Woman behind Kingspan who loved arts and nature

Andrea Murtagh: April 19th, 1943 - January 23rd, 2014


Andrea Murtagh, who has died aged 70, was the wife of Gene Murtagh, founder of Kingspan, one of Ireland’s most successful companies, a global manufacturer of building products for the international property and construction industry.

She was in at the start of the company, which takes its name from the town of Kingscourt in Co Cavan, and the man she married was, like her, born in the town and lived on the same street. In the early 1960s, she was a hairdresser, he a fitter.

The young married couple took a chance and set up a business making trailers. They would drive all over the country, searching for axles and other components. She painted the woodwork, did the paperwork and brought up their children.

Andrea’s father, Larry Carolan, was a local man, and her mother, Agnes, a remarkable woman from Fermanagh who lived to 102. Both were great readers and he imbued his children with a passionate interest in the outside world.

Literature and art
Andrea, who developed a childhood love for literature, painting, poetry and music, would recall being taken by her mother to the local Catholic church to see Evie Hone up a very long ladder working on her stained-glass window, Ascension .

There were three sisters and five brothers, and the latter were live-wired into the life of the town and county. Her brother, Declan, played football for Cavan, the county to which she was strongly attached.

When Ireland played Iran in the 2001 World Cup qualifier, she led a party of women friends to Tehran to support the team. Mná na hÉireann were going to make their presence felt, whatever the local ayatollahs might say.

At the match, as a concession to sartorial diktat, she wore a green headscarf.

Wherever she went throughout the world, she made friends and unobtrusively supported, emotionally and financially, and advised many people less fortunate than herself – often unbeknown to those even closest to her.

Charity fundraising
She inspired people to join her on money-raising trips abroad for charities such as ARC and the Cancer Support Centre, travelling to countries including Cuba, Spain, the US, Colombia, Cyprus, Lebanon and Mongolia, immersing herself in the lives of the people she met.

She was indefatigable – always first on to the dance floor and last to leave it. She believed the world was a wonderful place with endless possibilities and she supported numerous artists and musicians, buying their work or sponsoring them in college.

Paintings hung all over her house and she frequently hosted recitals by up-and-coming talent.

She had a great interest in interior design and, over the years, refined the structure of the family home in Kingscourt to make it warm and comfortable. She entertained a broad range of people from family and friends to Kingspan people and members of the International Fund for Ireland.

Daughter Naomi, who studied fashion design, says she based her degree collection on her mother’s sense of style: “It was eclectic and colourful.” A close friend, Aideen Carolan, says she was “quirky and eccentric but always a very caring kind and compassionate person, generous to a fault and great fun. She wrote wonderfully humorous poems for family occasions . . .”

Andrea never lost touch with the land – she bred sheep and cattle and, like any good farmer, went out first thing in the morning to see them. She loved nature, the sea. Son Damien recalled of his childhood that “she’d bring the whole lot of us, all our friends as well, to Bettystown. She wouldn’t leave anybody behind. No matter how cold the day, she was first in the water, impervious to cold.”

Throughout her days and the success of Kingspan, she was the rock in Gene’s life. They were teenage sweethearts and lifelong partners. Gene idolised her and was always proud to show his love for her in public and at home.

She is survived by husband Gene; children Ronan, Damien, Gene, Paul and Naomi; their spouses and children; sisters Deirdre, Marie and Una; brothers Frank, Lanzi, Seán, Declan; and their spouses.