Bord Bainne, now Ornua, a co-operative, was a State company with a statutory monopoly on dairy exports in those pre-EEC days when Tony O’Reilly became its chief executive in 1962.

He was always a passionate believer in the power of a strong brand and he has been given the credit for creating and overseeing the development of Kerrygold, the most successful Irish-owned brand in existence.

He left Bord Bainne to join the Irish Sugar Company, which also owned Erin Foods.

It was this connection with food processing that brought him to the attention of the Heinz corporation in America and, after joining it, he eventually became its chair and chief executive. But it was the dairy industry to which he most often referred on his frequent visits to Ireland.

He was a regular speaker at food and agricultural conferences, among them being memorable ones hosted by the then Minister for Agriculture Joe Walsh in Kinsale.

From an Irish Farmers Journal point of view, we had two significant interactions with him.

The first when as effective owner of the then dominant Independent Group, he bought the Sunday World which did our printing and with which we had set up a joint venture newspaper distribution company – Newspread.

Tony O’Reilly insisted we sell our share and the formerly close relationship between Tony O’Reilly and my predecessor Paddy O’Keeffe never recovered.

Later, we had a bitter court case over the quality of printing in the Sunday World printing plant. While we had to pay damages, we were able to move our printing to The Irish Times.

His catastrophic investments in the Independent Group and Waterford Glass have been well documented, but his interest and involvement in horses and cattle at his beloved estate Castlemartin just outside Kilcullen, Co Kildare, have received less coverage. It was in Castlemartin that he held company think-ins with his senior executives, as well as being a generous host to Irish and a wide range of international visitors.

Enduring legacy

Probably his most enduring legacy is his role in the creation of The Ireland Funds, which tapped into American philanthropic willingness to help the development of a peaceful economically successful Ireland, north and south.

Married twice, his first wife Susan was Australian and the mother of his six children.

After their divorce, he married Chryss Goulandris, a member of a well-known Greek shipping family. She operated a successful stud in Normandy and served as an effective and conscientious chair of The Irish National Stud during a particularly turbulent period. She predeceased him in August 2023.

Tony O’Reilly was a larger-than-life character with a keen brain and many remarkable gifts. His contribution to Ireland was real and significant.

May he rest in peace.