Tony O’Reilly: President leads tributes to businessman who ‘touched so many aspects of Irish life’

Simon Harris describes former Heinz chief executive and chairman as ‘a giant of sport, business and media’

President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to businessman Tony O’Reilly following news of his death on Saturday after a short illness.

In a statement, the President spoke of Mr O’Reilly’s innovation in “so many aspects of Irish life” and described him as a man of “great personal charm”.

Mr O’Reilly served as chief executive and chairman of the US food company Heinz, and he used his significant wealth to invest in Irish companies including Waterford Glass and the Independent newspaper group. He was also a founder of the Ireland Funds, a global fundraising and philanthropic network.

“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,” Mr Higgins said.


“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 innovation that was part of all of his life extended from the application of science and technology, sport, the labyrinthine nature of commerce and the ever tumultuous space that constituted newspaper ownership at home and abroad, to what was a personal commitment to staying with what he saw as a symbolic Irish activity in Waterford Crystal,” the President continued.

A family spokesman confirmed on Saturday that Mr O’Reilly died at 88 years old in St Vincent’s hospital.

“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,” Mr O’Reilly’s family said in a statement.

“As well as 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 grandad. 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,” they said.

Mr O’Reilly’s death has drawn tributes from the across the political sphere, with Taoiseach Simon Harris describing him as “a giant of sport, business and media”.

“He was a trailblazer who aimed big on the international business scene. Through his work in the UK, US and Ireland he forged a path that many other international business figures from Ireland would follow,” Mr Harris said.

Mr Harris added: “Tony O’Reilly was a giant and his passing will be felt by the many people he encountered in his long life. My thoughts are especially with his children and grandchildren at this sad time.”

In a post on X, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said he was “saddened” to learn of O’Reilly’s death, describing him as “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,” Mr Martin said.

Caitriona Fottrell, president and chief executive of The Ireland Funds, said that in establishing the organisation with Dan Rooney and Patricia Rooney in 1976, Mr O’Reilly “created an organization that today has gone on to support thousands of non-profit organizations all over the island”.

“Countless lives have been improved and the extent of Tony’s philanthropic reach may never be fully known,” Ms Fottrell said.

Danny McCoy, Ibec CEO said that Mr O’Reilly “always showed a willingness to support those starting out or building something across business, innovation, and entrepreneurship”.

“Sir Anthony O’Reilly made an enormous contribution to every endeavour he was involved with, from sport to his tireless philanthropy efforts. However, his impact as a business leader was extraordinary,” he said.

A family spokesperson said that funeral arrangement will follow this week.

Fiachra Gallagher

Fiachra Gallagher

Fiachra Gallagher is an Irish Times journalist