June 2023 Member Profile – William Donnellan

William Donnellan is the Founder, President and CEO at IRL Group of Companies. Having grown up in the village of Craughwell in County Galway, he chose the name IRL to acknowledge his Irish heritage. But IRL also stands for “integrity, reliability and loyalty,” the three pillars of this remarkably successful British Columbia business.

Before moving to Vancouver in 2009, William and his partner Laura owned and operated a pub in Craughwell. William, a carpenter by trade, also ran a construction company. Ireland was experiencing an economic downturn, so the couple decided to go on a “working holiday” to Vancouver.

“We came here with some money in our pockets and no contacts,” he recalls.

The couple toured the city for few days, then William bought some tools, work boots, a vest, and “the cheapest car he could find on Craigslist.”

The job hunt was afoot.

It wasn’t long before he got a job as a carpenter with Jacobs Bros Construction at $16 an hour. His boss, a fellow named Trevor, loved everything about William. The pay raises came at a dizzying pace.

A year later, William and Laura took a short vacation back to Ireland. When they got back to Vancouver, the news was not good — or so they thought. In the mail was a T4 form from Jacobs Bros. Having never seen a T4 form, William wrongly assumed it was a layoff notice.

The indefatigable Irishman quickly found construction work at UBC running a small crew for a different company.

A short time later, William received a call from Trevor. “He asked where I was. After sorting out the confusion, he said Jacobs

wants me back, but I had to let him know I was now committed to this other work. He understood and said I could come back any time.

“I believe things in life happen for a reason. If I hadn’t made that mistake with the T4 notice, I would probably still be working at Jacobs. But that mistake showed me there was a huge gap I could fill by setting up a company that would have skilled workers who would come on time, have all the necessary equipment, be professional, and work hard.”

William started IRL in 2011, a sub-contracting business with the guarantee of premium work.

“We are banging nails at 7. Not five past 7.”

The business exploded. IRL had 50 employees in no time, then 100, then 150. A few of the company’s most significant projects include work at the Seaforth Armoury, Kitsilano High School, Vancouver House, the Hope Centre in North Vancouver, and Haida Gwaii Health Centre.
With IRL thriving, William and Laura expanded the company to include a hospitality side. They opened Donnellan’s Irish Pub in the Granville entertainment district in 2017. Today, the couple own and operate five pubs throughout the Lower Mainland.

The pub side was in place to support a possible downturn in construction, but when the pandemic hit, it turned out the construction was there to support the sudden downturn in hospitality.

IRL has won numerous awards for its workplace performance, but it’s also been recognized many times for its community involvement. The Greater Vancouver Food Bank is a particular passion. As well, once a month Donnellan’s hosts an event for the “new and not so new” in Vancouver — an evening of networking for young people who have arrived in our city with few contacts.

Outside of work, William is passionate about Irish hurling, which he continues to play at 40-years old, and ethical fox hunting, which he does in the fall and winter with the Fraser Valley Hunt Society in Langley.

William and Laura married in 2014 and have three “beautiful Canadian boys,” ages 1, 3 and 5.

“We love living in False Creek, but we are running out of space.”

William joined Terminal City Club in 2019. He and Laura regularly bring the boys to the pool on weekends.

“The five of us are blessed to have so many other wonderful families, like our families back in Ireland, our IRL family, and the Terminal City Club family. Some of the finest people I have ever met are members here. It’s been a great fit for us.”