern part of the business, which he did with considerable success for the rest of the 1970s and 1980s until his retirement in 1993.

An extremely popular, larger than life personality, with a penchant for Guinness and Black Bush whiskey, he had the perfect credentials to oversee the authorised-distributor side of the business. He ran everything from his office on the first floor of Maxol Oil’s Ormeau Road HQ where he was loyally served by his secretaries Glenys McMaster, Florence Luton and, later, Jean Vance. His original team included John Turner (manager of the field sales force), Fred Maguire (retail division manager), Ross McWilliams (administrator of retail division), Bertie Hall (training officer) and David Goode (purchasing officer, who also looked after stock control).[336]

He often invited all of the Maxol distributors to join him for his annual vacation in Jersey, to which destination he invariably went by sea rather than air. A keen wildfowler, fisherman and game shooter, he was particularly proud of a hefty salmon he caught at the Mount Juliet estate in County Kilkenny.

One of the highlights of Kyle’s year was the annual black-tie dance that Maxol Ltd hosted. Like the dress dance organized by its Dublin counterpart, this was for the firm’s staff, with their husbands, wives, partners and friends, as well as their biggest suppliers and retailers. Organised by Ruby Skelton, the December dance raised a good deal of money for local charities. Initially held at the Drumkeen Hotel, off the Ormeau Road in Belfast, subsequent events took place at La Mon House Hotel in Comber, Millbrook Lodge in Ballynahinch, and the Stormont Hotel in East Belfast. It became a joint function in Dublin in the wake of integration in the mid-1990s.

The merger of the management structure of Maxol’s Northern and Southern Irish wings was not something that came easily to Kyle.[337] However, once he accepted integration, he worked conscientiously to make it a success. Sadly, at this time he was diagnosed with cancer, which compelled him to retire at the age of 53. He passed away less than a year later.




From 1969 to 1975, Maxol had its own unofficial newsletter, The Maxol Bugle. It was established by sales rep Johnny Quirke, with a certain amount of prodding by colleagues such as Joey O’Meara, Eric Campbell and Vincent Lyons. Johnny, a former Irish rugby international, had joined the sales team a few years earlier, having previously worked as a salesman for Dublin Petroleum Ltd and as a manager of the Irish section of the Universal Catholic Times.

The concept behind The Maxol Bugle was to provide something that would be ‘completely satirical and utterly untrue, to have a go at everybody, but not in an unpleasant way’. The magazine also provided some details on marriages, promotions, retirements, inter-company sports results and such like.

A couple of hundred copies were printed in the O’Connell Street office twice yearly and then circulated among the office staff and the sales reps. The first issue was published in June 1969, with an introduction by Johnny, as editor, that commenced: ‘Today The Bugle takes the first uncertain gulps of air into its tiny lungs and prepares to lurch into the unsuspecting world around it.’

One of the highlights of the magazine was a spoof Agony Aunt column in which the sagacious advice was alleged to have come from Harry Ewing, the larger than life sales rep. One such letter read:

Dear Harry, I wish to remain anonymous. I am from the midlands and I’m the divisional manager of an oil company, which shall be nameless, and my problem is that I cannot fit into my Austin Princess.

Clifford and DG McMullan were enthusiastic supporters, even though they were gently lampooned as Apollo and a sort of Mafia Don respectively. Reporting on one of the annual Mex Dances in the Gresham Hotel, for instance, Johnny homed in on DG’s quiet, reserved figure and wrote:

Wealthy socialite DG McMullan grinned lasciviously, pulled on his cigar and surveyed the scene with obvious relish. “Shake up that band a little,” he bellowed at the band leader. “Send more champagne over.” He pounded the passing waiter on the back.

In another paragraph, DG ‘snarls’ and hails the dance as ‘a good clean orgy,’ while the late Con O’Rourke, the mild-mannered office supervisor, was likewise depicted as a wild man of Borneo at this ‘sleazy, steamy staff dance’.

Also in the firing line was Peter Blankensee, head of the lubricating oil department, who, according to The Bugle seized the opportunity of the Mex Dance to give ‘an hour-long sermon on viscosity, temperature charting, and the varied use of Maxol 20W50. He was forcibly restrained from demonstrating his floor sealant on the Gresham ballroom. Everyone enjoyed seeing him totally immersed in bulk oil and flung onto O’Connell Street.’

Dublin depot manager Bertie McMullan was Brainy Bertie while Mick O’Connell, the Kerry footballer who briefly worked with the company, was Mick O’Carry.

The Bugle went into sharp decline when Johnny Quirke left Maxol to become a barrister in 1974. There were two more editions in June and October 1975, written at the northern office, but the tone changed and the content was essentially about the merger of the two companies.





On 15 February 1971, both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom changed their currencies from pounds, shillings and pence to the new decimal currency. All of Maxol’s area managers were duly called to a meeting at the East Wall depot in Dublin to learn all about the new currency from the late Bob Hopley, the retail marketing manager, who, as John Holmes recalls, ‘never left the pipe out of his mouth’.

‘There will be two of these 50 pence coins in a pound,’ explained Bob, pointing to a big chart on the wall. ‘And there will be ten of these 10 pence coins in a pound. Any questions?’

A driver put his hand up.


‘It’s the f–king capitalist system at work again, isn’t it? The driver and the worker is going to be done.’

‘That’s nothing to do with me. Any other questions?’

Up went the hand of Bertie Armstrong, a rep from Clones, County Monaghan, who had started in 1937 and was on the cusp of retirement.

‘Excuse me, Sir?’

‘Yes, Bertie?’

‘I would just like to say that this system might be all right for Dublin but it’ll never catch on in Clones.’





For the first half century of its existence, it was normal practice for Maxol to pump a tanker full of fuel at one of the big terminals – BP in Northern Ireland, Shell in the south – and to then drive that tanker to one of their depots around the country. The fuel was then pumped into a storage tank at the depot from which it was, in turn, pumped back into a smaller delivery truck as and when sites around that depot placed an order.

Much of this fuel was sold to relatively remote places with limited storage facilities – a solitary pump standing outside a pub, perhaps, or a grocery shop or country cottage.[338] These sites simply didn’t have the capacity for big loads so it was relatively standard for Maxol drivers to deliver two 500-gallon (2300-litre) orders to a single site in a week.

The problem with all these small loads and pumping back and forth was that the company was losing a significant amount of fuel in the process by leakage, spillage or, more obliquely, by evaporation. Moreover, pumping fuel on and off trucks was the very antithesis of productivity as it was, essentially, double handling.

The detachable trailers introduced in the 1960s had solved the problem to some extent but the filling stations still needed encouragement to install bigger storage tanks so that the Maxol trucks could deliver larger volumes of fuel direct, thus minimising the losses and, ultimately, negating the need for a depot. The tank size that Maxol had in mind was a minimum of 2,000 gallons (9000 litres) and the concept was that each outlying station should have one.

Enter the surveyor.





Noel McMullan joined the family firm in 1971, having worked as a civil engineer in Northern Ireland for the previous five years. His first job was to visit every station in the country with the ‘productivity’ policy in mind. Armed with an instant Polaroid camera, he spent almost four months of that summer travelling the country and surveying the stations. The experience gave the future company director an invaluable insight into how the company worked at grassroots level. He would take in two or three sites a day, accompanied by area sales reps such as Austin Hastings (Cork) and John Brady (Carlow), who fondly recall their outings with the young McMullan princeling nearly fifty years later. Among the other area reps that joined him were the late Harry Sinnott (Limerick), Pat Keenehan (Clare-Galway-Longford), Terry Fleming (Waterford), Gerry McCarthy (Portlaoise), John Holmes (Meath) and Pat Laffan (Dublin – Meath).[339]

The area reps guided Noel around their localities and held the other end of the measuring tape while he drew diagrams of the existing tanks and pumps. In rural Ireland, especially in the west of the country, the tanks he encountered were often nothing more than rusty bunkers sunk into digger-dug holes in the ground. Quite a lot of them leaked.

‘The pump was often on the kerbside, right by the front door of the house,’ recounts Noel. ‘Sometimes, amazingly, the suction line from the tank went under the floor of the house, through the drawing room and the bedroom, and out to the tank in the back garden.’

John Brady recalls visiting a small petrol station in Tullow, County Carlow, at this time, which consisted of a tiny shop built into a gateway, with a kitchen and the store behind. The kitchen had a working, coal-fired Aga cooker blazing away, with the 500-gallon petrol tank tucked neatly away, almost directly under the Aga. ‘I expressed some alarm at this arrangement,’ recounts John, ‘but I was assured that there had never been any problem as the manhole cover was kept closed. I have an indelible memory of the glowing ashes being swept off the manhole to the petrol tank. One doesn’t forget that sort of thing!’

The concept of health and safety was in its infancy: all such tanks are nowadays secured in protective, double-skinned walls of plastic and concrete to completely minimise the hazards of storing such dangerous substances.[340]

With Noel’s sketches in hand, the company then had to persuade the site owners that the time had come to install a bigger, better 2,000-gallon (9,000-litre) tank, so that they could buy bigger, more cost-effective loads. The ideal result was, of course, for a station to take a full load so that a driver didn’t have to deal with split loads, dropping off 300 gallons here, 300 gallons there, and hauling the hoses in and out each time.

Some stations were not willing to install bigger tanks for practical, economic or private reasons. This was especially the case for smaller sites that only sold a few thousand gallons a year. However, for the bigger sites that sold 20–40,000 gallons (90-180,000 litres) per annum, the idea of a bigger tank and discounted fuel had its charms. Among the most successful of these stations was Frank Gleeson’s Flower Hill station in Navan, County Meath, which was opened by the Miami Showband’s Dickie Rock in November 1970; Joe Tyrell, the Miami Showband’s pianist, was a brother of John Tyrell, one of the Maxol painters in Dublin.





Image Collage:

Caption: On 27 April 1970, the Maxol Training School in Belfast was formally opened by William Kennedy Fitzsimmons, aka Billy Fitzsimmons, Northern Ireland’s minister of health and social services, alongside David Surridge, general manager of McMullans Limited.[341]





Image: Opening of new Operations Centre on Old Channel Road c 1972 – Roy Pollitt Operations Manager, Belfast; AN Other; ANother; David Surridge General Manager; W. Fitzsimons Minister of Health and Social Services; A,N. Other, Clifford Bell Maxol Architect.jpg

Caption: In March 1971, Reginald Berkeley, chairman of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, formally opened the company’s new operations centre on Old Channel Road in east Belfast. Located in an an old railway siding, the centre comprised a garage and maintenance plant for forty heavy trucks. Also present at the opening were Roy Pollitt (operations manager, Belfast), David Surridge (general manager) and Clifford Bell (Maxol’s architect).



Image: Volvo tractor circa1975 with 3000 gl trailer.

Caption: This Volvo truck from circa 1975, with a 3,000 gallon (14,000 litre) trailer, was part of the new fleet set up by Roy Pollitt for Maxol Oil Ltd.


Image: ACE Mammoth Major

Caption: ACE Mammoth Major truck outside the entrance to the Stormont Parliament Buildings outside Belfast, circa 1966.


Bobby Hueston, who served as Maxol’s group distribution manager from 2007 until 2009, started work as a Maxol driver in 1970. Bobby had been a self-employed driver for two and a half years. However, with the Troubles flaring up, an upcoming wedding and a mortgage to pay, he felt the need for job security.

He took a punt and drove his flatbed truck into the motor repair centre (MRC), a large old shed on the Sydenham Road, where the McMullan trucks were repaired and serviced.[342] The company fleet was parked overnight along the roadside just outside the MRC. He struck lucky when Billy Gill, the MRC manager, employed him as one of the company’s twelve or so day-drivers and gave him a truck emblazoned with ‘Mex’ on the side.[343] There were also perhaps thirty-two full-time shift drivers at the time.

‘I did four ten-hour shifts a week, working one Saturday in every four, making small deliveries to schools, hotels, filling stations, police stations and small businesses around the whole of Northern Ireland,’ says Bobby. ‘I was earning the same wage as I did when I was self-employed but I didn’t have to tax or insure or maintain the lorry, or even pay for the diesel. All the overheads were gone.  I just couldn’t believe my luck.’

He was employed as a full-time driver in 1972.[344] Petrol deliveries were loaded up at the Shell terminal at the end of Sydenham Road. For diesel or gas oil, he went to the new BP refinery terminal, which was completed at this time.

In 1971, David Surridge brought in Roy Pollitt as operations manager for Northern Ireland.[345] He moved the MRC and the operations centre to a new depot at the Old Channel Road, off Sydenham Road.[346] This was formally in March 1971 by Reginald Berkeley, chairman of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners. Located in an old railway siding, the centre comprised a garage and maintenance plant for forty heavy trucks. (The lube oil store moved there later on, although they kept an oil store back at Connsbank Road.) Mr Pollitt also started to restructure the Maxol Oil Ltd fleet, negotiating a deal with Dennisons to coordinate the purchase of three new Volvo trucks every second year for the next twelve years. Frank Boggs, the distribution manager, was in charge of routing vehicles, while the tricky task of reconciling stock was generally handled by Billy Craig, an ex-lube oil driver.[347]

The introduction of the ‘spy in the cab’ tachograph was among the spurs that led Bobby to move into the office world in 1978.[348] Roy Pollitt was seeking a new computer system to produce weekly, monthly, YTD (year to date) and annual reports on the fleet performances in a more efficient way than the manual book system. After two years of computer studies at night school, Bobby was perfectly placed to help Mr Pollitt co-found the new stand-alone ‘Delta’ system; its tailormade reports gave Mr Pollitt instant information on data such as fuel consumption, litres delivered per hour and costs per mile.

Bobby became a firm fixture on the office staff thereafter, overseeing tachograph and drivers’-hours regulations. Also in the office were Brian Rodgers, Colin Stanex, Jim Robinson and Mary Cooper, Mr Pollitt’s long-serving secretary. After Mr Pollitt’s departure in 1993, Bobby, Brian Rodgers and Davy Totten divided management duties between them until Bobby became depot manager in 1994.[349]





In January 1973, both Ireland and the United Kingdom formally entered the European Economic Union. However, the optimism of this new age coincided with the awfulness of the Troubles, which erupted in 1969. At the company’s head office in Belfast, staff had to put a heavy clingfilm-like covering on the windows to prevent glass flying everywhere if a bomb went off. Remarkably, all of the windows survived intact throughout the Troubles, even on Bloody Friday in July 1972 when the staff watched aghast as at least twenty IRA bombs exploded across the city.[350]

At this time, Maxol Oil Ltd was famous for its annual Christmas party, which was hosted by Kyle Gibson, the general manager, at La Mon House hotel in Comber, County Down. Attended by all the big suppliers and retailers – as well as the staff with their husbands, wives, partners and friends – the event raised a good deal of money for charity. The party went into decline after the hotel was firebombed in 1978, killing twelve and injuring thirty more. The Christmas party was subsequently held at the Stormont Hotel before becoming a joint function in Dublin in the wake of integration in the mid-1990s.

Staff in Dublin were also contending with the appalling cycle of vengeance and grief that the Troubles generated. In November 1972, a loyalist bomb exploded outside O’Connell Bridge House in Dublin, two-hundred metres from Apollo House, injuring forty people. A sister of one of the sales team was killed during the Dublin bombings of 1974.[351]




Image: Hanlon’s of Longford

Cation: For many years, Maxol supplied petrol to Hanlon’s of Longford, a Mex dealer and Ford agent. The fuel came directly from the McMullan Bros depot next door, where the company had [how many?] 30 x 9 tanks.[352] Michael Murphy was fifteen years old when he started at the Longford depot in 1962, carrying buckets, keeping the yard tidy and working as a ‘boy helper’ on the lorries. Having become a Maxol driver in his twenties, he served as depot supervisor at Longford from 1981 until 1984, when Longford’s operations were transferred to Galway.[353]


Image: Paul kennedy – new station

Caption: Paul Kennedy’s garage on Beech Road, Sandymount, Dublin, was the first fully-automated self-service station in the Republic. Clifford McMullan, DG McMullan, Fred Bullick and Malcolm Mitchell, sales manager of the Wayne Pump Company, were among those in attendance when it was opened by the lord mayor of Dublin in April 1971.


Image: 1972-Grand Opening Maxol at Dublin Airport-Evening Herlad-Tues 2 May

Caption: The opening of the twenty-four-hour self-service station at Dublin Airport in 1972.


The first fully-automated self-service station in the Republic was Paul Kennedy’s garage on Beech Road, Sandymount, Dublin, which opened in April 1971. A second station opened at Mespil Road, Dublin, at the end of that year, followed by the twenty-four-hour self-service station at Dublin Airport in May 1972. At the airport station, the shop stocked garden tools, fertilisers, camping equipment, hardware and ‘Gal’ floor vinyl.

On 30 October 1973, Maxol scored another ‘first’ when they opened Ireland’s first electronic ‘push-button’ self-service station at Tinsley’s, Dundonald, on the outskirts of Belfast. Motorists were presented with a simple computer and control console on which they could choose which of five grades they wanted, from 91 to 101 octane.

Customers were no longer obliged to haul dirty, heavy hoses around. They simply had to select their fuel, insert the lightweight nozzle into the car tank and squeeze a trigger. The nozzle included a ‘clever sensor’ that turned off the fuel supply when the tank was full. Payment was made in a shop replete with accessories and ‘in-car’ entertainment equipment, including ‘a wide choice of pre-recorded tapes and cassettes’. The station also offered an automatic drive-through car wash.[354]





In 1971 the government in the Republic of Ireland set up the National Prices Commission to keep a check on the margins of profit for importers and distributors of essential items, including fuel and heating oil. Under the terms of the Restrictive Practices Act of 1972, petrol companies were prohibited from raising the price of petrol above the ‘Maximum Price Order’, a fixed price set by the government. This maximum price was so pared back it was almost impossible to make a profit. Hence, nearly all the companies sold at the maximum price and competition was minimised. The sole exception was Jet, whose policy was to price their petrol at a penny a gallon less than everyone else’s – one staff member was hauled before DG McMullan when he was caught availing of Jet’s unique offer.

If a company wished to increase its fuel prices, it had to give pre-notification to the Department of Industry and Commerce, which was likely to take several months to even look at such a proposal.[355]

With the additional pressures of the oil crises that hit the industry during the 1970s and early 1980s, and price control, Maxol was unable to develop its business in the Republic. Nor could it offer subsidies to demoralised station operators to upgrade their premises or to build the convenience stores that might have helped them get through those various crises. Statutory price control was not disbanded until 1986 – Maxol’s Northern Ireland business played a large part in keeping the whole company going during those difficult years.





In October 1973 the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries proclaimed an oil embargo in response to ‘Western’ support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War, and so ignited a major global oil crisis. Rationing was consequently reintroduced throughout Ireland in 1974. Although car drivers were only permitted fifty-pence-worth of petrol at any station, the demand remained constant and long queues soon formed outside every station in the country.[356]

Shell still supplied Maxol with fuel at this time but, while the supply did not stop, the international price of oil per barrel had rocketed from $3 to $12 by March 1974. [357]  Such a sharp increase in the price of crude oil without the option to raise the price at the fuel pumps meant that Maxol and the other oil companies suffered severe losses. And yet consecutive ministers either shrugged or failed to remedy the situation throughout the first oil crisis, just as they would in the second oil crisis at the end of the decade. [358]





On David Surridge’s watch, McMullans Ltd had taken long leases on forty prestige stations across Northern Ireland. A clause in these leases stated that each site could only operate as a petrol station. This became problematic when certain sites were bypassed by new roads during the early 1970s. When supermarkets entered the game, it became almost impossible for many of the Surridge stations to compete. The solution was for the company to buy out the freehold of any poorly performing sites and either install a licensee with initiative or, ultimately, close the site down.

The paperwork for all of these buy-outs was managed by John Turner, an economics graduate from Queen’s University who had been in Australia before joining the company. He started as area manager and then became real estate manager, working with Kyle Gibson to secure ownership of these company-owned sites.[359] By 1975 John was in charge of the sales force management for all dealer business, while Fred Maguire became general sales manager and Duncan Crossett became commercial manager, with George Maclean as his assistant.





Until the 1960s, most stations only sold petrol or diesel, and perhaps a few other petroleum products.  The new company-owned stations were designed to bring things up a notch. Each one was equipped with a spacious store or showroom where Maxol’s wide range of motoring accessories and lubricating oils could be displayed. There was a notable incongruity as to how the north and south evolved thereafter. In the south, the tendency was to convert the stations into a shop that offered chocolate bars, crisps, fizzy drinks and maybe even a sandwich – the prototype of the modern-day forecourt deli. In the north, there was a much greater demand for TBAs (tyres, batteries and accessories), such as rubber mats, car radios and wing mirrors.

This appears to have reflected a tendency for drivers in the Republic to buy a car with all accessories pre-fitted while drivers up north preferred to purchase a cheaper car that they could doll up with add-ons themselves.[360] David Goode had the job of ensuring the company-owned sites in Northern Ireland were well stocked with TBAs (was there an equivalent person in the ROI?).[361]

Today’s customers on both sides of the border now opt for a car with all the add-ons included. While specialised factors and tyre companies look after the tyres, most TBAs have disappeared from stations, save for windscreen cleaners, car scent sprays and lube oils. [362]





Image: Central Heating Engineers … choice of two if it suits?

Caption: Three service engineers from the Northern Irish central heating division stand alongside their Austin vans, preparing to head out on pump and boiler servicing missions. The Mex livery was phased out in Dublin by 1970.


The 1970s and 1980s were the golden age of oil-fired central heating. Inaugurated in 1968, Maxol’s heating division very quickly established itself throughout Ireland. Systems were tailor-made for each home or business by company consultants and then installed by a company technician or service engineer.

The business was particularly successful in Dublin where customers were wooed by the combination of a 24-hour oil ordering service, same-day delivery and monthly payment options. Many were also impressed by the company’s offer to periodically service and repair boilers. [363]

At its peak, Maxol’s heating division employed ten service engineers and fourteen heating oil drivers in radio-controlled trucks.

Drivers often got to know their customers well.[364] As former driver Joe Byrne relates, ‘We knew when to go, when not to go, how to pull up to a house and what house to hit at the right time so you might be invited in for a bit of grub.’ Joe regularly turned up at one lady’s house, regular as clockwork, so he could carry her bins out for her.  ‘And would you believe, I once cut the nails of a canary,’ he adds. ‘The woman was too afraid to cut the nails, and says to me, “All you have to do is cut below the blue of the claws,” so I did that for her.’

By the 1980s, over half of Irish households had central heating installed, three quarters of which were oil-fired. The demand for domestic fuel went through an inevitable lull every summer when central heating systems were switched off, although many small factories around Dublin and the big towns still needed supplies.[365] Authorised distributors in rural Ireland likewise continued to supply oil to farmers cutting silage and running tractors in the summer, or to the trawlers that pulled in at harbours such as Dunmore East.[366]




Image: Phil O’Brien pic – choose one.


Phil O’Brien, who joined Maxol as a central heating engineer in 1970, was one of Ireland’s most experienced and best-known cyclists before he retired in 2015. He raced for seventeen years with the Bray Wheelers, which he joined at the age of fourteen.[367]  In 1969 he won the individual Irish Road Race Championships, the biggest one-day race in Irish cycling, and was national champion for that year. In 1972 he won the fifty-mile Time Trial Championships.

Although he finished working with Maxol in 1982, he continued to work as an independent boiler maintenance man until his retirement, numbering members of the McMullan family among his customers. In 1983 he captained the McMullan Golf Society.

After his retirement, he became an Irish team manager for several years, managing Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly in the World Championships in Germany in 1978, as well as two Tour of Ireland winners, namely Pat McQuaid in 1975 and Billy Kerr in 1982.[368] He has been club president of the Bray Wheelers since 2014.





At the start of the 1970s, Maxol were the only non-major oil company in the Irish market. They were dwarfed by the big four, namely Shell[369], BP, Esso and Texaco.[370] In 1976 the long-standing venture between Irish Shell and BP broke up, partially on account of the game-changing discovery of oil in the North Sea. The break-up inspired a number of other competitors to enter the market, including two home-grown companies, Rocket[371] and Campus.[372]

Maxol continued to draw its supplies for the south of Ireland from Shell’s terminals in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. It also entered a new contract with BP, whose fuel was piped across Scotland from the Grangemouth Refinery to the Finnart Oil Terminal on the Firth of Clyde and then shipped across the sea to Northern Ireland. [373]

‘Our suppliers have frequently been our customers,’ explains Thomas McMullan. ‘It’s a very symbiotic relationship but your supplier can be both your competitor and your customer. Hence, you buy fuel from them and then you sell it back to them.’





Image: 7. Maxol Trophy

Caption: Noel McMullan, director of McMullan Bros, presents the Maxol Trophy to Ruby Walsh senior, owner of Ballyrichard Again, winner of the Maxol Trophy at the Tramore Races in 1974. L–R: Noel McMullan, Ted Walsh (the winning jockey, present-day trainer and RTÉ Racing pundit), Mrs Ruby Walsh, Lesley McMullan, Ruby Walsh (grandfather of the twenty-first century jockey, Ruby Walsh) and Vincent P. Lyons, fuel oils manager with McMullan Bros.[374] Maxol sponsored the Maxol Trophy Hurdle Race at Tramore from 1970 to 1974.





Image 2: Dave O’Loughlin.

Caption: The Maxol soccer team in the late 1970s. Front row, L–R: Liam Patten, Jim Byrne, Dave O’Loughlin, Michael Kearns, Garry Boggan, Bernard Byrne, Joe O’Toole.

Back row L–R: Jimmy Dunne, Unknown, Joe Reale, Neil Nagle, Martin Lawlor, Brendan Bermingham, Liam O’Connor.


Image: Larry Gilmore and Martin Lawlor, courtesy of Dundalk FC. Will these work? I’ll grab caption from 2nd para below.


Football, or soccer as it is sometimes called, has been a big part of life for many Maxol staff members since the early days. The Boss’s loyalty was to Derry City – he had six shares in the club – while the team included company drivers Hugh Kelly and Jimmy Doherty.[375] From the oil stores at East Wall depot came the drivers Tommy ‘T.T.’ Tierney and Bill ‘The Header’ Nolan, who both lined out in the maroon and white colours of Portrane Athletic FC during the club’s historic triumph of Home Farm at Tolka Park at the 1959 AUL Bradmola Cup, one of the most prestigious open competitions in Leinster at the time.[376] Such credentials did not prevent Bertie McMullan from calling a halt to the football games that the drivers played in the yard during his tenure as depot manager. When the men took their game out to the road instead, Bertie locked the gate behind them and rang the Gardai. Playing football on streets was illegal in those days, even if the only traffic in sight was a McMullans’ truck. When the Gardai arrived, they arrested T.T. and Bill and fined them both two and sixpence.

Larry Gilmore, a fuel oil technical rep, played for Dundalk during ten League of Ireland seasons and was on the team that won it in 1966. Fergus McAlevey, the office manager in Dublin, was also a talented footballer and played for Dundalk’s seconds. John ‘Hooky’ O’Connor, the Longford depot manager, was goalkeeper for Longford town. Dave Malone excelled on the Irish schoolboys’ team for many years and played for Dunbarton.[377] Other notable players were Jimmy Horan, Jim Byrne and Martin Lawlor (who played over four hundred games for Dundalk and earned thirty League of Ireland caps).

During the 1970s and 1980s there was an Inter-Oil Companies League in which Maxol fielded a team to compete against rivals from companies such as Shell, Esso, Texaco and Burmah. Maxol’s golden age came in the early eighties when they won the league two years in a row; they also won the Inter-Company Gaelic Football League those same two years. ‘We’d a mixture of guys who didn’t play very well or play at all and then we’d a few really good players who made all the difference,’ recalls Dave O’Loughlin, one of the team’s leading lights, who also played in the League of Ireland with Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic.

The Northern Ireland wing of Maxol also gamely fielded a football team for the City Manufacturers’ League in the early 1970s. However, it never quite got off the ground – the courageous goalkeeper had a wonky leg, the striker had such bad asthma that he had to keep whipping out his inhaler mid-tackle and the team captain, ‘Mr Eric’, was inclined to sit on the pitch nonchalantly watching the proceedings around him.

‘We were appalling,’ admits Brian Torrens, who played ‘any position’, for the team. ‘We were defeated with rugby scores – 8-0, 9-0. I think there was even a 12-0. Eventually we got the phone call – “You boys are dreadful!” – and we were kicked out of the league!’[378]

The Dublin and Belfast staff also played a friendly match every year, hosted either in Dublin, at Howth or Tolka Park, or in Belfast. Northern Ireland never won. Joe Byrne was goalkeeper for ‘the south’ in one such match, when they trounced the north 8-1, ‘and the only goal that got past me was an own goal when Liam O’Connor, our left forward, went to clear the ball, screwed it off his foot and slammed it into the net behind me.’[379] The manager of the Dublin team was Peter ‘McGoo’ McGonigle, a kind, gravelly-voiced Glaswegian who was both a brilliant technician and a fuel oil salesman with the company.[380]

The north versus south matches fizzled out when the onset of the Troubles in the early 1970s made such ‘away’ fixtures more challenging for both teams.





Most of the East Wall staff were relocated to either Parkgate Street or Apollo House in the early 1970s but there were still over thirty drivers working shifts from the depot, as well as two depot managers, a distribution manager, three or four clerical staff to route the trucks and the garage mechanics under Tommy Halpin, an ex-army captain who was with Maxol from 1962 until 1985, and Paddy Mancier, a mechanic.

In October 1978, Shell’s drivers went on strike in pursuit of a substantial wage increase. As Maxol drew most of its oil and fuel supplies in the Republic from Shell, this meant that the pumps they operated across some six-hundred stations had all run dry by November. At the time, the company was selling some £70,000-worth of petrol a day so the impact was ‘disastrous’, as executive director Clifford McMullan opined.[381] Fortunately they were still able to run their stations in Northern Ireland, as they drew their fuel from BP, although tensions were also rising in the Six Counties, with BP’s drivers going on strike in January 1979.

In a rare act of goodwill, the trade unions allowed Maxol to draw fuel from other sources. Burmah Oil gallantly stepped up to the mark, providing Maxol’s supplies in the interim.[382] Grateful for the assistance, Maxol would continue to draw fuel from Burmah long after the strikes, until the company eventually left Ireland, in fact. Maxol also sent drivers up collect fuel from the BP depot in Northern Ireland.

In January 1979, the unions called on all tanker drivers and terminal workers to down tools in solidarity with the strikers. This caused a dilemma in many Maxol depots. John Brady, who was in charge of the Carlow depot, maintains that his drivers had no wish to strike, not least because of the personal relationships they had built up while supplying fuel to teachers, nuns, hospital staff and such like. At one point, a driver rang him and said, ‘If I come into the office, I have to go on strike but I still have 1,500 gallons of diesel … do you know anybody who wants it?’ John recommended a few people and the man duly made his deliveries before arriving at the Carlow office. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘the truck’s empty now so I suppose I may as well go on strike.’[383]

At one point, the Irish Army were put in charge of fuel deliveries, a mission that had mixed results, given that many of the soldiers had no experience of transporting such liquids.[384]

With the unions to the fore, Maxol formed a drivers’ committee with John Harman as their branch secretary in Liberty Hall. The company managed to maintain a solid relationship with its drivers during the age of strikes. Disputes were always resolved peaceably, and internally.[385] One consequence of the strikes was that the oil industry as a whole moved away from employing its own drivers in favour of contract hauliers.


Image: 13. John Brady

Caption: John Brady, area manager for Carlow-Kilkenny, presents a pitch-and-putt trophy as part of a campaign to promote Andy Comerford’s new Maxol filling station in Gowran, County Kilkenny, in the mid 1970s.





In June 1979, new European labour laws introduced tachographs to the Irish transport industry. These shrewd devices could reveal whether a driver had exceeded the legal eight hours of driving allowed in a day, as well as identifying the speed and angle the vehicle was running at in the event of a collision or accident. While the unions managed to prevent the data being used against drivers, the information enabled Maxol to streamline its transport business, not least by disclosing how long drivers were remaining at sites after a fuel load had been delivered.[386]





Frank Dormer, who was the Maxol Group’s human resources manager from 2001 to 2008, was appointed stock control clerk in 1969. His job was to check the daily stock control reports from the various depots for all products, including lubes. He also took monthly stock counts at Ravensdale Road and, later, Parkgate Street, which included dipping the tanks for oil. In 1973 he was promoted to cashier. Part of his remit was a daily trip to the Ulster Bank on O’Connell Street to lodge cheques that had come in by post as well as the cash that customers had brought directly to Apollo House to pay for their heating oil.

Every Thursday morning, he also went to the bank to collect the weekly wages, in cash, for all of the Dublin-based employees. With seventy wage packets in his possession, this was a nerve-wracking experience. Lest anyone nefarious was monitoring his movements, he was advised to vary his route each time, while sometimes he was accompanied by John Dunne, his superior, or someone was sent in his stead.

Fortunately, there were no incidents, although the pressure was on during two bank strikes of the period, a six-month strike in 1970 and a ten-week strike in 1976. The managers of all company-owned filling stations were instructed to come in with the money they had earned which the wages department cleverly recycled to pay the wages.[387] In 1978 Frank succeeded his friend Don Wilson to become wages supervisor.





During the late 1970s, the Dublin drivers started a social fund to buy presents for weddings and retirements, as well as funeral wreaths and mass cards. As the kitty grew, the fund expanded to cover outings, especially golf weekends, and a much-enjoyed Christmas party for the drivers’ children. Joe Byrne made for a particularly enthusiastic Santa.

Both the fund and the annual party were later extended to include management and staff at the head office in Dublin, with contributions deducted through the payroll. Although company drivers were phased out in the 1980s, the social fund continued in head office on a reduced basis.





Image 14: Jesse L. Brown

Caption: The U.S. Navy Knox-class frigate USS Jesse L. Brown, which Maxol refuelled in 1977. The ship was named for the first African-American naval aviator in the U.S. Navy.


In July 1977 Maxol provided 250,000 gallons of marine diesel for two US Navy frigates, namely USS Julius A. Furer and USS Jesse L. Brown.  While the ships were being refuelled at Alexandra Basin, more than 500 US sailors enjoyed a special Independence Day party at the US Embassy in Ballsbridge. The ship’s officers also called in to the Mansion House to meet with Jim Mitchel, the 29-year-old Lord Mayor of Dublin.





On 8 January 1979, an awful year for the oil industry began when the French crude oil tanker Betelgeuse exploded at Whiddy Island, killing fifty people. That month also brought the outbreak of the Iranian Revolution, igniting a second global oil crisis that more than doubled the price of crude oil over the course of the year.

Within months, Irish creameries were on the cusp of closure, tourism had plummeted and long queues were once again building up outside petrol stations. The ongoing dispute in the oil industry between management and drivers further reduced Ireland’s supplies.

On 11 April, Maxol’s board of directors were summoned to a crisis talk with Des O’Malley, the minister for industry, commerce and energy in Jack Lynch’s Fianna Fáil government. The chief executives of every major oil company in the state were present when the minister announced that the government was taking control of the supply and distribution of petroleum oils because of the ‘exigencies of the common good’.[388]

The state’s decision to ration supplies and dictate fuel prices inevitably caused uproar with the oil companies. The government attempted to give Maxol favourable terms on the basis that they were an Irish company but this was declined by the firm because the terms still did not make financial sense to the board.

Despite the government’s efforts to control supplies, the situation worsened. In July 1979, it reached a nadir when minister O’Malley was briefed that the country had just four days’ supply left.[389] Gradually the industry stabilised, albeit with further setbacks when the Iran–Iraq War broke out in 1980. Perhaps the most long-lasting impact of the crisis was the realisation that the diversification of energy sources was now an urgent issue.





Despite their position as major stake holders in a successful petrol company, Clifford and DG McMullan were not ones to splash out. Indeed, their parsimony was legendary and former sales reps still shiver at the memory of the brothers sweeping receipts into a suitcase so that they could go home and count up the bill. Reps were encouraged to stay in the cheapest hotels possible and to keep expenses to a minimum. One rep was firmly reprimanded by DG for ordering himself a large steak while on assignment. ‘Would you have a steak on a Tuesday night if you were at home? No! So, don’t be having it when you’re staying on the company!’

The rationing of the Emergency years continued to affect their personal habits long after the collapse of Nazi Germany. ‘Go easy on the butter’ was one of DG’s catchphrases throughout his life, until his death in 1999. A man who preferred mutton to lamb, his favourite writing implement was one of the small, gold, Maxol-branded pencils that the company gave away during a promotion campaign.

Clifford’s ideal cup of tea was served after the pot was left to brew for at least a half an hour. Frank Dormer found out the hard way. ‘The first time he asked me to make it that way, I thought, sure, nobody can drink this stuff, so I gave it to him after ten minutes. He told me very clearly, “You’re not going to make the grade here, son.” So, after that, I burned the arse off the teapot every day.’

Clifford is also reputed to have walked all the way to the vegetable stalls on Moore Street and back every day just to save a few pence on the price of his lunchtime lettuce. In fairness, his son Max maintains that the lettuce was merely an excuse for a good stroll.

When Tom Noonan first started attending board meetings in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, he was astonished that while he and the younger McMullans travelled to Belfast in first class, Clifford and DG sat in standard class.

Perhaps their most memorable cost-saving devices were the individual ‘on’ and ‘off’ cords that hung from the corridor lights at both the Dublin and Belfast offices; staff were urged to pull the ‘off’ cord whenever there was no need for illumination.[390]





In his younger years, Clifford drove a 1937 RHD Hudson, one of three saloon cars assembled by the appropriately named Assemblers Garage at 81 Townsend Street, Dublin.[391] After the Emergency, he bought a white, tank-like Rover that became his sole transport for about a quarter of a century. Its back window and back seat were covered in old copies of the Guardian, his newspaper of choice, which he liked to read with a magnifying spyglass.

Meanwhile, DG’s car of choice was a Jaguar. With the onset of the oil crisis in the 1970s, the brothers changed tack and downsized about as far as one could downsize, Clifford to a Mini Metro and DG to a Ford Fiesta.

Having lived through the Emergency, they had developed the habit of knocking off the car’s ignition when going downhill to save on petrol consumption. Making his way down Killiney Hill in his new Mini, Clifford did just that. At this unfortunate moment, he learned that a Mini’s steering locks the instant the ignition is off.[392] He found himself freewheeling down a very steep, narrow, twisty road with high walls on either side, which must have brought back memories of the Ards Circuit. He gradually wrestled the car to a halt, with the assistance of a now damaged wall. His car was also wrecked but Clifford lived to tell the tale.

Given that they had both reduced the size of their cars, the McMullan brothers felt that their employees should follow their lead. However, their employees had other ideas. When Tom Noonan arrived at the office with a ‘flashy red Merc’, heralding the start of a new era in the mid-1980s, he received a stinging rebuke from DG for not playing ball.[393]



The 1980s



In 1982, Maxol Ltd broke its exclusive contract with Shell and began to buy fuel from multiple suppliers as well as importing directly into its own terminals at Drogheda and New Ross. This new sense of freedom coincided with a comprehensive brand reboot that firmly established Maxol as a household name across the island. Key to the company’s success were its iconic ‘Free a Nipper’ and digital watch marketing campaigns.

The 1980s was a golden age for Maxol sports sponsorship, particularly in terms of boxing, while the company also reigned supreme in the Inter-Oil Companies’ League championships for both soccer and Gaelic football.

One of the greatest challenges of the decade was the Mandatory Regime, which compelled all oil companies in the Republic to source a third of their fuel requirements from the Whitegate refinery at a premium price. This was compounded by the ongoing price control, a government embargo on petrol stations and a drop in the global price of oil.

The company also changed its organisational structure in the 1980s and developed a new policy of licensing out company-owned stations. Meanwhile, the board of directors began to look at the notion that the management teams in the Republic and Northern Ireland could be much more closely aligned.





Photo: Tom Noonan

Caption: Tom Noonan at the time that he was appointed marketing manager for Maxol Limited in 1985. Having joined Maxol in 1980, he would remain with the company for the next thirty-seven years, serving as chief executive of the Maxol Group from 1996 until 2016, when he was succeeded by Brian Donaldson.[394]


The process of switching from the original Mex/McMullans brand to Maxol began in the 1960s but then went into something of a lull. In 1975, Max and Noel McMullan initiated a new campaign to introduce the Maxol brand to all forecourts. However, a 1981 marketing survey revealed that many consumers in Ireland were still largely unaware that the company existed, be it Mex, McMullans or Maxol, let alone that it was Irish.[395]

The report was undertaken by Tom Noonan, who had joined Maxol as personnel manager in 1980, following a recommendation by Fergus McAlevey.[396] He had previously been one of the principal spokesmen for the Federated Union of Employers, acting as the go-to person for anybody in the energy industry that was experiencing issues with labour relations during the turmoil of the 1970s. [397] At Maxol, his brief was essentially to fill the general manager’s position that had been vacated by W.G. Dukes two years earlier. Mr Dukes’ role as company secretary had already been taken up by Max McMullan, who still holds that position forty-two years later.

In 1984, the company embarked on a reboot of its brand profile, restructuring the entire business into a group structure with three subsidiary streams – Maxol Limited (for the Republic), Maxol Oil Limited (for Northern Ireland) and Maxol Lubricants. These were jointly owned by Maxol Energy, which was, in turn, owned by the parent company, McMullan Brothers.

Along with the restructure came a policy of far-reaching rationalisation, which reduced the company’s massive staff overheads. In 1982, the boiler men and service engineers from the heating division were made redundant. [398] Although the negotiations were difficult, this paved the way for future redundancies in both the clerical and manual sectors as drivers, painters, mechanics and plant operators were gradually laid off.

At the Maxol Lubricants plant, just five packagers were retained while all deliveries were contracted to a distribution company set up by three former Maxol drivers.[399] Some drivers worked out their remaining service with the company, while others took redundancy and went to work for Reynolds and other contractors. In Northern Ireland, where Maxol was the biggest supplier of home heating oil by 1990, deliveries were handled by a chain of nineteen authorised distributors operating from the Belfast depot on Old Channel Road.[400]

In the midst of all this, the retirement age for employees at Maxol Limited was controversially reduced from 65 to 60 in 1985, obliging about 10 employees over the age of 60 to retire, including such stalwarts as Donal McCarthy and Austin Hastings.[401] Following protracted negotiations with the unions in 2009-2010, this was reversed and the retirement age returned to 65.




Amongst the innovative company policies instituted in 1983 was the annual staff briefing at the Irish Life Theatre in Middle Abbey Street, Dublin. All staff working for Maxol Limited came to Dublin to hear an overview of the company’s activities, including financial details, that usually lasted about ninety minutes before refreshments were served. Subsequent briefings were held at the Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street and Jury’s Inn (now the Hilton Garden Inn) on Custom House Quay.

This event was the forerunner to the group’s annual all-Ireland staff briefing, attended by all employees from both Maxol Oil Limited and Maxol Lubricants, the first of which was held in 2000. The 2019 gathering was held at Bewley’s on Grafton Street, Dublin, and was hosted by Sky presenter, Alison Comyn.





With their prime roadside locations, Maxol stations offered a tremendous opportunity for the company to announce its rebrand through a combination of new signage and an update of the company colours to the strikingly simple blue and yellow that adorned all stations by the end of the 1980s. A team of painters were employed full-time to head around the country splashing the Maxol colours across all of the company-owned stations. A major publicity and advertising campaign simultaneously got underway to promote Maxol as the company with the greatest number of sites on the island.[402]




‘The secret of a good promotional item,’ says Tom Noonan, ‘is that it should be low cost but of high perceived value.’ Prior to the 1980s, Maxol’s marketing campaigns were limited to the Green Shield Stamp promotions they had been running since the late 1960s. In 1982, the year the cross-border ‘Maxol Fill ‘n‘ Win’ campaign began, the late Cyril McGloughlin, manager of several Maxol stations, suggested that a promotion of digital, liquid crystal display (LCD) watches could do wonders for the company profile.

Maxol’s enormously effective digital watch campaign was launched in 1983. Customers were given a special Maxol stamp for every £10 they spent on fuel.[403] Once they had ten stamps, they were entitled to a watch. The watches were also given away with heating oil deliveries of 1,000 litres or more. If there was no one at home, the watches were dropped through the letter box along with the bill. For many recipients, this was their first introduction to digital watch technology. Joe Brannigan, a Dublin-based driver, was stunned by how much interest even his wealthiest customers took in them. ‘They’d spend quarter of an hour wondering whether to take the gents or the ladies, and then they’d try to twist my arm to give them one of each!’

The company ended up giving away over 350,000 watches. Tom Noonan, who became Maxol’s marketing manager in 1985, believes the campaign generated the biggest shift of custom from one brand to another in the history of the oil industry in Ireland. It was also immensely timely. ‘Our margins were being quite heavily squeezed before the watches. The promotion grew our market share enormously.’






Buoyed by the success of the watch campaign, the company widened the promotion so that Maxol stamps could be redeemed for toys, electrical goods, music cassettes, car dusters, whistles, jigsaws and such like.[404] During his speech at the 2018 Maxol Retailers’ Conference, for instance, Irish ruby star Paul O’Connell revealed that his parents had collected just enough Maxol stamps for him to get a cassette of Madonna’s album True Blue.[405] Among the most popular ‘gifts’ for children were Pez sweets with their famous dispensers.

In the mid-1980s, Maxol introduced a stamp collection catalogue called “The Gift of Genuine Gold”, for which B. J. Fitzpatrick’s, the Dublin jewellery and watch wholesaler, was supplier. This prompted a dispute with the President of the Retail Jewellers of Ireland who reasoned that 10-carat merchandise was not ‘genuine gold’. Tom Noonan seized the opportunity to fan the flames and he subsequently ended up debating the matter on Liveline on RTÉ Radio 1. The radio coverage ensured that the promotion gained even more publicity and sales multiplied again.[406] The late Marian Finucane, who anchored the show, remarked, ‘well, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a better job of milking free publicity.’

Maxol opened a gift redemption centre at Parkgate Street in Dublin, which was primarily staffed by the teenage children of employees. Their task was to process and pack orders and to send the relevant merchandise out to stations for collection by the customer. There were also a number of local redemption centres in places such as Listowel in north Kerry, where McElligotts Oils of Asdee opened a centre in 1988.

Michael Kenna, the long-serving promotions manager, made it his business to drive around the country in a promotional caravan and visit three or four stations a week. A moustachioed, snuff-sniffing gentleman, Michael was famed for his malapropisms. ‘Your guest is as good as mine’, for example, or ‘a storm in a teapot’, or ‘not an iotion’. He didn’t always get it wrong. At the opening promotion of a new Maxol station in Ballyjamesduff, for instance, each purchaser received ‘an unbreakable drinking glass’, prompting one elderly Cavan lady to confront Michael with the declaration that there was no such thing. Michael went to great lengths to explain to her how Maxol had procured these exceptional glasses at great expense and assured her they would last her the rest of her life. He then proceeded to demonstrate by dropping the glass to the ground where, low and behold, it smashed into smithereens on the forecourt. ‘There’s no point in crying over spilt milk,’ he counselled the lady.

On one occasion he popped in for a quick cup of tea with Mervyn and Pauline Clarke, the owners of a popular filling station on the outskirts of Cavan. By the time he got back to his caravan, the entire contents of his van had been ‘redeemed’ by the Clarkes’ stamp-carrying customers. There’s no point closing the stable door after the cat has bolted, as Michael might say. [407]

By the late 1980s, the promotional campaigns had extended into Northern Ireland where Michael Bain, a veritable genius with numbers, was marketing manager. The company put together a catalogue to showcase all the promotional gifts they offered, which was handled by John Agnew and Robin McGladdery of Newmac Marketing, a third-party agency from Ballyclare, outside Belfast. With catalogues piling into households across the country, it became apparent that Maxol had scored another first. Before long, the rest of the British and Irish oil industry had followed suit and were running their own stamp promotions.[408]





The most successful promotion in Maxol’s history to date was the iconic ‘Free a Nipper!’ campaign of 1985, fronted by the late Brendan Grace (1951–2019). The enigmatic Dublin-born singer and entertainer shot to fame in 1975 when his song ‘The Combine Harvester’ went to number one in the Irish charts. In 1982 he scored another hit with his version of ‘The Dutchman’.

In the guise of an overgrown,  baseball-capped schoolboy named ‘Bottler’, Brendan became the face of an innovative TV promotion by Maxol. Armed with nothing more than a furry, yellow, carrot-munching glove puppet, Bottler soon had everyone in Ireland squeaking his ‘Free a Nipper!’ catchphrase. Motorists were given a token every time they bought petrol at a Maxol station. Once they had bought £120 worth of fuel, they were entitled to a ‘Nipper’.

The nippers were supplied by the Hira brothers, who were of Indian origin and had a significant import operation in Manchester, as well as a smaller warehouse in Dublin.

Clad in school uniform and a Maxol-branded cap, Bottler was welcomed onto Wogan and The Late Late Show, the biggest chat shows in Britain and Ireland respectively in the 1980s. As well as a Maxol-sponsored Christmas pantomime called Bottler in Nipperland, Brendan Grace also put in a celebrated appearance at a children’s Christmas party hosted by Maxol in the Raheny GAA Club.

It was a hugely exciting era for Maxol’s promotions team. By the end of the campaign, over four-hundred thousand little nippers had been freed, or redeemed, at Maxol stations.[409] As Brendan Grace recalled in his 2009 book, Amuzing Grace, the nipper campaign propelled Maxol to the forefront of the petrol game and ‘resulted in Maxol’s business in Ireland improving to the tune of 1100 per cent.’

Free a nipper, roight? Roight!



  • Brendan Grace’s father worked at the Ballyknockan quarry in County Wicklow. He was one of the men who transported the stone to Dublin by horse.






In December 1986, Maxol embarked upon another hugely popular promotion when Cyril and Conor McGloughlin of the Maxol station in Swords teamed up with the late Feargal Quinn of Superquinn. With every fuel purchase, the McGloughlins’ customers were given Maxol stamps that they could redeem for a Christmas turkey directly from Superquinn in Swords.

The campaign rapidly spread to a number of other Maxol stations that were in relatively close proximity to Superquinn stores. It went on to become a considerable pre-Christmas draw until the mid-1990s when Superquinn wound it up.


JOEY O’MEARA (1943–2001)


Joey O’Meara was one of the most popular members of the Maxol team for over three decades. Having joined as a fuel oil rep in 1968, he became publicity manager in the Dublin office from the late 1980s until his retirement in 2000.

Despite contracting polio as a child, Joey became one of the greatest all-round sportsmen of his generation. A stalwart of the Railway Union Club, he won fifty-two hockey caps for Ireland between 1970 and 1977, captaining the team when it won an eight-nations tournament in Santander in 1972. One of his proudest boasts was that he turned down an offer to play for Great Britain at the Olympics in order to remain captain of the Irish hockey team. He later transferred his splendid energy to selectorial and coaching roles, bringing the team to the semi-finals of the Intercontinental Cup in Kuala Lumpur in 1981.[410] His wife Valerie (née Dagg) played hockey at the marvellously-named Maids of the Mountain.

As a cricketer, the Rathgar man also won two caps for Ireland, before taking up management of the national team in the early 1990s.[411] He became good pals with Sir Ian Botham, the foremost English cricketer of his generation, and played a key role in Maxol’s fruitful alliance with Marks & Spencer.[412] (See page ***)

For anyone in the marketing department in Joey’s day, a weekly highlight was a leisurely lunch at the Orchid Restaurant on Pembroke Road, where the always-dapper Joey would entertain them all with his ‘incredible’ tales. That said, he suffered no fools. Shortly after the ‘Free a Nipper!’ campaign, the department had a brainstorming session for other promotional ideas. At length, they presented Joey with the concept of a small square calculator.

‘Could we get it made with round edges instead of square?’ asked Joey.

‘Why would you want round edges?’ wondered one employee.

‘Well,’ replied Joey, ‘it would make it a lot easier when people tell us to shove it up our arses’.

Joey was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer six months after his retirement and passed away soon after at the age of fifty-eight.





Joey O’Meara was not the only hockey star working with Maxol. One of his occasional opponents was Gerry McWilliams, the company accountant with Maxol Oil Ltd, who was on the Ulster team in the 1970s and won his first cap for Ireland’s indoor hockey team in 1982.[413]

Other useful players included Johnny Quirke (who wore a scarf and puffed on a cigar, which he would gently put to one side as the play came near to his goalmouth), John Holmes (who played with both St Ita’s and Railway Union after he gave up hurling) and Victor Hamilton (who became president of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry).





Image: Floyd Patterson.

Caption: The American boxer Floyd Patterson (1935–2006), two-time World Heavyweight Champion, was very fond of the west of Ireland, particularly the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal. His second wife Janet Seaquist Patterson (1933–2016) had Irish roots.


Image: Olympic Homecoming

Caption: Maxol’s Joey O’Meara and Tom Noonan stand alongside boxing heroes Michael Carruth and Wayne McCullough, who won Olympic gold and silver medals respectively in Barcelona, at their homecoming in August 1992.


Image: McGuigan and Joey

Caption: Barry McGuigan and Joey O’Meara at a boxing event at the National Stadium.


Image: Maxol salutes Caruth and Wayne, Irish indo, August 1992

Caption: Maxol salutes the Olympic success of boxers Michael Carruth and Wayne McCullough, Irish Independent, August 1992.


Image: Maxol Hero TV commercial – Michael Carruth.pdf

Caption: Michael Carruth with Tom Noonan, Peter O’Keeffe (MD of Maxol’s then ad agency, CDP Associates) and Michael’s agent, John Givens (brother of Don, the Irish soccer international).


From the mid 1980s until the late 1990s, Maxol was the national sponsor of Irish amateur boxing, a sport that echoed the company’s ‘all-Ireland’ identity.[414] Tom Noonan, who became Maxol’s general manager in 1987, was an avid boxing fan and had deduced that the ring presented an ideal branding opportunity. At the time, boxing received extensive live coverage from the National Stadium on Friday nights on RTÉ television and also, to a lesser extent, on BBC Northern Ireland. And throughout that era, Maxol had a large logo in the middle of the ring, as well as a logo on each corner post. The TV cameras simply could not avoid the Maxol logo as they filmed every national and international event, at both senior and junior level, which caused consternation in RTÉ’s advertising department but brought much joy to Maxol.[415]

In 1986, the company sponsored the Maxol International between Ireland and Cuba, universally recognised as the worlds outstanding amateur boxing nation at the time.[416] Among those who attended were Teófilo Stevenson, three times Olympic Heavyweight Champion, and the great Floyd Patterson, two times World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, who came as guests of Felix Jones, the then president of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association.[417]

Maxol’s sponsorship coincided with a golden age for Irish amateur boxing, with Michael Carruth winning gold and Wayne McCullough taking silver at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Part of the homecoming ceremony for the Olympic champions involved a parade through Dublin’s thronged streets on the city’s one and only open-top bus. Maxol had actually pre-booked the bus to bring the champions home but, to smooth the ruffled feathers of the Irish Olympic Committee, the company chivalrously handed it over.[418]

In the meantime, Joey O’Meara lost not a moment in producing a poster of Michael Carruth jumping triumphantly into the air after being declared the winner. Although it was actually taken after he won a fight in the National Stadium, the picture was identical to the iconic one taken after his Barcelona victory, save that it included a large Maxol logo. Company staff handed out thousands of free copies of the poster during the victory parade through Dublin. Its slogan was ‘Michael Carruth, Olympic Champion – Maxol, Irish Champion’.

‘I had free petrol for a year from Maxol,’ recalled Mr Carruth, who subsequently starred in Maxol’s ‘Hero’ advertising campaign.





Image: 3a Mick O’Connell.

Caption: Mick O’Connell, GAA legend and sometime Maxol rep. (Photo: James Fennell)


Image 3b: Maxol GAA Football Team

Caption: Maxol’s Gaelic Football team pictured with Donal McCarthy sen., Donal McCarthy jun., Joe Reale, Lorcan Merriman, Martin Kavanagh, Mossy Tyrell, Neil Nagle, Dave O’Loughlin and others.


The GAA has been a major part of Maxol’s life for many long years. Past representatives include Kerry footballer Mick O’Connell and Tipperary hurler Christy d’Estelle Roe (1920–2009), aka Christy Roe, who was a sales rep for Maxol’s lubricants for many years.[419] Another former Tipperary hurler who worked for the company was Gerry McCarthy, while Frank Malcolmson from the lubricants department is a former manager and treasurer of Dublin’s camogie team.

In the early 1980s, Maxol’s Gaelic Football team won back-to-back Inter-Oil Companies’ League championships. The team mainly consisted of drivers but among them was Donal McCarthy, Maxol’s head of general accounts.[420]

Maxol is a past sponsor of both the Wicklow Hurling Championships (2000–2003) and the Kildare Hurling Championships (2002–2005), as well as the Longford Slashers GAA Club.

John Holmes, Maxol’s former retail sales manager, played hurling for Dublin Under 21s until an injury forced him to stop. He subsequently became a stalwart of hurling in Naas, County Kildare, for which he was presented with a Bank of Ireland ‘Unsung Hero’ Award on the pitch at Croke Park just before the 2005 All-Ireland football final. John still coaches Naas schoolboys on Mondays and Tuesdays and helps at his club on Wednesdays and Saturdays. [421]





Between 1986 and the establishment of the All-Ireland League for rugby in 1991, Maxol sponsored the Munster Senior League. The finals were invariably contested by the Munster powerhouses of Cork Constitution and Shannon, with Irish internationals Donal Lenihan and Mick Galwey as the respective locks.





Caroline seeking images,


Michael Kenna, the company’s promotions manager, was the founder-secretary of the McMullan Golfing Society, with Frank Melia as its first captain and John Dunne as treasurer. It was designed as a social club: if staff were unable or unwilling to play golf, they were invited to accompany the players as caddies or to simply show support.[422] Over fifty years after it was founded, the McMullan Golfing Society continues today under the management of Frank Melia and John Hadnett. With four or five events a year, it raises money for various charities and attracts a broad mix of Maxol retailers, staff and friends. [423]





In 1985, Maxol sponsored the Points Jersey for the inaugural Nissan International Classic, in which eighteen cycling teams from Europe, Britain and Ireland, professionals and amateurs alike, embarked on a Tour of Ireland stage race. This was a glorious era for Irish cycling with Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche winning unprecedented honours for the country. Although Sean Kelly won the Nissan Classic, it was the Dutch cyclist Adri van der Poel (father of rising star Mathieu van der Poel) who crossed the finish line at Dublin’s GPO first in the final stage – and he did so with the Maxol logo emblazoned on his chest.

            Before they sold its home heating interest to DCC Energy Ltd in 2011, Maxol – or Connors Maxol Direct – was a long-term sponsor of the Belfast City Marathon. Maxol also fielded a team for the annual Inter-Oil Company Cross-Country Race, an event organised by Ned Sweeney of Irish Shell in the early 1980s. [424]

Maxol also sponsored the annual SIMI North versus South Motor Traders Golfing event, which took place at venues such as Warrenpoint, County Down, and Headfort, Kells, County Meath, up until about 2011. [Awaiting correct title]





Like McMullans Ltd, its predecessor, Maxol Oil Ltd was controlled from Belfast. And yet its board of directors lived in Dublin. As the sons and grandsons of the Boss, the board played a very active role in policy-making for Northern Ireland, where the firm continued to have strong trade, with well-established customers, and a network of forty company-owned-and-operated sites. [425]  It commanded 13 per cent of Northern Ireland’s total fuel sales. All lubricant requirements were supplied by the parent company in Dublin. To keep all this in motion, Belfast employed over one hundred employees, as well as a fleet of modern articulated trucks.[426]

1987 was also the year in which Roy McMaster, originally from Northern Ireland, moved from Austin Rover in England to serve three years as Maxol Oil Ltd’s marketing manager. During that time, he did much to raise its brand profile and to coordinate its future strategy in terms of potential integration with the company in the Republic. He was also a mentor to the young Brian Donaldson, bringing him out to see existing sites at weekends so they could consider the best way to develop and design them, as well as plotting new marketing campaigns. ‘The company has always had people who stayed for long terms of service,’ says Brian, ‘so it was not unrefreshing to get someone like Roy who bounced in, did an excellent job, and bounced out again.’

Fred Maguire, the retail manager for Maxol Oil Ltd, went on to become chief executive of Lookers, the LSE-listed English car dealership firm that bought out Northern Ireland’s Charles Hurst Group in 1996.






In 1982, the Irish government purchased the ailing Whitegate Refinery in Cork Harbour. The Irish National Petroleum Company (INPC), a new state organisation, was simultaneously established to import fuel into Whitegate. In order to make this new arrangement work, the government brought in the statutory Mandatory Regime (MR).

The MR was effectively a compulsory purchase order, obliging every oil company that marketed fuel within the twenty-six counties of Ireland to buy 35 per cent of their requirements from Whitegate. The refinery sold its fuel at a fixed premium price to ensure the INPC did not make a loss.

Maxol and its competitors now had to buy a third of their product from a government-controlled source that sold its fuel at a markedly higher price than the international market. At the same time, the government’s strategy of price control meant that the companies were prohibited from raising the pump price of fuel to compensate for the excess costs.

Unwilling to accept this situation, Maxol united with Campus, Tedcastle, Ola, Estuary and Emo to form the Irish Independent Petroleum Association (IIPA). With Noel McMullan as chairman, they took an action against both the Irish government and the INPC and put the case of Irish oil independents before the public. Represented by John Cooke, a barrister who specialised in European Law, the IIPA argued that the MR played into the hands of multinational oil companies by restricting the ability of Irish oil companies to buy product, such as distressed cargoes, on the open market.

The state’s counter-argument was that maintaining Whitegate was essential to the national strategy and that the MR was the only way to ensure it worked. The case went all the way to the European Court of Justice where the IIPA was defeated and the MR was upheld.[427] In 1996 the government did, however, reduce the obligatory fuel purchase from 35 per cent to 20 per cent. The fact that the state also agreed to phase out the MR within ten years was largely because, even with the MR, they could not afford to keep bringing Whitegate up to the increasingly strict European environmental standards. The running costs were also constant because the refinery was never closed; oil was available 24/7. Another death-knell for the INPC was competition from rival refineries in Europe, who were always improving their chemistry and technology with, for example, the evolution of the catalytic cracker.[428]

The Whitegate Refinery was processing between 71–75,000 barrels a day, or 3 million tonnes a year, by the time both the INPC and the Mandatory Regime ended in 2001. The INPC sold all of its assets, including Whitegate and the Whiddy Island terminal, to the US refining group Tosco Corporation, which, after a series of mergers, placed the refinery in the hands of the Texas-based energy company Phillips 66.[429] In 2016, Whitegate was sold to Irving Oil, a family-owned Canadian company.[430]




One consequence of the Shell strike of 1978–1979 was to convince Maxol that relying on another company to supply its fuel was replete with risks and that independent storage facilities were required. The MR meant it was also obliged to purchase 35 per cent of its fuel from the INPC.[431] However, the company ended its exclusive contract with Irish Shell in 1980 so that, while it continued to purchase a fixed tonnage from Shell, it was now free to buy from other suppliers as well as spot cargoes in the open market.

In 1983, Maxol began importing fuel directly from Amoco’s oil refinery at Milford Haven in Wales, as well as from TotalFina (now part of Total S.A.), the Belgian company. In 2000, the latter merged with Elf Aquitaine, a French oil company, to become TotalFinaElf (TFE), better known today as Total S.A.[432]

On paper, the idea of Maxol bringing in its own oil from Wales looked perfectly sensible. It certainly promised much better returns. However, the project also made life more complicated for the company.

First up, they needed tankers to collect the fuel from the Welsh refineries. Then the volume, temperature and specific gravity of the fuel had to be checked and double-checked as it was loaded, in the knowledge that the oil itself would shrink as it crossed sixty miles of cold Irish Sea.[433] Meanwhile, the head office in Dublin commenced its endless negotiations with marine insurance companies.

Much the biggest issue for the company was finding somewhere to put all the fuel once they brought it across. They initially negotiated a contract to store fuel at Irish Shell’s terminals in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway.[434] At the end of 1981, they bought an interest in the terminal in New Ross, sharing it with Campus. In 1983 they bought a 50 per cent share in Ola Teoranta’s sea-fed terminal on Marsh Road, Drogheda.[435]

Taking its name from the Irish for ‘Oil Limited’, Ola Teoranta was an oil company founded in 1979 by Tom Roche and Paddy Monahan. John Langan, its CEO, was a son of Dan Langan, former managing director of Texaco Oil.[436] Under the 50/50 deal, Maxol shipped its own fuel into the Drogheda terminal, where it shared some of the tanks with Ola, a cost-saving practice that was standard in the industry.

With its eye-catching green and white branding, Ola had prospered in its first year because its tanker drivers were not unionised so the company could supply petrol while its rivals were hampered by the on-off drivers’ strikes. In February 1981, for instance, eight hundred tanker drivers went on strike for a month.[437] However, when the strikes ceased, Ola struggled to compete with the big players, not least with the ongoing solus system. By 1986, Ola was insolvent. Maxol acquired an 80 per cent share in the company, which they bought outright in 1991. Ola was then merged into Maxol.

After the acquisition, Maxol continued to use the Drogheda terminal. The company was now indisputably the port’s biggest customer, albeit bringing in just three or four ships a month.[438] Drogheda was by no means perfect. The terminal charges may have been considerably less than those in Dublin Port, but its storage facilities were limited to ten thousand tons.

However, its main problem was that the terminal was notoriously difficult for ships to access because of the harbour bar across the mouth of the River Boyne. The water level was such that ships could only reach the riverside quays at high tide. If a ship arrived late because of, say, bad weather, it could miss the tide and be stuck in the port until the next high tide, incurring demurrage costs of perhaps £1,500 a day.[1] A lot of Maxol’s potential profits were now also being eaten up by insurance, harbour dues, demurrage and other add-ons.[439]

Moreover, Drogheda could only comfortably admit ships that were 1,500 tonnes or less, although a dredging programme in the harbour later made it possible to bring in 2,500-tonne ships on a regular basis. This contrasted with Dublin where ships were frequently arriving with cargos of 12–15,000 tonnes.

This situation became critical in 2007 when UK-based shipowners stopped supplying ships with a capacity of less than 5,000 tons because such ships were simply too small for their jetties. Maxol was obliged to wind up its operations in Drogheda in 2008.[440] The terminal at New Ross closed for similar reasons that same year. The other terminals at Belfast, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Foynes and Galway are now owned by others and shared with Maxol on a commingled product basis.[441]





As head of Maxol’s purchasing department in Dublin from 1986, Dave O’Loughlin was in overall charge of operations at Drogheda, as well as at the other Maxol-run terminals. On account of the Mandatory Regime, the company was buying a third of their product from Whitegate, which then had to be shipped to storage facilities at the Shell terminals in Cork, Limerick, and Galway.[442]

As such, Dave was working all the hours God sent, a telephone permanently affixed to his ear, to keep the ships running to schedule – booking tankers; organising contracts; consulting tide tables; balancing books; taking stock; checking bills of lading, customs duties, VATs, temperatures and specific gravity; and managing the ceaseless problems all of this threw up. All shipping nominations had to be sent by telex, even when the fax machine was invented.

‘I had to be on top all of the time,’ he recalls. ‘I’d often get phone calls from Drogheda at two in the morning to say a ship was in but the gas oil was not up to the right spec, and what were they to do. Sometimes the only answer was to travel to the port to assess the situation myself.’[443]

He spent most of a family holiday in California phoning and telexing Ireland to sort out shipping problems. Such logistical nightmares are much reduced by the online ship trackers today.

The pressure was also on in 1990 when Maxol commissioned the Thuntank 2, a massive Swedish tanker, to bring 7,000 tonnes of fuel into Dublin Port.[444] That was the biggest consignment the company ever brought into Ireland, after which they often shared shipments with other oil companies. Big as it was back then, a 7,000-tonne load is relatively paltry compared to the cargoes of most of the oil ships that come into Dublin today, which are often as much as 20,000 tonnes.[445]

The pressures eased when the terminals in Drogheda and New Ross were phased out. The end of the Mandatory Regime also removed the requirement to transport fuel from Whitegate, although Maxol actually continued to deal with the refinery after Phillips took it over because the oil was now sold at a proper commercial price.

Dave continued to manage the purchasing department until he retired, aged fifty-eight, in 2008, having completed forty years and two days with the company.[446] He continued part-time until 2011, looking after the remaining shipping contracts. One of his last assignments was an arrangement with Statoil to bring their product into Dublin on ships from Monkstadt in Norway.




In 1983, Maxol Limited introduced its ongoing Income Continuance Plan (now more commonly called Permanent Health Insurance, aka PHI) as an adjunct to pension cover for its employees. PHI was in its infancy at the time and Maxol was very much to the forefront in providing such employment welfare.[447] Subject to ongoing satisfactory medical evidence, the plan provided a continuing payment to employees who were out sick, after a deferred period, which usually coincided with the end of sickness entitlement. This payment continued until the employee returned to work or retired. Pension membership was also maintained. This PHI cover also applied to employees of Maxol Oil Limited.





From 1984 until 2010, there was a very successful Maxol Employees Credit Union. Conceived by Neil Nagle of Maxol’s purchasing department, it offered employees a facility to save or to repay a loan through payroll deduction. The terms were later extended to employees of Maxol Lubricants Limited.

Having worked closely with the Irish League of Credit Unions since its establishment, Maxol Employees Credit Union Limited was amalgamated with the Larkhill and District Credit Union in 2010.[448]


Caption: Roy Pollitt (left) and Kyle Gibson (right), respectively the Transport Manager and General Manager of Maxol Oil Ltd, stand either side of Eric Irwin of the distribution agents, J. H. Irwin and Son (Fuels) Ltd., at Lambeg, with a new 38-tonne trailer behind them.





In 1986, Maxol Oil Limited welcomed a new employee in the form of Brian Donaldson, the twenty-one-year-old son of Terence Donaldson, the popular head of Castrol Lubricants (Northern Ireland). Brian grew up in Newtownards, where his grandfather Harry Donaldson ran the Old Cross Garage, which sold Rover cars and farm machinery.

Brian had actually been lined up to work at Vauxhall Motors in Luton when his father suggested he go for an interview with Maxol to win one of two placements in their south Belfast office. As he awaited his interview, he talked with Dorothy Doyle, the switchboard operator, whom he recalls as ‘one of the nicest people you could ever meet’. He subsequently learnt that John Turner, one of his interviewers, asked Dorothy how she rated the 186 applicants in terms of politeness and civility. Brian is likely to have scored highly on Dorothy’s chart, but he attributes his appointment to his referencing of a study he had recently conducted at Bradford University into how Guinness broke into the German beer market. Unbeknownst to him, his other interviewer – Kyle Gibson, the general manager – was an avid Guinness enthusiast.

Brian’s arrival at Maxol coincided with the height of the Troubles so his first job – a six-month market-research survey of each station – was no easy task. He missed his first Christmas party because he was locked inside a shop while army personnel carriers roamed the streets outside trying to determine who had just blown up the local police station.

In April 1987, Brian was promoted to area manager and entrusted with the maintenance, modernisation and expansion of twenty-four company-owned sites within Greater Belfast. On the day that his traineeship began, he was given a red Mini Metro City X; there was a large bouquet of flowers for his mother on the passenger seat. The following year, he teamed up with Jeremy Harbison of Price Waterhouse to devise a one-page document detailing the weekly income and outgoings of a typical service station. That document provided the core of what continues to be the company’s business plan today.





During the corn-drying season, Maxol driver Simon Purcell recalls delivering 2,000 gallons (9000 litres) of diesel every day to Flahavan’s oatmill in Kilmacthomas, County Waterford, where Ned Flahavan and, later, his son John were based. His brief from those ‘lovely porridge men’ was to keep their tanks topped up 24/7 as their furnaces were so ‘full on every day’ that the ground reverberated with their power. ‘The wetter the season, the more fuel they wanted,’ he recounts. Among Simon’s other customers were the Munster Chipboard factory in Waterford and the Keane family home at Cappoquin House, as well as hotels like the Tower in Waterford, the Clonmel Arms in Clonmel and the Galtee in Cahir.

Maxol also supplied diesel to St Columba’s College, the boarding school in Rathfarnham, County Dublin. One cold, snowy winter, the truck was parked on a slope while the driver revved up his engine to get the pump going to fill the tank. To his horror, the vibrations caused the truck to creep forwards and then toboggan down the hill. The hose connecting the truck to the tank stretched and stretched … and then snapped. The truck and all the oil in it ended up in the school swimming pool.




By 1988, Maxol’s lubricants business was doing so well that Malcolm McMullan took over a small business in Manchester called Nexus, which henceforth traded as Maxol Lubricants (UK) Ltd. Assisted by a very capable transport manager, it was distributing about twenty million litres within seven years, exporting lubricants as far afield as Sudan and Iraq. Ultimately, however, the sums did not add up and the UK business closed in 1998.[449]





Image: Walden

Caption: Walden Motors, Parnell Street, Dublin, in the 1980s.


Image 5: Area Managers in Portlaoise Conference

Caption: Area reps at a conference in Portlaoise: John Brady (Carlow Kilkenny), Mort O’Loughlin (Galway), Liam Buckley (Cork) and Tony Lewis (Limerick).


During the early 1980s, there are thought to have been about six thousand sites in Ireland where one could find a fuel pump, approximately six times as many as there are today. Many of these were small rural outlets with a solitary pump where the owners might charge a few extra pence per gallon on account of their remoteness.[450] It was, for instance, not easy to get fuel supplies out to the station on Valentia Island although it undoubtedly helped that Mick O’Connell, the iconic Kerry footballer and sometime Maxol rep, was a Valentia Islander. Adrian Mackey (1934–2019), another islander, was Maxol’s perpetually sunny and optimistic sales rep for Cork, Shannon and Tralee from the 1970s until 1991. ‘Absolutely fantastic’ was his catchphrase.[451]

During the early 1980s, the company built a number of new stations, including a quartet in Cork at Wilton, Carrigaline, Pouladuff and Tivoli. Designed by architect Kevin Murphy, these were constructed just before a government embargo clamped down on the number of company-owned sites firms like Maxol could have. [452] Thereafter, getting a new site became like a cross between a board game and an exclusive club membership: no player could buy a new station unless one of their existing ones had been closed or bypassed. If an excellent site became available, you had to drop one of your existing ones in order to replace it.

The embargo was part of a broader government plan to give progressive retailers the confidence to upgrade and expand their stores. A new wave of convenience shops and small supermarkets opened across Ireland. Part of this was in response to a surge in consumer demand attributable to an increase in both single households and married women in the workforce. As the first shoots of economic prosperity began to arise, forward-thinking minds at Maxol realised that the customers who drove onto their forecourts might be seeking a little more than cigarettes, soft drinks and sweets.

In 1986 the price of oil on the world market plunged from around US$27 per barrel to US$10 per barrel.[453] It was now imperative that Maxol develop its forecourt retailing because the company could not operate profitably on fuel sales alone.[454] Meanwhile the government lifted the embargo on sites and disbanded price control, allowing oil companies to put their own price on fuel for the first time in almost fifteen years.

By this time, Maxol’s combined network of company-owned-and-operated and dealer sites extended to nine-hundred stations across the island.[455] However, the administrative complexities and financial costs to Maxol of staffing its own stations were unacceptable.[456] Henceforth, the company shifted to a new policy of company-owned-and-licensed sites. In other words, stations were licensed out to responsible, motivated, carefully chosen licensees who employed their own staff and oversaw their own retail business. Licenses were initially granted annually but, by 2000, it was policy to renew licences for a minimum of three years.

Amongst the first to take up a licence were Clifford McMullan’s son Malcolm and his wife Suzie, who ended up running six Maxol stations during the 1980s, including those at Mespil Road and Parkgate Street in Dublin, and the ‘late hours’ station by Dublin Airport. The company also signed up existing garages such as O’Reilly and Sons in Longford and Ned Ryan’s of Gorey, County Wexford, which both opened under the Maxol brand in 1986. [457]




Some filling station managers remained on as licensees but Maxol also recruited some new managers, such as Camillus ‘Millie’ Walsh of Mullingar. Born in 1951, Millie was the ninth and youngest child of a posts and telegraphs maintenance man from the Westmeath county capital. Having left school at fourteen, he spent eighteen months at Mullingar’s technical school before going to work as a messenger boy for McMullans Kosangas. He subsequently worked at various service stations in and around Mullingar for thirteen years, during which time he met John Holmes, the Maxol area rep. One morning in the autumn of 1984, John asked, ‘How would you like to run your own petrol station?’

It took six months but Millie formally took up the licence of the Mullingar station on 1 April 1985. He still runs it today, making him the longest serving Maxol licensee on record. When the shop opened, it comprised two petrol pumps, a diesel pump, a small shop kiosk and an outlet for selling gas cylinders. Millie quickly developed the retail side and capitalised on Maxol’s marketing campaign with a slogan in the window that he came up with himself: ‘Maxol – Great Gifts, from Black and Decker’s to Golf Umbrellas’. He recalls the volume of business generated by the Free a Nipper campaign as ‘unreal’.

A household name across much of the Midlands, Millie traditionally sold a lot of lubricating oil, as well as heating supplies. The latter remains a constant, be it coal and peat briquettes, or eco-logs, wood pellets, kiln-dried timber and kindling. Confectionery, minerals and coffee sales are also vital to his station’s coffers.

In 1995 Millie and his team were awarded the Maxol Staff Team Award certificate. Tom Noonan, the then CEO, describes Millie as ‘one of the most loyal people we have ever had’, while Brian Donaldson, the present CEO, notes that ‘his core values in providing smart, efficient service have always remained unchanged’.

‘It’s all about the forecourt,’ says Millie. ‘Whatever the fuel of the future is, the forecourts are not going anywhere. We have to think outside the box to see what we can put on the forecourts to keep people coming in.’



The 1990s


Image: 1. Maxol Stations –

Image: 2. Maxol Independent

Image 3: Volvo FL10. Intercooler tractor. Circa. 1990 with 5000 gl trailer

Caption: Maxol’s fleet of Volvo FL10 intercooler tractors were adorned with the new company logo in the early 1990s. Each truck was capable of carrying 5000 gallons (22,730 litres).


During the 1990s, the company experienced two transformative events that made Maxol the third largest petrol retailer on the island after the multinationals Esso and Shell. The first was a restructuring of the company to form the Maxol Group that, by extension, successfully optimised the operations of both Northern Ireland and the Republic into a single, progressive entity.

The second was the seismic acquisition of eighty Jet/Statoil stations, which saw the company’s market share in the Republic increase significantly to 15 per cent overnight.

Maxol’s market share in Northern Ireland was close to 20 per cent but there were plenty of challenges when the positive effects of the peace process were countered by an escalation in fuel smuggling, an influx of British supermarket chains and the first green taxes.

Nonetheless, with a network of nearly seven hundred stations across the island, Maxol was Ireland’s largest homegrown, family-owned oil company by the time of its seventy-fifth anniversary in 1995. Two years later, the company moved its corporate headquarters in Dublin to its current address, 3 Custom House Plaza.

The 1990s also saw the introduction of Maxol fuel cards and a number of triumphant promotional campaigns, highlighting strategic alliances with companies such as Marks & Spencer, Argos, Mace and Spar.

Maxol had long been one of the largest and oldest family-owned businesses in Ireland. By the close of the 1990s, it was one of Europe’s leading independent oil companies, with a weekly customer base in excess of 350,000.





In 1990, Maxol introduced a new pennant motif logo, based on its blue, yellow and white colour scheme. This was rapidly added to all staff uniforms, truck and van liveries, stationery, and packaging for lubricants and associated products, before being spread out to the company’s massive network of filling stations.[458]





Maxol pioneered the introduction of electronic card payments for fuels in the 1980s. The concept was conceived as a way to ensure that the company’s new licensed stations in Northern Ireland could accept payment from customers who had had local accounts with individual stations. Peter Scott at the Belfast office was instrumental in the system’s implementation, while Ulster Bank provided the hefty Fortronic F75 credit card terminals that superseded manual transactions at participating stations.

On 1 June 1990, the Maxol Chargecard was launched in the Republic, allowing customers to use their cards on either side of the border.[459] Members had to have at least four vehicles to qualify and were given a generous, interest-free period of forty-five days to pay for their fuel, lubricants and vehicle washes. Many company accounts departments were attracted by the idea of having all such transport expenses on a single statement. [460]

By 1994, there were over 5000 account holders, north and south.[461] As the price variance between the two jurisdictions increased in the mid to late 1990s, the card became more and more popular with major haulage companies operating across the island.

When the company amalgamated its head office in 1997, card administration was outsourced to Atos Origin, the transactional services specialists. This decision was partly connected to a new arrangement with Elf Aquitaine, the French multinational who owned the Milford Haven refinery in South Wales from which Maxol took supply. The deal also allowed cardholders to purchased fuel at any Elf stations in the UK and for Elf’s customers to access Maxol’s network in Ireland. In 2000, Elf merged with Total Fina to become TotalFinaElf (TFE), fortuitously doubling the number of UK stations at which Maxol cards were accepted to 1500.





On 1 June 1990, all of Maxol’s lubricant-related operations were assigned to a newly formed company, Maxol Lubricants Limited, with Malcolm McMullan as its chief executive. Pat Phelan served as general sales manager until 2011 when he was succeeded by Owen O’Neill, the company’s present general manager. Paul Watson, Don Wilson and Jim Sperrin transferred to the new company, along with Neil Nagle, who succeeded Frank Malcolmson as foreman, aka production manager, when the latter retired.

With the merger of Maxol’s ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ arms in the mid-1990s, the lubricants division integrated as quickly as possible. Ivan Martin, the lubricants oil manager in Belfast, stepped down and was succeeded by Tim Clarke. Parkgate Street remained the company’s lubricants base until 1997, when the Maxol Group diversified into the property market and received planning permission to build a multi-million-euro office development on the site.[462] Thereafter the lubricants and packaging plant relocated to a custom-built facility in the Dublin Airport Business Campus at Santry, where it continues today.





In 1990, following the financial collapse of Ola Teoranta and its integration into Maxol Ltd, Pat Meehan, Ola’s operations manager, was appointed planning manager for Maxol Ltd.  The board asked him to conduct a study of the merits and drawbacks of combining Maxol Oil Ltd and Maxol Ltd into one all-Ireland entity. When he submitted his report a year later, it was firmly in favour of integration. The board of both companies rapidly adopted this conclusion.

In June 1991, Tom Noonan, the general manager of Maxol Ltd, was appointed group general manager, with day-to-day responsibility for the management of the entire concern.[463] Three months later, the company structure was completely overhauled with the creation of the Maxol Group, comprising five subsidiaries, namely Maxol Ltd, Maxol Oil Ltd (Northern Ireland), Maxol Lubricants Ltd, Maxol (UK) and Ola Teoranta.[464] The boards of the respective companies also established an overall senior management team for the group that initially comprised of Tom Noonan, Paul Cran (group finance manager), Denis Field (group operations manager), Pat Meehan (group planning manager). John Turner (group marketing manager) and Brian Torrens (general manager, Maxol Oil Ltd).

This cross-border team had both a collective and individual responsibility for driving the business forward throughout Ireland. A large number of subcommittees, consisting of employees from both sides of the border, simultaneously undertook a substantial number of restructuring projects that covered everything from service station deliveries to IT and financial matters, rapidly giving rise to a new and much more stream-lined entity.

One of the key consequences of the merger of the Maxol Group’s management teams was the development of the Maxol Group Strategic Business Plan. This initiative formed the basis for the co-ordination and development of the Maxol Group into what it is today, and led to sound decision making and business development.

By 1993, the Maxol Group’s combined network of stations stood at 705 – 130 company-owned stations and 400 dealer stations in the Republic, and 165 in Northern Ireland. It also had a large fleet of authorised distributors in place to ensure its fuel, lubricants and other products and services reached a wide community of domestic and light commercial customers. Its supply network was universally regarded as one of the biggest and best in Ireland.[465]




In 1993, the Conservative government in the UK introduced its green tax on fuel, which pushed the price of petrol in Northern Ireland well above that charged in the Republic. This policy, continued by Tony Blair’s Labour government, prompted large numbers of Northern Irish drivers to go south of the border for cheaper fuel, as well as an unprecedented increase in fuel smuggling back into Northern Ireland.

Although fuel laundering by paramilitary groups caused a major upset to legitimate vendors, much of it was ignored by the authorities in order to keep the peace process negotiations on track. Consequently, sales in the north tumbled by 7.4 per cent in 1995 and by a further 10 per cent in 1998. Derv sales slumped by 18 per cent in 1998 alone.

In the same period, sales in the Republic shot up, prompting a lengthy price war, with some stations selling unleaded for close to cost price as the importance of revenue from forecourt shopping and car washes became more and more apparent.[466]




Image: 4. Wexford People – Thursday 19 May 1994


The impetus to amalgamate everything under the Maxol Group was a decision by the company in 1992 to benchmark a new set of business management procedures in Northern Ireland in line with BS5750, the British Standard on ‘Quality Systems’, and to seek ISO 9000 accreditation, the international equivalent of BS5750, in the Republic.

Shane Mackle and Brian Hunter of ACT Business Systems, a Northern Irish firm of management consultants, was engaged to assist with this process. They proposed the introduction of the Total Quality Management (TQM) strategy. Driven by Kyle Gibson and Tom Noonan, the general managers for Maxol in the North and South, this cooperative effort was co-ordinated by Pat Meehan, group planning manager, and subsequently developed by staff members from both Belfast and Dublin, who met at the Ballymascanlon House Hotel in County Louth. The plan was to devise a single strategy for the island by bringing together the key people from Belfast and Dublin. Hence, John Holmes, an advocate for cross-border integration, and John Turner, his retail marketing counterpart in the north, worked together on one aspect, while Denis Field, Roy Pollitt and Bobby Heuston worked on operations. These collaborative meetings also established the principal areas of overlapping expertise in both areas.[467]

‘The TQM meetings were very positive,’ recalls Tom Noonan. ‘They highlighted how the companies had much more in common than anyone might have thought. A bit like Protestants and Catholics and the peace process, we were working out that we all only had two arms, two legs and the one head. We all had to try and leave our prejudices at home and work together.’

Maxol Oil Ltd, the Northern Ireland business, was then subjected to a series of rigorous internal audits and consultations with management and staff alike about matters such as managements strategies, staff training and employee empowerment. In August 1993, Maxol Oil Ltd was ‘BS 5750’ accredited, giving the company a compact but valuable testing ground before applying the same principles to Maxol Ltd in the Republic.

One of TQM’s tactics was to give people bigger and better job titles. Dave O’Loughlin drolly notes that while his predecessor had been a mere ‘purchasing supervisor’, Dave was given the infinitely smarter title of ‘purchasing manager’.

As for the overall company, its new strapline was ‘Maxol – Excellence Through Quality’.

Both Maxol Limited and Maxol Oil Limited achieved government standards accreditation ISO 9002 in 2002. Maxol Lubricants Limited likewise attained government standards accreditation ISO 9002 in 1995 and ISO 14001 in 2000.




Customers and personnel from both Maxol Ltd and Maxol Oil Ltd outside the Water’s Edge Restaurant in New York, with the Chrysler Building behind them, in December 1999.

It is to be noted that some of the following section was quoted in an article prepared by Michael Darcy,  Senior Research Associate on ‘Pre‐1998 Agreement: Laying Foundations for Economic Achievements in North‐South Businesses’ for theCentre for Cross Border Studies (CCBS) 2023 Journal . The article was published in Belfast at their Annual Conference in late September 2023 and formally launched by Senator Joe Kennedy.

One of the greatest achievements of the 1990s was the reunification of the management teams of the ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ wings of Maxol. Although it was registered in Dublin in 1920 and serviced all thirty-two counties, the company was often perceived as a Northern Irish entity before it split into two autonomous, self-contained units in 1935.[468]  Many subsequent advertising campaigns had emphasised that it was a proud ‘all-Irish’ concern and a ‘purely Irish enterprise’.

Given that the board of directors was comprised of the children and grandchildren of William ‘The Boss’ McMullan, a County Down man, there was always a genuine bond between the north and south. Indeed, present-day board members Noel, Thomas and Barry McMullan all started their Maxol careers in Belfast.[469] Although based in Dublin, the directors attended a meeting at the head office in Belfast at least once a month. That said, they tended not to stay long, often journeying up that morning and returning to Dublin later that afternoon. As such, the Belfast staff were somewhat freer than their counterparts in Dublin, who shared an office with the directors every other working day of the month.[470]

Maxol Oil Limited, the Northern Irish business, played a key role in keeping the overall company alive during some of the leaner periods. This was especially true in the 1980s when price control in the Republic led to substantial annual losses.[471] ‘When things went bad in the south, they were generally good in the north, and vice versa,’ says Noel McMullan. ‘We always felt it would be a mistake to part company with either the north or the south, and that still holds true to this day.’

Nonetheless, the bond between the two sides went on the slide with the onset of the Troubles in the 1970s and communication between Maxol Ltd and Maxol Oil Ltd at management level was virtually non-existent by the end of the 1980s.[472]  An annual football contest between the two wings also fizzled out, although this may have been because the south kept thrashing the north.[473] Another area of mild commonality was the promotions campaign for the Green Shield Stamps and the glassware campaign, but the nipper was not set free in the North, and nor did they promote LCD watches.

Much about the two entities was different – the hierarchies, the staff, the fleets, the philosophies, the culture. There was also a predictable religious distinction as the vast majority of the Belfast-based employees were Protestant while, by the 1980s, most of the Dublin-based employees were Catholic. The ongoing violence in the north created its own pressures with attacks on filling stations and the hijacking of a driver’s truck. The Belfast office filed nearly forty malicious damage claims during this period

Three of the East Wall team once attended the funeral of a colleague’s father in Fermanagh that, to their surprise, turned out to be a significant republican gathering. On another occasion, two mechanics and a driver from the Dublin depot went north to Clones to mend a truck that had gone on fire and found a moment to zip across the border on a back road to buy a load of butter for half the price it was sold at in the Republic.[474]

Drivers from Dublin occasionally met their northern counterparts to transfer product, especially lubricants, but also fuel when the Shell strikes were on. Such encounters invariably led to an exchange of opinions about the state of play with regard to unions and salaries on either side of the border.

 And yet it was also increasingly apparent, as the 1980s turned into the 1990s, that the amalgamation of the two wings would make a lot of sense in terms of optimising efficiency, reducing duplication and increasing profits.[475] For instance, delivering fuel from Belfast to a customer across the border in Donegal was far more financially savvy than sending a truck all the way up from Dublin or Galway.

From an outside perspective, the two companies also had much in common, not least the same board of directors and the same business of buying and selling petroleum products. And yet every position in the Northern Ireland office was duplicated in the south.

Maxol may have been the largest oil company in Ireland at the time but it was still a small player on the international market. Eager to expand and evolve, management opened up a conversation with customers, station-owners and staff about the idea of amalgamating Maxol’s corporate interests across Ireland.

As with the ongoing concept of the reunification of Ireland, the idea was not without its risks. Politics, religion, unions and a general fear of the unknown all presented challenges. [476]  And yet, as Pat Meehan’s 1991 report concluded, the reunification of the two sides was integral to the company’s new strategy of maximising quality and efficiency.

Maxol duly became a pioneer in the field of integration when the Dublin and Belfast offices merged in the mid-1990s. As well as integrating its management structures, the company coordinated its distribution, marketing, financial control and information technologies. Everything became instantly more efficient, not least the day-to-day communications, the pooling of resources, the end of duplicate jobs and the streamlining of computer and accounting systems. Hand in hand with this, the number of overall employees was much reduced – Frank Dormer was flat out sorting out pensions and redundancies throughout this period.

‘We were really trying to get one vision, one team and one plan in place,’ explains Brian Donaldson, ‘because it became very apparent that you can’t operate two separate companies with a single management team.’

During the transition period, it became expedient to work with competent, knowledgeable individuals who were prepared to push the boat out, knowing they were not in it for the long haul. ‘The company has always had people who stay forever,’ says Brian Donaldson, ‘so it was not unrefreshing to get the occasional person who could bounce in, do a job, and bounce out again.’

The new word was ‘teamwork’, and teams now mixed talent and expertise from both north and south, often with excellent results. Given the almost complete lack of contact between the two sides before the 1990s, the amalgamation felt surprisingly ‘natural’ to some. The company found itself in the uplifting position of being able to absorb and adopt the best practices and knowledge from each market, north and south. The cultural exchanges highlighted how much the two businesses had in common and gave rise to some strong cross-border friendships. On a broader scale, the exercise was regarded as a considerable success and lead to some of the Maxol Group management team being asked to give talks to other members of the business community, north and south of the border, on the complex topic of corporate integration.

There were, of course, some who were not at ease with the challenge of streamlining senior management and cutting back on unnecessary, expensive duplications. Already battling with cancer, Kyle Gibson, the general manager of Maxol Oil Ltd, was among the old guard who felt this was the ideal moment to hang up his boots. He passed away less than a year later, at the age of 54. He was succeeded by Brian Torrens, whose wife hailed from Cork, although Brian also took early retirement in 1998 to run the busy Twinburn station in Newtownabbey.[477]

John Turner briefly served as group marketing manager before opting for early retirement and becoming a trustee of the north’s pension scheme.[478] He was succeeded in 1995 by Brian Donaldson, his protégé, who was subsequently oversaw the tricky but diplomatically handled conversion of Maxol’s retail divisions in Northern Ireland and the Republic into a single commercial structure.[479]

Most of the Northern Ireland business was subsequently relocated to Dublin, with the exception of the fuel card control centre, which is still run from Mallusk in North Belfast, in a department headed up by company director Barry McMullan.

The physical and commercial integration of the two companies was complete by the time the Maxol Group celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary in 1995. Its success is widely attributed to Tom Noonan, who became group chief executive in December 1996. He negotiated a complicated and sometimes unpleasant maze to persuade people on both sides of the border to adapt to the new order, rearranging the company structure as he did so.[480] In the south, this meant a lot of discourse with the unions as well, while, in the north, he was helped by the friendships he developed with people such as Brian Torrens and Brian Donaldson, his successor.[481]

There are still differences between the two operations, from the way business is done to fuel preference to the items sold in shops.[482] There are also still two companies – one in the Republic, one in Northern Ireland – to which group salaries and costs are apportioned. However, the successful merger of management was in itself one of the most positive and pioneering events in corporate history in Ireland.




In 1980, Maxol’s combined staff, north and south, stood at over a thousand people. The two companies employed every person who worked on their stations, 60 per cent of whom were pump attendants. The companies also paid the wages of sales reps, office staff and drivers, as well as their pump fitters, central heating engineers, truck mechanics, painters, yardmen and everyone in the lubricants department. As well as the enormous wage bill, this involved considerable risk, responsibility and administration.

In the wake of cross-border integration, Maxol Ltd initiated a sizeable trim of its overall staff. Following negotiations with the unions, a series of generous redundancy packages were agreed and implemented. The boiler servicemen were among the first to be set up as independents.[483] Next up was a reduction in the filling station staff, a process that began in the south before being repeated in the north.

In 1995, the company’s fuel oil and commercial drivers were likewise given redundancy. Many younger drivers transferred to a specialist contractor who took over the responsibility for all Maxol deliveries. [484] In the absence of drivers, there was no longer any need for mechanics, while painting was likewise sub-contracted. Many of those working on the clerical side of the business, particularly those nearing the age of retirement, also opted for voluntary redundancy.

The changes continued until 2006, by which time the combined staff roll for both organisations had been reduced to a little over 200.




Maxol Unleaded in the 1994 Round Ireland Yacht Race.

In 1989, Maxol responded to growing environmental concerns by becoming the second distributor in Ireland to introduce unleaded petrol to its station network. By May 1990, over 180 of its stations had unleaded for sale in a choice of two grades, Standard and the higher octane Maxol Super Unleaded, which was designed for more sophisticated engines. [485]

As part of a publicity campaign to promote unleaded fuel, the company chartered a thirty-one-foot yacht for the 1994 Round Ireland Yacht Race. Originally called Camp Freddie, the high-speed Young Rocket 31 was renamed Maxol Unleaded and repainted in the company’s livery colours by its owner, Greg Peck, a professional boat painter.

In the UK, she had won every regatta she entered and was the overall winner of Class One Cowes week in the UK in 1994. She remains the only New Zealand design to win the Round the Island Race in the Isle of Wight against eighteen hundred starters. ‘It was going to clean up and break the lap record for us,’ recalls Noel McMullan wistfully of the 1994 Round Ireland Yacht Race. ‘Unfortunately, the only thing it broke was its forestay offshore at Arklow and that was that.’ [486]




Maxol also became an associate of Plato, a European mentoring initiative to help develop SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) that was established in Ireland in 1995. The company provided team leaders from its staff who were trained by Plato and assigned to a team with other leaders from other companies. These pooled teams of expertise were then allocated up to a dozen SMEs which they assisted with all aspects of business over a two-year period. Among the team leaders of this successful venture were Brian Donaldson, Laurence Donegan, Owen O’ Neill, Bill Phelan, Denis Field and Frank Dormer. Tom Noonan was on the Plato board, while Bill Phelan, Plato’s CEO for four years, was the former fuel oil manager for Maxol Ltd.

In Northern Ireland, Belfast Plato was launched in 2000 with Brian Donaldson joining the steering committee along with Sam Chambers (DCC Energy), Gordon Hamilton (Hamilton Shipping) and John Stringer (Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry). In 2006, Brian was appointed chairman and held the position until 2010, when Plato Belfast was amalgamated with Plato Dublin.




Image: Down Royal race card

Caption: The initial print run of race cards for the seventy-fifth anniversary had to be scrapped at the last minute because ‘McMullan’ was spelled with an ‘en’, which was an unforgivable horror! Joey O’Meara arranged a corrected run, copies of which were placed on tables immediately before all the staff members were seated.


On Saturday 16 September 1995, all Maxol staff members from both north and south of the border assembled at the Maze Racecourse (Down Royal) to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the company. Many came with their spouses or partners.

The Belfast employees went directly by bus to the Maze Racecourse. Most staff from Dublin and the south went up by private train to Lisburn from where they travelled to the racecourse by bus. The train was hired from Northern Ireland Railways and had been used by Queen Elizabeth II when she officially opened the Dargan Bridge near Belfast six months earlier.

Kevin Parsons, the organisation and methods manager, opted to drive up from Dublin instead with Catherine Kane from the personnel department as his co-pilot. They announced their engagement a few weeks later.

Everyone received a race card, on the back of which their names were listed, along with their length of service. The longest-serving member present was Roy Smith, who started in February 1954, followed by John Brady, who started in October 1954.

The event, which included a Maiden Hurdle sponsored by Maxol, was organised by Frank Dormer, the late Joey O’Meara and Sharon Prior of Prior Communication Offices.[487] Regarded as a most enjoyable occasion by all participants, it proved a great talking point for a long time after and did much to cement the cooperation between north and south.




The abolition of price control not only permitted individual stations to fix their own prices but also lifted the embargo that had prevented oil companies from buying more stations.[488] In 1992, Statoil (now Equinor), the Norwegian state-owned multinational petroleum company, entered the Irish market and bought up all of BP’s interests. Four years later, the Norwegians looked set to secure over 25 per cent of the Irish petroleum market through a multi-million-pound merger with Jet, a network of 257 filling stations owned by Conoco. However, the deal collapsed in February 1996 when – following a recommendation from Ireland’s Competition Authority – Richard Bruton, the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, intervened and blocked the merger.

With Statoil, Jet and the government locked in dispute, this seemed an ideal opportunity to Tom Noonan to propose a solution that would considerably boost Maxol’s market share and allow them to compete with Statoil and the three other dominant multi-nationals, Esso, Shell and Texaco. He devised and implemented a strategy that involved complex and lengthy negotiations with all three parties. In July 1996, representatives from Jet and Statoil arrived at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin for a data exchange meeting with a Maxol team comprising of Tom Noonan, John Holmes and Paul Cran.

Paul Cran, a seasoned chartered accountant, had been Maxol’s chief financial officer since 1993. His fiscal acumen and calm expertise had already been of critical importance to Maxol when the company evaluated the benefits of integration. His experience came to the fore again now as he created a spreadsheet that valued each site based on turnover and other figures provided by Jet and Statoil. John Holmes’s encyclopaedic knowledge of competitor stations also proved of enormous assistance. Later that same night, Tom Noonan met Tony Murray, Statoil’s deputy CEO, at the Marine Hotel in Sutton and handed him a letter outlining Maxol’s formal offer.

The upshot was that Maxol secured a magnificent deal, by which it added eighty quality stations from Jet and Statoil to its network, including eighteen Statoil-owned stations and twelve Jet-owned stations, along with a series of independent dealer-operated stations. In return, Statoil was allowed to complete its merger and take over the rest of the Jet business, giving them a useful 20 per cent share of the market. However, Statoil’s sister company in the UK was also obliged to sell off its Estuary Oil business in Munster.[489]

To secure finance, Paul Cran approached both Ulster Bank, who had been bankers to the Maxol Group for many decades, and Allied Irish Bank, who did not have a relationship with Maxol. When the two finance offers were presented to the board, it initially opted for Ulster Bank’s offer because of their long bond. However, when it emerged that AIB’s offer was going to cost €150,000 less, they switched.

In the wake of the deal, Maxol’s market share shot up from 10 per cent to 15 per cent, adding 45 million litres to its sales volume and bumping the company’s turnover up by some £40 million. It instantly transformed the company’s outlook, making it clear to everyone in the trade that Maxol was now a serious player and providing a huge injection of confidence for management and employees alike.

Through a combination of hard graft and careful planning, Maxol assimilated the Jet sites with remarkable success, installing new signage, confirming delivery particulars and, critically, bringing the existing site owners into the new set-up. When the late Liam Buckley of Cork had to forego his family holiday in the USA in order to focus on the operation, the company reimbursed the price of his flights.

As well as winning several prime locations in Dublin, the company now found itself strongly represented in urban areas such as Bray, Waterford and Cork. Maxol’s transition from minnow to whale was hailed as the ‘Deal of the Decade’ by Ireland’s Forecourt & Convenience Store Retail magazine, which attributed the success to Tom Noonan. His achievement was also acknowledged by the Maxol board who upgraded his title to group CEO in the immediate aftermath of the transaction, while Paul Cran was appointed group deputy CEO.[490] Receiving the title of ‘UK Oil Company of the Year, 1996’ from Forecourt News further confirmed Maxol’s status as one of the leading companies in Britain or Ireland.




Maxol’s new offices at the IFSC were formally opened on 4 September 1997 by Mary Harney, Ireland’s first female Tánaiste, who was also minister for enterprise, trade and employment at the time. Mrs Harney is pictured here with Max McMullan.

Apollo House was proving ever more unsuitable as a head office with each passing year. At the start of the 1990s, there had been so many clerical redundancies that Maxol Ltd vacated the ninth floor and moved everyone to the eighth. During the Italia ’90 World Cup, they put some TV screens on the ninth floor so that staff could spin up and watch the games with some pizzas before returning to their desks.[491]

The concrete floors meant that the company could not install underground computer cables, and the jumble of lines and cables running through the offices was rapidly becoming a major health and safety issue for staff.

The company homed in on 3 Custom House Plaza at the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in Dublin. Built on the site of the old Post Office sorting office in Sheriff Street, the office block was developed and owned by the late property developer Brian Rhatigan, who was in business elsewhere with the McMullan family.[492]

It took a monumental effort from all concerned for the company to move to the IFSC over a single weekend in August 1997 in a successful team effort coordinated by Tom Noonan and Paul Cran. The formal opening took place on 4 September with Mary Harney, Ireland’s first female Tánaiste, who was also minister for enterprise, trade and employment at the time, in attendance. [delete if repeated from caption]

Like the initial move to Apollo House in 1970, the new offices in the IFSC proved to be the making of the company from an efficiency point of view. The computers were wired in, productivity improved tremendously and, despite all the pressure, the staff rose to the occasion. The new offices also included a fine kitchen with part-time caterers.[493] Moreover, as well as tax breaks attached to the rent, the new offices were close to Conolly Station, Busáras and the DART line.

Meanwhile, Apollo House was later taken over by the Department of Social Protection. The empty building became a symbol of resistance for the homeless community during the Christmas period of 2016, when it was occupied by a diverse group of well-intentioned activists, supported by film director Jim Sheridan, and musicians Hozier and Glen Hansard. It was finally demolished in June 2018.




Image: Eddie Nolan and Eddie Jordan

Caption: Eddie Jordan, founder and owner of Formula One constructor Jordan Grand Prix, was the Maxol Irish Motor Industry Person of the Year in 1999. He is pictured here with

Eddie Nolan, former chief executive officer of Ford Ireland, who accepted an award in honour of Henry Ford, the Irish-American automobile pioneer, who was named Maxol Person of the Century.

Image: Maxol Personality of the Year group

Caption: Nominees for the Maxol Irish Motor Industry Personality of the Year 1998 included Fred Maguire, Gerry Mackey, James Wyse, Mr Kavanagh, Bill Cullen of Renault (standing centre), Frank Keane, Michael Colbert, Eddie Nolan (Ford) and Jim Callery (Scania). Representing the sponsors were Paul O’Grady of Irish Motor Industry Magazine and Tom Noonan of Maxol.

Maxol sponsored the Irish Motor Industry Person of the Year Awards from 1998 to 2004.[494] The awards, which were run in association with the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) and Irish Motor Industry Magazine, recognised people who had made an exceptional contribution to the motor industry.

  • 1998 – Jim Callery, chairman of Westward (Scania) Distribution Group
  • 1999 – Eddie Jordan, founder and owner of the first Irish Formula One Grand Prix Team.
  • 2000 – Bill Cullen, chairman of the Glencullen Group, which owned the Renault franchise
  • 2001 – Tom Kiernan, former Irish and Lions rugby star and past president of the Irish Rugby Football Union.
  • 2002 – Dorothea Dowling, chairperson of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board
  • 2003 – Eddie Shaw, chairman of the National Safety Council
  • 2004 – Kevin Desmond, Royal National Lifeboat Institution volunteer





Caption: The Maxol Mace station at Dublin Airport was open twenty-four hours a day.


With the shrinking margins on petrol sales, Maxol recognised the need to increase its offering in terms of food and other convenience goods at the hundreds of stations that the company either owned or supplied throughout the island.

The campaign to revolutionise forecourt facilities began in May 1990 when Robin Skelton and Aidan Shelly reopened their station at The Crossings in Naas, County Kildare, complete with the new triangular Maxol motif and a ‘supermarket-style’ grocery store. This spacious, accessible flagship station was equipped with Quadro pumps, offering four nozzles each, with a choice of diesel, unleaded and super-unleaded at each pump, unlike the 1980s pumps which had only carried one type of fuel each. [495] The Maxol station in Naas is now run by Jason McMullan, a great-grandson of the Boss.

The design of the Naas station became something of a blueprint that was rolled out to all company-owned stations over the ensuing years. Where space permitted, the revamped stations now had car wash facilities, as well as new service areas for water, air and vacuum cleaning. The first ATM cash machines at petrol stations also appeared at this time.

And yet the business was still fundamentally oil-based in the early 1990s. ‘It was all about the fuel,’ recalls Brian Donaldson, ‘and it was all about additives and premium fuels and all the different grades of fuel. Lubricants were also much more important in terms of the overall retail offer in store.’

When Maxol’s new station opened in Bangor, County Down, in 1994, it was not only capable of serving ten cars at once but it also had a one-thousand-square-foot convenience store attached.[496] It was increasingly clear that the path to future prosperity lay not at the fuel pump but in ensuring stations doubled up as sophisticated food emporiums.[497] Thus began a shift in direction that would guarantee the company’s status as Ireland’s leading family-owned forecourt and convenience retailer by the early twenty-first century.

The Maxol Group was actually ahead of the curve when it came to installing convenience shops at its stations. The company had a mature awareness that its expertise was in selling fuel and oils, not food and beverages. Rather than trying to enter this crowded marketplace, Maxol formed an ingenious partnership with Mace, the upmarket convenience store brand. The first three Maxol Mace stores opened in 1996 at Beechlawn (Dunmurry), Ballyholme and Belvoir, all in Northern Ireland. The collaboration then moved south of the border where the first station to be rebuilt and reimaged with a Mace shop was Colin and Eugene Fee’s award-winning station on Castletown Road, Dundalk. This was followed by the refurbishment of Ardbrae, a former Statoil station in Bray, County Wicklow.

When Vivienne Doyle, the reigning Miss Ireland, opened the Quigley family’s Maxol Mace shop at the Seaview service station in Dundalk in 1999, the new nine-hundred-square-foot store offered customers a delicatessen, hot bread, cards and magazines, as well as dairy and frozen foods. These were products that were by no means standard fare in twentieth-century stations – but the times they were a-changing. [498]




In the halcyon days of the 1990s, cricket contacts could be very useful. Ian Botham, a friend of Joey O’Meara, was also friends with the head of Marks and Spencer (M&S) in Ireland. This paved the way for Joey and Brian Donaldson to make a pitch and, by August 1998, the Maxol duo were at the M&S head office in Baker Street, London, plotting a brilliant new promotional campaign.

At the time, Maxol was running its ‘Choices for People’ loyalty promotion by which customers were given a stamp for every £5 they spent on petrol. Fourteen stamps earned you three wine glasses, a table-setting of cutlery or a corkscrew. A personal computer advertised in the catalogue could be obtained for 15,400 stamps.[499]

Under the terms of the new M&S campaign, Maxol customers were now also given the option of redeeming their saver cards at customer services counters at any Marks & Spencer store in Ireland, north or south. Each full saver card earned the customer £2 worth of M&S gift vouchers.

Among those who supported the alliance was Alice Quinn, the then head of M&S in Northern Ireland, who, serendipitously, was close friends with Tom and Gerry Murphy, the owners of one of Maxol’s busiest stations – and the biggest off-licence on the island of Ireland – on the border at Forkhill, County Armagh.[500] During the late 1980s and early 1990s, when petrol was much cheaper in the North, the Murphys were Maxol’s largest customer, receiving up to two loads of fuel a day.

The campaign was vigorously promoted across 253 participating stations, with posters, counter cards, leaflets and pump nozzle advertising in the forecourts, as well as a radio advertising campaign through Downtown/Cool FM in Northern Ireland.

The alliance commenced on 1 October 1998 and was so successful, that within ten months, M&S agreed to become Maxol’s main anchor partner when the oil company introduced its pioneering PointsPlus electronic promotion in July 1999. The new scheme was launched with simultaneous events in Belfast and Dublin; the latter was attended by two celebrated ‘points’ scorers, Kilkenny hurler DJ Carey and the Miss Ireland model, Siobhan McClafferty. It offered a very simple, stamp-free system by which Maxol customers could swipe and redeem the points on their PointsPlus loyalty cards at any Marks & Spencer in Ireland.[501]

The promotion was launched with a TV and radio advertising campaign, as well as the traditional forecourt displays. In its first month, Maxol issued over forty million points nationwide, along with over four-hundred thousand cards. At the campaign’s peak, twenty million points were issued every week, representing 160,000 weekly transactions for Maxol fuels, lubricants or car washes.

The PointsPlus promotion, which ran until 2005, considerably elevated Maxol’s standing in the marketplace, especially when Maxol entered an alliance with Argos in the Republic, by which points could also be redeemed at Argos stores. It won Maxol the prestigious award for the best forecourt retailer initiative throughout the UK and Ireland from Forecourt Trader magazine. Presented at the Dorchester Hotel in London, the award acknowledged the promotion as ‘being at the forefront of forecourt loyalty technology and offering extremely good value in the face of stiff competition in the fuels market’.

Now that’s cricket.




Since the new millennium began twenty years ago, Maxol has confirmed its status as one of the foremost energy companies in Ireland. In Northern Ireland, it launched its award-winning Quality Assured Fuel campaign to combat fuel laundering in 2002. It now has the largest market share of any of the individual players in the north.

Maxol kept its head during the economic downturn of 2008–2014 and, buoyed by its alliances with the Mace and Spar brands, consolidated its ambition to become one of the most successful convenience retailers on the island of Ireland. Having freed itself from the burden of both its home heating venture and its rural depots, the company’s focus on fuel and convenience goods paved the way for its most successful era yet.[502]

The company has acquired many excellent new sites, including thirteen in Northern Ireland from Esso and three in Leinster from the short-lived Topaz. By 2016, many of these stations were handling upwards of 2.5 million litres (550,000 gallons) a year.  Sales for the two main Dublin sites at Mulhuddart and Sandyford in 2019 amounted to 10 million and 7 million litres (2.2 and 1.5 million gallons) respectively.[503] Since 2016, all company-owned stations are operated on a consignment basis.

In 2018 Maxol acquired the coveted contract to supply An Garda Síochána’s fleet, while Maxol Lubricants has likewise secured contracts with many of the islands’ biggest industries. As the company moves into its second century, it does so with an exciting joint venture with Evermore Energy, the renewable energy company, in place.




Caption: Maxol Direct sponsored the Belfast City Marathon from 2002 to 2005.


During the 1970s, Maxol had been one of the biggest home heating oil providers in Ireland, with trucks operating all over the country. Although the business was phased out in the early 1980s, there was a renewed interest in this sector as dawn broke on the twenty-first century.

In 2000, Maxol acquired a controlling interest in the family-owned business Connors Fuels Ltd of Mallusk, Newtownabbey, one of the biggest suppliers in Northern Ireland. As part of the deal, Maxol gifted half-full PointsPlus cards to the sixty-thousand households that Connors Fuels already supplied. A few months later, Maxol further increased its foothold in the north with the acquisition of Central Fuels Ltd in Ballymena. In 2003, Maxol bought the remaining interest in Connors Fuels and rebranded it Maxol Direct (NI) Ltd.[504] As well as investing in its call centre in Mallusk, the company pioneered the first in-cab technology to its fleet of thirty heating oil delivery trucks., enabling each driver to maintain direct contact with the call centre. Maxol Direct also sponsored the Belfast City Marathon from 2002 to 2005.

Maxol subsequently took a strategic decision to exit the home heating oil business because the economic rewards were insufficient. The core problem was that the demand for heating oil was entirely dependent on the conditions of each, relatively short, winter season.[505] The company was also confronted with a shortage of reliable distributors from 2005 when Phillips 66, the American multinational owner of the Whitegate Refinery, began distributing its own fuel.[506]

In 2011, Maxol Direct was sold to DCC Energy, a venture capital company, which rebranded it as Emo.[507] By 2014, Maxol had entirely removed itself from both the commercial and distributor market.

In September 2022, DCC Oil Ireland rebranded its six consumer brands – Emo, Campus Oil, Jones Oil, Certa, CC Lubricants and Source Lubricants – under the same umbrella brand, Certa.




The acquisition of Connors Fuels provided an opportunity to fundamentally change how Maxol’s fuel card business operated. The company now bunkered a portion of fuel at each individual site, which retailers were paid to look after and supply to any card-carrying customers who called to their site. This new Maxol ‘Fuelnet’ model enabled Maxol to offer much more competitive prices, as well as a single fixed price nationwide. From 2002, customers could also access their accounts online and thereby analyse data about their fleets, such as fuel consumption and mileage records.

Maxol Fuelnet won the Intertrade Ireland ‘Large Business –North & South’ category at the All Island Trade and Business Awards in May 2003. From its administrative base at Mallusk, the fuelcard evolved into the National Account Card (NAC). In 2006, Maxol teamed up with Texaco (now Valero) to allow each other’s cards on each other’s network, enabling them to compete with Topaz. Known today as Circle K, Topaz had by then combined the networks of five multinationals operating in Ireland (Statoil, BP, Shell, Jet and, eventually, Esso) under one umbrella.[508] The NAC network was later extended to include Top, Emo and some Applegreen stations. In 2018, Maxol secured the coveted fuelcard supply tender for An Garda Síochána’s 2,750-vehicle fleet.




In 2002, the UK’s National Audit Office published a report that suggested that 450 of the 700 petrol stations in Northern Ireland were selling illegal fuel. Combined with the loss incurred by drivers crossing the border to fill their cars with cheaper fuel, the British Exchequer reckoned it was down at least of £380 million. With legitimate fuel sales at an all-time low, and the black market thriving, the multinationals like Shell, BP and Texaco began to lose interest in Northern Ireland.

However, Maxol opted for another path by offering to help both the Revenue Commissioners in the Republic and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in Northern Ireland to trace all oils that crossed the border. In August 2002, Maxol launched its Quality Assured Fuel campaign, a pioneering concept whereby anyone who dealt in controlled oils had to be registered on a database that also detailed the arrival of any given fuel into the import terminal, where it came from and where it was bound. If your name was not on the database, you couldn’t deal in oils. The Quality Assured Fuel branding mark was a way to provide customers with ‘fuels you can trust’ and was so popular that most of Maxol’s competitors followed suit.

The campaign went on to win the Best Oil Company Initiative Award at the 2003 Forecourt Trader of the Year Awards, the petrol retailing industry’s most prestigious annual event. It also enabled the company to weed out dealers who were damaging to the brand’s reputability, especially those selling laundered product. Initially a paper-based system, the register was subsequently computerised.

The scheme was relaunched as ‘Fuels You Can Trust’ and introduced on an all-Ireland basis in 2011, which resulted in another accolade from Forecourt Trader. Maxol Lubricants launched ‘Lubricants You Can Trust’ in 2012, an initiative that further enhanced Maxol’s reputation in the marketplace.




Caption: Bertie Ahern, the then taoiseach, with Noel McMullan of Maxol (left), Eddie Murphy, managing director of Ford Ireland (filling the Ford Focus) and Dr Dennis Schuetzle, director of International Research and Technology with the Ford Motor Company,, at the launch of Maxol’s first E85 bio-ethanol fuelling pump at the Beech Road service station in Sandymount, Dublin, in October 2005.


Noel and Max McMullan had been exploring alternative, renewable energy sources since the early 1990s, taking on board the mounting concerns over greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

In 2005, Maxol collaborated with C B Fuels to launch E85, Ireland’s first bio-ethanol fuel, which was made by blending 85 per cent ethanol with 15 per cent petrol. The ethanol was obtained from Carbery Milk Products in Ballineen, County Cork, the largest cheese-producing facility in Ireland, where the surplus whey, or off-cuts, was converted into ethanol.[509] Clean and environmentally friendly, E85’s downside was that it could only be used in flexible-fuel vehicles (FFV), whose engines were factory adapted for it. It also had a slightly lower energy content than gasoline. To compensate for the reduced fuel economy, the Irish government made E85 excise-free, so that oil companies could sell it at a lower price, and the VAT on the fuel could also be reclaimed.

E85 proved so popular that Maxol installed special pumps on twenty-eight of their forecourts. Companies like Ford, Volvo and Saab also started selling FFVs in Ireland and, by 2007, the country was the third best-selling market for bioethanol cars in Europe, behind Sweden and France.[510] E85 remained on the forecourt until 2011 when, following the introduction of the Biofuels Obligation Scheme, the cash-strapped government removed the fuel’s excise-free status, making it unsustainably expensive.

In 2007, Maxol also replaced its unleaded fuel with E5, a blend of 95 per cent petrol and 5 per cent ethanol that could be used in all petrol cars. That same year, Maxol Oil Ltd launched B5, one of the first biodiesel grades in Northern Ireland. In recent years, Maxol has continued to reduce its carbon footprint through the introduction of initiatives such as water wells, solar panels, energy efficient lighting, rainwater collection and low energy refrigeration units.




Caption: Business and political leaders at the spring 2008 meeting in Belfast of the IBEC-CBI Joint Business Council in Stormont. From left to right: Tom Noonan, incoming IBEC president; Brian Ambrose, chairman, CBI Northern Ireland; First Minister Dr Ian Paisley; Len O’Hagan, chairman, Belfast Harbour Commissioners and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.


The process of the phasing out of company depots began when the solus system arrived in the 1950s, and accelerated with productivity and the development of bigger, company-owned stations in the 1960s. In Northern Ireland, the firm came under pressure from 2005 when the Londonderry Coal Company (LCC) built a series of large, state-of-the-art tanks along the banks of the River Foyle in Derry from which they were wholesaling oil to anybody who drove in with a truck.

The Maxol Oil head office was transferred from Belfast Harbour to Mallusk in 2004 from where it continues to support distribution across Northern Ireland and County Donegal. Bobby Hueston, who succeeded Roy Pollitt as Maxol’s distribution manager in 1995, also oversaw the return of the Old Channel Road depot to the Harbour Commissioners in 2004 and the closure of Omagh, the last of the Ulster depots.

Having succeeded Denis Field to become group distribution manager in 2004, Bobby Hueston oversaw the closing down of the company’s unprofitable operations at the port in Drogheda, as well as the depots in New Ross and Limerick. Simon Purcell was the last driver to operate out of the New Ross depot. By the time Bobby stepped down in 2009, Maxol’s sole surviving depots were at Mallusk and East Wall in Dublin Port, while the remaining Maxol Ltd operations had been centralised to function from the Maxol Group’s headquarters in Dublin.

From 1964 until 2016, Maxol Oil Ltd usually obtained its fuel from the BP storage terminal (now owned by Puma Energy), which occupies fifty-three acres between George Best Belfast City Airport and Belfast Harbour.[511] Since 2017, Maxol Oil Ltd has sourced its fuel from a new terminal, also in Belfast Harbour, now run by Inter Terminals UK Ltd.[512] In the Republic, approximately 35 per cent of Maxol’s fuel requirement was supplied by the refinery at Whitegate in Cork Harbour until 2018.[513]

Despite some fluctuations, the price of oil has remained largely unchanged since the 1979 oil crisis. And yet it is vulnerable, as seen in the wake of the Abqaiq–Khurais attack in 2019 on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, which prompted the biggest jump in global prices since the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by wiping out 5.7m barrels of production a day – 5 per cent of the world’s oil supply. Although pump prices do follow those of crude oil, there is generally a ten-day lag before any variables impact on pump prices, allowing the market to stabilise. It is also worth stating that in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, about 65 per cent of the pump price for fuel is government tax.




Maxol’s intentions to expand were apparent from the start of the millennium when it considered buying Burmah Castrol’s Irish operations after the British oil business was bought by BP in 2000.[514]

In 2002, Maxol strengthened its position in the west of Ireland when it bought Estuary Fuels, a small but successful Limerick-based distributor with a sea-fed oil terminal on the Shannon at Foynes and a retail chain of forty-two service stations.[515] Estuary enjoyed particularly robust sales of domestic, agricultural and industrial fuels, aka middle distillate products, as well as home heating oil. The acquisition meant that Maxol’s annual oil sales now exceeded one billion litres (220 million gallons) for the first time, while it also increased the company’s network of stations to 380 and its portfolio of authorised distributors to 50. By the close of the year, the company was starting to roll out new gantries, or signage, to its refitted sites, freshening up its image, with the aim of appealing to the increasing number of younger people, especially women, who were driving onto its forecourts.

While the lion’s share of the home heating business was sold off in 2005, another golden year followed when Maxol acquired thirteen Esso sites in Northern Ireland in exchange for three long-standing stations in the Republic at Palmerston, Dublin Airport and North Road, Drogheda.[516] Completed in 2006, the purchase increased the number of company-owned stations in Northern Ireland to forty-one, and Maxol’s market share in that region to almost 20 per cent. A project to update and expand the new stations, complete with Spar shops, commenced immediately. Most of these sites now trade under the Maxol brand.

In 2009 Maxol opened negotiations to buy out one of its large multinational rivals, a move that would have increased its market share in the Republic to 20 per cent. At length, with the recession beginning to bite, the company instead opted to focus on tightening the belt and consolidating.[517]

Since 2012, the company has been considerably extending its network across Ireland with the acquisition and opening of 23 new service stations, as well as the acquisition of land adjoining existing stations in order to future proof those sites by allowing room for extensions to building and increased car parking. The company simultaneously sold off miscellaneous assets within its portfolio that were identified as either not fit for purpose or that had planning permission restrictions.

Among the sites acquired in recent years were three prominent stations at Long Mile Road and Greenhills in south Dublin, and at Kill on the N7 (Naas Road) in County Kildare.[518] The three stations had recently been bought from Esso by Topaz Energy Ltd, the petroleum company established by Irish telecommunications billionaire Denis O’Brien, which, having taken over BP and Jet in the 1990s, had also taken control of both Statoil and Irish Shell in 2005.[519] In 2014, Topaz purchased thirty-eight Esso stations, making the company the biggest player in the Irish market.[520] The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission subsequently intervened, insisting that Topaz sell those three stations to Maxol. Shortly after Maxol acquired the stations in 2016, Topaz was sold to Canada’s Couche-Tard Group, which relaunched its sites under the Circle K brand in 2018.[521]

As of July 2021, 141 of Maxol’s 242 stations are in the Republic while the remaining 101 (including 7 under licence to the Henderson Group) are in Northern Ireland. At present, a total of 112 of the sites are company-owned, with 81 in the Republic and 32 in the North.

Owning its sites gives Maxol full control as it not only eliminates the high rent roll that other companies are faced with, but also allows them to take a longer-term view on investment strategy. [522] The acquisition and disposal of company-owned property is the remit of Maxol director Thomas McMullan, a son of Max McMullan. Thomas spent his formative years with the company in Belfast, before moving to Dublin where he worked for periods in development, publicity, accounts and IT. He has also travelled much of the country, looking at potential new sites and helping in the recruitment of new licensees to manage the existing ones.




One happy consequence of the 2009 deliberations over a potential expansion was a comprehensive brand audit, which culminated in the creation of a new logo and company colours by Neworld Associates of Harold’s Cross, Dublin 12.[523]

Neworld’s brief was to develop a symbol for Maxol with which people could build a relationship. Recognising Maxol’s indomitable, old-fashioned community spirit during the Celtic Tiger years, which was echoed in its grocery stores, Neworld homed in on Maxol’s sense of being ‘at the heart of it all’. This served as the guiding light as the new ‘brio’ or logo was created – it combines the idea of people from all walks of life coming together with the idea that Maxol is constantly evolving, bringing new ideas and innovations to their customers. To give the brand a more vibrant contemporary feel, Neworld also used a much brighter colour palette to compliment the already existing Maxol Blue.

Launched at Maxol’s biannual retailers’ conference at Killashee House, Naas, County Kildare, in April 2012, the rebrand was an opportune morale boost in time of deep recession. Two months later, Maxol’s first newly branded site opened at Adamstown, Dublin, after which the colours were rolled out across over 230 forecourts on the island of Ireland.




In October 2014, Maxol’s board recognised that with Tom Noonan, the CEO, just two years away from retirement, changes were required at the top level. Thomas and Barry McMullan, representing the fourth generation of the family, were invited to join the board, Thomas was responsible for the groups property portfolio while Barry managed its fuel card business.

The directors also promoted Brian Donaldson from chief operating officer to group general manager and, upon Tom Noonan’s retirement in 2016, Brian became CEO. He is responsible for overseeing the day to day running of the Maxol Group while, in his former roles, he helped develop the group’s extensive retail network, marketing and PR activities. He has lobbied successive governments on fuel duty, tax and planning, and is director of the Irish Petroleum Industry Association, director of the International Board for NACS and chairman of Retail Ireland.




From 1980 until recent times, Maxol’s model for operating its service stations was based around independent operators, known as licensees. The licensee purchased fuel from the company on a wholesale basis and then sold it on to the motorist. This model was hampered by the fact that licensees required significant working capital to fund fuel purchases, thus reducing the number of site operators able to fit the profile. The model also prevented the company from setting the retail pump price for its fuel.
In 2012, Maxol addressed these challenges by initiating a trial of a new model on eight sites: Maxol retained ownership of the fuel, selling it directly to the motorist, and paying a commission to the licensee for every litre sold at that site. The fuel card business had already been operating on this basis for over a decade.  Additional checks, balances and controls were now implemented at the sites where Maxol was responsible for the stock at the forecourt as well as card payments.

The trial was a complete success on every front. In 2016, Maxol took the formal decision to make consignment the standard mode of operation for all company-owned stations. The business swiftly converted the entirety of its company-owned estate to consignment, while also developing an amended model for use on dealer-owned sites. Since its introduction, consignment has helped transform the returns available to the business from fuel, its original product line.




Caption: Irish rugby star Paul O’Connell with Brian Donaldson, CEO of Maxol, and radio presenter Sarah McInerney at the 2018 Maxol Retail Conference, K Club, Straffan, Co. Kildare.


Maxol’s first unmanned twenty-four-hour pay-at-the-pump service station opened on the Saintfield Road, Carryduff, County Down, in 2011, under the auto24 brand. Five more automated stations subsequently opened in Northern Ireland: at Andersonstown Road, Belfast; Bridge End, Belfast; Whitehouse, Newtownabbey; Hazelbank, Whiteabbey; and Belmont, Holywood Road, Belfast. Today, the company’s ten fully automated stations includes three in the Republic: at Dublin Road, Sutton, Dublin 13; Trinity Street, Wexford; and Westside, Galway.

In April 2016, Maxol opened its biggest station in the Republic of Ireland at Mulhuddart, just off the M3, in north-west Dublin. Designed by Niall Montgomery & Partners and built by Weslin Construction, the station was named ‘Ireland’s Best Forecourt’ at the 2017 Irish Forecourt and Convenience Retailer Awards.[524] It also won an Honourable Mention at the prestigious 2017 NACS International Convenience Retailer of the Year Awards.

2017 also saw the opening of two more award-winning stations: at Tannaghmore on the A26 near Ballymena, County Antrim, and at Ballycoolin on the Corduff Road in north Dublin. Tannaghmore, Maxol’s biggest station in Northern Ireland, scored arguably the company’s most prestigious prize to date when it won ‘UK Forecourt of the Year’ at the annual Forecourt Trade Awards in 2018. The station also won ‘Best Service Station, Northern Ireland, over 4 million litres per annum’ at the same awards – a nod to the cutting-edge technology it uses to harness solar energy and harvest rainwater. Maxol Mulkerns Eurospar in Newry also picked up the award for ‘Best Food-To-Go Outlet’.

The future of the forecourt, electric cars, environmental matters and the increasingly demanding customer base were the key topics under discussion at Maxol’s biannual conference at the K-Club in County Kildare in 2018. With ‘Winning tomorrow’s customers together’ as it’s guiding motto, this was the biggest conference to date in the company’s history.[525]

In 2019 the stations at Enniscorthy (County Wexford), Clarecastle (County Mayo) and Glenabbey (by the Sandyknowes roundabout outside Belfast) were entirely revamped and refitted, while stations at Dolphin’s Barn, Ballinteer, Sandyford, Harold’s Cross, Turvey, Mespil Road, Lucan and Adamstown are among the Dublin sites to have been completely redeveloped.[526] Pay-at-pump facilities are increasingly important while the company is also well advanced in developing its mobile payment technology, removing the need for traditional card readers.

Forty years ago, most people went to a petrol station simply to put fuel in their vehicles or possibly to buy some oil or some bulbs for their headlights. That experience has completely changed, with stations increasingly reimagining themselves as spacious and welcoming food emporiums for today’s shop-and-go customers. As cars become more computer-like, the ideas of pre-ordering food and loyalty offers become more pertinent, just as automated pay-at-pump facilities, cloud-enabled forecourts and solar-powered charging stations are likely to become standard.

And yet customer behaviour is always changing. For instance, until technology makes the charging process much quicker, the advent of electric cars has introduced a new type of customer who is required, or inclined, to wait at the station while their vehicle charges. Who knows how this will impact the future of the forecourt as customer expectations evolve? Will there be farmers’ markets? Pop-up fashion boutiques? Hairdressers? No matter which way the future turns, customers will always require food. 




One hundred years after the foundation of the company, almost fifty per cent of Maxol’s profit now comes from non-fuel sales, primarily convenience foods and beverages.[527] Since 1996 the company has enjoyed a fruitful relationship with BWG Foods, the grocery wholesaler, which presently holds the Mace, Londis and Spar franchise in the Republic of Ireland.[528] By 2002, there were seventy Mace stores on the forecourts of Maxol stations across Ireland, serving an increasingly extensive range of food-to-go, or ‘dashboard dining’ as it became known in the USA. Maxol renewed its partnership with BWG in 2007 and the partnership reached a peak over the next five years when BWG supplied 80 Maxol stations under the Mace brand.

In Northern Ireland, the pressure to provide a quality shop at petrol stations had mounted due to a dramatic change in the retail landscape in the 1990s. Paradoxically, the indigenous retail business in Northern Ireland had been protected by the Troubles as the multinationals were wary of entering such a market. For a long time, Marks & Spencer was the only major British retail chain to operate in Belfast. This had changed with the onset of the peace process and, in 1995, Sainsbury’s and Tesco both opened branches in Northern Ireland, rapidly taking a large chunk of the retail market.[529] Stewart’s and Wellworths, the two biggest Northern Irish supermarket chains, were both bought out in 1997 by Tesco and the Musgrave Group respectively, although some of Wellworths’ bigger stores were run as Safeway Stores (Ireland) until 2005 when they were absorbed into Asda.

Maxol entered the Northern Irish retail field in 2005 when the thirteen stations they acquired from Esso were redeveloped to include Spar stores, following a deal with John Henderson Holdings, the Agnew family-owned group that held the Northern Irish franchise for Spar, Eurospar and Vivo. Maxol also had Mace stores at seventeen Northern Irish stations, following a deal struck in 1996 with J&J Haslett, who held the Mace franchise in the region. Another two Northern Ireland stations had stores under the Centra brand, while the remaining nine Northern Irish stations had smaller stores, branded under Maxol QuickServe, that were also supplied by J&J Haslett.

As part of its strategy to become less fuel-centric, Maxol has been focusing on its own non-fuel brands since 2012, when they first introduced the hybrid Maxol-Mace branding to stores that had previously been exclusively Mace. As it secured more and more control over what it stocked, Maxol launched its new Moreish fresh food brand into twenty-five company-owned stations over the course of 2014. The campaign, which included a partnership with Bewley’s for coffee and tea, won ‘Best Oil Company Initiative’ at Ireland’s Forecourt & Convenience Awards 2015. [530]

In 2013, Maxol’s €6 million station at Sandyford caught the eye of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS). The station was shortlisted for the NACS Insight International Convenience Retailer of the Year Award at the 2013 NACS show in London, while Brian Donaldson was invited to deliver a talk, which was entitled ‘Successfully Repositioning the Maxol Brand’, at the same event. Given that the NACS show is the premier event of the year for the convenience and fuel retailing industry, this was another massive confidence booster for Maxol. Built by Manley Construction, Sandyford’s accolade as one of the best convenience stores in the world also led to a high-profile visit to Sandyford by a group from all over the world, including representatives from Wawa Inc, an American convenience store and petrol station chain.

The company has also teamed up with Aramark, a global specialist in food service, which holds the licence for the stations at Newbridge, Clarecastle, Tannaghmore, Ballycoolin, Whitestrand and N7 Kill. The partnership paid rich dividends in 2021 when Maxol Newbridge won the inaugural Best of the Best Store award at the annual NACS European Convenience Retail Awards. Two of the Maxol-Aramark stations also won major awards in 2018 – ‘Forecourt of the Year’ for Tannaghmore at the Forecourt Trader Awards, and ‘Best Food To Go Offering’ for Ballycoolin at Checkout Magazine’s ‘Best in Fresh’ Awards. One of Tannaghmore’s star attractions is a Ground Espresso Bar, run as a franchise by Northern Ireland’s largest independently owned artisan coffee chain, while the Ballycoolin station is home to a Freshly Chopped salad bar, O’Brien’s Sandwich Cafe, Abrakebabra and the Bagel Factory, as well as Insomnia’s first drive-thru in Ireland.

Throughout 2019, sites across the southern network were refurbished and enhanced with the new Maxol store image, with evermore sophisticated services, plentiful seating for customers and an ever-widening choice of high-quality food and grocery offerings. The company is now focusing on Maxol own-label products such as milk, pre-pack salads and sandwiches, firelighters, fire logs and other items.[531] Since 2013, the company has made a sizeable investment in purchasing 21 off-licences in the Republic to run alongside its 41 existing wine licences.[532] All upgraded stations have ATM bank machines and free Wi-Fi while over thirty Maxol stations now offer a simple, cashless, drive-in car wash.




Folder 6: Rosa Coffee


Given that Maxol sold 4.35M cups of freshly-brewed coffee in 2018, and that the coffee-to-go market is forecasted to be worth €176M in 2020, the company understandably opted to launch its own exclusive coffee brand – ROSA – in October 2018. Roasted in Ireland, the exclusive blend contains 100 per cent Fairtrade Arabica coffee beans.

Maxol was among the first retailers to offer 100 per cent compostable cups and lids, and it has installed composting and recycling bins across its network of service stations to support customers’ recycling efforts.

Since 2017, Maxol has run an eight-week Christmas campaign, donating 10 cents (or 10 pence in Northern Ireland) to Aware, its charity partner, for every cup of ROSA coffee, tea or other hot drink purchased in any of their stores. By the close of 2019, Maxol had raised just over €400,000 for the charity, which provides support, education and information for people impacted by depression, bipolar disorder and mental health conditions. The campaign was highly commended in the ‘Best Oil Initiative’ category at the 2018 Forecourt Trade Awards.  Jacob Stockdale, Maxol’s brand ambassador and the Irish rugby team’s 6’ 3” winger, was on hand to support the 2019 campaign.




Image 7: Robin McKenna (Orlaith Rafter) and Jimmy Doyle (David Mitchell) in Fair City

Caption: Maxol Lubricants enjoyed a promotional spell on the long-running RTÉ soap opera Fair City, when their branding appeared all over Jimmy Doyle’s garage, as per this scene with Jimmy (David Mitchell) and his part-time lover Robin McKenna (Orlaith Rafter).


Since the century began, Maxol Lubricants has developed into one of the biggest suppliers in Ireland. It sells over fourteen million litres (three million gallons) annually, offering upwards of a hundred and fifty different grades. All of its synthetic oils are imported from Holland and, to a lesser extent, Belgium and Italy. They are packaged in oil drums brought in from Holland and France.[533] Their biggest distributors are Michael and Denis Ryan of Clonakilty, West Cork.

In the south of the country, the company specialised in supplying the agricultural sector, with clients such as the Kerry Group and Dairygold.[534] It has also supplied ESB Networks with all of its oil, greases and antifreezes since 2009. From 2011 to 2016, Maxol Lubricants were the main supplier of lubricants to the Irish Naval Fleet at Haulbowline, County Cork, servicing LÉ Aoife and the seven other vessels that patrolled Ireland’s one million square kilometres of sea at the time.

Many of the oils sold are hydraulic, particularly those to ‘big machine’ industries such as Aughinish Alumina in County Limerick and Tara Mines in Navan, County Meath. The scale of industrial engineering increases as one journeys north through Ireland, with two of the Republic’s biggest factories being Combilift in County Monaghan (the world’s fifteenth biggest forklift truck manufacturer in 2019) and Cargotec of Dundalk. Maxol Lubricants supplies the ‘factory fill’ – or ‘first fill’ – of oil for the machines that leave these depots for destinations around the world.

Across the border in Northern Ireland, the company supplies fuel to heavy engineering firms involved in quarrying and mining, such as the Terex Corporation and McCloskey Engineering. One company uses in excess of a million litres of hydraulic oil a year.

In the transport sector, the biggest seller is engine oil for trucks. Some of these new oils allow for ninety-thousand kilometres of travel without an oil change, despite the formidable amount of movement and thrashing around of the pistons involved in such journeys. In 2005, the company introduced Maxol AdBlue, an aqueous urea solution that helps reduce emissions in diesel engines.[535] It has proved extremely popular with trucks as well as Dublin Bus and Translink Northern Ireland.

In 2021, Maxol Lubricants employed twenty-five people, including four reps.





Folder 8 – Rally Cars

Caption: Austin MacHale’s rally car makes a special pit stop at a Maxol service station to promote the 2004 Garage of the Year Awards.


Maxol has been a patron of rally driving in Ireland since the 1920s. In the present century it has enjoyed a number of fruitful collaborations with Irish rally champions. They have had a close bond to the MacHale family from Rathcoole, County Dublin, since 1988 when they sponsored Austin MacHale’s Opal Manta 400, in which he triumphed at the Carling International Rally of the Lakes in Killarney. Between 2004 and 2006, Maxol Lubricants Ltd sponsored Austin and his Ford Focus WRC03.[536] The five-time Irish Tarmac Rally Champion was the runner-up in the British Rally Championship in 2003, 2004 and 2005, while his navigator Brian Murphy was crowned co-drivers’ champion in 2004.

During 2006 and 2007, Maxol also sponsored Austin MacHale’s sons Gareth and Aaron. Gareth, a point scorer at the World Rally Championships, finished sixth overall at Rally México 2006. Aaron made his British Championship debut at the Jim Clark Rally in 2003, being the youngest driver in the event, and he went on to win the 2007 Irish National Rally Championship in a Maxol Ford Focus WRC 05.

In 2007, all three MacHales competed in the inaugural Rally Ireland, part of the World Rally Championship organised by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile. It was the first and, to date, the only time that three members from one family have competed in a world championship event.

Since 2008 Maxol has been the main sponsor of rally driver Joseph McGonigle, who currently runs the Maxol Service Station in Muff, County Donegal that his parents opened in 1998. Joe is a three-time Irish Tarmac Championship class winner and has enjoyed outright rally wins every year since 2015, including back-to-back wins in Derry’s Turkey Run Rally in 2018 and 2019.

The McGonigle’s connection to Maxol runs back to 1998 when they were signed up by Ronnie Downey, the area manager for North Antrim, Tyrone, Londonderry and Donegal. He had put them on a ten-year contract but offered to break it if they sold so many litres in that time. The McGonigles of Muff amazingly hit the target in just two years. Ronnie Downey, who started work as the Omagh depot manager in 1961, was acclaimed by his contemporaries for his dedication to the job. ‘Ronnie just wanted every filling station in his region to be Maxol,’ marvels Jean Vance.


Image: Ronnie Downey’s retirement party in 2005. Ronnie joined the company as a clerk at the Derry depot in March 1961 and retired as Maxol Oil Ltd’s dealer regional manager in July 2005, having had specific responsibility for the North West and Donegal region. Over 150 retailers and guests attended his retirement party at the Water-Margin Restaurant, Coleraine. Pictured left to right: Tom Noonan, CEO); Des Duffy, retail manager; Barbara Downey; Ronnie Downey; Brian Donaldson, general manager – marketing & retail; and Hugh Booth, retail administration manager.




Folder 9: Jacob Stockdale / Joe Schmidt

Caption: Former Irish international rugby coach Joe Schmidt at the 2014 Maxol Retail Conference, Carton House, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, with Tom Noonan, CEO and Brian Donaldson, Group General Manager.


2021 will mark Maxol’s twenty-ninth year as sponsor of the Irish Universities Rugby Union, a series of multi-grade competitions consisting of the Dudley Cup (senior), the Kay Bowen Cup (ladies), the Conroy Cup (under 20’s) and  the Maughan-Scally Cup (junior). The company has also sponsored the Maxol Ulster Mini Rugby Festivals since 2013. The competition involves over seventy primary schools and some fifteen hundred boys and girls aged between six and twelve. Only one mini-festival took place in 2020; the second was cancelled due to bad weather in February and Covid-19 put paid to the rest.

Maxol’s long association with rugby has continued to the present day with the 2019 appointment of Jacob Stockdale as its first-ever brand ambassador, while Tommy Bowe launched Colin and Eugene Fee’s revamped Maxol Mace on the Dublin Road, Dundalk, in 2016. Guests of honour at the recent biannual Maxol Conferences have included Joe Schmidt (2016) and Paul O’Connell (2018).[537]




Maxol has always had a healthy respect for groundbreaking concepts. In May 2020, the month of its centenary celebrations, the company announced an exciting new technology venture called ‘Bright,’ Ireland’s first digital renewable energy supply company, providing simpler, cheaper and greener energy for domestic customers across the island.

Bright sources electricity from Ireland’s pooled market, itself supplied by a combination of wind farms, hydro-plants and solar. To administer the supply of energy to households and businesses, as well as electricity for battery-powered cars, Bright will use and develop the leanest, smartest and latest available technology. In addition to a customer focused mobile app and website, they will offer first-rate customer service and one simple, variable, clean energy tariff scheme to all customers.

Bright is a collaboration with Evermore, a renewable energy generation company, which, like Maxol, is an Irish, family-owned business. It was founded in 2011 by Ciaran and Stephen Devine, two entrepreneurial brothers from North West Ireland with a strong commercial streak in their blood. Educated at Limavady Grammar School, the brothers both studied business in universities in Belfast. [538]  Ciaran subsequently qualified as a stockbroker and financial adviser with Edward Jones in London while Stephen joined KPMG in Belfast and completed his MBA. In 2010, the siblings began to discuss their increasing interest in renewable energy and how it might play out in Northern Ireland.[539]

At length, they both left their employment to undertake extensive research into the area before conceptualizing a power station that could use woodchip as its primary fuel source. By 2016, their original idea had grown into the largest renewable energy power station in Ireland, with the opening of Evermore Energy’s £83 million biomass plant at Lisahally outside the city of Derry. Not only was it Northern Ireland’s first biomass, or woodchip-fuelled power station, but it also marked the largest private investment in the North West for over a decade. [540]

Operated by Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor, one of the world’s leading power plant providers, Lisahally now provides electricity for over thirty thousand homes and businesses. Over the course of its twenty-year lifetime, the 16MW Combined Heat and Power plant is expected to use some two million tonnes of recycled wood, which was otherwise earmarked for landfill, to boost Northern Ireland’s renewable energy by about 10 per cent. Evermore Energy’s ambition is to dramatically reduce Northern Ireland’s carbon footprint through a combination of generation and storage projects.[541]

The Devine brothers and two other family members are co-owners of the award-winning McGrory’s Hotel in Culdaff, Co Donegal. The hotel and its celebrated music venue are part of a building that was originally bought in 1924 by John McGrory, the Devine’s great-grandfather, who set it up as a general store. It was successfully developed and expanded by two generations of the McGrory family. In 2019, John and Sally McKenna named McGrory’s as one of ‘The Best 100 Places in Ireland’.[542]

In 2021, the Maxol Group took full control of Bright after Ciaran and Stephen Devine sold their shares in the company to Maxol. This allowed the brothers to concentrate on new projects, as well as the Lisnahally plant, while they remained with the management team to ensure the continued smooth running of the business during the transition period.

Maxol’s green energy venture is part of its transition from fossil fuels to renewables. It is also indicative of Maxol’s status as a progressive firm, one that has never been afraid to change direction in order to improve the experience of its customers, the quality of its offering and its impact on the wider landscape of the island where the Maxol story began one hundred years ago.





The creation of this book has involved the assistance of an enormous number of people from far and wide. I would like to offer special thanks to Noel McMullan, an immense fount of knowledge on the history of the company, who was also my trusty companion on numerous missions around Ireland to meet with past employees of the firm. Noel supplied me with a constant stream of company archives and family papers, including a record of his interview with Clifford McAnuff, the first company secretary, who died aged 101 in 1999. In addition, in March 2018, Noel placed a request for information in the Sunday Independent which drew a very positive response.

I take my hat off to the principal interviewees, namely John Brady, Joe Brannigan, Joe Byrne, Ciaran Devine, Stephen Devine, Brian Donaldson, Frank Dormer, the late Austin Hastings, John Holmes, Bobby Hueston, Barry McMullan, the late Malcolm McMullan, Max McMullan, Thomas McMullan, Tom Noonan, Dave O’Loughlin, Simon Purcell, John Quirke, Brian Torrens, John Turner, Jean Vance and Millie Walsh.

Thank you to Helen Wright for her eagle-eyed editorial brilliance; to the designer Graham Thew for his superb layout of these words and images; to Gary Belcher for his steady hand on the camera; to Ally Bunbury for her splendid administration; to Fiona Fitzsimons and Helen Moss of Eneclann (, Maria O’Brien (, Allison Murphy and Sheila McCarthy for additional research on the McMullan family; to Sue McIntyre for the delicious coffee and for diligently sourcing so many images; to Adam Pozner for providing the index; to Don Hawthorn for his splendid attention to detail; and to Leah Foley (, who painstakingly transcribed each interview.

Thanks also to Eddie Geoghegan (Araltas) for the McMullan crest; to Frank Dormer for his persistent counsel in the face of technological meltdowns; to Jim Murphy for the Dundalk FC photos; to Caroline Burton, Paul Cran, Michael McCumiskey (PGA Ireland), Dan Harvey, Pat Kinsley (Neworld), Pat Meehan, Bob Montgomery (archivist, Guinness Segrave Library, RIAC), Owen O’Neill, Patricia Wright Gossip, Jim Kerry (Brother Vianney) and his brother, Kelvin Kerr, for their vital thoughts; to Tom Noonan for his detailed memories of his long service with Maxol; to Austin and Lucy Hastings for their scrumptious strawberry wine; to Raymond Walls of the Motoring Memories Heritage Museum; to Brendan McCoy for his fabulous vehicle-identifying skills; to Therese Murphy whose husband Michael Murphy first started work for Maxol as a boy helper in their Longford depot at the age of 15; to John Corri and his father George, who also started as a helper aged 15; and to Hugh Oram who kindly put this project my way.

Thanks also to Brian Bailie (, Pat Beary, Alec Bell, Daryl Birkett (Upper Ards Historical Society), Alice Boyle, Sean Boyne, Sheelagh Brooks, Andrew Bunbury, Chris Carter, Simon Chawner, Liam Clarke, Seamus Counihan, Alastair H. B. B. Crampton, John Creelman, Patrick Daly, Andrew Davidson, Stephen Davison, Angélique Day (Donaghadee Historical Research Group), John Denning, George Dennison, Wilson Dennison, Dermot and Mary Dillane, Laurence Donegan, Andrew Dunne, Belinda Evangelista (Apollo), Bryce Evans (Plato’s Cave), Rory Everard, Aubrey Fee (Ards Historical Society), William Fennell, Matthew Forde, Jonny Geber, Sharmon George, Larry Gilmore, Gary Gleeson, Billy Goff, Paul Gorry (Accredited Genealogists Ireland),  Lavinia Greacen, Maureen Green, Colin Greene, Siobhan Grimes, Lynne Hackett (IBEC), John Hadnett, John Hanlon, Michael and Adelaide Hanlon, Rebecca Hayes, Henry Hodgson, John Horan (Maxol Castledermot), Charles Horton, John Hynes, Hugo Jellett, Arthur Johnson, Sue Jones, David Kennedy, Barry Kehoe, Matthew Lloyd, Clifford McAnuff, Lance McAnuff, Walter MacAuley, Aaron MacHale, Austin MacHale, Hugh McAtamney, Jamie McCallum (Portmanteau), Cllr Kieran McCarthy (‘Our City, Our Town’, Cork Independent), Stephen McCormack (for his IT counsel), Peter McGoldrick, David McMullan, Howard McMullan, Michael McMullan, the late Roy McMullan, Mary Melvin, Bill Montgomery, Miriam Moore, Terry Mulkerns, Michael and Therese Murphy, Wendy Neish, Isabella Rose Nolan, Philip Nolan, Teresa Noone (Society of the Irish Motor Industry), Ed O’Brien, Paul O’Connell, Cóilín Ó Drisceoil (Kilkenny Archaeology), James O’Fee, John Onions, Dorothy O’Tuama, Nicolas Power, Richard Power, Dr Albert Pratt, Charlie Raben, Pat Regan, Stanley Ridgeway, Frank Robinson, Meda Ryan, Joe Schmidt, Jim Shanaghan, Gerard Siggins, the late Billy Simpson, Jessica Slingsby, Jacob Stockdale, Greg Swail, Tom Sykes, John Taylor, Simon Thomas, Kerry Tinman, Pat Towey, Bernard Turner, Joanna Turner, Tony Wall, Jane Whelan and James Wrighteous. 




Much of the content for this book comes from the interviews I conducted with over twenty Maxol directors, staff and management. I was also given completely free rein to use material from the existing Maxol archives, which include a healthy amount of data from the formative years of the company to the present day, including internal memoranda, correspondence, reports, press releases, newsletters and magazines such as Mex Motor Magazine, The Bugle and the Maxol Independent.


Magazines and Newspapers


For the nitty-gritty detail that gives a book like this its humanity, I salute the online Irish News Archive and British News Archive, which has made trawling through newspaper archives such a joyous and fruitful experience. Much of what appears in this book has been fished from the pages of archived newspapers such as the Anglo-Celt, Armagh Standard, Ballymena Observer, Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, Banner of Ulster, Belfast Morning News, Belfast News Letter,  Belfast Telegraph, Carlow Nationalist, Drogheda Argus and Leinster Journal, Drogheda Independent, Dublin Daily Express, Dublin Evening Telegraph, Evening Herald, Freeman’s Journal, Freemason’s Magazine, Illustrated London News, Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, Incorporated Law Society Gazette, Irish Examiner, Irish Independent, Irish Press, Irish Times, Kerryman, Leinster Express, Leinster Leader, Londonderry Sentinel, Longford Leader, Mid-Ulster Mail, New Ross Standard, Newry Reporter,  Northern Whig and Belfast Post, Portadown News, Reading Evening Post, Sligo Champion, Sunday Business Post, Sunday Independent, Sunday Tribune, Ulster Examiner and Northern Star, Ulster Business, Ulster Gazette and Waterford Standard.


Specialist Magazines


  • Business and Finance (16 November 1978)
  • Cartel, Vol. 11–12 (International Co-operative Alliance, 1961)
  • Forecourt Retail and Convenience Store (August 1996)
  • Irish Builder, 62 (19 Jun 1920); 69 (26 Nov 1927)
  • Incorporated Law Society Gazette (November 1986)
  • Irish Family Roots, Vol. 1, No. 8
  • Irish Horse, Vol. 12 (1944)
  • Law Society Gazette (Aug./Sept. 2005)
  • Oil and Gas International Year Book, Financial Times, p. 370 (1971)
  • Pharmaceutical Journal and Pharmacist
  • Petroleum Times, Vol. 58 (1954); Vol. 64 (1960); Vol. 72 (1968)
  • Petroleum Press Service (1969)
  • The Chemist and Druggist: The Newsweekly for Pharmacy, Vol. 89 (1917); Vol. 122 (1935)


Directories, Lists & Censuses


  • 1901 and 1911 Census at
  • Griffith’s Valuation (1863)
  • Timber Trades Journal & Saw-mill Advertiser, Vol. 65 (W. Rider & Son, Limited, 1909).
  • 1924 Belfast Street Directory
  • 1932 Belfast Street Directory
  • Lloyd’s List and Shipping Gazette
  • Thom’s Directory (1931)
  • Stock Exchange Official Year-book (1944)
  • Statesman’s Year-Book (1962)




  • Brodie, Malcolm. The Tele: A History of the Belfast Telegraph (Blackstaff Press, 1995).
  • Bryan, Ciarán. ‘Rationing in Emergency Ireland, 1939–48’, PhD Thesis, Department of History, National University of Ireland Maynooth (September 2014).
  • Bud-Frierman, L., A. Godley and J. Wale. Weetman Pearson in Mexico and the Emergence of a British Oil Major, 1901–1919 (2010).
  • Chandler, jr, Alfred D. Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism (Harvard University Press, 1994).
  • Corcoran, Mary P. and Perry Share, Belongings: Shaping Identity in Modern Ireland (Institute of Public Administration, 2008).
  • Craig, J., F. Gerali, F. MacAulay and R. Sorkhabi, eds. History of the European Oil and Gas Industry (Geological Society of London, 2018).
  • Dublin Military Service Pensions, File No. 24SP9487.
  • Duggan, John P. A History of the Irish Army (Gill and Macmillan, 1991).
  • Ellis Jones, P. ‘Petroleum retailing after the Monopolies Report: the challenges of the 1990s’; papers presented at a conference organised by the Energy Economics Group on 6 June 1990  (Institute of Petroleum, 1990)
  • Evans, Bryce. Seán Lemass: Democratic Dictator (Gill & Macmillan, 2011).
  • Evans, Bryce. Ireland During the Second World War: Farewell to Plato’s Cave (Manchester University Press, 2016).
  • Haines, Keith. Belfast and The Great War (Amberley Publishing Limited,  2016).
  • Hill, Myrtle, Brian S. Turner and Kenneth Dawson, eds. 1798 Rebellion in County Down (Colourpoint Books, 1998).
  • Keir, David. The Bowring Story (The Bodley Head, 1962).
  • Kelly, Aidan and Teresa Brannick. ‘The Strike-Proneness of Public Sector Organisations’, The Economic and Social Review, July 1985, Vol. 16 (4).
  • Kennedy, Michael, and Victor Laing, eds. ‘The Irish Defence Forces 1940–1949 – The Chief of Staff’s Reports’ (Irish Manuscripts Commission, 2011).
  • Krasner, Stephen D. Defending the National Interest: Raw Materials Investments and U.S. Foreign Policy (Princeton University Press, 1978).
  • McErlean, Thomas C. ‘Archaeology of the Strangford Lough Kelp Industry in the Eighteenth- and Early-Nineteenth Centuries’, Historical Archaeology, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Society for Historical Archaeology, 2007).
  • MacKay, James. Michael Collins: A Life (Mainstream, 1997).
  • McConaghy, John W. A Light for the Road: Ballygilbert Presbyterian Church, 1841–1991 (Ballygilbert Presbyterian Church, 1991).
  • McCutcheon, William Alan. The Industrial Archaeology of Northern Ireland (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1984).
  • McDonald, Frank. The Destruction of Dublin (Gill & Macmillan, 1985).
  • Miller, Rory. ‘The Politics of Trade and Diplomacy: Ireland’s Evolving Relationship with the Muslim Middle East’, Irish Studies in International Affairs, Vol. 15 (2004).
  • Montgomery, Bob. Down Many A Road: The Story of Shell in Ireland 1902–2002 (Dreoilín, 2002).
  • Montgomery, Bob. The Irish International Grand’s Prix, 1929–31 (Dreoilín, 2019).
  • Montgomery, William. The Montgomery Manuscripts, containing accounts of the colonization of the Ardes, in the county of Down, in the reigns of Elizabeth and James, 1603–1706 (J. Cleeland, 1869).
  • Murphy, Kevin. ‘Going High Profile’, An interview with Noel McMullan, Irish Business (March 1983).
  • Nolan, Matt. Mullingar – Time Goes By (Crigean Press, 2015).
  • O’Sullivan, Michael. Brendan Behan: A Life (Roberts Rinehart, 2000).
  • Oram, Hugh. 75 Years on the Road – A History of Calor Gas (Appletree Press, 2012).
  • Report of the Committee on Finance – Restrictive Trade Practices (Confirmation of Orders) Bill, 1962 – Second and Subsequent Stages.
  • Taylor, William Benjamin Sarsfield. History of the University of Dublin (T. Cadell, 1845).





[1] Demurrage is the fee a ship must pay when it is overstays its time in a port.

[2] Tedcastle McCormick was coal & shipping. Maxol is the oldest Irish petrol business by 50 years, says Noel, but who is the second?

[3] Maxol’s Guinness-like approach to advertising has paid off, pinning their colours to every motor-racer that has so much as sniffed a can of Mex. The company has employed a number of leading lights from boxing, golf, rugby and motorsports, as well as cricket, hockey and the GAA.  Past employees include three Irish rugby internationals: Eric Campbell (Old Wesley), Johnny Quirke (Blackrock) and Dickie Magrath (Cork Constitution FC). Drogheda Independent, 11 September 1970.

[4] Maxol has always been in the vanguard of the introduction of new developments that would assist in the distribution and dispensing of Petroleum Products. In seeking to increase load sizes in Northern Ireland, they required the passing of a special Act of parliament to permit them to introduce a 3600-gallon vehicle in 1949. Many new developments occurred over the years like electric pumps, Blending, Self Service, Productivity, Computerisation, Decimalisation, Metrication, Maxolisation and the Company has always been in the fore front of developing systems and technology. MB was the first to install an electric Pump which was supplied by Hardol, later to become Avery Hardol. In 1963 McMullan Bros Limited were the forerunners of the “Safety White” tankers, instead of the red and blue livery. In 1965  [1964?]MB introduced Blending to Ireland which enabled Stations, instead of carrying three grades of Petrol, to only stock the top and bottom grade and the Pump blended 7 grades in between pure Super and pure Regular.

In 1966 work first to introduce self-service pumps to the Irish market. (Drogheda Independent – Friday 11 September 1970, p. 8).

[5] Up until the arrival of David Surridge, it was like Dollywood. Everybody in power was basically a McMullan – the Boss’s brothers, cousins and nephews were all employed in the company in some way.

[6] It reminds me of Paul O’Connell’s remark at the 2018 Maxol retailers conference when he said that playing for Ireland was more special than playing for Munster or for the Lions because he had been united with fellow Irishmen from Ulster whom he had hitherto assumed to be of a different persuasion to him!

[7] The company has sometimes had to fight extremely hard in order to attain this position but it has outlasted its rivals even if some of companies still exist in other guises.

Since circa 2005, petrol sales has not been the be all and end all because even though the majors have left, it’s still very competitive with Applegreen and Irving Oil (who are now more major than anything else in Ireland, having bought the Whitegate refinery in 2016 and, circa March 2019, Tedcastles).

Malcolm: In the old days, the big companies like Shell and BP simply wanted to shift the stuff they dug out of the ground at a vast profit, of which Maxol received a sufficient margin to ensure they didn’t take any of their accounts.  It is no longer about who owns the oil well. Now, everybody is competing to make money in the market, which has allowed Maxol to become much more profitable.

[8] Although the company has just eighty staff on its payroll, it indirectly employs some 1200 people between its various stations and the lubricants business. There are just four reps now, although the lube oil department has its own reps.

[9] As Noel says: You cannot survive on petrol sales alone and that, says Noel, is even more true today. There are very few petrol stations North or South now without a shop selling food and drink for a motorist who wants a snack on the road.

[10] As Brian Donaldson remarks, ‘We probably stocked more range than a lot of our counterparts in Great Britain because we had to look at different ways of actually growing our income and making the sites viable.’

[11]  In 2019 Leo Varadkar, the then Taoiseach, announced that the Republic of Ireland was becoming one of the first countries in the world to exit oil and gas production.

[12] For hydrogen, you have to lock the hose onto the side of the car. Brian believes the future will probably be compressed natural gas. Electric cars will follow a slower trajectory than what the government are predicting. They have to say the right things but, probably by 2030-2035 is probably where you might see 25%/30% of the fleet being electric.  I don’t see the entire fleet being zero tailpipe emission.

Diesel will probably remain the fuel of choice in rural areas for now, not least because modern diesel engines produce less emissions than many alternative fuel engines.

[13] Hugh McMullin was named as Montgomery’s physician in an account of his lordship’s burial from 1636. Born in Ayrshire, Montgomery was one of the “founding fathers” of the Ulster-Scots and established the family at Greyabbey. In 1616, Montgomery built a large stone quay in Donaghadee to accommodate vessels ferrying between Scotland and Ireland.

According to one Montgomery family historian: ‘McMullan or McMullin was a surname very prevalent in Kirkcudbrightshire and probably this medical practitioner was a native of that district. Alex Mullan of Greyabbey parish was an officer under the command of the third viscount (later the 1st Earl of Mount Alexander) during the troubles after 1641. A distinguished physician named Allen Mullen, a native of the north of Ireland, is known as the author of the following publications viz ‘An Anatomical Account of the Elephant accidentally burned to death in Dublin in June’ (1681), ‘Anatomical Observations on the Eyes of Animals’ (1682) and Five Essays printed in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. The first named work was dedicated to Sir William Petty, and the second to the Hon. Robert Boyle.’ (William Montgomery , ‘The Montgomery Manuscripts,  p. 140; Taylor’s History of the University of Dublin, p 374).

[14] The nine children of William McMullan and Elizabeth Shaw, all baptised in Portaferry, were John Shaw McMullan (baptised 16 April 1823), William (baptised 26 May 1825), Thomas (baptised 17 January 1827), Robert (baptised 28 January 1829), James (baptised 24 January 1831, may have died 16 Nov 1876), Mary (baptised 2 November 1832), Alexander (baptised 24 March 1835), Hugh Bowden McMullen (baptised 9 may 1839) and Eliza Jane (born 28 September, baptised 24 November 1847).

Could the younger William be the Portaferry man mentioned in a letter from Rev. John Orr, Portaferry to John M. Orr, USA, 3rd May 1848, via ‘William McMullan has purchased the house in High Street and is to remove from Purgatory to it this week. It is said he is to be spliced to Miss Sarah Stewart shortly.’

[15] Ballyward is in the civil parish of Ardkeen, in the barony of Upper Ards. William is recorded as leasing this farm in Griffith’s Valuation 1863 from Henry Harrison. Mr Harrison’s son was Captain Henry Harrison (1867–1954), the Parenellite MP.

[16] William McMullan died in Ballyward on 7 November 1871, aged 81. He was buried in Slans near Cloughey: ‘McMULLAN–November 7, at Ballyward, Mr William McMullan, aged 81 years. His remains will be removed for interment in Slan’s Burying-ground, on to-morrow (Thursday) morning, at eleven o’clock Friends will please accept this intimation.’ (Belfast News-Letter, 8 November 1871). His death was also recorded in the Ulster Examiner and Northern Star, 9 November 1871, p. 1.  His widow Elizabeth, or Eliza, died in Ballyward on 21 January 1876 aged 78. She was also buried in Slans as per Northern Whig, 22 January 1876, p. 4: ‘M’MULLAN—Jan. 21, at Ballyward, Portaferry, Elizabeth, relict of the late William M‘Mullan. Her remains will be removed from her late residence to Slans Burying-ground, on Monday morning, at ten o’clock. Friends will please accept this intimation.

[17] Banner of Ulster, 12 August 1845, p. 3. A livestock census for County Down from 1803 revealed that in mid-Ards, there were over 25 head of cattle for every one-hundred acres.

[18] ‘Archaeology of the Strangford Lough Kelp Industry in the Eighteenth- and Early-Nineteenth Centuries’, Thomas C. McErlean, Historical Archaeology, Vol. 41, No. 3, Maritime Archaeology in Ireland (2007), pp. 76-93. Published by: Society for Historical Archaeology.

Other used of soda ash include a descaling agent in water boilers; an acid regulator for cooks and taxidermists; water-softeners.

[19]William Montgomery, ‘The Montgomery Manuscripts, containing accounts of the colonization of the Ardes, in the county of Down, in the reigns of Elizabeth and James (1603-1706)’ (J. Cleeland, 1869), p. 62.

[20] Kilns survive to this day along the shore at Ballywalter and Kearney, as well as a kelp house by Greyabbey. An insight into the conservative, kelp-harvesting community of the Ards can be seen in the Irish movie ‘December Bride’ which won a special jury award at the 1990 European Film Awards. Based on the novel by Sam Hanna Bell, the film stars Saskia Reeves as the title character, with Donal McCann and Ciarán Hinds as the brothers who become her lovers in the early years of the twentieth century.

[21] The sheltered, deep-water port of Kircubbin had a weekly market and two corn mills, one powered by wind, the other by water. By 1837, Kircubbin was doing a roaring trade in straw hats and bonnets (using straw imported from England) while the port’s linen market was big enough to merit the construction of a linen hall, from where the brown, or unbleached, linen was sent to the Belfast merchants for finishing.

[22] ‘1798 Rebellion in County Down’, edited by Myrtle Hill, Brian S. Turner, Kenneth Dawson (Colourpoint Books, 1998), p. 98. The United Irishmen sought to democratise the Irish Parliament in Dublin, to decrease the power of the (Protestant) Church of Ireland and to extend both political and religious liberties to all religions, be they Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Methodist or any other non-Anglican Dissenter.

[23] ‘Glastry served the Ards communities of both Kircubbin and Ballyhalbert. James Gowan, Nancy’s father, was a Presbyterian merchant who lived at nearby Ballyeasboro’ [Ballyeasborough]. He is thought to have died at his home on 28 May 1868, leaving a number of other daughters, including Alice, who died in 1916, and Hannah, who died in Leeds in 1922.  Ballyeasboro’s principal family were the McFaddens of Oakville House. John and Nancy’s wedding was conducted by Rev. Gilbert Jameson; the witnesses were named as William Shaw and Thomas Fulerton.

Died May 28, at Ballyeasboro, near Kiikcubbin, Mr. James Gowan. (Belfast Morning News, 1 June 1868; ‘Alice, eldest daughter the late James Gowan, Ballyeasboro, Kirkcubbin, died on March 8’ (Belfast News-Letter, 10 March 1916); ‘Hannah Caughey Gowan, youngest daughter of James Gowan, Ballyeasboro’, died at Leeds on 9 May’ (Belfast News-Letter, 11 May 1922)

[24] John McMullan of Cloghy took over Cloghy Mill c. 1850. For more in the mill, see According to records at he was a brother of William and Archibald McMullan. There was an Archibald McMullan of Portaferry in 1846, described as a grocer, haberdasher and linen & woollen draper. He may be the same Archibald McMullan who married Ann Morgan in July 1823 at Newry Catholic Church, one of several intermarriages between the McMullan and Morgan families.

The Knights of the Order of St. John had a stronghold at nearby St. Johnstown (later called Castleboy, or (An Caisleán Buí). Seals bask and sunbathe by the South and North Rocks, a mile off the Cloghy coast, but this area is subject to frequent gales and perilous big swells; 75 boats and 29 men were lost upon them between 1875 and 1900 alone.

In the 1780s, a secret cave at Cloghy was used by a notorious gang of smugglers called the ‘Merry Hearts of Down’. In “Daft Eddie, or the Smugglers of Strangford Lough” (1889), the Bangor author W. G. Lyttle recounted how a man called Douglas was initiated here by the gang. The interior walls of the cave were hung with ‘all sorts of weapons and instruments of torture’ while, ‘at each end of a table stood a candle stick, the base of each being a human skull. Through the top of each skull, a hole had been bored and into this inserted a wooden cross which supported three candles.’ The stated objects on this band were: – ‘[1] the forming of a bond of union among our members, [2] the bettering of our physical condition by embracing opportunities sought for, and following plans laid down by, our captain and officers; [3] the sacrifice, where necessary, of treasurer, possessed or acquired, for the good of our cause.’ Quoted in the Belfast Newsletter, 27 January 1939.

[25] There is no record of James’s birth or baptism but his sisters were both baptised in the Presbyterian church in Portaferry, Elizabeth on 6 October 1850 and Mary on 14 December 1851. ‘Mary McMullin a 29 year-old spinster daughter of Agnes McMullin, grocer, died 25th September 1881 in Bow Street, Donaghadee.’

[26] John and Nancy may feasibly have been parents of Archibald McMullan, a merchant from Cloughey, who was recorded as either the new owner or manager of the Nivency in the Shipping Gazette & Lloyd’s List of 5 October 1889.

[27] White Star advertisement, Belfast Morning News, 2 September 1879.

[28] Ulster Gazette, Saturday 25 August 1894, p. 3.

[29] Sarah Ann Morgan’s siblings were William Morgan, Esther (Essie) Black, Eliza Hayley Rowland, Sarah Jane Clifford, Maria Heyburn, Margaret Strang and Maxwell Hunter Morgan.

[30] Northern Whig, 17 July 1879. Sarah Ann later stated she was married by the Rev Dr Hanna, but this is surely erroneous. Irish Examiner, 29 August 1894; Ulster Gazette, Saturday 25 August 1894, p. 3.

[31] Irish Family Roots – Vol.1, No. 8 – Page 231/2. John Angus was married twice, firstly to Eliza Smith (with whom he had Sarah Ellen, b. 1888; Eliza, b. 1889; John, b. 1890, and Edward, b. 1892) and secondly to Magretta Louise Foster (with whom he had Louise, b. 1896; Janette, b. 1897; Thomas, b. 1898; Josephine, b. 1899; and Amy, b. 1903). All are Presbyterian.

[32] Belfast Telegraph, 19 April 1880, p. 3.

[33]Agnes McMullan a 62 year-old widow and grocer died 20th June 1886 in Bow Street, Donaghadee. The cause of death was given as ‘Cerebral Anaemia 10 days’ and the death was certified. The death was registered 25th June 1886 by the son, James McMullan, of Bow Street, Donaghadee, present at death.’

[34] Northern Whig, 17 June 1882.

[35] By 1888 Alexander Hamilton was the lessee of the property and he had part of it converted into a bakery. It remained a bakery until the 1970s and was known as the Singing Kettle. James senior was also landlord of house number 29 (number 17 after renumbering in 1895). In the Revision books James is still landlord of number 17 in 1895, 1911 and 1929. In 1929 John Moore takes over as landlord from James.

[36] Noel has the bill of landing of the ship that sailed from Milford in County Donegal with him on it. It set out from Glasgow, picked up passengers in Milford and then went to New York and back again.

[37] Margaret’s birth was not registered until 15th February 1896 (almost 4 years late) and then only by special authority of the Registrar General.

[38] Irish Examiner, 29 August 1894.

[39] William Morgan was also sometime captain of the BSC’s Harland and Wolff built ship, Logic.

[40] Irish Examiner, 29 August 1894.

[41] Ulster Gazette, Saturday 25 August 1894, p. 3.

[42] Irish Examiner, 29 August 1894.

[43] Armagh Standard – Friday 08 March 1895.

[44] Newry Reporter, 7 November 1868.

[45] ‘Man of Spirit’, Belfast Telegraph, 14 March 1957, here.

[46] Dr Connor was also a Justice of the Peace. Chemist and Druggist: The Newsweekly for Pharmacy, Volume 89 (Benn Brothers., 1917), p. 901.

[47] ‘Family tradition, followed by all previous biographers, states that throughout that entire period he lodged with Hannie in a furnished flat at 5 Netherwood Road in West Kensington. In fact, Michael and his sister resided at various addresses in West London, and only settled in Netherwood Road in 1914.’

(James MacKay, ‘ Michael Collins: A Life’, Mainstream 1997)

[48] William and Sadie’s marriage certificate says that Sadie was living at No. 61 Georges Quay. In fact, there was no No. 61 on Georges Quay. It may have been No. 16 which, according to Slater’s Directory of Ireland (1881, 1894) was the address of Daniel Murphy of D. Murphy & Co., Oil and Colour men. The connection to the Collins family continued into the next generation when Miss Mary McMullan was bridesmaid at the wedding of Honora “Annie” Kingston, Sadie’s younger sister, and Thomas McCarthy.

[49] Londonderry Sentinel, Saturday 23 December 1905, p. 7.

[50] The Pharmaceutical Journal and Pharmacist, Volume 93 (1914), p. 48.

[51] ‘At a meeting of the Londonderry Infirmary Board in 1935, the secretary said that Mr William McMullan, Belfast, had written to say he was anxious to endow a bed in the Infirmary, inscribed: “The Clifford J. McMullan bed, named by his father as a token of gratitude for great attention received by us both.” The secretary added that 23 years ago, Clifford McMullan, then aged 18 months, swallowed pure carbolic acid, with recovery. Mr William McMullan stated he would not forget the extreme kindness shown by the Infirmary staff.’ The infirmary was probably on Northland Road. The Chemist and Druggist: The Newsweekly for Pharmacy, Volume 122 (Benn Brothers., 1935), p. 671.

[52] David Gamble McMullan was born on 25/6/1913 at 21 Magazine Street while William and Sadie were living at 9 Grove Place. He died in August 1999 and left an estate valued at over €5 million. He told Noel he was given the name ‘Gamble’ after the Minister that christened him; there is no obvious match up on the 1911 census. The Incorporated Law Society Gazette of November 1986 (p. 274) refers to him as David Gamble Miller McMullan; Noel is unsure where ‘Miller’ fits in.

[53] Freeman’s Journal, 5 August 1915; Weekly Freeman’s Journal, 8 December 1917, p. 44.

[54] In 1844, 164 Great Brunswick Street was owned by Thomas B Cockburne, a builder. Lists of Jurors returned by Collectors of Grand Jury Cess for County of Dublin; Special Jurors’ List, 1844; Affidavits filed in Cause, Queen v. O’Connell, December 1843.

[55] The Chemist and Druggist, July 11, 1903, Vol. LXIII. No. 2 (Series No. 1,224).

[56] Dublin Daily Express, 19 June 1907, p. 8.

[57] 1907 Dublin Motor Show at Ballsbridge – WM. PRESTON AND CO., LTD. A variety of lubricating oils and motor spirit is shown by Preston and Co., Great Brunswick street. “Morganoc” is adapted especially for gears, “B.F.” being the medium “water-cooled” oil, and “C. F.”, the heavy. This firm are also agents for “Carbunne”, a spirit which has met with success both in the Irish and Scottish Reliability trials and the Isle of Man trials. (Irish Times, 10 January 1907).

[58] CRAIGANTLET MOTOR TRIALS. Mr. R. C. ROBB (Of Victor H. Robb & Co.),

USING MORGANOL B.F. MOTOR OIL Made the Fastest Time in Open Event on his 12-16 H.P. SUNBEAM, Beating Cars up to 25 H.P. Wholesale Distributors for MORGANOL MOTOR OIL

PRESTON & CO., LTD., Belfast, Dublin, Cork.  (Northern Whig – Friday 30 May 1913)

[59] ‘The engagement is announced of Owen Lloyd Mahony, Bank of Ireland, Tralee. Co. Kerry, youngest son of the late Owen Mahony. D. I., R.1.C., and the late Mrs. Mahony, Holywood, Co. Down, and Patricia Joan, youngest daughter of Mrs. Preston. Clontarf Road, Dublin, and the late William Preston, of Herbert Park, Donnybrook, Dublin.’ Northern Whig, 2 March 1946.

[60] Keith Haines, ‘Belfast and The Great War’ (Amberley Publishing Limited,  2016) via Google Books.

[61] Victor’s older brother Robert Campbell Robb, who did so well at the 1913 Craigantlet Motor Trials, served as a lieutenant with the Royal Navy Air Service and survived the war. He had competed in the Olympic Games of 1908 in London.

[62] Sergeant Henry Magrath was captain of Cork Constitution Football Club from 1913-1914.

[63] They should not be confused with the Charnock brothers from Chorley in Lancashire who, trained in England, went out to Russia as mill managers and owned the Morozov Cotton Mills in Orekhovo Zuevo, a town about 50 miles east of Moscow. In 1887 they created a soccer team out of a dozen clerks from the mill and they are thus credited with introducing soccer to Tsarist Russia … their club later became Dynamo Moscow and they still play in blue and white because their founders supported Blackburn Rovers.

[64] The history of Charnock Brothers is related in the Belfast News-Letter, 24 May 1932, p. 24.

[65] On 10 June 1921, the Graphite Oils Company, a Glaswegian firm, took McMullan Bros. to the Chancery Court and sought an injunction to restrain the Belfast oil merchants from selling or advertising ‘Silensol’ on the basis that the ‘Silensol’ trademark on the tins was a ‘colourable imitation’ of Graphite Oils own registered ‘Suspensol’ trademark. Suspensol launched in the north of Ireland in 1920 and William Hood Thompson, Graphite’s agent in Ireland, alleged that the Silensol trademark was ‘calculated to deceive the public into the belief … that the lubricating oils manufactured or sold by the defendants were sold or manufactured by the plaintiffs.’ The McMullans were represented by Mr. W. Jellett, KC, MP; Mr James Andrews, KC, and Mr W. Beattie, under instruction from Messrs. R. Kelly & Sons. They assured the court that McMullan Bros. had been selling Silensol for at least two years before Suspensol. On 21 June, the Master of the Rolls held that there was no infringement of the Suspensol trade mark and ‘no passing off and colourable imitations.’ He dismissed the action with costs. Belfast News-Letter, 10 June 1921, p. 4. Also, Dublin Evening Telegraph, 21 June 1921.

[66] Some of these details come from the headed paper on the letter that McMullan Bros. sent to Samuel Green on 11 June 1920.

[67] Bud-Frierman, L., Godley, A., & Wale, J. (2010). Weetman Pearson in Mexico and the Emergence of a British Oil Major, 1901-1919. The Business History Review, 84(2), 275-300. Retrieved from

[68] Krasner, Stephen D, ‘Defending the National Interest: Raw Materials Investments and U.S. Foreign Policy (Princeton University Press, 1978), p. 158.

[69] Keir, David. ‘The Bowring Story’  (London, England: The Bodley Head, 1962).

[70] Belfast Telegraph – Tuesday 22 June 1926, p. 3.

[71] By his wife Martha (nee Corbitt), he had three sons Robert (1897-1917), John (born 1903) and Ivan (born 1917) and a daughter Emma Sara (born 1900). At the time of the 1911 Census, the Pollin family were living in Ravenhill Avenue in east Belfast but they later moved to the north of the city, settling at Westhoek (or Albertville) on Taunton Avenue.

[72] Robert Kelly Pollin was named after his father’s colleague, was educated at Belfast Royal Academy. He was a solicitor’s apprentice when he enlisted at Belfast City Hall in January 1916. Serving as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Irish Rifles, the twenty-year-old officer was killed at Passchendaele on 31 July 1917.

[73] Clifford McAnuff, the first Company Secretary,  was a member of the Newry Amateur Operatic Society. In Feb 1928, he delivered a ‘capital’ performance as Hi Lung, the Lord High Admiral, in ‘A Chinese Honeymoon’ at the Town Hall. (Belfast News-Letter, 15 February 1928.) Born in 1898, he died three weeks before his 102nd birthday having worked all his life for the Boss, his half Brother. Noel taped about three hours with him and has ‘some great stuff from the very beginning.’ Clifford’s daughter Daphne married journalist William L Simpson of Ramore Street, Portrush, in 1963. Belfast Telegraph, 4 June 1963.

[74] Robert McMullan was initially lined up to become Company Secretary but ultimately the position went to the McMullan’s half-brother, Clifford Maxwell McAnuff.

[75] On 2 April 1919, Viscount Cowdray sold Mexican Eagle – and, by extension, AMPC – to Shell for $75 million. At this time, Shell was dominated by Calouste Gulbenkian, the son of an Armenian oil trader, who had helped to create the group by merging the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company with Britain’s “Shell” Transport and Trading Company in 1907. Gulbenkian subsequently became the principal shareholder of Royal Dutch Shell and was known as “Mr Five Per cent” for his policy of retaining five percent of the shares from all of the oil companies he took over.

[76] Shell’s retail business in Ireland was managed by the Dublin division of the Shell Marketing Company Limited in London. Run by James Alexander Burns, the Grafton Street office was one of eight divisional offices throughout Britain and Ireland.

[77] Belfast News-Letter, 26 May 1927, p. 14.

[78] Belfast Telegraph, 17 October 1929, p.7.

[79] Belfast News-Letter, 26 May 1927, p. 14.

[80] Northern Whig, 27 May 1926, p. 11.

[81] Belfast News-Letter, 30 May 1929, p. 14.

[82] ‘The death has occurred at Holywood [Co. Down], of Mr. Charles Simms, of the firm of Munster, Simms & Co., timber merchants, Belfast. Mr. Simms, who was 50 years old, entered the service of T. L. Munster & Sons, whilst a youth, and rose to be head of the concern.’ Timber and Plywood, Volume 16 (Middlesex Publishing Company, 1909), p. 633. ‘He died at his residence, Plas Merdyn, Holywood. The firm was established by the late Paul L. Munster, under the style of P. L. Munster & Sons, so long ago that his earlier business journeys were made before railways existed in Ireland.’ The Timber Trades Journal and Saw-mill Advertiser, Volume 65 (W. Rider & son, Limited, 1909), p. 890. Paul Munster was the consul for Denmark, Norway and Sweden in 1849 based at 5 Ritchie’s Dock, Dublin

[83] Belfast News-Letter, 13 October 1928, p. 15.

[84] 1924 Belfast Street Directory. At Chichester Street they had F.J. Orr, solicitor, on the floor below them, alongside the Industrial Guarantee Corporation Ltd., a finance and insurance broker, while the third floor was taken by J. & R. Fleming, Ltd., a wholesale manufacturing optician. By February 1934, McMullan Bros’ address was 59 Chichester Street. (Northern Whig, 29 January 1935, p. 10.) Or did street numbers change between May 1933 and Feb 1934, which is when their address changed!!?

[85] Irish Builder, 69, 26 Nov 1927, 881 via

[86] Bertie was appointed at a board meeting at a salary of £150 p.a. plus a commission of 1/2d per gallon.

[87] Newry Reporter, 10 March 1906. Albert (Bertie) M’Anuff, eldest surviving son of Sam and Sarah Ann, was born on 28 September 1895, Clifford Maxwell M’Anuff was born in Newry on 26 January 1898 and Ross Murdock M’Anuff on 7 October 1901. On Bertie and Clifford’s registration, the father was not stated. On Ross’s, the father was confusingly named as James McMullan, Address unknown, “used to be a General Merchant.” All three McAnuffs were noted as choir boys at a soiree in 1906. The Sabbath School was on the Downshire Road. At the time of the 1911 census, the McAnuffs were living at Canal Street, Newry. Clifford was not called upon to serve in the war on account of his serious bronchitis.

[88] Bertie McAnuff’s service number is Private Reg. #41573.

[89] Irish Builder 62, 19 Jun 1920, 418

[90] Mr Lyttle was also given a new office, built by Mr. Knox. By 1929, there was also a Mr Whiteside in the Derry office.

[91] Their elder son, Ronnie McAnuff, married Barbara English, became a dentist in Bermuda and died in 1996. A second son, Lance McAnuff, was an engineer who formed his own company, VME Associates, and in later years worked as a specialist consultant for Golder Associates and Explotech. When Lance died in Lindsay, Ontario, in 2012, aged 83, his obituary described him as ‘a legend amongst his engineering peers in the fields of blasting, ground and air vibration monitoring and explosives consulting’. Lance  was survived by his wife Rosaleen, sons Colin and Paul, and daughter Janice Loeb

‘Sadly our family announces the passing of [Albert Lancelot] Lance McAnuff, beloved husband, father, grandpa and great grandpa on May 23, 2012 in Lindsay, Ontario in his 83rd year after a brief but courageous battle with cancer. Loving husband to Rosaleen for 59 years. Adored by daughter Janice, her husband Graham Loeb and their family: Kira, Jeffrey, Daniel and his partner Tarryn, Nicholas and his wife Calla, Andrew and his wife Carolyn as well as their two children Elliot and Alice; son Paul McAnuff and his daughter Cheyenne; son Colin McAnuff and his wife Laura and their sons Patrick, Connor, Ryan, and Sean; special friends Scott and Laurie McLeod and family. Predeceased in 1996 by his brother Ronald McAnuff of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Lance was a legend amongst his engineering peers in the fields of blasting, ground and air vibration monitoring and explosives consulting. He formed his own company, VME Associates, and in later years worked as a Specialist Consultant for Golder Associates and Explotech. Lance was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland but lived most of his life in Oakville until 2007 when he and Rosaleen retired to Lindsay. Visitation, including food and refreshments, to be held beginning at 11:00 A.M. on Monday, May 28 at Mackey Funeral Home, 33 Peel Street, Lindsay, followed by a 1:30 P.M. service within walking distance at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 40 William Street North, Lindsay. Memorial donations are appreciated and can be made to the Ross Memorial Hospital Foundation in Lindsay, Ontario. Online at

[92] Mid-Ulster Mail, Saturday 16 May 1925; Saturday 13 June 1925, p. 3.

[93] Mid-Ulster Mail, 4 February 1928, p. 3. A subsequent manager of the Cookstown Depot was Herbert David Scott (1898-1960), a well-known figure in motoring circles. He was a brother-in-law of William Douglas, sometime secretary of the Ulster Unionist Council. Belfast Telegraph, 6 January 1960, p. 2.

[94] The lorry was contracted at £5-15-0 per day, or two shillings per mile for 12 months.

[95] Mr. Gibson, Architect, was to get remuneration of £170, reduced to £100 if the cost exceeded but less than £2000 and reduced to zero if greater than £2000.

[96] Law Society Gazette, Aug/Sept 2005, p. 62. Sir Thomas Dixon succeeded his father as in 1907. Dixon was a Member of the Senate of Northern Ireland and Lord Lieutenant of Belfast from 1924 to 1950, and was admitted to the Privy Council of Northern Ireland in 1931. He served as High Sheriff of Antrim in 1912, and of County Down in 1913. In 1919, Dixon purchased Wilmont House and its estates in Belfast for £21,500 (€1.5m). At the Naas races on 15 November 1941, his horse Ballintoi won the Autumn Plate.

[97] On 20 March 1925, he was authorised by the company to sign cheques at the southern city’s Ulster Bank. Six months later, he complained to the board of directors that he was ‘handicapped’ in Cork by lack of staff. He was given leave to employ an additional office assistant at £2-10 per week (£125 p.a.). Questions arose over his spending habits, and the acquisition of a Fiat car. Although he survived an internal investigation by Bertie McAnuff, the Company Secretary, he was later sent on a month’s holiday by order of his doctor. In 1929, he was sacked for ‘irregularities’ but went on to work with AMPC.

[98] Belfast News-Letter, 26 May 1927, p. 14.

[99] Irish Independent, 1 June 1931, p. 7.

[100] See race at Word had it that the race was sponsored by WT Cosgrave’s Cumann na nGaedheal government but came asunder when Fianna Fáil came to power in March 1932 and decided that such sponsorship was a waste of public money. However, I note that the 1932 races were abandoned before Fianna Fáil’s victory so that does not add up.

[101] ULSTER MOTOR RALLY Mr. William M’Mullan, managing director of the firm of Messrs. McMullan Bros., Ltd., distributors of the well-known Silensol motor oils and motor spirit, who won first prize in the Ulster Motor Rally. His car, a 2,100 c.o. Sports Alvis, driven by his son, Mr. Clifford M’Mullan, emerged from the 750 miles test with loss of only 1 2-5 seconds—a remarkable performance, especially as it was necessary to cover a 24 mile stretch at the rate of 24 miles an hour, in which there was a secret check. [Belfast News-Letter, 18 August 1932, p. 5]

[102] The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 31 March 1936.

[103] In February 1929, McMullan’s Dublin office purchased 1000 shares in the Belfast Omnibus Company from Matthew Morrow, Bus Proprietor, Bangor. See also William Alan McCutcheon, ‘The Industrial Archaeology of Northern Ireland’ (Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1984), p. 155.

[104] NOTICE MESSRS. McMULLAN BROS., LIMITED, MEX MOTOR SPIRIT and SILENSOL MOTOR OILS. OUR many customers and friends are requested to note that the entire establishment, offices, and installation, will be CLOSED on Saturday, 24th August, on the occasion of the firm’s Annual Excursion to Portrush. Signed. A. McANUFF, Secretary. Belfast News-Letter, 23 August 1929

‘M‘MULLAN BROS., LTD. Directors Entertain Divisional Staff. The entire staff of the Northern Ireland division of Messrs. M’Mullan Bros., Ltd.- better known as the distributors of Mex Motor Spirit-visited Portrush as the guests of the directors of the firm. Mr. Wm. M Mullan, managing director, in a short speech at the luncheon, welcomed the employees on behalf of the directors, and expressed his gratitude for their loyal cooperation in making the undertaking of Messrs. McMullan Bros. Limited such a huge success. The opportunity was also taken to present Mr. and Mrs Fulton with a token of esteem on the occasion of their marriage. A vote thanks to Mr. Wm. McMullan for his kindness in entertaining the party was proposed by Mr. Mawhinney, sales staff, seconded by Mr Whiteside, of the Derry branch. During the afternoon sports were held in which all present participated, and after tea a golf competition was held, while the younger people enjoyed dancing. Belfast News-Letter, 29 August 1929, p. 8.

[105] On 22 December 1916, two days after his 32nd birthday, JG married Laura Vance, a daughter of Joseph Vance, Court-Crier, of 24 Lower Mount Street, Dublin. The marriage took place at the Vance’s Protestant parish church, St. Stephen’s, fondly known as the Pepper Pot.  At the time, JG stated that he was a Commercial Traveller and gave his address as 15 Monaghan Street, Newry.

[106] Belfast News-Letter, 17 August 1932, p. 10.

[107] According to Patricia McMullan, when the Boss discovered that his estranged brother JG bought a Hupmobile, he went out and bought Hupmobiles for everyone else. This sounds a little far-fetched; the Hupmobile was a big expensive American car. Noel found the registration book in the Gilbert Library on Pearse Street which listed four of them sold in one year – 1931 or 32 – by. As to the four cars, one went to the head of the ESB, one to JG McMullan, one to the people who owned the garage and one to an to a business in Parnell Street with an Irish name that they reckon was for the Taoiseach at the time. Roy, who was very keen on cars, identified the Hupmobile that’s in a photograph that his father had.

[108] James Gown McMullan died of Acute Coronary Disease on 25 September 1956, aged 72. Another J G McMullan was father of Terence, Joan and Marie –

Laura McMullan died on 25 Dec 1960, aged 74, in 14 Dartry Road, Dublin, in the presence of her son J.R. McMullan. Born in 1885, she was working as a hospital nurse at the time of the 1911 census.

[109] McMullan, James Roy (Stillorgan), February 26, 2015, peacefully at St. Vincent’s University Hospital, aged 93 years. Will be sadly missed by his sister Joy Balbirnie, nieces Sharman and Linda, nephew Ashley, grand-nephews and grand-niece; Gareth, Jonathan, Amanda, Andrew, Harry and Jack, extended family and friends.

[110] He was later obliged to pay tax.

[111] To add to the confusion, Shell-Mex and BP began to actively market their lower grade Shell-Mex motor spirit in the UK at this stage. McMullan’s was also competing with Pratt’s (aka Esso from 1935), which was selling its own brand of petrol (Carburine) in the Free State through the Boss’s former employers at William Preston & Son. In 1922, British Petroleum’s interests in the Irish Free State had come under the control of the Irish BP Company Limited. For details of the Shell-Mex merger in 1932, see Alfred D Chandler, jr, ‘Scale and Scope’ (Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 303, at

[112] Belfast News-Letter, 22 August 1931, p. 12; Northern Whig, 13 January 1932, p. 10.

[113] An internal memo from August 1934 underlined the firms’ absolute belief that they were ‘the only Petrol Company entitled to be considered as Nationals [in the Free State] in the sense that our money was all made in Ireland and spent in Ireland.’ The memo concerned an interview with Mr Williams, an official from the Department of Industry and Commerce, who was ‘impressed’ by the McMullan’s Irish credentials.

[114] In 1934, McMullan’s relocated their Belfast office from 45a Chichester Street to 59 Chichester Street. (Or did street numbers change between May 1933 and Feb 1934, which is when their address changed!!?) The Londonderry office remained on Foyle Road.

In the 1932 Belfast Street Directory, 45a. Chichester Street was home to seven companies, of which the biggest was McMullan Bros. Ltd (Irish Distributing Agents; Mex Motor Spirit, Silensol Motor Oils, Daisy Lamp Oil.). The Eagle Oil & Shipping Company also ran from there, as did the Commercial and Transatlantic Cable Companies. Also in the building were F. J. Orr (solicitor), Gilmer & Moorehead (house, land, insurance agents), D. & P. Express (Wholesale Photographic Finishers), J. & R Fleming Ltd. (Wholesale Manufacturing Opticians).

Dan McMullan was appointed Cork Manager as per letter dated 30th March 1929. Mr Magrath was there by 1936.

[115] Waterford Standard, 8 April 1933, p. 6.

[116] The Irish Horse, 1944, Vol. 12, p. 122. Liffey Bank is a big house on the north bank of the Liffey between Parkgate Street and Islandbridge, not far from the CIE depot on Chapelizod Road. The house is right on the river bank and came complete with stables.

John Milliken and Olive White (16/3/1908-c1980) had three Sons were all born in Dublin, namely,

  1. Cameron (20/11/1932-28/6/2013), the oldest son of JS Millikin and Olive White., emigrated to Canada where he eventually became Honorary Consul to Ireland, playing a big part in the Peace process. In so doing he met amongst others Joe Cahill, Conor Murphy and Gerry Adams. He was returning from one of many diplomatic trips to Ireland in 2013 and died on the plane in mid Atlantic. As his obituary said “his heart halfway between the two places he loved.” He was dead when they arrived back in Canada. MILLIKIN (Calgary, Canada, and late of Conyngham Road, Dublin) The late Honorary Consul General of Ireland in Calgary, Cameron (J.C) – June 28, 2013; deeply regretted by his loving wife Susan, sons Rory, Craig and John, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, relatives and many friends. R.I.P. Memorial Service takes place today (Friday) at the Christ Church, Elbow Park, Calgary at 2 o’clock. See his obituary at
  2. Chesley (25/2/1934-27/9/2001)) moved to Texas and became a well-known Impresario. He managed American tours of The Stones and The Chieftain’s among many US groups in the Los Angeles or California area.
  3. Barry Millikin, so far, remains a mystery.

Noel has John Milliken’s death cert and thinks he died in about 1943. ‘When I joined the company in 1971 Olive was working as a sort of attendant at our petrol station in Mespil Road. It was self-service so she just sat at the till and took money for petrol or chocolate or cigarettes or whatever people bought.  I imagine Clifford organised for her to get a job to try and help her out financially.  I used to be quite friendly with her,’ says Noel, ‘but I didn’t know the history and connections then.’   She presumably to working in that station until the day she retired or died. [Malcolm McMullan, one of the directors of the company, and his wife Suzie took a licence to run Mespil Road.  I think Olive was an employee there then. [Noel thought Olive worked for Malcolm in Mespil Road but Malcolm did not remember Olive so it was before his day.]

DUBLIN SENSATION. Jockey’s Disappearance on the Eve of His Marriage. The sudden disappearance of E. M. Quirke, the well-known Irish jockey, has caused a sensation in Dublin. He was to have been married in Dublin on Wednesday to Miss Dorothy White, who resides with her brother Captain White, at Liffey Bank House. Invitations had been sent a hundred guests, and the wedding breakfast was arranged at a leading hotel in Dublin, but shortly before 6 o’clock on Wednesday morning Miss White was told over the telephone by a male voice, whose owner said he was speaking on behalf of Quirke, that she would not see Quirke again, as he had just left Kingstown by the mail boat for Holyhead. Miss White told her friends that when she saw Quirke on Tuesday evening there was a little disagreement over a muffler, but declined to make any further statement. Quirke’s departure, as far some his friends, at any rate, are concerned, remains up till the present unexplained. In the 1923 season Quirke made a record in Ireland by riding 85 winning horses. This year he has ridden 35 winners. In July, 1919 he rode Sir Hari Singh’s Mr. A’s ’*) horse Sir Launcelot to victory in the Irish Breeders’ Produce Stakes at Phoenix Park. (Belfast News-Letter, 5 December 1924).

[117] Michael O’Sullivan, ‘Brendan Behan: A Life’, (Roberts Rinehart, 10 Oct 2000), p. 287.

[118] Société Hardoll was an offshoot of the French manufacturing company Satam.

[119] Belfast Telegraph, 31 March 1932, p. 7. In December 1932 a new Avery-Hardoll electric pump was introduced to the premises of Messrs. Harry Ferguson on Donegall Square, Belfast, and were said to be the first installation of its type. Belfast Telegraph, 20 December 1932, p. 10.

[120] One of the first garages to have the electric Hardoll pumps is said to have been Mayne’s [?] of Bangor, County Down

[121] Waterford Standard, 8 April 1933, p. 6.

[122] In 1933, for instance, Munster Simms was granted a modest monopoly on kerosene manufacture on condition that they employ Irish workers and buy Irish goods wherever possible. Another event to have an impact on the motor industry at this time came in 1933 when Sean T O’Kelly, the then Minister for Local Government and Public Health in de Valera’s cabinet, introduced the Road Traffic Act. This made it imperative for all drivers of mechanically propelled vehicles in public places to have third party insurance unless they had obtained an exemption by depositing a large sum of money with the High Court as a guarantee against any possible claims.

[123] On 31st October, 1933, Lemass and his trusted advisor John Leyden granted a new manufacture licence to Munster Simms and Co. (Dublin), Ltd., Alexandra Road, Dublin, to make white spirit, light kerosene and residual kerosene by the distillation of mineral hydrocarbon oil. In Bryce Evans 2011 biography of Lemass, Harold Simms, the heir to the Munster Simms petroleum empire, revealed how Lemass kept a close watch on the firm. Munster Sims was obliged on several occasions to request exemptions from its license for the purchase of materials that were only available from abroad. Despite help from the state, small Irish firms like Munster Simms could never compete with the ‘big boys’. Even at the height of protectionism, large foreign concerns like Shell held real clout with governments. Soon after tariff protection was dismantled, Munster Simms was gobbled up by Shell or, was it the James Crean Group

[124] Sir Fenton Hort, a director of Irish Shell Ltd, was area manager of Shell-Mex & BP in Northern Ireland. As a young man, he served in the Great War with the Royal Engineers. On his father’s death in 1950, he became the seventh baronet and moved to Old Mountjoy House outside Omagh. Sir Fenton’s wife Gwendoline was a daughter of the organist Sir Walter Alcock, who had the distinction of playing the music at three Coronations. at Westminster Abbey

Obituary – BARONET DIRECTOR OF IRISH SHELL – SIR FENTON GEORGE HORT, Bt., whose death has taken place in a Belfast clinic, was a director of Irish Shell, Ltd., and had lived at Old Mountjoy, Omagh, since 1950. He was 64. He was the seventh baronet, and succeeded to the title on the death of his father, Sir Fenton Hort. In 1922 he married Miss Gwendoline Alcock, daughter of the late Sir Walter Alcock. organist in Westminster Abbey, who played the music at three Coronations. Sir Fenton was educated at Harrow, where his father was a master, and also at Trinity College, Cambridge. where he took a B.A. degree. He served in World War I with the Royal Engineers. His grandfather was a distinguished Biblical scholar. He is survived by his wife and his heir is Dr. James Hort, of New Zealand, who is married and has one son. His other children are Mrs. Elizabeth Holmes, wife of Wing Commander Holmes, Castlewellan. Co. Down; a son Patrick, who resides in Sweden; a daughter. Barbara. who lives at Old Mountjoy, and another son, Robert, who works in Strabane. Sir Fenton’s chief pastime was salmon fishing. He took a keen interest in the affairs of Cappagh Parish Church. and was a member of the Diocesan Council.

Belfast Telegraph, 7 March 1960

His grandfather was a distinguished Biblical scholar.

‘OBITUARY Gwendolene Lady Hort – A FORMER president of the Mothers’ Union in Ireland, Gwendolene, Lady Hort, has died. She was 84. Lady Hort, a daughter of the late Sir Walter Alcock, a leading Cathedral organist, was the widow of Sir Fenton Hort, a former director of Irish Shell and area manager of Shell-Mex &BP. Lady Hort started a branch of the Mothers’ Union in the Cappagh area after the family moved to live at Old Mountjoy House outside Omagh, and subsequently became Irish president of the organisation. She is survived by three sons, Dr. Sir James Hort, and Patrick and Robert Hort; and two daughters, Mrs. Elizabeth Holmes and Mrs. Barbara Berkeley. The funeral took place today in Cappagh Parish Church.’ Belfast Telegraph, 5 March 1982

[125] Mr Halford was also scathing about how the vast majority of the Boss’s business took place within such close proximity to the big cities of Belfast and Dublin – from which there was very little remuneration – whereas at least half of Shell-Mex and BP’s sales apparently took place beyond the cities, which was more profitable business in terms of distribution fees.

Summary of London trip by William McMullan. ‘‘The figures we put before Mr Hort, and which he had more or less confirmed to us in the Draft Agreement, Mr Halford would not listen to for one second. Mr Halford proved himself a businessman and Mr Hort was taken to task and made to look a very small boy indeed. In fact, he fears Mr Holford like the D – – – –. Mr Halford made use of one or two remarks in regard to one or two matters for which Mr Hort had been responsible, as being a “most ingenious” means of us getting a figure which to his mind was ridiculous and preposterousness… Mr Hort washed off his responsibilities entirely in regard to arranging quantities or commissions, for the simple reason that he was afraid to suggest anything.’

Fenton Hort would, not surprisingly, be nicknamed Henton Fart by the McMullans.

Also relevant here is ‘Notes on a visit to London – December 4 1933’. The notes are either to or from Mr A McAnuff; Noel thinks they were written by William McMullan:
‘I spent most of all day on Monday 4th December with Mr Hort going over the terms of the present agreement. We agreed all matters except the question of quantities, fines and commissions; and any increase quantity we desire to take each year, as this could not really be settled except by Mr Halford. I am glad to say that the matters contained in his draft agreement were agreeable to me, except for one or two matters which I discussed with Mr Hort and which I gathered he is agreeable to grant us; also one or two corrections which I pointed out to him:

  1. The preliminary paragraph mentioned our registered offices as Ravensdale Road, Dublin, instead of O’Connell Street.
  2. bearing on the question of Munster Simms. Apparently in regards to Munster Simms & Co-they must make their arrangements with us. Shell will not – this definitely from Mr Halford. No allowance will be made to Munster Simms for storage charge or any other thing. If they come to terms with us it must be at a much less figure than Shell propose to give us. Mr Halford was most emphatic on this point and I am not at all hopeful that Munster Simms will agree to what we will be able to offer to them if we come to the terms as proposed to us by our principles.

If we do, however, come to terms with Munster Simms, there are certain clauses in the draft agreement which must be made applicable to Munster Simms also, and our principles will give us permission to withdraw certain paragraphs of the agreement which could not be made applicable to Munster Simms. These I have talked over with Mr Hort, but they could be arranged afterwards if we come to an arrangement with Munster Sims.
Clause 9. That part starting “such storage plant or other promises” discussed with Mr Hort, and the matter leading up to “large print “. We shall be met amicably in regard to this. Further in clause 9 the matter commencing “agents shall insure” and ending “for premium in respect thereof” duly discussed, and we are to submit the cost of such insurance and I have suggested that they pay 50% and so will we, and this was received amicably.

William added: “It has been discussed in certain circles that the Anglo American Oil Company will also join Shell and BP limited. That is to say that one distribution will distribute the good of the respective companies; and if the Anglo also come into line I have not the slightest doubt that this will still further reduce the figure for distribution; as the Anglo would add considerable gallonage and the same staff could work the three companies as able to work to dash at any rate with a very small increase; and this would make a very substantial profit to all the companies concerned. This is most important.”

[126] Among Mr Holford‘s objections was that 82% of McMullan’s business in Northern Ireland was done inside the zone, which was the cheapest area to them; only 18% was done outside the zone, which was more remunerative. Halford claimed that 50% of his business was done within the Belfast zone and 50% outside. William was sceptical.

[127] Halford gave William until midday on Friday, the 8th of December to decide. William went to see him and said he would need to discuss it with Mr Pollin and Mr Boyd, as well as Munster Sims, to ascertain whether it was a runner or not. Halford gave him “a few days “more, and was still insistent that his offer was “most munificent “.  William concluded that if they signed the agreement it would “put us in a position that will demand most serious attention and a complete overhaul of our business; and at the same time get a further 1 1/2 million gallons more business to even stay just where we are at the moment.”

[128] It thus cannot have improved matters when the Boss had to contend with a straight-up fleecing in 1933. George Bowman, a director of V. H. Robb & Co. for whom the Boss had stood as guarantor, did a bunk from Ireland, having borrowed £2800 from the Ulster Bank. The Boss was obliged to repay the bank in January 1934.

One point on which the Boss agreed with Halford was Halford’s assertion that the Cork office (then managed by the Boss’s older brother Dan) was utterly superfluous as its administration could just as easily be tackled by the head office in Dublin. In the end, he simply appointed a new depot manager

[129] Drogheda Independent, 20 November 1970, p. 6.

[130] Dan McMullan, eldest brother of the Boss, married Florence House. He was ‘sort of sick most of his life and spent a lot of time in hospital with one thing and another.’

[131] LIEUTENANT COLONEL G. H. BRUSH. G H. Brush, Second in command of the 10th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Derry Volunteers), has taken over temporary command of the 11th Battalion (Donegal and Fermanagh Volunteers), in succession to Lieutenant Colonel W. F. Hessey, promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. Major Brush is the son of Mr. Augustus Brush. J.P., Drumnabreeze, Maralin, County Down, and has been associated with the Ulster Division for the past nine months. He served for seventeen years in the army, retiring in 1910, since when he has been in the Reserve of Officers of the Liverpool Regiment. In the Boer war he saw great deal of service, and was severely wounded at Colenso. (Belfast News-Letter, 26 June 1916, p. 8)

By Sept 1939, according to McMullan staff records, he lived at Garden Lodge, Hollywood, County Down.

DEATH OF MAJOR G. H. BRUSH. The death took place suddenly at his residence, Abbey House, Armagh, of Major George Howard Brush, who for some years was Commissioner of Donaghadee and was a former General Inspector in the Local Government Department of the Ministry of Homs Affairs. Major Brush, who was the only son of the late Mr. Augustus Brush,  Drumnabreeze, Maralln, started his military career in the 1st Battalion King’s Liverpool Regiment and served in the South African campaign Hr went through the siege Ladysmith and was severely wounded at Colenso He served with the Ulster Division in the last war. in which he commanded the 11th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and was mentioned in despatches. Until recently he was acting Governor of Prison during the absence of Major Booth with the Army. He leaves widow and son. Major Peter Brush, who was wounded in the defence of Calais in 1940 and has since been prisoner of war in Germany. (Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, 10 November 1944). Peter Brush became a prominent unionist and paramilitary leader.

[132] He lived in Rosalyn, Rowan Park, Blackrock. He retired on 26th Jan 1960. In WW2 he was too old to re-enlist.

[133] Major Arthur Eustace Blythe Jackson lived at Glenholme, Bladon Drive, Belfast, and also at Islandreagh House, Dunadry, County Antrim. His wife was called Dolly and his daughter was Beatrice. I can’t find him on Irish census of 1901 or 1911. Think he was in Yorkshire. Mother was Georgiana Plummer, daughter of George Blythe Plummer. He was in army by 1909 and married Caroline in 1920. He worked for McMullans between Aug 1934 (Sales Staff photo) and  Sept 1939 (Pool Board).

[134] Mr Calvert [?], ‘a little mole-sized fella with a moustache, and very military, who had apparently served as a captain in the Black Watch during the war. ‘He was very military but a really, really nice man.’ Was he Scottish?  I suspect he was from Polnoon, Strandtown County Down, as the family had a connection to Black Watch … however,  I can’t find any record of his military actions …  He lived in Rosalyn, Rowan Park, Blackrock

[135] Some of their distribution had been being handled by Chevrolet delivery vans, one of which they put up for  sale, Belfast Telegraph,  6 August 1931, p. 2.

[136] The Boss was still Managing Director, while his fellow directors consisted of James Boyd and J. M. Pollin, the originals, and his sons Clifford (sales director) and DG, who, now in their twenties, had the thankless task of trying to stop their father from spending money that he didn’t have.

‘Prior to commencing business on his own account Mr. McMullan was manager in the North of Ireland for Messrs. Wm. Preston and Co., Pearse St. Dublin, and it says much for his business ability, that in the short space of eighteen years the business that he founded has grown to such proportions that it now employs a staff of approximately 500. A large fleet of vehicles is on the road and under Mr. McMullen’s expert guidance this is being constantly increased to meet the public demands for the firm’s products. Mr. McMullan informs us that everything is being done to meet the need for the efficiency demanded by a growing organization. Special care is taken to see that all Installations and Depots are kept up-to-date. Railway facilities are constantly being improved, and the firm’s fleet of railway tank wagons is being added to from time to time. While all the road transport is of the most modem type, the administrative end of the business has been well looked after and reflects great credit on the managerial staff. The other Directors of the firm are:—Mr. James Boyd, Mr. J. M. Pollin, Mr. C. McMullan and Mr. D. McMullan who are always willing to do everything to further its interests. The Sales Managers. Area Superintendents Garage and Installation Managers, Depot Superintendents, are all thoroughly experienced men who understand the necessity for modern business methods. The Secretarial Work, Accounting Department and Advertising Department form part of the efficiency which is behind the building up of the organization which is so well-known throughout the country, and which is largely responsible for the big proportion of the petroleum products of Ireland. The whole of the staff of this progressive firm has been recruited in Ireland, hence the reason for the slogan ” McMULLAN’S of IRELAND.” which is so well-known from Cork to Donegal, and from Dublin to Mayo.

Waterford Standard – Saturday 24 March 1934, p. 11.

[137] Waterford Standard (10 February 1934). ‘We are proud that our products have met with this success and prouder still that, with the completion of our new depot, at present under construction in Waterford, we will be in a position to serve all our customers with greater care and promptitude.’

‘In these times when competition is building an impregnable barrier against the exploitation of anything but the best, it is foolish for anyone to attempt to market other than those goods which can earn a reputation for quality and reliability. offering MEX MOTOR SPIRIT, DAISY LAMP OIL and SILENSOL MOTOR OILS to the Public we are fully cognisant of the high standards they must conform to. Customers can rest assured that only the best is marketed by McMullan’s of Ireland. Enquiries to JJ Harris, Bolton Street, Waterford.’ Waterford Standard, 3 March 1934, p. 6.

[138] “McMullan Bros., Ltd. … are opening a new depot in Waterford in order to facilitate deliveries of their products to their many customers in this area. … (Waterford Standard, 24 March 1934, p. 11.)


The firm of Messrs. McMullan Brothers, Ltd., agents for Eagle Oil and Shipping Co., Ltd., sole Irish importers and distributors of Mex Motor Spirit, manufacturers and distributors of Silensol Motor Oils and Daisy Lamp Oils, has, owing to increased business and in order to facilitate its clients in this area, decided to open a new depot in Waterford. The news of this decision will be received with great enthusiasm amongst the trading public in the city, who will be in a position to derive every advantage from the excellent products of this renowned firm.

The site chosen for the erection of the depot, which is already under construction, is a large siding at the railway, and the appointed agent is Mr. J. J. Harris, Bolton St.. Waterford. It is expected that in  a fairly short time the new depot will be completed. thus making it possible to serve all customers with greater care and efficiency.

The great increase in this firm’s business, and the difficulties arising from this encouraging state of affairs, have given rise to all sorts of speculation, such as the establishing of a network of depots throughout the country.

All these developments bring home to the public the great progressive qualities of this enterprising firm, which in a short time will have operations at their new Waterford depot in full swing.

Waterford Standard, 10 February 1934

[139] The Boss was allegedly president of the Irish Professional Golfers Association, and President of its Ulster branch. However, Michael McCumiskey, Regional Manager of the PGA, stated in October 2019: ‘As far as we’re aware there has not been a tradition in the Irish PGA of Presidents, only Chairmen since 1986 or Captains back to 1975.’ Paul Gorry suggested that as the GUI administered the Irish PGA until the late 1960s, each issue of the annual GUI Yearbook would name the incumbent president of the IPGA.

While the Boss also professed his ‘keen love for all forms of sport’, he apparently did not allow such activities to ‘interfere’ with business. ‘His time is equally divided between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland,’ observed the Waterford Standard, ‘and he has a residence in each part of the country.’

[140] Belfast Telegraph – Thursday 14 March 1957

[141] Waterford Standard – Saturday 24 March 1934, p. 11.

[142] ‘He participated last year with Wm. Nolan, the Portmarnock Professional, in the Addington foursomes and succeeded in getting into the semi-final. We understand the pair have again entered for this competition which takes place on the 9th, 10th, 11th April.’ Waterford Standard, 24 March 1934, p. 11.

[143] Thanks to Paul Gorry, Member of Accredited Genealogists Ireland – AGI.

[144] Sligo Champion, 15 July 1933, p. 2.

[145] Leo Gray, ‘Cecil Ewing – One of the All-Time Greats of Golf’, an extract from The Sligo Champion Sesquicentenary 1836 – 1986, via

[146] The Drogheda Independent of 11 September 1970 stated that four staff were on the Irish team, and named ‘Austen Ahearn’ but I find no record of him. Jimmy Bruen was attached to Muskerry Golf Club.

[147]; Sligo Champion, 25 March 1933

[148] Bernard J McMahon, or MacMahon, was born on 11 October 1895.

[149] Barney spent his first years on Milltown’s Main Street, close to the barracks where his father, the son of a Catholic farmer from County Fermanagh, lived with three constables. By 1911 the MacMahon family were living at Killaloe, County Clare. Bernard’s father (and namesake) died in Dublin on 10 July 1932.

[150] B. McMahon recorded as a Colonel on list of E Coy 2nd Batt Dublin Brigade members – see Dublin Military Service Pensions – File no – 24SP9487, thank Peter McGoldrick.

[151] Bernard McMahon’s Obituary, Irish Independent, 7 May 1973. See also  There is no record of anyone by name of McMahon or MacMahon in Collins’s convoy that day. His Military Service Pension file does not suggest any service in County Cork. Apart from Emmet Dalton, the only known officers in Collins’s convoy were Sean O’Connell, James Conroy and Joe Dolan. It’s feasible that McMahon was one of the unnamed soldiers with the Crossley tender, and that he only rose to officer rank afterwards. It would be odd for him not to have mentioned it in his Military Service pension file; the pension was set up by men who favoured the pro-Treaty side, and would have taken a positive view of the fact that he was in Collins’s convoy.  [Thanks to Sean Boyne, Helen Moss and Meda Ryan].

[152] On 23 September 1926 he married Moira Barry in the Church of St. Michael’s, Collins Barracks, Cork. Both were of full age and neither had been married before. Bernard McMahon was an army officer resident in Island Bridge Barracks, Dublin; he was the son of Bernard McMahon, farmer. Maura Barry of no occupation was living in Lansdowne, Cork; she was the eldest daughter of James J. Barry, merchant, and his wife Annie of Lansdowne Park, Patrick’s Hill, Cork. The marriage was witnessed by James Sheils and Annie Barry. Bernard signed his name ‘Bernard J. MacMahon’.

They had three sons Brian, Barry (a friend of John Brady) and Niall, and a daughter, Mrs Eithne O’Callaghan of Mitchelstown, County Cork.

See the Barry family at

[153] At the time he lived at Airfield, Stillorgan Road, Dublin.

[154] See John Homes interview, I think.

[155] John Brady was told that Major Mahon was an old colleague of Michael Collins and that, long years earlier, he had come to the rescue when the Free State government was unable to pay the wage bill for the newly formed Gardaí or the army, and nor could they secure a bank loan to pay them.

Following victory at the 1932 election, the Defence Forces, the Garda Síochána and the Civil Service all had to swallow hard at the prospect of accepting orders from their Civil War enemies.

[156] John P Duggan, ‘A History of the Irish Army ‘ (Gill and Macmillan, 1991), p. 198.McNeill named in Weekly Irish Times-10 April 1937.  Hugo McNeill is first mentioned in JP Duggan’s book (p. 93 ) as Colonel  Hugo McNeill ( on Pro-Treaty side during the Civil War August 1922 ) ‘ A Second Plan ( by Anti-Treaty Forces )  to isolate Dublin by severing lines of communications and blowing bridges was disrupted when Col Hugo McNeill captured their battle plans a couple of days prior to their operation scheduled for Saturday 5 August. The forewarned pro-treaty forces lay in wait and took 200 prisoners. A belated offensive action against pro-treaty positions in the Dublin area of Finglas, Phibsborough , Drumcondra and Harcourt St fizzled out.The writing was on the wall ‘

Page 99 ‘ on 16 July the pro-treaty Fifth Northern Division stole a march on them and captured Dundalk Barracks, imprisoning Aiken and his men. On 27 July mines breached the jail walls, enabling Aiken and a hundred of his men to break out. Using mines again and large amounts of explosives to good effect he ( Aiken ) recaptured the Barracks on 14 August, seizing 400 rifles, machine-guns, grenades, ammunition and one 18-pounder piece ( which they spiked ). They in turn were ousted in lively actions by two encircling pro-treaty Divisions under Gen. Dan Hogan and Col Hugo McNeill ( who used aircraft in the attack )’

Page 134 on the topic of the Army Legalised , specifically the knotty question of demobilization and the ructions caused by an ‘ Old IRA Group’ ( during the so-called ‘ Army Mutiny ‘ )….’ Notwithstanding this,a party of troops under Major Gen McNeill raided an Old IRA meeting in Devlin’s pub in Parnell St. After some parleying and an exchange of shots McGrath intervened and conferred with the officers in Devlin’s. Ten submitted to arrest; the others escaped .’

Page 135 ‘ ….Hugo McNeill became Adjutant General …..’

Page 152 ‘ Military Education was not overlooked. In 1926 a group of officers ere sent on a mission to American military institutions ( including West Point):Major Gen Hugo McNeill, Col MJ Costello, Col Joe Dunne, Capt Paddy Berry, Sean Collins-Powell and 2nd Lt Charlie Trodden……’

Page 153 He is mention as ‘ Director , The Defence Plans Division’

Page 185 , now in the era of ‘ The Emergency ‘ …’ The Forces now enjoyed overwhelming public support. One hundred  thousand people turned up during August and September 1940 to see a Spectacular Army Show., ‘ The roll of the Drum ‘ , in the Theatre Royal ( ‘ ten soul-stirring scenes ‘ ). Gen Hugo McNeill was its mentor……’

Finally , Page 198 ( ‘ The Emergency’ continued’ ) ..’ Following the formation of thre new brigades it was possible to organise two divisions; the First ( Thunderbolt) Division under Major Gen MJ Costello in the south and the SEcond ( Spearhead) Division under Major Gen Hugo McNeill in the north.’

[157] When John enquired what the major did, he was told he was the sales manager. ‘Yeah, but he doesn’t manage anything!’ protested John. As one can’t be a major in the Irish army, the thought was that he had served in the British army, like Emmet Dalton or Major Cyril Jackson, the father of John Brady’s other childhood friend, David Jackson. A story was told that Major McMahon was having a drink in the Dead Man’s Inn (now Murray’s Inn) in Palmerstown during the War of Independence. Through the gloom he spies the ‘very tall’ outline and bald head of the ‘unashamedly British’ Major Cyril Jackson. ‘They had a moment when they could have drawn their guns and shot each other,’ says John. ‘And they didn’t. Cyril Jackson says, ‘Oh, bugger it, come and have a drink’. And McMahon did, and they became great friends and their two sons became great friends after that also.’ [David Jackson fetched up as an accountant in the Bahamas and died a few years ago. Barry McMahon’s brother joined the Royal Artillery.]

[158] Tuam closed in the early 1980s, while the Carlow and Mallow factories ceased production in 2005-2006.

[159] He lived at 9 Iona Drive, Glasnevin, County Dublin, although in later life, he seems to have been at Nutley Avenue, Ballsbridge, Dublin. He died at the Cliff Castle Hotel in Dalkey on 6 May 1973, aged 78.

[Don’t confuse him with Bernard ‘Bennie’ McMahon who died aged at St Enda’s 20 Howth Road, Sutton, on 23 March 1979.]

[Also, not to be confused with Commandant Brián MacMahon of D.T. Transport Corps, aged 26, of 10 Lomond Av. Fairview. Date of attestation Feb 27, place of attestation – Beggars Bush, Single, R.C., Next of kin – mother, mother’s address, Mrs MacMahon of 10 Lomond Av, Fairview. ]

[160] McMullan’s Limited was to formally commence on 1 October 1935.

[161] John McMullan, an elder brother of the Boss, became Company Secretary of McMullan Bros in 1936 when the Northern Assets were transferred into McMullan’s Limited in Belfast and Bertie became Company Secretary of that business in Belfast. John’s son Raymond G McMullan lived at 48 Merton Drive ad died in 1999 His widow Jean (from County Down) died in 2004 and they had at least two children.

[162] On 16 January 1938 the Boss and Clifford were joined by John Milliken, Major McMahon, Ken O’Dea, Freddie Hopkins and CE Anderson as the company representatives at the annual meeting of the Society of Motor Traders. The event took place in the Royal Hibernian Hotel in Dublin and was an opportunity for the industry to voice its displeasure at road taxes and other matters of ‘oppression.’

The Boss was admitted as a M.I.MT. in 1931.

Born in 1903, Freddie Hopkins joined McMullan Bros in 1924.

Seven weeks later, the Boss sent a four-page letter to Fenton Hort in which he offered to sell his business [whole or part, Noel?] to Shell-Mex for £150,000 but fortunately the offer was not accepted. Letter from William McMullan to Fenton Hort, 8 March 1938.

[163] Waterford Standard, 27 June 1936, p. 8.

[164] Portadown News, 21 March 1936, p. 9.

[165] Belfast News-Letter, 26 May 1936, p. 11.

[166] Waterford Standard, 27 June 1936, p. 8. Jimmy Hopkins, brother of Freddie, was the company secretary.

[167] The Stock Exchange Official Year-book, 1944, p. 1401.

[168] Colonel Eugene Daniel McCarthy married Sheila Mary O’Driscoll on 22/7/1935. Mary McMullan was a Bridesmaid on the occasion. Noel has a photograph of the whole wedding party. Sheila Mary O’Driscoll died in 2005 in the Isle of Man; Noel never met her but he spoke to her by telephone a few times before her death. See

[169] Sadie McMullan died aged 46 on 21 Aug 1936 in the Merrion Nursing Home, Dublin, not Shielmartin, Malahide, as elsewhere stated. See also Londonderry Sentinel, 22 August 1936, p. 5. She was buried out of Cedargrove, Knockbreda Road, Belfast, in Bangor New Cemetery.

[170] Regal Rooms referenced at Leinster Leader, 18 January 1936, p 10; Waterford Standard, 18 January 1936, p. 3.

[171] Belfast Telegraph, 6 April 1935.

[172] Petrol Company’s Annual Dance.

McMullan Brothers Limited, the well-known distributors of Mex Motor Spirit, Daisy Lamp Oil and Silensol Lubricating Oils, are holding their annual dance in the Gresham Hotel, Dublin, on Friday 18th February, 1938. As this firm’s dances always obtain a patronage as to entail ”closing of doors” early application should be made for tickets and tables to the Secretary of the Dance Committee. Mr. Ken O’Dea, care of McMullan Brothers Limited, Upper O’Connell St.. Dublin, or to any of the firm’s many representatives From past experience we can say that a really enjoyable night can be assured.

Sligo Champion – Saturday 15 January 1938, p. 5.

Also in New Ross Standard, 5 February 1937, references Ken O’Dea’s role as Secretary of the Dance Committee.

[173] The Boss had a great Dutch friend by name of Verschuur; Noel thought he was a sponger who lived off the Boss. He wasn’t an employee but, a very quiet man, who still attended many of the company dances as a friend of the owner. Noel says the Boss had a number of friends living on his support, just like his son Eric did.

[174] Joe Brannigan and Noel McMullan still have miniature petrol pumps among their keepsakes. In October 1975, the Dutch businessman Dr Tiede Herrema was kidnapped by the IRA. Frank Dormer was on his way to the dress dance, coming out of a pub in Drumcondra, when they saw a headline in the Evening Press that Dr Herrema had been found in a house in Monasterevin. ‘I always associate that with coming out and then going on to the dress dance. It was the talk of the evening.’

[175] The Green Isle was also too far away. For Dave O’Loughlin in the Purchasing Department, the event was prohibitively expensive to host, not least paying everyone’s costs, as well as meal the night before, lunch on the day and breakfast the next morning.

[176] COMMERCIAL VERICLES. FOR Sale. Ford 5cwt. Vans, Ford 14.9 Van, Ford 2-ton 500-gallon Double-compartment Tanker Waggons. Can be inspected at McMullan Ltd, Connsbank Road, Belfast. (Belfast Telegraph, 8 February 1940, p. 1).

[177] The Boss actually bought two houses, No. 1 and No. 2 Cedar Grove, and it together as one ‘absolutely beautiful’ house with a fabulous back garden, beautiful garden, complete with a big flag post. [Noel has photographs of garden with Boss walking down the middle with his daughter Mary McMullan.] The house has been divided back into two houses – the left-hand half is an old-people’s home and the right-hand half is a veterinary clinic. Cedar Grove still stands, on the ring road around Belfast going to Shaw’s Bridge; the back garden is now part of a housing estate.

[178] ‘Stocks of petrol in the country as a whole on the 30th September, 1940, were 5,300,000 gallons, a fall of 2 ¼ million since the previous month. This quantity, if maintained, should, however, be.” (Kennedy, Michael, and Victor Laing, editors, ‘The Irish Defence Forces 1940–1949 – The Chief of Staff’s Reports,’ Irish Manuscripts Commission 2011, p. 10.)

Prior to the Emergency, as the war would become known, Éire’s petrol consumption had rocketed up to 50 million gallons annually, the vast bulk of which was imported directly from Britain

[179] For much of this section I am indebted to Ciarán Bryan, ‘Rationing in Emergency Ireland, 1939-48,’ PhD Thesis, Department of History National University of Ireland Maynooth (September 2014), p. 64-71.

[180] As Bryce Evans observed, ‘There was widespread middle-class resentment against the department’s decision to ration petrol and ban private motoring.’

[181] The late Vicki Masin, nee McMullan, taught at Aravon School, Rathmichael, County Wicklow.

[182] Thom’s Directory, 1931.

[183] Clifford McMullan and Audrée Watson were married in Sandymount Methodist Church in 1940, but Malcolm doesn’t know what they did for their honeymoon. At the time that Clifford and DG both married ‘Audrey’ McMullan’s, a third ‘Audrey McMullan’ was prosecuted in Naas courts here for soliciting. ‘My mother used to think it’s a great laugh,’ says Noel.

[184] Jean Vance recalls making lunch every time Mr Clifford and Mr David came for the board meetings and, in due course, Noel and Max. ‘Florence and I used to go out and buy stuff from places like the Ormeau bakery to make a salad. ‘

[185] John Holmes: ‘If his desk was here and the sun was shining on the floor over there he’d be lying on the floor, hands behind the head. And he wouldn’t get up.’ Noel: ‘A lot of our board meetings were held in this situation.’

[186] When Frank Dormer started as an office boy in 1966, one of his first jobs was to buy a gross box of matches for ‘Mr David’, who always saw the value in bulk purchases. Unsure how such accounts worked at the time, Frank forked out a considerable chunk of his own £6 a week wage to buy the matches. Fortunately, he was reimbursed from petty cash when his predicament became known.

[187] Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 26 August 1938.

[188] Irish Independent, 21 July 1942, p. 4. Billy McMullan was an RAF flight sergeant, number 1796028, stationed in Kinross barracks Morayshire Scotland, while Joan Michael and Jane lived somewhere near Coventry. After the war he returned to Ireland but his marriage broke up and he went to NZ. Max recalls him staying with them in Foxrock in the late forties before his departure to NZ. ‘He was great crack!!’

[189] Dave O’Loughlin says that when he started, all the drivers had a helper. ‘They were all guys who left school after doing their primary cert aged 12 to 16 and each truck had a helper.’

[190] In his later years, Watty Morrissey started up a side-line in second hand clothes and, while his luckless boy helpers (including his son) unloaded the fuel, he endeavoured to sell coats and hats to the customers. One of Watty’s boy helpers was Nicholas Power, who, born in 1940, was sent off to work by his father before he finished school. From 1955 to 1959, he was a boy helper with the bad-tempered bully Watty, but eventually he was driving his own truck. He left and joined CIE and he came back to us then later on. And then he left us to join the guards.

Bobby Heuston’s funny story about a lorry boy:

At Connsbank Road, one of the employees brought milk in every morning from his home because his wife got a dividend from the Co-op for the milk. When he died, it was decided that rather than get the milk delivered to the depot, Frank Boggs should sip up, collect it at her house and give her the dividend. So, Frank duly went up every morning, picked the milk up and brought it up. One of the lorry boys asked one of the depot men, ‘Where does Frank go in the morning?’

‘He goes out stealing the milk, why?’

‘What do you mean “steal the milk”?’

‘McMullan’s wouldn’t buy milk, Frank has to go out and steal it.’

The lads in the depot had a great laugh and told Frank when he came back.

The next day, Frank called the wee lorry boy over, he said, ‘Right, you’re coming with me, you’re nice and shifty.’ So, up to the house, he says, ‘Right, away and get those two bottles of milk quick.’ He run out, got the milk, brought it in again and back to work. And this went on for about a week, and he says to him, ‘Frank, why do you always go to the same house? What’ll we do if she comes to the door?’ ‘Just ask her if Mrs Smith lives here?’ Right enough, she came to the door. ‘Mrs Smith live here?’ ‘No, I’m sorry,’ ‘Okay, missus,’ and away he went. And he said to Frank one day going up, he said, ‘Frank, you’re driving past that school, why not stop and get a crate?’ Well Frank had to eventually tell him then what was going on, but he believed they were stealing this milk. But you had characters then, very few characters now.

[191] Many of the Dublin helpers grew up in and around Sheriff Street, others were sweet innocents. When Bertie McMullan threatened to sack one such callow youth who had accidentally rolled a barrel into the back of Bertie’s scooter, the boy cried out, ‘You can’t sack me – I’m not eighteen yet.’

[192] Parents were often livid with drivers who returned their boy helper sons home in the middle of the night

[193] A lot of others took over when their father retired, such as Tommy Doyle (who got his job the day his father Harry Doyle died), Gerry McLoughlin, Martin Kavanagh and Dinny McLoughlin.

[194] One of the targets of productivity was boy helpers; it was clear that drivers were making them do all the work while they sat in the driving seat all day and never left the truck.

[195] Butts coincidentally worked the spotlights in the Abbey Theatre, but is not related to Michael Colgan. He was so-called because he never had a cigarette but he’d always take your butt. He’d joined the British Army (“the B.A.”) driven a truck and trailer on the Burma Road during the war, and he now drove a truck and trailer in the East Wall depot. William McMullan, Noel’s grandfather, paid his wages to his mother throughout the war, which not many companies were doing at that time. “He was a hard man to get on with,’ says Joe Byrne, who was his helper for a couple of months, ‘but I got on very well with him.’ It transpired that Butts had started as a helper too, delivering two-gallon cans in a horse and cart back in the age when there were no houses around the McMullan’s yard in East Wall and it was a sort of a tip head.

[196] Joe Brannigan often accompanied his father on road trips in the Maxol truck, venturing to places such as Clones, Kilkenny and Carlow.

[197] Brand petrol, not sold since the beginning of the war-time emergency, will be marketed again after to-day, when the Petrol Pool and combined delivery schemes will be dissolved. Rationing will, however, remain and the present maximum price Order will apply. Motorists will welcome the ending of the pool system, as the difference between pool petrol and brand petrol is estimated at about five miles per hour and about as many additional miles to the gallon. Thu dissolution of the Combined Delivery Scheme and the Pool Delivery Association was referred to at a presentation to two retiring directors of the Irish-American Oil Co., Ltd., at Clery’s Restaurant on Wednesday night … [Drogheda Argus and Leinster Journal, 1 January 1949, p. 5]

[198] In 1949, 45.4 million gallons of fuel were imported for home use, an increase of almost five-fold on 1944, just five years previous. Under the 1948 Finance Act, the price of petrol was fixed in the range 2s. 9d. to 2s. 10d. per gallon with duty of 1s. 2d. during the period 1948-1951.

[199] Although its potential was cramped by the inferior quality of the coal it used, the railway experienced an upsurge in traffic while, in December 1944, the government established Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ) to look after public transport in Éire.

[200] Company lore holds that a special act of the Parliament of Northern Ireland was passed at Stormont in 1949 enabling McMullans to be the first company in Ireland to put a 3,600-gallon tanker on the roads. Contemporary newspapers are strangely silent on this but the story may have its origins with the Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 1948. According to an undated company letter from the 1960s, this is revealed in the minutes for that year. The Boss is also said to have been the first in Ireland to put a 1,000-gallon tank on the road. The act could feasibly be connected to the sale of two Bedford trucks in September 1948. It may also be noted that on 18 April 1949, Éire’s dominion status ended and the Republic of Ireland was born.

[201] Mary King-French resigned as director in June 1958, when she sold her share in McMullans Ltd for £1.

[202] Petrol rationing ended in Northern Ireland on 26 May 1950.

[203] Figures via report of the Committee on Finance. – Restrictive Trade Practices (Confirmation of Orders) Bill, 1962—Second and Subsequent Stages. The annual “throughput” per site fell from 30,000 gallons in 1950 to 20,000 in 1958.

[204] Prior to Solus, the bulk of retail sales was through “mixed sites,” so called because they sold the brands of more than one petrol company. Only a minority of dealers sold the brands of one company exclusively, and on a voluntary basis.

[205] It sounds like Esso started this movement in the US, and then introduced it to the UK and Ireland.

[206] The rebate, of 3/8ths of a 1d. to 1/2d. per gallon of the retailer’s total gallonage for the period covered by the agreement, was usually paid in advance.

[207] Shamrock strongly opposed the solus agreement from the outset but finally submitted in 1955. Cartel, Volumes 11-12 (International Co-operative Alliance, 1961), p. 62

[208] ‘Clifford J. McMullen said that his company was rather surprised at the speed with which the solus system had been adopted. In 1951 Shell approached his company and asked if they would join in establishing a solus system. His company agreed. In answer to counsel for Wakefield Mr. McMullan said he believed that but for the force of economic circumstances dealers would prefer to remain independent so that they could offer a wider range of products. At this stage the Commission held a series of private sittings with the individual petrol distributing companies before resuming public hearings in January 18. C. C. Wakefield and Co. (Ireland) Ltd. Senior counsel for C. C. Wakefield and Co.  opened by saying that the company contended that the solus system actively injured public interest by reducing the choice of oil available. Wakefield claimed to be entitled to carry on business in conditions of free and fair competition.

Mr. Youell, managing director of Wakefield, told the Commission that his firm had never limited supplies only to members of the Irish Motor Traders Association. They denied supplies only to those who failed to pay for deliveries or who were considered of doubtful financial integrity or to “those concerns who cannot be trusted to refrain from substituting other less satisfactory products for genuine Castrol.” The company’s business was conducted on demand for its products and his firm had no agreements with dealers. If the petrol companies’ agreements were operated in full it would put an end to his company’s business with the motor trade. He added that the adverse effect of the solus system first became acute in 1955. He suggested that the Commission should recommend that any agreement which restricted the dispensing, sale, display and advertising of any brand of oil at any stage either by unfair restrictions, or by any system of quantity rebate, should be void.

Answering questions by counsel for Esso, Mr. Youell agreed that from 1955 until the present his company had not brought the matter about which they were now complaining to the notice of the Fair Trade Commission. In answer to a question by counsel for Irish Shell, Mr Youell agreed that while the Wakefield organisation in other countries also had to contend with the solus system, 1958 had been a record year for the organisation. He contended, however, that the group would have doubled its business but for the solus system.

Albert Lidgett, Petroleum Times, 1960, Vol. 64.

[209] Given that the annual fuel consumption for Ireland in 1959 came in at 80 million gallons, the widespread belief that oil companies were on the make is perhaps understandable.

[210] At the same inquiry, Shell fielded four Shell employees, two senior counsels and a junior counsel.

[211] Iran is one of the world’s largest oil producers, with exports worth billions of dollars each year and a proven reserve of 150 billion barrels. As of November 2019, it has the world’s fourth-biggest oil reserves and second-largest gas reserves, and shares a massive offshore field in the Persian Gulf with Qatar.

[212] Tom McMullan’s obituary was published in the Belfast Telegraph, 17 June 1964, p. 2.

In 1918 he married Martha (Meta) Hale, with whom he had three sons, Trevor, Thomas Herbert and Albert, as well as a daughter, Patricia Wright-Gossip who presently lives in Montreal

Trevor was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Engineers. When he retired, he spent some time boat-building – Gin Palaces, both sailing and powered – at Oysterhaven near Kinsale Harbour.

Thomas Herbert McMullan was born in Belfast on 24 June 1924. He studied civil engineering at Queens University in Belfast and married Madeline Eustace on April 25, 1950.  Soon after they immigrated to Montreal, Quebec , Canada and had 4 children.

Albert died in the 1970s.

Pat married Mr Wright-Gossip and was still living in Montreal in October 2019.

Tom died on 17 June 1964 at the age of 75. He should not be confused with Tom McMullan, who served variously as Circulation Manager, Joint Editor and Managing Editor of the Belfast Telegraph before he retired as in 1963. This is his obituary from the Belfast Telegraph, 19 September 1973:
MR. THOMAS McMullan, a former joint managing editor of the Belfast Telegraph, died in the early hours of to-day after a long illness. He was 76.
Mr. McMullan, of Sunningdale Park. Belfast, was one of the best-known figures in Northern Ireland journalism.
His entire career, spanning half a century, was spent with the Belfast Telegraph and allied publications. He retired in 1963 after 52 years service.
He entered the editorial department as a boy, serving first as a reporter and later on the sub-editorial desk. He had a wide knowledge of men and affairs in Northern Ireland and he carried out many leading assignments on behalf of this newspaper, including several in South Africa, Canada and the United States.
He served on the parliamentary reporting staff for the paper at Stormont, and was for more than 30 years motoring correspondent. writing under the nom de plume, “Radiator.”
When he retired in 1963 many tributes were paid to his services, and he was presented with many gifts. Mr. McMullan was a former chairman of the Newspaper Press Fund and assisted in a number of its fund raising efforts.
During the Second World War he took a keen interest in the Army Cadet Force, having ben commisioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Ballyclare platoon. He later became Northern Ireland public relations officer for the force with the rank of Major.
He was awarded the MBE (Military Division) in 1959 for his work with the Army Cadet Force, and on his retirement in 1963 was awarded the OBE.
Mr. McMullan,  affectionately known as “T. McM.” to his senior colleagues, took a keen interest in the encouragement of young journalists, and many now well established in the profession recall his friendly guidance and helpfulness. His dedication and sense of purpose, together with his gift of good humour, won him many friends. Mr. McMullan was a Past Master of Press Masonic Lodge No. 432. and also a member of Fortwilliam Presbyterian Church. He is survived by his wife, and a brother, Mr. William McMullan, who lives in Dublin.

[213] It was built in Sweden as all the Danish shipyards were fully engaged until 1954. (Illustrated London News, 17 October 1953).

[214] THE well-known and progressive firm of McMullans Limited, McMullan House, Linen Hall Street, Belfast, who have been responsible for the introduction of liquified gas to Ireland. They intimate that they have made arrangements to overcome heavy freight and other charges. As a result it will be possible to reduce the prices of the gas and ensure even cheaper cooking, heating, lighting, washing. etc. A new Company has recently been formed under the title of McMullans Kosangas (NI) Ltd with offices at McMullan House. and with which McMullans Limited are closely associated. The objects of the new Company arc to deal with the sale, installation and distribution of Kosangas in liquid form at prices which, they feel, will be extremely attractive. The Company have at their disposal for the carrying of the gas in bulk to Ireland a new M.V., specially constructed, which is understood to be the first of its kind in Europe.

The use of this vessel will eliminate freight costs on the full and empty heavy metal containers and the Company are confident that the saving this effected will reduce the price of has considerably.

A new foolproof Kosangas regulator supplied by the Company is simplicity itself. This can be attached to the equipment without the use of tools and should commend itself to all Kosangas users.

Kosangas is most economical in use, apart from its efficiency, which will bear favourable comparison with any other form of fuel. Increased demand for the gas should ease the problem of coal supplies in Northern Ireland and also offer a reliable alternative to the electricity supply during peak loads.

(Belfast Telegraph, 02 July 1954, p. 9)

At the 1954 Balmoral Show they also exhibited Everve Vaporising oil, Daisy Illuminating Oil and Dinkelite Incubator Oil.

The McMullan’s introduction of the new Kosangas was hailed in newspapers such as the Northern Whig and the Belfast Telegraph.

It may be noted that Robert Parr, the managing director of Calor, was on holiday in Dunmore, Waterford, when he died on 23 August 1954. (Petroleum Times, Volume 58  (Albert Lidgett, 1954), p. 924.)

I think Kiki Tholstrup, the last wife of James Bond actor Roger Moore, was a member of the family.

[215] McMullans Kosangas (Northern Ireland) Ltd. was registered in Belfast as a private company on 1 July 1954. Its stated objective was to transport, import, export and deal in coal, oil, turf and peat gases. There was to be £35,000 worth of £1 shares and the directors were William, Clifford and David G McMullan, as well as Bertie McAnuff (all of McMullan House, Linenhall Street. Belfast) and Knud, Henrik, Laurits and Paul Tholstrup, all of A/S Kosangas 1, Vester, Copenhagen. (Albert Lidgett, Petroleum Times, 1954, p. 791.)

[216] Kitta Tholstrup sailed on 12 July 1957, under skipper Captain Gustav Jensen.

[217] Diesel’s popularity is very much on the wane now because of its carcinogenic exhaust.

[218] This weighed in at about two million barrels per day.

[219] Miller, Rory. “The Politics of Trade and Diplomacy: Ireland’s Evolving Relationship with the Muslim Middle East.” Irish Studies in International Affairs, vol. 15, 2004, pp. 123–145. JSTOR,

[220] At this time Shell and Esso reps were quite active on the ground. The Esso rep in Carlow was Colm Costello, the son of Major -General Costello who ran the Irish Sugar Co.

[221] In 1938, Ireland’s consumption of petroleum products was 73 million. By 1955,  at least twenty million gallons of the 262 million gallons were required by Irish farmers.

[222] Initial plans to build it in Dublin were axed because Dublin Bay would need to be regularly dredged and, even then, its depth would make it inaccessible to tankers over 20,000-tonnes.

[223] It also had up-to-date cargo and passenger arrangements. Statistics via Kieran McCarthy, “Technical Memories – Whitegate Oil Ventures”, Our City, Our Town Article, Cork Independent, 6 February 2014.

[224] His family originally ran three O’Reilly’s saddler’s shops, one in Blackrock, another in Dun Laoghaire and a third on Tara Street in Dublin, directly opposite Apollo House. They sold harnesses and saddling to the British Army. His grandfather was a tricky man to work for and his father eventually rebelled and left for England with his girlfriend, John’s mother, who he promptly married. ‘They married in difficult circumstances, but he got a job quickly enough. And then, before they had time to establish anything, the war came along.’ John was born at 36A Queen’s Gate, Kensington, SW1, in 1935.

During the Blitz, they would ‘collect the bits off the roof’. But tragedy was near at hand for six-year-old John. ‘My little friend, a little girl called Sylvia lived opposite to us on the other side of the road in a sort of a mews at Elvaston Place. They weren’t bombing the West End, but a bomb dropped on the West End anyway and it killed her which was very sad. And then a chap with a tin hat saw me and said told my mother I had to be got out of here. “You have to send him down to Devon or somewhere”. But my mother said, “No way, he’s going back to Ireland.”

And so the Brady’s relocated to Dublin where John’s father found work with property developer Frank Boyland’s Irish Estate on Upper Pembroke Street. ‘He had just built a new block of flats which was a mile ahead of anything in Dublin at the time. Lifts and central heating and weird things like that.’

Boyland’s office was next door to Catholic University School on Leeson Street where John went. ‘I could go to school out through the back door and in through the back door. The disadvantage was that I could never mitch.’

[225] He went to the College of Commerce (previously the High School of Commerce) at Rathmines Town Hall to study accountancy. ‘All the staff wore gowns and we wore ties, but people wore ties at that time.’ [Tom Noonan went to Rathmines also] It transpired he was really studying a course for company secretary-ship in an age when people didn’t become company secretary until they were in their fifties. He had thought of reading law but his parents were keen for him to find immediate employment so he leapt to attention when Mr Crowley, the head of the college, suggested he gain some work experience.

[226] ‘Mr Crowley sent me down to O’Connell Street and he didn’t even know the name of the company. He said, ‘I can’t remember what the name of the company is’. And I said, ‘Esso?’ ‘No, no, it’s not Esso’. ‘Texaco?’ ‘No, no, it’s not Texaco’. ‘Well, how do I get there?’ And he said, ‘When you get to Findlater’s, it’s over Findlater’s, and you’ll see the sign’.

‘I’m sitting in the top of the bus and eventually I get to up O’Connell Street and I look across and I see Mex and immediately the penny dropped.’

The first person he met was  John McMullan (Noel’s great-uncle), the company secretary. ‘He was Mr John. Everybody called everybody Mr. I was Mr too, although I was only about 20 at the time.’ He said: ‘I want you to meet Mr Clifford’. Now, I didn’t realise Clifford was Clifford McMullan. He said Mr Clifford, you see? I didn’t know who anybody was because nobody explained anything to me. Anyway, I go inside, and they start having a chat – John and Clifford – talking across me, as it were. And John says, ‘This is Mr Brady. He wants to be a salesman’. And I said, ‘No, I don’t, actually. I’m supposed to be an accountant.’ And fair play, Clifford said, ‘Well, there’s not much point in him going into the accounts office if he wants to be a salesman’. ‘I don’t want to be a salesman,’ I said again. It was like Laurel and Hardy.’

‘At the end of my first week, Mr John came out and gave me an envelope and I looked inside, and it was £4.17 and sixpence. I hadn’t thought I was going to be paid at all because I thought I was doing work experience. At that time, I think a pint of Guinness was only one shilling.’

[227] Jack was very old fashioned and ruled the office with ‘a rod of iron’, recalls Max. Every day Max would submit a report on the status of the outlying depots, their activities and sales, with an analysis of whether these were on target or how they could be improved. If a depot wasn’t pulling its weight, a ‘storekeeper’ was despatched to find out why. The accounting machines in vogue then were ‘huge mechanical yokes with a handle on them … you clacked a whole lot of numbers in and then you wound the handle furiously and it gave you an answer.’  [Noel suggested this was an ‘Addressograph multigraph’, but Max said they came later, and said it had an Italian name; was this the Curta that John Brady talked  about?] He was also a genius with figures and the noise of the machines drove him ‘crackers.’ He would come down to my desk and say, ‘Turn off that bloody thing’. And then he would round up three figures like £12 6d and seven pence and he’d just run a pen down the whole sheet and write the sum at the bottom, just like that. And I’d be half an hour with this bloody machine.’ Jack’s calculation was always absolutely accurate.

[228] Jack Thompson was an ‘incredibly thin, very tall’ Freemason [Director of Ceremonies or Secretary, if not the Tyler] who used to cycle into work on a High Nellie, which was something of a faux pas for a senior person in an oil company in those days! ‘He often went on holiday with his daughter and the two of them on high nellies used to cycle down to Wexford.’ ‘He was a very kind person but he was afraid to show any kind of emotion or affection or anything like that. He used to try and organise these masonic do’s and the funny thing was that he would never tell you what he was doing but you could hear this on the phone. It was impossible not to hear it. He had a foghorn of a voice and he was asking these guys to come along, we’re doing something, whatever it was, and they never seemed to want to come. And then he’d fly into a rage and bang the phone down. It was said at the time that there was no need for Jack to use the telephone, he could just open the window and shout.’

Everyone shouted on the telephone in the 1950s and 1960s. ‘Phones were so unreliable in those days,’ explains Noel. ‘Everybody shouted on the telephone, so it didn’t go down the wireless, you’d hear it through the air. My father used to bellow on the telephone.’

[229] John Brady’s tenure in the accounts department was not infinite. ‘They quickly realised I wasn’t a natural accountant and I was moved over to do statistics which I enjoyed.’

[230] ‘A curta was a little thing about the size of a teacup with a little handle on the top – it looked like a coffee grinder. They were a handmade computers, made by a Swiss Austrian genius, that you could do percentages on. No two were exactly the same. Nobody knew how to use the curta except Wally Dukes, the second company secretary, but he was never willing to let anyone use it. ‘You had to almost beg for it and he’d say, “Well, you can have it for an hour”, which was no good!’. So I didn’t bother using the curta and I did it all by hand.’

[231]  ‘Every single thing had to be in by two and a half days after the end of the month. If that didn’t happen, the sky would fall in followed by the end of the world.’

‘With petrol or any kind of liquid product you have leakage,’ explains John Brady. ‘Otherwise it can be known as theft.’ Leakage rarely means that you’ve got a hole in the tank because they’re very well looked after.  It means that if you put 10,000 litres of a volatile fuel like petrol into a compartment and drive down to Derry, by the time you get there, (a) the temperature may have changed by two degrees in the journey and (b) there had been some vaporising while pumping on and the pumping off. That’s the main cause of leakage with trucks; the more you pump it on and off the truck, the more you lose.

[232] Thirty years before William’s birth, one of the catalysts for Indian Rebellion was an attempt by the British authorities to get Islamic soldiers within their ranks to use cartridges greased in cow and pig fat.

[233] Not everyone understood the importance of oiling one’s car. When DG asked a customer how much oil his smart car required, the owner elatedly replied, ‘She doesn’t use any oil at all – I don’t give her any.’

[234] Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, 15 June 1956, p. 6.  ‘Exhibits at County Antrim Agricultural Show in Ballymena – McMullans Ltd., Belfast, are sole distributors for Mex motor spirit, and they also market vaporising oil. Diesel (tractor) oil illuminating oil, sheep dip and disinfectants. McMullan Kosangas (N. I.) Ltd. will be demonstrating the benefits of their product to the rural dweller.’ Ballymena Observer, 6 June 1958

[235] Esso’s campaign involved selling paraffin heaters with a sticker that said ‘Use Only Esso Blue Paraffin’; Shell swiftly responded with a campaign to promote their ‘Aladdin Pink’ paraffin. Dinny may also have dyed paraffins to looked like Aladdin Pink. When rival sales drivers twigged, they issued a formal complaint to Shell and Dinny was called to Head Office for a meeting with DG McMullan at 28 Upper O’Connell Street. DG read the riot act. “It’s not on”, he says, “You can’t be going around doing things like that.” As Dinny was leaving the office, very dejected, DG softened and said, “By the way McLoughlin. Dumbo Hill, I want some paraffin oil out there”. Dinny turned and said, “What colour do you want?” “Get out! Get out!” roared DG.

Johnny Brannigan reckoned Dinny should be on the stage – ‘he’s an out and out comedian.’ A very stout, slightly lopsided man, he was always whistling, singing and telling jokes. He was very, very witty and very quick. For the most part, he was delivering Daisy Paraffin to existing clients, or hunting out fresh customers among the city’s hardware shops.

Dinny McLaughlin’s son Gerry had a long career as a driver in Ravensdale Road and later, in Parkgate Street.

[236] He went down to the stables on Hanover Street every second or third Sunday ‘to go in to feed the horses.’ He was working alongside his father at the time, coming down from their home in the tenements in Dorset Street. They moved to Finglas in 1952, when they moved everybody out. His schooling started in St Canice’s, a Christian Brothers school on North Circular Road, which is now closed. He left school aged 13 and a half – ‘I couldn’t wait to leave because I hated it and the brothers knocked lumps out of you, but that’s all water under the bridge.’ He went straight to work, selling ice cream in the Mary Street cinema long into the night. He saw a lot of films a lot of times: ‘I knew the dialogues back and forth.’ In 1958, his father told him they were looking for boy helpers at the Mex depot in East Wall so, aged 15, he cycled down and met Mick Murray, the foreman in the oil stores. He had an interview and started the following week.

[237] They were given meal money for road trips beyond the city limits –  ‘four and six for dinner and three and six for tea’ – while Joe relished watching all the Jaguars and Daimlers and other ‘fancy cars’ they passed on the roads.

[238] Joe Brannigan was just a boy helper when ‘Mr Clifford’ and Fred Buelick brought all of the helpers down to go on a barge on the Shannon. Needless to say, the helpers got drunk, tumbled into the Shannon and one of them nearly drowned.

[239] Muckster Dunne ended up as DG McMullan’s gardener. ‘The best paid gardener in Ireland,’ joked Joe Byrne.

[240] Belfast Telegraph, 14 March 1957. A notice in the Belfast Telegraph attributed the move to the company’s need to ‘combat the problems and inconvenience caused by ever-increasing traffic congestion in the city centre’ as well as ‘to allow for the continual expansion of business.’ The same article name-checked all those involved in constructing and designing the offices from the builder and architect down to Samuel McGeddy and Sons of Portadown who provided the floral decoration.

[241] Belfast Telegraph, 26 August 1974, p. 4.

[242] Ross McWilliams ran two filling stations – one was Cadogan on the Lisburn Road and is no more, and the other was Twinburn which Brian Torrens took over when he retired as GM.

[243] John Turner and Michael Bain also had their offices here in the 1970s.

[244] ‘What an accent!’ marvels John Brady. ‘But he was incomprehensible when he got excited about something, like one of the Healy-Raes. And whenever he used to ring head office, somebody would say to me, “It’s for you”. And we used to work a sort of a 20 questions sort of thing. “Hold on a minute, Mr Brown. Hold on a minute. Is it about petrol?” ‘Yes’. ‘Okay. Is it about pumps?’ And so on, to cut it down. He was lovely.”

[245] The Newry depot was situated on the “middle bank” of the Clanrye River between the Mall and Merchant’s Quay. Belfast Telegraph – Wednesday 20 May 1959.

[246] The Belfast incident occurred on 3 October 1961.

[247] Car sales rose year on year through the 1960s as the economy developed; by 1968 there were 348,000 private cars in the Republic. In 1960 there were 227, 292 motor vehicles in Northern Ireland, including nearly 125,000 private cars and over 28,000 agricultural engines. The Statesman’s Year-Book 1962, edited by S. Steinberg, p. 134.

A rearrangement of the internal administration (aka drivers / productivity) resulted in ‘an extremely efficient and speedy distribution of products to customers.’

[248] Esso moved out of 1-2 Upper O’Connell Street to Stillorgan, and McMullan Brothers took over the building. In certain old photographs, the Esso sign is still there.

[249] Everyone was in position by September 1961 when, following the introduction of the five-day week, all the company offices and depots were closed on Saturdays.

[250] Each section was in a different room, and each office was a separate office and nearly formed a personality of their supervisor. The Supervisors: Debt control was headed by Frank McGarry (who passed away in 2020), the Sales office by Con O’Rourke, the accountant’s office by Jack Thompson (who retired in January 1967) and then by John Dunne. The typing crew was headed up by John Rooney and general accountants by Donal McCarthy (who died fairly recently) ‘From an office point of view, these were the people who kept the thing coming along.’ Supervisors were probably in their 30s and 40s.

The commercial travellers included such ‘luminaries’ as Hector McDonald (a commercial traveller in lube oils when Noel started), Bill Smith (a particular favourite of DG) and Freddy Hopkins (a lovely man, whose clientele were all in the Dublin area). They were all skilled at developing strong personal relationships with their dealers.

[251] Oil and Gas International Year Book, Financial Times., 1971, p. 370.

[252] ‘Mr F.N. A. Bullick who is the youngest District Commandant and Staff Officer in Kenya Police Reserve and volunteered to take part in anti-Mau Mau patrols in Nairobi, is spending long leave at his parents’ home at Saintfield, Co. Down, with his wife, formerly Miss Dorothea Cooke, who was a chemist at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. Mr. Bullick, who is 30, intends to return to East Africa as a technical representative which was his work after he left Belfast in 1950. Mr. Bullick joined the Police Reserve in April, 1953, to help to fight against terrorism, and became officer-in-change of transport at the colony’s police headquarters in Nairobi. His father. Mr. F. Bullick, was formerly officer-in-charge of transport for the Royal Ulster Constabulary.’ Belfast News-Letter, 13 July 1955, p. 4. The name was pronounced Buillick but spelt Bullick.

[253] The Tynagh Mines produced nearly a million tonnes of copper, lead and zinc prior to its closure in 1981.

[254] Frank Dormer was born in Dublin and went down to his mother’s home near Mountmellick when he was 10 years old. He returned to Dublin aged 16 and three quarters to start work as an office boy with Baxendale’s, a big builders’ providers, on Capel Street. They had four flights of stairs, with a different department on each floor such as plumbing where Paddy [?] Moloney of The Chieftains worked. In 1966, Frank was interviewed by Fergus McAlevey, the office manager at McMullan Brothers. He started work as the office boy on 19 December 1966, aged 17 years and 17 days, with a weekly wage of ‘the princely sum’ of £6. In his first week’s wages, he got a Christmas box.

[255] Frank was often sent up to Parnell Square with post for James ‘JC’ Fagan, the company solicitor, where a young Ivor Fitzpatrick managed Maxol’s paperwork, or to clients such as Walden Motors on Parnell Street. Although stuck in the basement in O’Connell Street, he got to know the city quickly, with daily visits to the solicitors with James ‘JC’ Fagan, and delivering letters through Wally Dukes, the company secretary. Most of Maxol’s work was handled by Ivor Fitzpatrick, one of JC’s minions, who is now one of the biggest solicitors in town and owner of Castle Howard by Avoca. Frank He was also often sent over to Waldon Motors in Parnell Street where Mr [Billy?] Wallace was managing director; they were the first place to have Mex blended petrol.

[256] John Brady said that when he joined the Dublin office, he was a rare thing, a Catholic in McMullan’s.

[257] At eight o’clock, he rang Rita Gill, the ‘fantastic’ receptionist who had what was universally acknowledged as ‘a very busy job’, to ensure she’d be in on time for the switch at nine o’clock.

[258] The concept was that when Donal McCarthy totted up the names in the book against the number of staff who had signed in, he was so befuddled and baffled that he let it go. From the staff point of view, if you arrived late and saw that McGuimilt had already signed, you just took your seat and said nothing. Frank didn’t have to sign in because he had to be in a bit early for the post. There was always a couple of people who were regularly below, including one particular lady … there was no flexi-time.

[259] Frank Melia may have been related to 20-year-old James Melia was executed in Dundalk on 22 January 1923

[260] The Belfast Telegraph published his obituary on 21 February 1963 with a short synopsis of the life of the founder and governing director of McMullans Ltd. It noted that he was a member of Masonic Lodges in Belfast and Newry and a member of the Presbyterian Church in Limavady, where he lived

IRISH OIL COMPANY’S FOUNDER M R. WILLIAM McMULLAN who has died, was founder and governing director of McMullans Ltd., the Irish petrol and oil distributing company. Mr. McMullan, who was 78, was born in Donaghadee and was educated at Newry Model School. He served his apprenticeship as a chemist in Newry, and also worked as a chemist in London and Cork. Later Mr. McMullan became manager of William Preston and Sons, Ltd., paint, oil and petrol distributors in Belfast and Dublin. In 1918 he started his own petrol and oil business in Belfast. He later opened offices in Dublin and Cork. Mr. McMullan was well-known in golfing circles and was a former captain of the Knock club. He was also keenly interested in motor-racing. He was a member of Masonic Lodges in Belfast and Newry and a member of the Presbyterian Church in Limavady, where he lived. Belfast Telegraph, 21 February 1963

[261] Max McMullan was at the East Wall depot at the time. ‘The productivity of the drivers and so on was pathetic, industry wide, so the industry got together, led by Esso, to introduce a productivity scheme.’

[262] Mr Parsons lived in Sutton, County Dublin, but hailed from Williamstown, County Galway.

[263] Commandant Patrick Joseph Ward served in the Irish Army Transport Corps as a full time soldier. He lived on Howth Road, Bayside, Sutton. He was recommended to the company by Owen Hayes, another ex-Irish Army many, who became Managing Director of the LSE Motor Company in North Frederick Street, Dublin. His son was John Hayes was a successful motor racer.

[264] The detachable tank had two legs so truck drivers could back into them and lock on. John Brady told a story of how they laid the concrete in the Carlow depot and the legs of the detachable trailer sank into the concrete.

[265] Not everyone liked the new colours. ‘They looked like ice-cream vans and they were too hard to keep clean.’ Texaco were the only firm to stay with red, the colour it retains up to this day. The Drogheda Independent, 11 September 1970.

[266] Johnny Brannigan’s pub of choice was Cusack’s on the North Strand. They’d park up, got to the pub, drink a rake of pints and then get back in the truck and drive down the narrow road to the East Wall depot, where they had to squeeze in through a tight gate, back up, drop the trailer and park the truck before making their way home. No matter how many pints of Guinness they’d had, the drivers did this like clockwise and few of them were ever late back in for the eight o’clock start the next morning.

Another popular destination was The Sailor’s Rest where the clientele were known as. Mackenzie’s Raiders after a popular film from the period. These drivers would go to Shell and get the truck loaded up and then meet up for a coffee in the Sailor’s Rest before they went off down the country. It wasn’t just Maxol drivers – all the oil companies had drivers there! – but they had to be very careful because fellas would rob stuff out of their trucks while they were in having coffee at the Sailor’s Rest, particularly during the promotions era when they were carrying clocks, watches, radios and Delft galore.

[267] Harry Twamley lived in Clontarf. His daughter opened a restaurant in Baltinglass and that’s where he ended his days. Joe Byrne recalls delivering to a Mex garage on the square in Baltinglass, ‘a pump outside a pub,’ and meeting Harry Tomly; there’s still a Maxol garage in Baltinglass but different location. Harry’s son was a shipping radio officer who always sent his father a tie from wherever his ship had got to. ‘The tie could have had hula-hula dancers and all exotic things but Harry was so proud he used to wear the tie into work over his jumper!’

[268] Joe Tyndall, one of the Naas drivers, accepted an offer to work from East Wall afterwards and drove up the Naas Road to Dublin every morning. Bob Fagan, the other Naas driver, declined the move. Prior to Joe Byrne’s time there was also a depot at Bridgend, Donegal, although it may not have taken bulk liquid.

[269] Both the Leyland Beavers and the Octopus were warmer than the old trucks because the engine was in the cabs. The Octopuses were big, long and double-wheeled, without powered steering, with a cab way up high.

While their fellow drivers in Northern Ireland would always make it home that same night, the Dublin drivers – and Dublin-based sales reps – often had to stay overnight Their longest journeys were “overnights”, which was a regular business, delivering lubricating oil all over the country.You’d go down and you could be sent anywhere,’ says Joe Brannigan. ‘It was a break because you got paid overnight, expenses, the whole lot.’ They loaded up the lube oil in Esso, with perhaps four different grades, primarily bulk oil and then set off on their rounds. If there were ten drops to make on the trip, the trick was to complete as many as possible on the first day so you could relax in your hotel, with a dinner, a pint and a good sleep before completing the load next day.

[270] In the 1950s and 1960s, most bridges around Ireland and a capacity to carry only 1 or 2 tonnes. The first company to start hauling heavy stuff was McHenry’s, who brought the turf off all the bogs by truck and trailer. They were sometimes carrying a couple of tonnes of heavy wet turf over those bridges.

[272] Brian’s father was a harbour policeman and Connsbank Road was part of his beat. ‘One of the worst deliveries we had was the fleet in Kilkeel. You had to run with a reel hose – a big rubber thing full of oil – and jump over about four or five boats to get to the very end. Stick it in, run back and check the meter because the driver had more or less gone for his lunch. One day, there was a roar from a boy on the fifth boat shouting, ‘My tank’s full’. So the driver shut off the hose. And whatever the pressure was in the hose, it burst at the tanker and everybody – even three or four boats back – got sprayed in red diesel, in the food and lord knows what happened anyway. I think I got a promotion after that!’

[273] ‘That was the end of Hughie as far as depot manager, says Brian.’ He was probably in his 60s. He had a nervous breakdown, requiring electric shock therapy.

[274] Noel McMullan: ‘He did a great job with the company. He really put a torch in.’ John Turner: ‘He modernized the firm and turned it into a proper marketing company … He was very talented, who did wonders for the company.’ Bobby Hueston: ‘He kept the thing moving all the time. He turned the firm inside out.’ David John Surridge lived on Station Road, Craigavad, in 1960 and Victoria Road, Hollywood in 1973.

From at least 1970 until 1972, David Surridge was also chairman of the Ulster Cancer Foundation. [Belfast Telegraph, 22 June 1972, p. 11]

[275] Belfast Telegraph – Monday 24 January 1966. He was educated at Birkenhead School in Oxton, Merseyside.

[276] Belfast Telegraph – Wednesday 21 October 1964. In October 1964, the company announced its intention of setting up a number of company-operated filling stations – a pioneering concept in Ireland – to act as “pace-setters” for a general improvement in standards. The first of these new stations opened at Lisburn and offered speedy oil changes by means of new equipment, clean and comfortable rest rooms, refreshments, a wide stock of accessories and special windscreen cleaning. [Belfast Telegraph – Tuesday 26 January 1965, p.

[277] They were built by Victor Doherty, who also did all the construction work for Eric McMullan at his Belfast house, Cultra. [right name?]

[278] Brian Torrens was in charge of depot relief for a time. He did the last relief in both Coleraine and Cookstown before those depots closed. The Ballymena depots also closed.

[279] Belfast Telegraph, 23 April 1965.

[280] An added advantage of blending for the station was that they only needed to stock two grades underground instead of three. At this time there were three main grades of petrol in the Republic of Ireland, namely Regular (91 octane), Plus (95 octane – was it?) and Super / Premium (98 octane). Noel feels Regular on its own was ‘too little’ as it caused ‘plinking’ (what’s that!!?), while Super on it its own was also unnecessarily high unless you had a very high powered car; Dealers kept selling Super because the profit margin was bigger, so even people with 10 year old Mini’s were putting it in, thinking it was the best grade, even though it wasn’t really suitable for their car at all. 95-octane was a solid one to go for. Northern Ireland also offered a 100-octane grade, but Noel says was a ‘waste of money.’ In 2020, the big Circle K stations also offer a top grade, which is 7c a litre more expensive; Noel likewise says ‘you might as well throw money down the drain.’

[281] Belfast Telegraph, 23 April 1965, p.6. In June 1966, Surridge attended a reception in Dublin to mark the introduction of Wayne’s petrol blending pumps to Ireland. However, it seems that some of these pumps had been in position for almost two years by then. Reading Evening Post, 16 June 1966.

[282] The purchases were helped by the restriction on site acquisitions imposed on the Majors by the first Monopolies Report of 1966. [Petroleum retailing after the Monopolies Report: the challenges of the 1990s ; papers presented at a conference organised by the Energy Economics Group on 6 June 1990, P. Ellis JonesEnergy Economics Group (Institute of Petroleum, 1990)], p. 29

‘Petroleum retailing after the Monopolies Report: the challenges of the 1990s’; papers presented at a conference organised by the Energy Economics Group on 6 June 1990, P. Ellis JonesEnergy Economics Group (Institute of Petroleum, 1990)], p. 29.

[283] Belfast Telegraph – Wednesday 23 May 1973. Rally driver, Paddy Hopkirk, was born in Belfast in 1933. He was educated at Clongowes Wood College in Co Kildare from 1945–1949 before attending Trinity College, Dublin until 1953. He was awarded the MBE Honour in the 2016 New Year’s Honours list. In early 2016 Paddy became the IAM RoadSmart Mature Drivers Ambassador.

[284] Belfast Telegraph, 30 April 1964, p. 12.

[285] Malcolm McMullan bought the ‘Maxol’ brand name from another company for £5000.  The words ‘Mac’ and ‘Sol’ were on the back of a dance card that Noel McMullan still has in his possession today.

[286] This included the new 20/30 viscosity engine oil, Maxol Premium

[287] There were very good margins in lubricating oil, and Burmah did a huge amount of advertising internationally. They very successfully developed a name as a premium brand. A lot of cars and aircraft companies recommended Castrol. Maxol developed an IT system so that if you ring up and order Castrol GTX, they can give you the exact Maxol equivalent to Castrol GTX. At one point, Maxol bought its oils from Esso and changed the name by simply doubling the number, so Esso 44 became Maxol 88!

[288] Drogheda Independent, 11 September 1970, p. 8.

[289] Belfast Telegraph, 5 October 1967, p. 5: McMULLAN’S LAUNCH FIRST SELF-SERVICE STATION IN ULSTER At 11-30 a.m, to-morrow when Lord O’Neill officially opens the new McMullans Filling Station at Church Rood, Newtownabbey, it will be the birth of an entirely new era, the arrival of self-service to the petrol business …

[290] ‘Self-service catches on – McMULLANS LTD., the locally owned petroleum company who sell their products under the Mex and Maxol brand names, report further progress during the past year and especially in the field of self-service stations with four more opened. McMullans say the idea has been readily accepted. and motorists have been able to make savings on their purchases of petrol. The idea of helping motorists to cut costs was an extension of McMullans plan in 1964, when they introduced blending to Northern Ireland.’ (Belfast Telegraph, 20 January 1969).

[291] Anglo-Celt, 2 August 1968, p. 16.

[292] Frank Melia, the Mex rep for the Dundalk area, was unable to attend due to a bereavement. The site had previously belonged to a longstanding McMullan’s customer by name of Paddy Hanratty. (Drogheda Argus and Leinster Journal, 20 June 1969). Heber Russell’s mother was one of the Bellinghams of Bellingham Castle.

[293] Originally from Bere Island, County Cork, Bernie Cahill, a big cheese and ‘a genius of a man’, ‘was sent over to salvage the place. He travelled the world over looking at creameries and equipment for the factory. And it was the most modern of its kinds in the world because he had the best of everything. And then again, he used to travel around the world picking up orders for powdered milk and things like that. And they were doing fierce turnover. They were on black oil, heavy oil.’ Bernie went on to become chairman of Aer Lingus but drowned in 2001. He has a house down by Ballydehob. Carbery was were bought out by West Cork Dairies.

[294] On one occasion, a truck delivering the heavy fuel oil out to Youghal Carpets broke down on the side of the road and the oil started going hard in the tank. Brownlow went out and worked with the driver and the boy helper all night on it because it would freeze up. The only way to stop it is to pump it and pump it. It got very thick but they just managed to repair the truck in time. Brownlow genially rang both the driver’s family and the boy helper’s family to explain they might be late home bit he forgot to ring his own wife. The Brownlow family consequently had a sleepless night and Brownlow got hell when he eventually went home to the wife.

Another truck broke down during a long-haul delivery from Dublin to a Bord na Móna plant in Mayo, causing mass panic in Head Office as mechanics were dispatched to solve the crisis. And another truck jack-knifed on a hairpin bend on the Cork to Dungarvan Road, holding up the whole road for ages.

One of the worst incidents was when a truck jack-knifed at Inishannon, and its oil flooded out across the road into the River Bandon, painting all the swans black.

[295] ‘When you refine a barrel of oil,’ explains Noel, ‘you get so much petrol and so much fuel oil and so much LPG and so on. No one company can themselves use exactly the amount that comes out of the barrel, so they have to sell products that are in excess of their demand and buy in products that they’re short. Everybody’s short or long in something. And this is what the stock market is based on. If you refine your barrel of oil, you’re never going to find exactly the right number of customers for what comes out of that barrel. It’s more complicated now because you’ve got other things like NAFTA and – I’ve forgotten all the products that come out of refining a barrel of crude, but there’s about eight or ten different products. So, you have to sell the ones you’re long on, on the stock market, and buy on the stock market the ones you’re short on.’

[296] The key issue for Marathon was that the supply boats came in like clockwork and that the oil was pumped onto the rig at a decent speed. Prior to McMullan’s, Texaco had sent some deliveries out to the rig but they had made the mistake of trying to offload 10,000-20,000 gallons through a 1.5 inch pipe which took forever. Austin’s solution was to get Brownlow’s Brother’s [or brother?] machine shop in Anglesea Street to make a Y-shaped piece that made for a 5-inch pipe and greatly increased the speed of the pumping.

[297] The shanty was used as the theme for a two-minute Gulf Oil TV commercial.

I’m an able-bodied sailor and I’ve often crossed the line
On whaling ships and sailing ships and ships of ev-er-y kind
But now I’ve got the very best job I’ve had for many a day
I’m workin’ on the tanker bringing oil to Bantry Bay

Hey! Bringin’ home the oil, me boys, bringin’ home the oil!
Sailin’ all around the world, bringin’ home the oil!
A’ workin’ on a giant ship, it’s very hard we toil,
Sailin’ into Bantry Bay, bringin’ home the oil!

Tommy Makem & the Clancy Brothers
Bringin’ Home the Oil!

[298] These four worked under Vincent Lyons, head of the fuel department, who had his very own Moneypenny in the form of Rita Gill, the company’s receptionist who was highly-rated by all. Rita Byrne, another secretary, was red-headed.

[299] When Johnny Quirke was three, he was knocked over and scarred by a passing car driven by Ernie Crawford, the rugby player. It turned out to be a good omen because Johnny went on to win three caps. Having left Blackrock in June 1961, Johnny Quirke was selected as a substitute for a Leinster trial. When the other scrum half was injured, he was called up. Over the ensuing season, he helped Leinster defeat the other three province and drew 17-17 with Toulose in France on Armistice Day of 1961, with 30,000 spectators. He won his first cap aged 17 (which he thinks is a record – check). It was February 1962 and he was one of nine new caps (including Willy John MacBride) who played against England in Twickenham; they lost badly but, as Johnny says, ‘I was playing with my out half for the first time in my life, but I did quite a good review.’ They then played Scotland, and lost again, but a smallpox epidemic in Wales meant the Welsh match was postponed. Unfortunately, he subsequently banjaxed his knee and ligaments while getting a try in a minor match at Twickenham; the injury was so bad that he had to quit the sport for a few years. His international career was over but he returned to the game. He earned his third cap for Ireland in 1968 when he set up a try that helped defeat Scotland. He was working with McMullan’s at the time.

[300] Johnny Quirke was also past president of Blainroe Golf Club, County Wicklow, while Eric Campbell was a single figure golfer at Rathfarnham Golf Club. Tom Noonan was captain of the Irish Cycle and Motor Traders’ Golfing Association in the late 1990s.
James M. Hearn, the son of a miller and timber merchant from New Ross, County Wexford, was the McMullan area representative for County Wexford for many decades prior to his retirement in the early 1960s. Mr Hearn’s skills in golf were matched by his talent for boxing, tennis, hockey and athletics.

[301] Johnny had oil experience before he joined Maxol, with Dublin Petroleum and later, Malone Oil Products. He had also previously completed a Diploma in Public Administration in UCD. One day, Vincent Lyons sent him to the Dawson Street office of Noel Smith, his solicitor, to collect the title deeds to his house. Noel was a brother of Rosemary, who was also a motor rally driver, as well as being the insurance companies’ biggest solicitor. Johnny arrives, goes up the stairs to Mr Smith’s office, sees the name Noel Smith on the door, and knocks. “Come in!” ‘I open the door and Noel Smith, whom I’ve never met before, is throwing a telephone at the wall, which smashes.” He was the man who advised him to go to Trinity and become a barrister. DG McMullan agreed to let him study for a year, 10 or 12 hours a week. Johnny went on to take first place in all four subjects in Trinity; he was subsequently informed by Bill Dukes that he could not study on McMullan time so he studied at night school after that. He started his legal studies in 1970 and was called to the bar in 1974 and left his monthly salary at Maxol, a little reluctantly, soon afterwards. As chance would have it, the first guy to give him work was Noel Smth. After 10 years at the junior bar, focusing on Wicklow, he served as a Judge of the High Court from 1997–2012. His experience working for Maxol became unexpectedly useful on occasion. At one of the Fair Trade Commission inquiries, he actually represented Texaco and gave Tom Noonan ‘an awful grilling’ based on all his Maxol knowledge.

[302] When employees met people on the road and explained they were from McMullans, the response was invariably: ‘Ah, Kosangas’. To help promote the company, McMullans Kosangas sponsored a programme that aired at 8:15am on the radio.

[303] They had racked up over 1000 dealers and more than 65 per cent of the bottled gas market in the Republic in 1967.

[304] That said, it may be noted that the ESB went on strike 47 times between 1960 and 1979. Kelly, Aidan and Brannick, Teresa. The Strike-Proneness of Public Sector Organisations. The Economic and Social Review, July 1985, Vol 16(4), pp. 251-71.

[305] Gas was often regarded as a reliable alternative to electricity, especially during peak times. However, the Electricity Supply Board had achieved a remarkable feat since commencing its remarkable rural electrification project in 1946, connecting almost every house and farmstead in Ireland to the grid. The effect was revolutionary as paraffin lamps and gas bottles were consigned to storage, making way for quick, safe, healthy electric kettles, cookers, fridges and hoovers. McMullan’s Daisy lamp oil, a steady seller since the 1920s, would become one of the casualties of this new age.

[306] The directors of Charterhouse (Ireland) included Ken Bishop (a New Jersey-based investor and expert on liquefied petroleum gas who was formerly with Phillips Petroleum) and Philip Mafuggi (chairman of Liquid Gas S.P.A. of Milan). Jorgen Tholstrup, the general manager of the McMullan Kosangas operation, became general manager with L.P.T. Ltd. (Petroleum Times, Volume 72, p. 950) The new company got around the problem of steel cylinders by manufacturing its own at the “Cylindric” factory in the memorably named Danish town of Middelfart.

[307] The proceeds of the sale formed the foundation capital of Evora Investments and Salerno Investments.

[308] Dave O’Loughlin was born on Dublin’s South Circular Road and educated by the Christian Brothers on Synge Street where his class mates included the motor racing icon Eddie Jordan and swimming champion and poker player Donnacha O’Dea (a son of Denis O’Dea, an Irish Abbey actor, and Siobhán McKenna. Other Synge Street alumni include Gay Byrne, Eamonn Andrews, Noel Andrews, Mike Murphy, Myles O’Shea, Noel Purcell, Cecil Sheridan, Eamonn Morrissey. After Synge Street, he had a couple of part time jobs, including a Friday and Saturday night stint as a lounge boy in the Gate Bar on Conyngham Road, located opposite the Iveagh Grounds by the Guinness Brewey; the name comes from St James’ Gate. He also had a summer job for two years with Irish Timber Industries on the East Wall Road, just around the corner from Ravensdale Road, where he helped make coffins (‘I was screwing the handles on with brass screws’) and block board (which wasn’t nearly as interesting.) He recalls how, after a heavy night, some of his fellow workers would catch some shuteye by lying down in ‘a gigantic mound of timber shavings.’

At the age of 18, Dave answered an ad in the newspaper for a job in Maxol and went in for an interview at 1 or 2 Upper O’Connell Street. ‘I thought it was a very old-fashioned stuffy place.’ Dave decided he didn’t particularly want a job but the 10-minute interview with Fergus McAlevey and PJ Ward went well; he had arrived with his leaving cert and a letter from his parish priest stating that he had been an altar boy. Two weeks later, he received word of his success. He boarded the No. 20 bus outside Harrington Street Church and span through Fairview to the depot on Ravensdale Road.

He officially started work in Maxol’s Purchasing Department on 26 September 1966 and spent his first five years at the East Wall depot on Ravensdale Road. The generous lunch hours allowed East Wall employees to get home for lunch (aka ‘dinner time’) if they needed to. His salary was initially £420 per annum, paid weekly. Or weakly, as he jests. See photocopy of David’s original pay card that Don Wilson, which detailed all his salary increases. [He later went up to £500 the next year]. Among the products he was selling was Daisy Lamp Oils, although it was ‘fairly away at that stage.’

[309] East Wall was one of the few places where the clerical staff and ‘on the road’ team worked side by side.

[310] A tyre had blown up fatally for another company.

[311] They also ‘stuck on the letters, the decals and all that sort of stuff.’ They bought the barrels in from barrel shops.

[312] The Miami Showband clocked seven number one records in the Irish chats; three band members were killed in in 1975 when returning from a performance in County Down, Northern Ireland. ‘Joe Tyrrell was 5’9” and John was 6’6” or something or other and for the company dance every year, everybody had to wear a dinner jacket. John wasn’t going to throw money for a thing for one dance a year, so he used to borrow his brother’s suit because he was in the even though it only came down to here!’

[313] ‘Danny was a great man for the movies. And he didn’t drink, and he didn’t smoke. He only smoked when he went to the pictures for some peculiar reason. And he loved the movies and Ella Fitzgerald was his favourite singer and Sinatra and all of these guys.’) The Gunner’s wages were quite good but the fares from all the bussing in and out of work were cutting into his income so he went to see Muckster about borrowing the high nelly bike they kept in the stores for when somebody wanted a message [old word!]. He asked for a lend of the bike to go home and, after a while, it became Danny’s bike. One day Muckster decided enough was enough and he hung the bike out the rafters of the stores, in a position that The Gunner could not reach. The Gunner wore a cap permanently to disguise the fact he was bald; when his work colleagues sprang on him in his bedroom one night to verify their suspicion, they found he was even wearing the camp in bed.

[314] Frank Dormer thinks the main lube oil depot moved to Parkgate Street in about 1969. Noel says it was before he started. When Frank became stock control clerk [1967?], one of his monthly tasks was to take stock of the lube oil supplies in Ravensdale Road by dipping the tanks.

[315] The petrol came from Shell at this time. One Saturday morning, recalls Dave, about twenty staff filled up their cars only for the vehicles to conk out on the return journey. It transpired that there was water in the petrol! [Noel says this can happen while oil is being transported in ships across the sea. That said, the proprietor is supposed to be on the case to measure any water that might have seeped in and have it pumped out before it reaches the suction pipe to the pump.] On this occasion, McMullan Brothers genially dispatched a mechanic to all of the locations where the cars had broken down; he drained each carburettor and got the cars working again.

[316] Dave O’Loughlin showed me a picture taken down in Ravensdale Road, showing the old logo, with the house beside Bob Roche.

[317] Down in the depot, he might be sent to sweep the yard or give a hand down in the oil stores but if he got under the feet of the fellows in the stores, they’d send him to the shop to get a packet of cigarettes or something like that

[318] The AUL Bradmola Cup was one of the most prestigious open competitions in Leinster football at the time.

[319] The yard previously belonged to the Lucan Dairy, owned by the Bradley family, who had been one of McMullan’s big customers in the preceding years before they bought it. This was where they received, bottled, and pasteurised the milk. When the Bradleys went bust, they offered McMullan’s their diary in exchange for writing off substantial monies owed.

As time progressed , security became a big factor and gates/locks had to be installed. As Frank recalls: ‘There was a wide right angled laneway  leading from Parkgate Street to the Maxol gate. Reports from the Maxol plant operators were to the effect that the lane was busy with Maxol lubrication business during the day and with other lubrication business at night!  It seems the “ladies of the night” plied their trade there.’

[320] The depots included Carlow (‘a big one’), Cork, Limerick, Galway, Portlaoise and Belfast. One of the van drivers was called Eamonn Ryan; he had Van No. 72. There was a good deal of customs involved with such deliveries.

[321] First and second place went to the Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank. Business and Finance (16 November 1978).

[322] Drogheda Independent, 11 September 1970.

[323] They were in Apollo House by time the Irish Press published a McMullan’s ad on 17 October 1970. When they left 1-2 O’Connell Street, those offices were later occupied by GUS Ireland Ltd., circa 1999 and is now

[324]  It was built by Michael Lyell Associates / McCormack Keane & Partners, later known as David Keane & Partners then Keane Murphy Duff (KMD) Architects. ‘A new eight story office block is to be built at Tara Street, Dublin. This was announced at a news conference in Dublin yesterday by Murphy, Buckley and Keogh, agents for the new project. The new building, with 44,000 square feet of office space, will consist of eight storeys built over a large ground floor show-room which will be let to McCairns Motors Limited, who operate a garage at the site at the moment. Construction will start in April next and will take 56 weeks. The building is expected to be ready for occupation in June, 1969. Parking space for 98 cars will be provided. The new block will cost £460,000. The Advocate. See McCairns Motors at

No. 8 Hawkins Street was home to the Apollo Tavern run by Thomas Murphy (1860-1878) and then by Thomas Croly. (Dublin Daily Express, 10 July 1878). It was close to the Theatre Royal and only 200 metres or so from the 1970s Apollo House … see brass coins at

There was an ‘old established’ Apollo Tavern on Crow Street in Temple Bar in the 1820s. (Saunders’s News-Letter of 23 February 1827), held by ‘the later Peter Kearney.’

This was also an Apollo Tavern by a Temple Bar in London – – this appears to have been where a freemason’s lodge met in 1726 ‘to transact business of importance.’ (Freemason’s Magazine, 16 Nov 1861, p. 8;

It has also been said that Apollo House was built on the site of a Freemasonic ‘Apollo Lodge,’ which was allegedly attached to Trinity College Dublin. A lodge (No. 508) called Apollo was founded in Dublin under the Irish Constitution in 1921, but it had no connection with Trinity College.  Apollo University Lodge No. 357 is under the English Constitution. It meets on Oxfordshire and it has a connection with Trinity College Dublin Lodge No. 357. The Apollo University Lodge is/was very exclusive as each new member had to supply his own place setting in silver; Oscar Wilde was a member but was struck off later just like in Portora.

The Freemason’s Hall on Tuckey Street, Cork, was used for musical and amateur dramatic events by the Apollo Society of Amateur Actors in the 1790s. The artist Daniel Maclise went to school in the old Apollo theatre in Cork, which stood where St Patrick’s Street and Opera Lane (formerly Faulkner’s Lane) intersect; it later became the Society of Fine Arts.

There was an Apollo Library at 5 College Green, at the corner of Anglesea Street, run by Vincent Dowling, circa 1798-1900.

Thanks to Belinda Evangelista.

[325] It was a ‘very successful move’ organised by Fergus McAlevey, ‘a very good guy’ from County Louth who ‘basically computerised the company accounts.’ Fergus McAlevey played for Dundalk and maintained a keen interest in soccer all his life. He was an Accountant with Griffin Lynch before he joined Maxol.

[326] A week after the move, Fergus turned to John Caulfield, an internal auditor, and said, ‘Now, that went very well, didn’t it, John!? We’ve a huge build-up of work, but we have everybody in the one spot.’

‘No, you haven’t,’ replied John. ‘What about Pat Phelan?’

Pat Phelan was a clerk who had been given a desk at one of the company-operated filling stations because there simply wasn’t room for him in the O’Connell Street office. Fergus, who’d plum forgot about him, told John to get his car, fetch Pat and give the poor lad a desk in Apollo House. Pat Phelan later joined the Purchasing Department, which had also moved to Apollo House, and went on to become General Manager of Maxol Lubricants.

[327] There were 40 company-owned filling stations in the North. Noel, do we know how many company-owned stations there were in the South?]

[328] As area rep for Carlow-Kilkenny, John Brady had five drivers in Carlow and two in Kilkenny. Tommy Jackson was the storekeeper in Carlow.

[329] Most rumours originated with drivers. The fact it didn’t happen did much to boost staff loyalty to the McMullan family, clerks and drivers alike. It didn’t stop them arguing and negotiating, of course, but the loyalty was important and it was recognised that there were some ‘very, very good, genuine people’ directing the show. There were, of course, occasional scoundrels. Frank and Tom endured union meeting after union meeting and on a structured basis. Frank’s role was to prepare briefing notes and draft letters in advance of the meetings, and to follow all the resolutions up.

John Denny was in charge of negotiating insurance contracts for the company, a job that became more and more difficult each year with accidents and various things, especially after the Ballad of Betty Glen.

[330] Parking was always problematic. Some had designated car spots; others had none at all, ‘but that didn’t stop them using it.’

[331] Adrienne Dolan, an office junior, married Gerry Sayers, who took over from Frank in stocks and subsequently went to Galway. Their romance was surreptitious for many years; they would walk side by side across Butt Bridge and then hold hands once they’d crossed, but all their fellow staff were watching them from the 8th floor and knew full well!  Adrienne’s sister Janet was in the typing room.

[332] Austin Hastings, who was with the company nearly forty years, said Clifford and DG were ‘always approachable– if you were in Dublin, you could always walk into the directors.’

[333] Ivan was an all-round sportsman – an expert snooker player, captain of his local golf club and an international table tennis player. Belfast Telegraph, 14 March 1957. Silensol came as D.E.R.V. Fuel, Lubricants, Gas/Diesel and Fuel Oils.

[334] The Ulster Pension Fund started on 1/12/1964 and was incorporated into the new Maxol Oil Limited Pension Scheme.

31/12/1973 (Ulster Pension Fund)

Drivers and Maintenance.  Eligible – to join scheme if they meet the following criteria: permanent full-time male aged not less than 21 but less than 55.

Staff, Eligible-to join scheme if they meet the following criteria: permanent full-time male or female aged not less than 21 bur less than 64(male) or not less than 25 but less than 59 (female) this was changed on the 31/12/1977 males and females not less than 25 years of age.

Pensionable service for staff members starts after 25th birthday.

June 1990 all permanent employees eligible not less than 21 but less than 59.

In the north, the union kept everything enclosed.  If you weren’t a union member, you couldn’t drive or work in the depot or work in the refinery. The unions had total power of the manual end. It was different with the office staff in Belfast, none of whom were unionised until about 1980s when the staff were fed up with all the perks the drivers were getting. In Dublin, both the office staff and the manual were unionised. In Northern Ireland today, only the operations centre is unionised.

There were calls for a strike that not everybody went along with. ‘I’m only in the company and I’ve got a mortgage to pay,’ said one driver. ‘I can’t afford to strike for a week or I’m going to lose a week’s wages.’

[335] The North fielded a football team for a city manufacturers league in the early 1970s. Mr Eric was centre forward. Naturally. He was given that as an honorary position! ‘All he did was stand and he kicked the game off. Then he walked straight up to the penalties area on the opposite team and just stood there watching the small planes coming over the top into Newtownards Airport. He must have fancied buying an aeroplane.’ The rest of the players kept kicking the ball towards Eric to keep in favour with him but, if he got the ball, he never did anything with it. He’s just sit and watch the aeroplanes while the ball game was going on around him?

[336] Belfast Telegraph, 7 January 1975, p. 5. Michael Bain also worked under Kyle Gibson. It is thought that Ted Lawson, another Surridge appointee, left before 1975. Fred Maguire had spent seven years as a recruitment and training manager before he was made retail division manager and given the role of managing the company’s forty prestige filling stations.

[337] Integration was not something that came easy to Kyle, who was also a superintendent in the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve. He realised it would mark the end of the semi-autonomous empire he had been running in Belfast since the early 1970s.

[338] Mrs Ryan’s pub at Tobinstown Cross in County Carlow  was typical of these.

[339] Mortimer Loughlin, McMullan’s area manager in the Clare-Galway-Longford area, had all sorts of other businesses going on, including about ten B&Bs straddled across the Burren.

[340] ‘In order to do that, I had to survey every site in the country and do a sketch of where the tank was, where the pump was and in an awful lot of cases in those days – particularly down the west of Ireland – the tank, they would dig a hole in the back garden with a digger and they’d get a crane in, they would lift the tank in and throw it into the hole and bury it. Today with dangerous substances, you have to put them in a concrete vault or you basically have to build a cottage underground, put the tank in, back fill it with sand and the tank itself is double skinned … and it’s plastic so it doesn’t get eaten by the metal.’

McMullan’s drivers were less heavily unionised than others at this time, especially Esso.

[341] The school was behind Maxol’s Knockhill forecourt leading up to the Stormont on the Newtownards Road. The school was later closed and the site itself was sold. Billy Fitzsimmons was also known as the Right Hon William Kennedy Fitzsimmons (1909-1992), J.P., M.P. The training school appears to have actually opened in January 1969. Belfast Telegraph, 20 January 1969.

[342] William Robert Hueston was born and bred in Belfast, the son of a labourer.  His mum died when he was nine and he was raised by an aunt in the same street until he ‘got about 15.’ In 1965, he quit school at 14½, ‘mitched the last six months of school’, and worked in the docks instead. There were questions about his national insurance number but they paid him anyway and ‘two days’ work in the docks was equal to a week’s pay anywhere else.’ The dockers at that time picked their own work – some wouldn’t work on timber boats, some wouldn’t work on meal boats, some wouldn’t work on general cargo.

In 1967, he acquired his own vehicle, a flatbed, and spent the next two and a half years as a self-employed driver. The Troubles were on and he was much employed in moving families from Whiterock Road up into other parts, just all over Belfast.

In October 1970, just married, with a mortgage to pay, he decided he’d be far better off having somebody employ him rather than trying to find all this work. He went around all the big oil companies like Shell, BP and Esso but finally struck lucky when he called into the ‘wee’ Mex office on the Sydenham Road. This was the Motor Recovery [Repair?] Centre, known as the MRC, an old shed where the Mex trucks were serviced,

‘I’m looking for a job,’ he said to Billy Gill, the manager

‘Do you drive?’

‘Yes, that’s my truck sitting out there.’

‘Oh right.  The shift’s changing, a vehicle will be in soon, take it for a test drive and see how you go.’

In his test drive, Bobby was so cautious that Frank Mateer, the mechanic who accompanied him, reported that he was a bit slow. Bobby requested a second go. ‘And I went out and hammered round the airport and back up again.  ‘When can you start?’ ‘Tomorrow morning’ and that was it.’

He was employed as a ‘temporary’ day driver and given a truck that simply said Mex on the side.  ‘My wage with the company was the same as I was earning for self-employed, per hour, but I didn’t have to tax the lorry, or put diesel in it, or pay insurance. All the overheads were gone.  I just couldn’t believe my luck.  It really was win-win.’

[343] When Bobby joined up, Billy Gill was Transport / Operations Manager. He never had a budget; his philosophy in life was to buy second-hand vehicles and nurse them. He just did what he needed to do, repaired what needed to repair and he was living hand-to-mouth at that time.  He bought ‘a rake of Dodges and they were terrible.’   The gear stick was beside you and the cabs tilted but never set down properly, you never get a good fit.  And the exhaust used to come straight up your nose. There were loads of break-downs.

[344] In late ’71 he was offered a full-time job with another oil company.  Roy Pollitt apologised that there were no spaces for a ‘permanent’ job at Mex so he went to Dundonald and became a driver for Hughy Hylands, an ex-driver for Maxol, in, which he ‘hated it with a vengeance.’ In 1972 he went to see Frank Boggs at Mex who talked Roy Pollitt into giving him a full-time job. After three months’ probation, he was made permanent.

[345] Roy Pollitt was a former lance-bombardier and who had been a transport manager for Esso in Belfast. Surridge headhunted him in the late 60s to replace Billy Gill (who had been in the MRC on the Sydenham Road.) as Operations Manager. Surridge saw that Roy had experience in unloading ships; there was a plan at that time by Surridge to bring in his own boats, to have his own storage, not to be tied in to being BP or Shell. Roy had also married a local girl and didn’t want to get shipped back to England again by Esso, so he realised the prominent job in Northern Ireland would keep him in Northern Ireland. Roy was initially based in head office on Ormeau Road. Roy retired roughly whenever Kyle Gibson retried in ’93 – ‘95-ish.

[346] ‘We were all split up so, the people who were routing the vehicles never seen the vehicles … Frank had no idea what vehicles were going out, who hadn’t turned in.’ For a time, says Noel, they shared the operation centre with BP in BP’s former head office, which was located on the way down to the refinery. When BP put it up for sale, Maxol didn’t buy it.

[347] John Hamill, the shift supervisor in the office, was killed in a road accident outside Ballynahinch.  His boss Frank Boggs was ostensibly in charge of distribution and routing the vehicles. However, it was well known that Frank landed such responsibility on the shift supervisor so Bobby declined the job; Billy Craig, an ex-lube oil driver, took on the job, assuming his role was simply to arrive in the morning, ensure the drivers were in, and that they all left.  His heart sank when Brian Rodgers asked him how he was getting on with the stocks … ‘That’s not my job.’ ‘Billy, that is your job.  You’ve got to reconcile the stocks in the morning, and before nine o’clock so everything kicks off the next day.’

Frank Boggs became distribution manager after a Mr Irwin from Connsbank Road. In Irwin’s day, the drivers used to always go back to Connsbank Road for their tea. One day a driver came in, was sitting down, and Irwin came in, says to him, ‘Joe Bloggs is out of fuel, get loaded now and go up’.  He says, ‘What are you talking about, I’m having my tea break.’ ‘But he’s out of oil.’ This boy was a real panicker.  He says, ‘Look, I’m having my break, I’m having my tea, then I’m picking my horses, then I’m going to have to do my bet, and then I’ll do your delivery.’ And he says, ‘What?  Get out now, never mind your bet.  I’ll cover your bet for you, what are your horses?’ And he gave him the three horses and he had his tea, went and did the delivery.  The three horses won.  40 quid he was out.

[348] Bobby was uneasy with tachographs showing the company where her was, what you’re doing, how long you’ve stopped, where you’ve been … he began to think life would be much easier in an office.

[349] Bobby’s tailormade computer became Mr Pollitt’s “baby”.  He really loved it. However, ultimately head office computer won over as it was doing all the accounts and everything was centralised. The one thing was that Bobby was now a firm fixture of the offices, albeit the computer end of it. Bobby was the one who went to the monthly meetings. He was promoted to Depot Manager whenever Kyle Gibson left [check?] at the behest of Frank [Boggs?], Denis Field [operations manager in the South] and Brian Torrance. This was about the time that the company’s North and South started to come together. When Bobby retired in 2009, he was Group Distribution Manager, based at Mallusk and Newtonabbey.

[350] ‘There was a bomb scare every Friday, without fail,’ recalls Jean. ‘We were convinced the garage beside us were sending these scares so they could get finished early.’

[351] Jim Turner and his sister Breda were parked on Talbot Street. Jim nipped into the bookies to place a bet just as the bomb went off in the car behind theirs. Breda was killed instantly. She was engaged to be wed. Jim and Breda were children of James Turner of 2 Mitchel’s Street, Thurles.

Davy Totten (?), a shop steward, lost his brother a Enniskillen when it was hit by an ambulance … Kyle Gibson’s brother was injured as he was Superintendent in the RUC

[352] Dr O’Hanlon of Celbridge (or Leixlip?), a kinsman of the O’Hanlon’s of Longford, wrote to Noel and said that apparently, there was no lavatory in the Longford depot so drivers used to jump over the back of the tanks and crap in the open air. They’d dig it in every six months or so; one year it had a flourishing crop of tomatoes.

[353] Among those to respond to Noel’s Sindo article in September 2018 was Therese Murphy ( whose husband Michael Murphy of Treel, Newtownforbes, County Longford, first started work for Maxol as a boy helper in their Longford depot at just 15 years of age in 1962. When he got his driving licence at 18 he left Maxol to take up a position as bread man with local bakery, but in 1968 when a position of ‘Routed Truck Operator’ (ie driver) become vacant with Maxol he jumped at the opportunity to return. On 1 April 1981, he was appointed Depot Supervisor at Longford, retaining the position until 21 August 1984 when the Longford operations were transferred to Galway and he opted for redundancy compensation. He has always said what wonderful employers the McMullan brothers were & it saddens him now when he passes the site of the old depot in Longford & sees the state its in. We wish you all the best with your company’s history project & look forward to reading more.

[354] Belfast Telegraph, 31 October 1973: “But the first thing that customers will notice is that there are no “pumps” as they have been used to up until now. In their place on Tinsley’s modern new forecourt are four compact dispenser units, mounted on slim pillars and controlled by a multi-channel computer and control console. At the dispenser unit the motorist simply decides which of five grades he wants—from 91 to 101 octane—and presses the appropriate button, which then shows the current price per gallon on an illuminated display. There’s no hauling at heavy hose for the lightweight filler nozzle is suspended on slim piping and after putting the nozzle into the car tank, it’s simply a matter of squeezing the trigger. The computer works out the correct blend selected and feeds the information to the hidden blending and pumping equipment. As the petrol is delivered the cost and gallonage flash in computer styled illuminated figures on the dispenser unit display screen. Petrol can be delivered as fast as you like and there’s no problem about spilling petrol all over the ground if you wish to top up your tank to the brim. For a clever sensor at the tip of the nozzle turns off the supply automatically when top level has been reached. As the dispenser is entirely electronic, with the mechanical parts out of view on a different part of the station, there are no oily or dirty working parts to soil hands or clothing. When the customer goes in to the cash desk. the operator presses a button for that particular dispenser, and the computer prints out a dated Tinsley receipt, showing the amount paid and the exact amount of petrol dispensed—down to a hundredth part of a gallon. Certainly the electronics need not put off a non-technically minded motorist. For the system offers the greatest simplicity available. With earlier self-service pumps, customers had to perform up to six or more separate manual operations, such as turning selector dials for grade, hauling at a start lever. or pulling a heavy hose around to the back of their car. And speed of delivery was considered slow, too, especially when you wanted to fill in more than about four gallons at a time. But the new equipment now installed at Tinsley’s by Maxol has done away with all that for their customers and women especially should find it as easy to operate as their food mixer. Computer ” spin – off ” from the NASA space programme has enabled the introduction of this push-button self-service innovation. At the moment there are only a handful of such advanced type stations in the whole of the United Kingdom. This is another stage in Maxol’s continuing programme to provide the most convenient and efficient service for their customers and cut operating costs at the same time. A Maxol spokesman said that as with the rapid growth of self-service stations from their introduction, he could foresee a similar rise in turning over to the new electronic type. There is also a motorists accessory shop, and a wide range of “in-car” entertainment equipment, together with a wide choice of pre-recorded tapes and cassettes. The station also features an automatic drive-through car wash. Quad Green Shield stamps will be a regular feature for customers, but for the first three days of opening there will also be attractive money-saving offers on petrol and a range of free gifts.

[355] In the late 1960s (check), Clifford McMullan, DG McMullan and Freddie Hopkins were grilled by the government’s Restrictive Practices Commission, which superseded the Fair Trades Commission.

[356] It is an ill wind that blows no good and the oil crises were ‘wonderful’ for business, says John Brady. ‘A shortage of supply, wonderful.’  They would agree on an amount they would be given with BP (or their other supplier) and then allocate it to people.  ‘Some friends got more than, or people who had been nasty to me didn’t really get.’

[357] The 1973 crisis gave rise to long queues at petrol pumps. However, as the economy was growing annually at between 7- 9%, demand for fuel only dropped a little during the crisis, despite a 40% hike in the pump price for petrol. An Industrial Energy Department was established at the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards (IIRS) as a government response to the oil crisis.

[358] During Albert Reynolds’ short term as Minister for Industry and Energy in 1982, the McMullans were left gobsmacked when the chain-smoking minister totted up his sums with a pencil on a packet of cigarettes and said, ‘That’s it. 25.7 pence per gallon.’ [check] Albert Reynolds who expected oil companies to keep importing oil at a loss.  ‘Northern Ireland kept us going at that stage,’ says Noel.

In about 1985 [?], while Noel and Max were on holiday, Malcolm was the Maxol rep who attended a meeting of oil company representatives in the Department of *** which was run by Ray Burke. In the two months since they introduced price control, Maxol had lost about a hefty £400,000 a month. ‘We couldn’t go on like that forever.’  Nobody seemed prepared to say anything to irk Mr Burke until Malcolm explained how his €400,000 a month loss was simply ‘ridiculous,’ not least as the price of oil was going up in the world yet Mr Haughey was saying take the hit.  Mr Burke told Malcolm he wasn’t the slightest bit interested in our problem and basically suggested I go and jump in a lake. (At this time, they were paying 67% in tax.) ‘It was a very unpleasant time.  The 80s were probably the worst period that we went through in my opinion, because you got very demoralised.’ (ask Noel, who should know from copies of the Fair Trade Commission Reports he has ordered). Despite the fact that he was a former employee of Maxol, and that the company paid for his legal training, Noel and Tom were both grilled, particularly Tom, by Johnny Quirke at the time of the Fair Trade investigation and the Deregulation of the Prices Order!

[359] In 1973 John Turner rook over the property end of the business. Every month, he had to prepare the paperwork for any of the deals that were going through and give it to Kyle Gibson. He would then present it to the directors who either put a thumb up or down. McMullan’s “invented a better system of licensing” where they bought out all the freeholds so they were free to do what they want, and retain the residual value. Among the stations they bought were ATS in Ballymena and Newry, as well as MT Cars in Bangor.

[360] ‘In Northern Ireland, they had a different mentality. They bought the cheapest model of a particular car they wanted and then they spent a fortune buying accessories. And we sold all that stuff on our petrol stations. TBA, it was called. All sorts of geegaws they bought in Northern Ireland for their cars. Whereas down here, people picked the model of Ford they actually wanted, and they didn’t spend very much on it. We made a lot of money out of TBA. I mean, you see the top shelf all around would be different kinds of radios and people would fit and install them themselves. It was just a hole in the dashboard and you slotted it in and plugged the wires in.’

[361] David Goode was a deeply religious born-again Christian who didn’t smoke, didn’t drink and wouldn’t work on a Sunday.

[362] Brian Torrens, who looked after TBAs in Belfast [as well as Mr Goode?], believes the end was preordained: ‘It’s like everything else. Nothing stays the same. Everything changes.’

[363] Belfast Telegraph, 20 January 1969.

[364] Children were often sent out to ask the drivers if they might give the burner a quick service while they were at it!

[365] Some of Maxol’s rivals were using authorised distributors as opposed to own-brand vehicles at this time. Shell distributed via Malone Oil and Burma via Liffey Oil. Things changed when Texaco and Shell stopped authorised distributors coming into Dublin. [Why?] Hugh Boyle was one of the drivers.

Maxol’s heating oil drivers worked four 10-hour shifts, which meant they were off two days a week. If they played it right, they could knock off on Thursday evenings and not have to go back in again until the following Tuesday.

[366] There was also increasing competition from the ESB, especially after the opening of the large oil-fired power station at Poolbeg beside the Pigeon House in Dublin in 1971. The Pigeon House, which had been producing electricity using oil since 1903, was decommissioned in 1976.

[367] From 1965 to 1973, the Bray Wheelers were the most successful racing club in Ireland, winning the Irish Road Race Championship team prize six times.  Phil competed in the Tour of Ireland ten times, winning the club team prize on four occasions.

[368] He managed Irish teams in the Milk Race, World Championships and Tours of Ireland

[369] Shell by now owned Munster Simms, who used to have a depot in Harold’s Cross.

[370] Texaco was bought by the American company Valero when it left Ireland.

[371] The excellently named Rocket Fuel was set up in Sligo by Mrs. Ryan. It was a very regional operation that only sold petrol, and closed after a few years.

[372] Campus was established in mid to late 1970s by Gerry McNamara and Vincent Bell, respectively the former sales manager and accountant with Conaco, who left Conaco, did a deal with Waterford Coop and Avonmore, now Glanbia, working along with Reddy Brennan, the Chief Executive of Avonmore, and Staffords the coal people from Waterford.

Lobitos, an off-shoot of Castrol-Burma, which was smaller than Maxol, was also taken up by Irish Shell.

[373] The BP Oil Ltd contact was Robin Farragher The younger generation also took over the supply negotiation with visits to BP and Shell in London. ‘It was quite amusing,’ says Max. ‘And very civilised in those days,’ adds Noel. Clifford had struck up a relation with Riddell Webster, the head of BP worldwide, who was based in London. BP’s meetings took place in a penthouse in Victoria where, after a cursory talk about oil prices and essential requirements, Mr Wesbter would assign one of his team to sort it out and then ‘talk about bonfires for the rest of the day.’ ‘Riddell Webster told us one day that his favourite weekend was bonfiring,’ adds Noel. ‘My children all laugh because I’m exactly the same. I’d spend all day burning stuff in my garden.’

[374]In 2000, Noel McMullan, who had a racehorse in training with John Fowler, proposed sponsoring a horse race on Sandymount Strand which was to be named ‘The Maxol Millennium Million’. Sadly it never got off the ground, due to lack of interest by the horse racing authorities, with whom Maxol had some serious meetings.

[375] Information via Brother Vianney. Hugh Kelly’s wife Vena lived in Waterside; Jimmy Doherty was from Shantallow. When he died in 1963, the Boss owned six shares in Derry City Football and Athletic Club.

[376] Bill ‘The Header’ Nolan lived in Dun Laoghaire.

[377] Details of David Malone on Irish schoolboys’ team via Drogheda Independent, 11 September 1970 at

[378] Mr Eric was centre forward, an honorary position! ‘I was probably the only one who played football,’ says Brian. Kyle Gibson had asthma so he had to get his inhaler out every so often. David Partridge was goal keeper; ‘he had a bad leg, stiffened by polio perhaps,  but he was extremely fit, and extremely brave. But when the other team knew his weakness, he couldn’t go far.’

[379] Joe Brannigan, a keen footballer and a sound centre forward, was longing to be picked but the manager didn’t like his father so he was ignored for a long time. Joe Byrne got his break when he took on goal keeping duties for the 8-1 triumph at Tolka Park in Drumcondra.

[380] “McGoo’, as he was called in The Bugle, lived in Raheny. John Brady described him as ‘one of the gentlest and kindest people you could imagine but he spoke with a strong Glasgow accent which could be almost impenetrable to an Irish audience. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of all matters relating to industrial boilers and burners and whenever we encountered a prospective customer who had technical queries, we would bring Peter to see him and soon the air would be thick with glottal stops as he blinded the prospect with science. He was seldom known to fail. “McGoo” did not refer to his eyesight but to his habit of sometimes speaking out without thinking about the consequences. He was never. ” economical with the truth”.

[381] Clifford McMullan opined to Business and Finance (16 November 1978)

[382] Irish Shell were the exclusive suppliers for many years to Maxol, with their own pumps (so, as Noel puts it, ‘we were sucking a hind tit as agents.’  and then suddenly there was no supply anymore, because they went on strike. Our drivers wouldn’t cross the picket lines, so that was the end of that. So they sourced products from wherever they could – on both sides of the border – but the main thing that kept them going was when Des Flood of Burmah Castrol, as it was, managed to persuade the Burmah drivers to allow Maxol into their yard. It was a rare and generous mood, not without commercial benefits for Burmah; their future in Ireland was already in doubt and the hope was that if Maxol undertook to continue drawing from them after the strike, that would strengthen their chances of survival. Sure enough, Maxol did continue to draw from Burmah until the company bailed out many years later.

[383] As John says, that was a ‘lovely attitude’. ‘There were a number of strikes in the late 70s,’ he recalls, ‘and the lads in Carlow never wanted to go on strike. They were unionised because they had to be unionised but they never wanted to go on strike. They had personal relationships with all the guys they were supplying – either the boss, or the fellows in the yards – and they knew all the teachers and nuns and people who were running the schools at the time. So when they were told to go on strike and not supply that hospital or school, it was a personal thing to them.’

Malcolm McMullan started with Maxol aged 23 in 1974, going down to the East Wall depot to learn about distribution and trucks and drivers. ‘It was all shockingly heavily unionised and one had to be careful not to annoy the drivers or else they’d down tools.  From ‘75 through to ‘84 or ‘85, the unions virtually ruled the country.

‘The union always used to hit the weakest company first – invariably Texaco – before they went around and screwed the rest of us,’ says Noel.

During Joe Brannigan’s ‘very first’ strike, they went to Mespil Road at two o’clock in the morning. ‘The last general strike was the most ridiculous strike we ever had,’ he says. ‘We weren’t just fighting the management; we were fighting the union!’ Joe and his fellow committee members were locked up in the basement in Liberty Hall while Charlie Haughey brought the army in. ‘There was never another strike after that.’ Joe McGuirk died in 2018.

[384] ‘After the whole thing closed down, the army were called in to make deliveries. The army guys didn’t know a valve from a…they hadn’t a clue.  The first delivery was a tanker that left Dublin for Athlone; it was empty when it got to Athlone because they hadn’t worked out how to close it properly.’

[385] There was a great relationship with the drivers in Commandant Ward’s day and union matters were always resolved internally. For instance, the drivers had their own committee, with representatives from every depot and service centre (two from Cork, two from Limerick, one from Galway) who met every so often to sign new agreements and plot issues they should discuss with management. John Harman was their branch secretary in Liberty Hall for about 25 years, negotiating on behalf of the staff for all of the energy industries including the oil industry, Kosangas and the ESB in the days before SIPTU. ‘He could talk for Ireland,’ recalls Joe Byrne. Joe Brannigan attended the first meeting in the Gresham; they were later in The Clarence on the quays before finishing up in the one on Abbey Street. The appointment of Tom Noonan, with his FUE background, caused a high level of anxiety with the committee. ‘We were all sceptical about him’. However, after one brief loss of temper during their first meeting [Tom banged a book and walked out but came back], negotiations recommenced. ‘We thrashed out an agreement with the management,’ says Joe Brannigan. ‘It was never reneged on, honoured by both sides and we never had a problem.’  When John Harman was later removed as part of a rationalisation in the Union, Joe Brannigan was livid and protested volubly to the Union. Harman’s replacement was

Joe Brannigan says disputes with Maxol were always resolved.  ‘You could be two hours in there but eventually things would be thrashed out.’ This wasn’t the case with the staff in head office who were  of a ‘completely different’ mind-set, presided over by Bill Dukes, the company secretary, who ran it ‘like the secret service,’ says Joe Brannigan.

Among the matters they resolved were getting the drivers connected to both the Credit Union (‘a great success,’ says Joe Brannigan) and the ‘very good’ pension committee.

All the paperwork for pensions went via Bill Dukes but Johnny Brannigan, Joe’s father, was receiving a ‘a terrible pension – it was only buttons.’ So Joe and some others founded a pension committee with the number two brand, and spent the next twelve months being wined and dined by the various banks as they discussed the best returns. They went with the Bank of Ireland and had over £10 million in the fund at one point but market wobbles and people living longer meant that the dividends were not quite as high as they might have been. [check?]

[386] Tachographs were timing devices installed into trucks, with a card cardboard that rotated like a record. The police could stop you and look at it to ensure you hadn’t driven more than eight hours a day without a break. If involved in an accident, the tachograph could tell you the speed you were doing or the angle of the vehicle … The unions were unhappy with tachographs because it meant management knew exactly what drivers were up to, what they were doing, what speed they were doing and everything else.  Eventually drivers agreed to put the tachograph card into the machine on condition that the information could not be used against a driver. It’s complicated though because, as Bobby Hueston says, the company was allowed to look at it, read it, to make sure drivers were complying with the regulations, … and yet they couldn’t use the data against the drivers. The tachographs enabled Bobby’s team in Belfast to work out how much time they were losing when a driver stayed too long at a site.

[387] It was a major challenge keeping track of all the money coming and going at that time. Nor was it as easy to count up those crumpled old notes as it was with new notes from the bank. Palgrave Murphy did not survive the 1976 strike.

[388] In Noel’s words, Minister O’Malley ‘went to war with the oil companies’. ‘It was ridiculous,’ says Max. ‘We were buying petrol for the equivalent of $400 a tonne and selling it for $200 a tonne.’

The minister’s stance did not impress Bernard Nolan, Managing Director of Irish Shell & BP Ltd., who turned on his heel and left the room. At another meeting, the head of Esso stormed out in response to a perceived insult by Ray Burke, Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce (1979-1980).

At one stage, Mr Burke invited Noel and Max McMullan to a private audience and offered them a special deal on the basis that they were Irish. They declined on the basis that they could not see how it could worked, as well as the inevitable strings attached.

On 26 April, Mr Lynch reactivated a dormant committee on emergency planning for the first time in many long years to draft ways to secure and maintain supplies.

[389] Fergus Black, ‘Only four days’ oil left after Iran upheaval and strike here’, Irish Independent, 30 December 2009, via

[390] In Apollo House, Frank recalls a long corridor outside the director’s and management offices. It had a series of lights along the corridor ceiling. ‘Mr David didn’t want these lights on during the day. So he got individual cords put onto each light, hanging down, and as we were coming in in the morning, we were to turn each one on and off as and when we needed it.’ To Frank’s astonishment, exactly the same set up was installed at the Belfast office.

[391] Information supplied by Alec Bell who advised Max that Clifford’s Hudson was one of three cars assembled in 1937 by his father’s company, Assembler’s of Townsend Street.

[392] When Mini realised that people were still doing this as a result of the war, they changed the situation so that one had to actually turn the ignition off and remove the key out before the steering locked.

[393] ‘We went through a stage where we decided we were going to let the staff buy their own cars and pay car allowances, so if they wanted to drive a Rolls Royce, they were welcome to, but they’d still get a car allowance based on whatever the standard car for that grade of management was,’ explains Noel. Tom Noonan used to drive DG up to the north quite a lot but the two men didn’t altogether hit it off. When Tom’s flashy red Merc arrived, DG burst into Noel’s office.

‘Where’s the fella, Noonan these days?’ he asked.
‘I think he’s in his office,’ said Noel.
‘No, he hasn’t been around for a while.’
‘What makes you think that?’
‘There’s someone parking a brand new Merc in his spot.’
‘That’s Noonan’s Merc’
‘What?’, said DG, ‘Where did he get the money for that?’
And then DG turned on his heels and headed in Tom’s direction. Noel picked up the phone and said, ‘Father is on the way to the office to talk to you about the car – don’t have a row!’
DG arrived in, and said, ‘I believe that that red Merc in the car park is yours…’, and he delivered a stinging lecture about how he drove a ten-year-old Ford Fiesta, which he did at the time, and Clifford drove a Mini Metro.

[394] Tom Noonan also served as President of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) from 2008 to 2010, as well as president of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) in 1993-1994. He was introduced to SIMI by DG McMullan.

[395] When Tom Noonan went home to tell his new bride wife he was joining McMullans, she said, ‘McMullans? Never heard of them’.
I said ‘Mex’.
‘No, never heard of them’.
‘Never heard of them’.
It was the same when others asked where he worked. ‘Oh, I work for McMullan … no, Mex? … no, Maxol? … it’s an oil company’.
Tom then persuaded the directors to do some market research on consumer brand recognition of Maxol and the research were shocking. ‘Basically no one had never heard of us, under any of our names.’ Clifford McMullan promptly proposed suing the market research company!
By the time Tom delivered his farewell address long years later, Maxol had become a household name.

[396] Tom Noonan was born in Terenure and educated at Terenure College. ‘My educational achievements weren’t great. I did my Inter Cert with my lifelong friend Mick Cronin and, between the two of us, we got four subjects. And in fairness to Mick, he got three. I passed English and failed everything else. Mick has a very successful accountancy practice and I ended up as the CEO of Maxol.’

[397] In September 1993, the FUE was merged with CII to become FIE. It is now IBEC, of which Tom Noonan was President from 2008 to 2010. The first president of the combined FIE outfit was Tom Jacobs [check] while John Dunne was the Director General.

News of his impending arrival at Maxol didn’t bring joy to Maxol’s union-orientated drivers who feared he would come down heavy on them. Eddie Byrne, the shop steward at Jet, had already had a run in with Tom and warned them, “Oh god, you are in trouble now”. It didn’t work out like that. As Maxol drives Joe Byrne quickly conceded, ‘Tom was a very fair man who could always see both sides.’

[398] Joe Brannigan believes Maxol’s management made a rare mistake when they abandoned the idea of developing the heating division and came to agreement with authorised distributors to take over their commitments. He feels Maxol’s drivers should have been invited to keep it going. Joe Byrne and six other drivers were keen to do so, just as Burma had done when some of their drivers formed Liffey Oil.  It didn’t help that none of the four or five ADs who took it on made a decent go of it. The only central heating driver among them was Martin Flanagan

Although the drivers weren’t happy, Noel justifies the closure of the central heating as the upshot a terrible business ‘because everybody wanted oil today for three months of the year, and the rest of the year, nothing.’