Tributes paid to Clare man who pioneered duty free at Shannon

 

Tributes have been paid to the late Dr Brendan O'Regan, the Co Clare man who founded airport duty free shopping and spearheaded the development of Shannon Airport.

Dr O'Regan, who died in England on Saturday aged 90, was described as "one of the great business pioneers" and "a man way ahead of his time" by Shannon Airport Authority chairman Pat Shanahan.

Fine Gael TD Pat Breen said he was an "industrial visionary" and peacemaker.

Dr O'Regan established the world's first duty free shop at Shannon airport in 1950.He was the founding chairman of the Shannon Free Airport Development Company, now known as Shannon Development, the Republic's first regional development agency.

In later years, he helped promote peace in the North, founding Co-operation North (now Co-operation Ireland) and the Irish Peace Institute.

Extending his sympathies to the O'Regan family, Shannon Development chairman John Brassil said: "His pioneering work and his achievements in tourism and industrial development in this country are without equal."

Shannon airport director Martin Moroney said Dr O'Regan inspired a great spirit of entrepreneurship that lives on today.

The mayor of Clare, Patricia McCarthy, said Dr O'Regan's originality and innovation had helped establish the Republic as a successful and prosperous nation, while Clare county manager Alec Fleming said Dr O'Regan's work formed the building blocks for the progressive industrial and tourism base that now exists in the mid-west region.

A native of Sixmilebridge, Co Clare, Dr O'Regan was appointed by the Government as catering comptroller at Foynes flying boat base, which was a refuelling point for transatlantic seaplanes between Britain and the US. He was later transferred to Rineanna Airport (now Shannon International Airport) where he continued as catering comptroller.

A year after founding the duty free shopping zone at Shannon, he set up the now world-respected Shannon College of Hotel Management. During this period, he travelled to the US to seek new business and to promote Shannon.He was appointed chairman of Bord Fáilte Éireann in 1957 - a position he held until 1973. He also established Shannon Castle Tours, incorporating the renowned banquets at Bunratty Castle.

From its inauguration in 1959, Dr O'Regan used the Shannon Free Airport Development Company to build on the idea that any industrial zone surrounding an international airport needed an available workforce.

The agency purchased land for housing, which resulted in the first new town in the history of the State. By the 1970s, Shannon became a haven for many Catholics fleeing violence in the North. This period had a profound impact on Dr O'Regan who decided to spend more time working for peace.

He was awarded a CBE for his contribution to reconciliation in the North, was voted "Clareman of the Year" in 1984 and in 1995 he was made a freeman of Limerick.