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'You don’t have to be male, middle-aged and born into the right family to be rich in Ireland – but it helps'

Journalist Joe O’Shea delved into the world of Ireland’s rich list for a two-part programme due to air this week.

Joe O'Shea

A DECADE ON from the financial crash of 2008, Ireland has a record number of millionaires (around 85,000), centa-millionaires (just under 100 people with over €100m in assets) and billionaires (eight).

The stats on high net-worth individuals in Ireland are often fluid and usually contested, partly due to the record rate at which wealth is being created and partly because it depends on who you define as Irish.

Of the eight Irish billionaires listed on the latest Oxfam report on worldwide wealth, two (Indian construction magnate Pallonji Mistry and US financier John Grayken) obtained Irish citizenship relatively recently.

Two more of the eight were very much born and bred here and in 2016 they became the youngest self-made billionaires on the planet – Limerick brothers John and Patrick Collison, founders of the digital payments company Stripe.

But when you look behind the eye-watering figures – the Collisons alone are worth an estimated €2.4bn – what does the list of our wealthiest people tell us about the super-rich in Ireland today?

Male and middle-aged

Well, one obvious take-away is that while you don’t have to be male, middle-aged and born into the right family to be rich in Ireland – it certainly helps.

When the Sunday Times Rich List began in 1997, just 10 women featured in the roll-call of Ireland’s 300 wealthiest people. Fast forward to 2018 and that number has risen to 61.

It’s progress but hardly revolution.

Working on this year’s edition of Ireland’s Rich List which has a strong emphasis on Ireland’s wealthiest women, I met some female entrepreneurs who could well feature in upcoming roll-calls of our seriously wealthy, including the woman behind a Wexford-based start-up that is being tipped for very big things globally.

And they – along with trailblazers like the Collison brothers – show how the ways in which wealth is being generated in Ireland are rapidly changing.

In the digital age, it’s possible to be in school or just heading into college in Ireland (as the Collisons were), have a world-beating idea and turn that flash of genius into a multi-million-dollar reality within months.

You can launch a start-up from four desks in a shared workspace in Gorey, Co Wexford that attracts millions in funding from angel investors. Or you can get your Big Idea in front of Silicon Valley gurus in seconds via social media, assuming they are open for DMs.

Of course, the more traditional routes to riches still dominate. The top 30 of Ireland’s richest people is still populated mostly by individuals and families working in sectors such as construction, manufacturing, retail, hotels, aviation and investment.

Recognise these rich people?

What’s also striking is how the higher you go up the list, the more private and publicity-shy these people seem to become.

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Yes, you have your Michael O’Leary’s and John Magniers. But do you know who David McMurtry, Deirdre Lyons and Luke and Brian Comer are? (here’s a hint, the latter duo are former plasterers from Glenamaddy, Co Galway, now worth a bob or two… billion).

Would you recognise John “Ippy” Dorrance if he was stood next to you in a pub in Dublin? He’s the heir to the Campbell’s Soup fortune and with a net worth of €2.6bn, the third wealthiest individual in Ireland.

Ireland’s super-rich also turn-up in the most unexpected places. Close to the picturesque, relatively remote West Cork harbour village of Schull, you’ll find the family home of William Bollinger, a retired hedge-fund manager worth over €500m.

The Bollingers keep a very low-profile (in common with many of our super-wealthy) but give generously to local causes and sponsor West Cork arts and events.

William Bollinger may be considered pretty typical of Ireland’s Rich List, a middle-aged man who made his money the old-fashioned way (well, via hedge funds), took retirement and found a lovely location to keep out of the limelight.

But the roll-call of the super-wealthy is changing. And this year’s edition of Ireland’s Rich List focuses on the new faces – and the women – setting up home on Millionaire’s Row.

Joe O’Shea presents Ireland’s Rich List which once again dives into the Sunday Times Rich List in this two-part programme. This year’s programmes looks specifically at Ireland’s Top 20 New Entries and Ireland’s Top 20 Richest Women. Ireland’s Rich List starts on Thursday, 30th August on RTÉ 2 at 9.30pm.

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