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Eamonn Farrell

Businessman Tony O'Reilly has died aged 88

Taoiseach Simon Harris described him as a “giant of sport, business and media”.


TONY O’REILLY, ONE of the country’s best-known business figures, has died at the age of 88.

O’Reilly, who was also known as a media magnate and international rugby player for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions, died in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin yesterday. 

Taoiseach Simon Harris described him as a “giant of sport, business and media” and said his passing would be felt by the many people he encountered during his long life. 

In a statement, his family said:

“In the coming days there will be many worthy tributes made to Tony O’Reilly’s unique and extraordinary achievements in the fields of business and sport.

“As well as to his extraordinary philanthropic vision which was best evidenced by the establishment of the Ireland Funds at a dark time in this island’s history.

“But, for us, he was a dearly-loved dad and a granddad.

“He lived one of the great lives and we were fortunate to spend time with him in recent weeks as that great life drew to a close.”

Born in Dublin in 1936, O’Reilly made his international debut for Ireland in rugby in 1955 and soon became the youngest player to be selected for the Lions.

In his business career he pioneered the dairy brand Kerrygold, turning it into one of Ireland’s most well-known global consumer brands.

He later became the chairman of the food giant Heinz and in 1973 took control of Independent Newspapers, publisher of the Irish Independent, Sunday Independent and Evening Herald.

He was also known for his philanthropy, setting up the Ireland Funds, which gave money from US donors into reconciliation projects around the border.

O’Reilly, who had joint Irish and British nationality, was knighted in the 2001 New Year Honours by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II “for long and distinguished service to Northern Ireland”.


President Michael D Higgins also paid tribute to the well known business man and said he was a man of “great personal charm”. 

“There were so many aspects of Irish life that Anthony O’Reilly touched in an innovative and changing way that his passing will draw tributes from so many that knew him and worked with him.

“It is understandable that the positive contribution in terms of utilising the Irish diaspora at a time of Ireland’s difficulties, through the Ireland Funds and the impact which that made on a North/South basis, will be at the top of most people’s list of the contributions that he made.

“The leadership he gave in that action was at a time when Ireland needed to draw on all of the contacts and friends that it had,” he said. 

The President added that Tony O’Reilly’s life was “a full one and he will be missed by all of those who knew him. I send my sympathies to his family.”

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said on X: “Saddened to learn of the passing of Tony O’Reilly a pioneering spirit who had an extraordinary impact on Irish business, sport, media and society.

“Through the Ireland Funds, Tony changed the global narrative on peace and reconciliation on this island.

“My deepest sympathies to his children, family and friends.”

The IRFU described him as “a legend of the game”, adding: 

“Our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”

- With reporting by Daragh Brophy 

Press Association