Anne Hailes: Having the right tools makes a big difference

Dumbile Khayalethu, one of the children from a village in the Tyume valley in South Africa's Eastern Cape, weaving a harness for his donkey
Anne Hailes

How many of us have had a brilliant idea that will take the world by storm but we never follow up on it?

I devised a toothpaste dispenser when I was a child – a simple device where you put the tube into a cradle with the bottom between two rollers, and as you turned a handle the rollers squeezed the toothpaste out of the nozzle.

I didn’t do anything about it – too young I suppose – and since then I’ve seen my device advertised and I presume selling well.

Patrick Finnegan had a brilliant idea when he was young and he did followed up on it – and now Finnegan’s Tools is a worldwide concern.  

One item in the hundreds of tools is Finnegan’s famous hoof-stand. It’s a basic tripod made from stainless steel where a horse’s leg is held securely and safety as the blacksmith fits the shoe.  


Paddy Finnegan with his hoof-stand


Now imagine a four-year-old boy crouching in the corner of a Co Down barn, wide eyed watching the smithy shoe a big black Shire horse, the sights and sounds mesmerising him, the smell of burning hoof-bone filling his young nostrils.

Little did he realise the impact it would have on his life, little did anyone else standing round that horse ever think that young Patrick Finnegan would become an inventor, an entrepreneur and support people in South Africa villages – and it all came about because of his love of horses.

The World At His Finger Tips

His first job was in engineering at Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipyard. In 1990 he worked for McDonnell Douglas aerospace manufacturing corporation and defence contractor in California, Paddy established the first horseshoe factory in Mexico City. He was an engineering lecturer for 20 years an he worked with the queen’s head groom in Windsor Castle training other grooms in the use of his invention – and he was a VIP guest at the Windsor Horse Show.

And once he was a cowboy riding down Kircubbin main street astride Judy, his beloved pony, shooting right, left and centre with his spud gun. 

So watching the smithy holding up the horses leg as he hammered home the shoe made an impression and later in life gave him the idea to make tools for handling some of the 100 million working equines around the world – the first off the production line being the hoof-stand.

Over the years Paddy’s business expanded, today Finnegan’s Tools has branched out and in his retirement the boss is dedicating himself to building equipment to help villagers in South Africa make their daily living less backbreaking and much more efficient – and he’s enlisting help from a number of local sources.  

Helping him make his carts and wheel kit are men and women at Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre and Prison, Belfast.

“I’m working in the woodworking shops and car maintenance workshop each Tuesday to get some students involved in making the kit which we want to send out to the villages.”  

Providing Much Need Support

These will be flat-packed and sent to South Africa where they will be assembled by villagers to transport water and for use in agriculture in the Eastern Cape.

“We’ve a technical college there lined up to build the cart kits, they will be training both young engineering and woodwork students in their workshops and people from the six pilot villages we’ve identified with our welfare training group facilitators.”

The carts are fashioned in such a way that once assembled they are easy for the donkeys to pull using special shafts and harnesses that lesson the impact of rough roads pitted with potholes. 

However he had a problem.

“I needed some design and practical help in coming up with a cost-effective braking system for these carts, also a cost-effective solar charged battery assisted motor to help on hills and steep inclines. I’m thinking along the lines of the sort of motor used in a golf bag trolly.”

He contacted Crosslé Car Company and they are now talking ideas and solutions.   

All this takes a lot of money, £50,000 for a long-term project, so he has contacted a charitable trust and will soon know if he will be granted some funding to follow his plans. He is also visiting craft groups throughout Northern Ireland demonstrating his crafting tools and asking for help and contributions.

“Great response from the ladies of church groups and I plan to visit Bangor library soon and Holywood Library’s Knit and Natter group have given the go-ahead to use their craft rooms to film How to Weave videos to show on YouTube. 

“In fact, I’ve just made inroads in getting all the libraries' Knit and Natter groups involved and if I can get a couple of people weaving for an hour or two each week in the 50 libraries in Northern Ireland, I could send out 20 complete sets of donkey harnesses each month to the hundreds of welfare groups throughout the developing world.”

Paddy always thinks big.This active 68-year-old who, with Peter Muckle of Saddle Aid UK, and Christine Casey of Kiri Cottage Crafts, Kircubbin, and himself at Finnegan Tools, has formed the World Enterprise Hand Skills group alongside his other interests.

Here is a man who doesn’t take no for an answer and all his life grabbed opportunities to progress his skills and help others.

And he’s appreciated by those he deals with and known to all as Happy Paddy.  Whatever next? Oh yes, his book which promises to be a blockbuster.