Historic shipping company Burke celebrates 160 years at top
A shipping company which transports the wares of some of Northern Ireland's biggest companies across the world has celebrated its 160th birthday.
Everything from surgical gloves destined for pharmaceutical firms, to white and household goods, forestry and steel cargoes, are shipped in and out of Burke Shipping in Belfast, said Sean McCready, managing director of the Belfast operation of the company.
It has offices in all of Ireland's major ports including Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Fenit, and even China, under its parent company, The Doyle Group.
Founded in Belfast in 1853 by Galway man John Burke – in the same year as Harland and Wolff's original incarnation – the Northern Ireland operation employs 49 full-time staff. It became part of Cork-based Doyle Group in the early 2000s.
Through many thousands of calls into its array of ports, Burke deals in transhipment, stevedoring and cargo handling, customs clearance and export documentation, inland haulage and warehousing. The Belfast managing director, who started out as tea boy as a 16-year-old fresh from school, spoke of a founding thread of loyalty.
He said that if his wife goes shopping for baking goods, the only flour that's allowed in her trolley is Neill's Flour, one of its core customers.
Burke ships Neill's wheat imports from Europe, he said.
"And if it's oil, it's only LCC oil we buy," he added, referring to the division of Lissan Coal Company Limited, in Cookstown, which is another customer.
Another major customer is Smiley Monroe in Lisburn, which manufactures conveyor belts designed for the mobile crushing, screening and recycling sector.
Mr McCready – head of the local port's operation for about 13 years – said, "there are a number of companies that we are up against ... but it's giving the customer that bespoke service" which sets them apart.
Feeling something akin to a personal stake in their customers' businesses, he added, "they become like family friends", which is fitting, considering "we regard ourselves as a family business".
Conor Doyle, chairman of the Doyle Group said: "John Burke Ltd has deep roots in the Port of Belfast.
"With our young and dynamic team we are excited about the future of the company and its potential for growth.
"We believe strongly in the dynamism of Northern Ireland and the central role of Belfast Harbour in the economy of the region."