Tony O’Reilly a man of great ambition and loyalty who cherished loved ones, funeral hears

Service for rugby player turned businessman attended by former U2 manager as well as sporting and political figures including Tánaiste

Former business and sportsman Tony O’Reilly was a man of ambition but great loyalty, who cherished his family and many friends, his funeral in Dublin was told on Thursday.

His three sons, Gavin, Cameron, and Tony, paid warm tributes to their father in front of a large congregation at the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, with Tony recalling his father having told him 18 months ago he was happy to have lived “an amazing life”.

Prominent figures from the worlds of politics, business, media and sport heard of “a titanic figure”, with a presence that “lit up every room he entered”.

Cameron said his father had known “no bounds to what he could achieve”, as he emerged from school at Belvedere College to immediately earn fame in the early stages of what would prove to be a remarkable and record-establishing rugby career, most obviously with Ireland and the Lions.


“He took that same ‘no limits’ approach into his business career,” he said.

Gavin said his father’s experience of growing up in the Ireland of his childhood, the son of unmarried parents, “with all the stigma that entailed”, contributed to the huge sense of importance he attached to relationships with the friends he made both in business and sport.

He spoke of his public displays of generosity but also the more personal interest he took in people and the “private gestures that defined him”.

“He treasured every one of these friendships,” he said.

Gavin recalled his father as having less well known sides to him, “a collector of art, a voracious reader, particularly of history. Politicians interested him but, surprisingly, not politics”.

For all his many achievements, however, his work on the Ireland Funds “may well be his most enduring legacy”.

“While others left Ireland and never came back, dad never really left Ireland,” he said. The initiative had provided members of the diaspora based in the United States and elsewhere with a way of supporting Ireland that was a world away from fundraising carried out in support of violence.

Tony said his father was a “tough boss” but a father who “lived life large”. Work took him away from his family a great deal, and when they were all together, events like family holidays would always include trips to local supermarkets to assess the presence of Heinz, of which he became chairman in 1987, and its competitors.

Their Dublin home, he recalled fondly, was “a madhouse” and their mother, Susan, “pretty much had to bring us [up] single handed as Dad wasn’t great around the house”.

“If it sounds like we’re complaining, though, we’re not,” he said, observing that when the family gathers in the coming months for a private memorial with all of his 23 grandchildren, they will remember “an extraordinary man” who taught them how “to look for the good in people and treat everyone the same, whether prince or pauper”.

His daughter Justine Still-O’Reilly read If by Rudyard Kipling, which, she said, was her father’s favourite poem.

O’Reilly’s kindness for others was also recalled by the chief celebrant of the Mass, Fr Bruce Bradley, who said he had come through Belvedere College 10 years after O’Reilly, who already “loomed large” over him and his classmates.

Fr Bradley remembered O’Reilly turning up to watch one of the school’s under-15 teams train one wet weekend evening, then offering lifts home for the first few to emerge afterwards.

“Tony O’Reilly achieved so much in 88 years, but never took anything for granted. He had a lifelong concern for those around him,” he said, treasuring friendship and loyalty, “values that go to the heart of the Gospel”.

In addition to his six children, also including Susan and Caroline, and other family members, the funeral was attended by the Tánaiste Micheál Martin and other figures from the political sphere including former ministers Shane Ross and Michael McDowell.

The President was represented by his aide-de-camp Col Stephen Howard and the Taoiseach by his aide-de-camp Comdt Gemma Fagan.

Another former international rugby star Ollie Campbell was among those to read the Prayers of the Faithful while former Wales international Ieuan Evans, now chair of the British and Irish Lions Board, was in attendance along with former Dublin footballer Tony Hanahoe.

There was a large contingent of senior figures, including Anne Harris, Colm MacGinty, Gerry O’Regan and Michael Roche, from the then-Independent News and Media, another of O’Reilly’s former business interests. Peter Vandermeersch represented the Independent’s current owners, Mediahuis.

Other figures from the media included broadcaster John Bowman, Sam Smyth and John O’Shea, the founder and former chief executive of the charity, Goal.

Among those to attend from the business community were developer Paddy Kelly, former U2 manager Paul McGuinness, Flutter chief executive Gary McCann, Barry Maloney and Rory Godson.

Mr O’Reilly, who was predeceased by his first wife, Susan, and his second wife Chryss, is to be cremated at a private ceremony on Friday.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times