Ten years ago a group of American families arrived in Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim on a special mission.

Their number included members of a special project team, sent from the US to create a company that, today, forms a crucial part of the Irish timber products sector as it purchases more than €14m in residues from Irish sawmills.

That team was the advance party for Masonite International Corporation, part of the Premdor Group which is the world’s largest producer of hardboard.

Its task was to establish a Masonite factory to manufacture moulded door skins in Ireland – a feat that has changed the face and fortunes of the local community.

On September 20 this year Masonite Ireland celebrated the 10th anniversary of the announcement of its establishment in County Leitrim.

And to mark the occasion, the company held an all-day celebration which saw a number of special guests from the US, including executive vice-president Jim Morrison and vice-president of technology and former project team leader Henry Coghlan – so reuniting the original project team.

Speaking at the event, Mr Coghlan described the changes that had taken place over the past 10 years. “It is hard to believe that this was a hillside of spruce planted by Coillte in the 1960s. Change like this doesn’t come easy. It takes the combined efforts of a lot of individuals, groups and organisations,” sid Mr Coghlan.

A decade ago the Masonite project was the largest planning application Leitrim county council had ever dealt with. Since its start-up it has had an enormous impact on the area, securing a scale of investment previously unheard of in the location.

Production started in 1997 and the plant now employs 285 people. The products are exported to 33 countries throughout Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the US.

But the plant has also been instrumental in creating a more integrated timber processing sector in the north-west of Ireland as it consumes a vast amount of wood residues each year, sourced from four suppliers – Balcas, ECC, Murrays and Glennons – which are all within a 50-mile radius.

Jim Hoey, managing director of Masonite Ireland, said: “The sawmills we are dealing with are key to our activity, as we are to theirs.”

Mr Hoey said Masonite Ireland is pivotal to the success of Masonite International’s activity in keeping Europe going forward, and added: “We want to continue to grow our customer base in Europe.”

Jewel in the crown

At the celebration party Mr Hoey said: “We have designed and built a plant that is still the ‘jewel in the crown’ in the Masonite world and we are proud to have taken care of it and developed it over the past 10 years.

“Our success is due in no small part to both the quality of Masonite Ireland employees and the active support of the local and business community.”

He paid tribute to local supporters, especially the people of Annaduff and Carrick-on-Shannon and said he was particularly grateful for the very active support of the Carrick-on-Shannon Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Mr Hoey added: “I look forward with great confidence and enthusiasm to the future.”

As part of the official anniversary celebrations, Fiona Egan, president of Carrick-on-Shannon Chamber of Commerce and Industry, presented

the company with a special award in honour of its ongoing investment in the region.

She said: “We are presenting this award in recognition of Masonite’s key contribution to local commercial and industrial development in the last 10 years. There has been a very tangible transformation of Carrick-on-Shannon during this time; the physical progression to a more attractive and vibrant community is matched by a marked increase in business and community confidence that cannot be underestimated.”

She said that since Masonite had come to Co Leitrim the area had attracted further investment and regeneration and added: “The changes have been unbelievable.”