Tony O’Reilly: Former Irish international rugby player and leading businessman dies

The Irish Rugby Football Union has paid tribute to a “legend of the game”, while Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister says Sir Tony had an “extraordinary impact on Irish business, sport, media and society”.

Saturday May 18, 2024 10:38 PM, UK

Sir Tony O’Reilly, a former Irish international rugby player and one of the country’s leading businessmen, has died aged 88.

Sir Tony, who was also a media mogul, died in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin on Saturday.

The Irish Rugby Football Union posted on X: “A legend of the game is gone.

“Our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris has paid tribute to a “pioneer” who “charted a path that many other international business people from Ireland would follow”.

In a statement, Sir Tony’s family said: “Many worthy tributes will be paid in the coming days to Tony O’Reilly’s unique and extraordinary achievements in business and sport.

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

‘But to us he was a much loved father and grandfather.

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

Born in Dublin in 1936, Sir Tony made his international debut for Ireland in rugby in 1955 and quickly became the youngest player to be selected for the British Lions – a team made up of players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

During his business career he pioneered the Kerrygold dairy brand, making it one of Ireland’s best-known global consumer brands.

Sir Tony later became chairman of 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, founding The Ireland Funds, which donated money from American donors to reconciliation projects around the Irish border.

Sir Tony, who held dual Irish and British citizenship, was knighted by the late Queen Elizabeth II in the 2001 New Year Honors “for long and distinguished services to Northern Ireland”.

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O’Reilly pictured with a carved Maori stick after returning from New Zealand with the British Lions Rugby team in 1959. Photo: PA

Mr Harris said: “It is with great sadness that I learned of the death of Tony O’Reilly.

“Mr O’Reilly was a giant in sports, business and media and left a lasting legacy in all three countries.

“He was a pioneer who aimed big for the international business world.

“Through his work in Britain, the US and Ireland, he has forged a path that many other international business people from Ireland would follow.

“Modern Ireland likes to think of itself as an island at the center of the world – Tony O’Reilly was one of the first Irish businessmen to really believe that.”

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Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Michael Martin wrote on

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

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

Sir Tony is survived by six children.

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