Donagh O'Donoghue obituary: Celebrated patron of Galway's Druid Theatre

Towering figure in Galway's arts and academia world took drama as seriously as business

Donagh O’Donoghue’s association with NUI Galway continues posthumously through the O’Donoghue Centre for Theatre, Drama and Performance which opened in 2017 and was funded by his philanthropic donation

Donagh O’Donoghue’s association with NUI Galway continues posthumously through the O’Donoghue Centre for Theatre, Drama and Performance which opened in 2017 and was funded by his philanthropic donation

 

Born: March 13th, 1944
Died: May 30th, 2021

Donagh O’Donoghue, businessman, philanthropist and supporter of arts and academia in Galway died on May 30th, 2021. For half a century, he was a towering figure, deploying his exuberant, ambitious and occasionally forceful personality with lasting effect.

Donagh was instrumental in the donation of the former tea storehouse on Flood Street, now renamed the Mick Lally Theatre, which has housed the Druid Theatre Company since 1979. He served as chairman of Druid for 20 years and oversaw its evolution from a fledgling professional troupe to a soaring internationally acclaimed, Tony Award-winning company. His guidance and drive were vital supports for the artistic talent that emerged from University College Galway (now NUI Galway) Dramsoc in the 1970s.

He recognised the talent and creativity of Garry Hynes, Mick Lally and Marie Mullen and had marvellous ambition for Druid, remaining a close confidant and friend to the company always

Druid was the first Irish professional theatre company outside Dublin when it was founded in 1975. Donagh had moved on from the lively drama society a few years earlier and was by then group managing director of another Galway institution, Thomas McDonogh & Sons Ltd, his family’s fertiliser and animal feed business that has since evolved into a property investment company with interests in Ireland and Belgium.

However, he took drama as seriously as he took business and he believed a thriving arts scene would nourish the growth of the city as a whole. He recognised the talent and creativity of Garry Hynes, Mick Lally and Marie Mullen and had marvellous ambition for Druid, remaining a close confidant and friend to the company always.

Donagh was born in 1944, one of four children of Peter and Gretta (née Geraghty) O’ Donoghue in Galway. Gretta was a teacher in the Claddagh and Peter was managing director in McDonogh’s. Donagh attended Coláiste Iognáid and it was as a 15-year-old member of the choir in “the Jes” that he met Marcia Hynes. Their extraordinary partnership was to last more than 60 years.

Donagh went on to attend University College Galway and completed BA (1965), BCom (1966) and MBA (1974) degrees. His many college friends included Michael D Higgins and Gearóid O’Tuathaigh. As a member of Comhairle Teachta na Mac-Léinn (the Students’ Representative Council), he managed its finances, opposing any frivolous or indulgent spending. Respected not only for his business acumen but his honesty and integrity, he distributed the proceeds of student dances in Seapoint among the various university societies scrupulously. His primary extra-curricular focus remained, however, on the student drama society: Dramsoc.

After college, Donagh followed his father into McDonogh’s. He was group managing director from 1975, until his retirement in 2000. He took pleasure and pride in his many business successes, always applying a strong sense of probity in his dealings. His talent was recognised widely and his various roles included directorships of James McMahon Ltd, Techrete Ltd, Shannon Ferries, Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and Trinity Bank; chair of Bord na Móna, vice chair of Galway Airport, member of the Council of Galway Chamber and vice president of IBEC.

Donagh remained committed to the development of NUI Galway. For 30 years, he was an influential member of the governing authority of his alma mater. Under his careful stewardship, the university maintained a robust financial position while completing a transformative capital development programme. In 2008, he received an honorary doctorate from NUI Galway. For more than 20 years he also served on the governing body of the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) and, in 2015, GMIT awarded him an honorary fellowship.

Gregarious with a mischievous sense of humour and hearty laugh, Donagh was a competitive golfer and tennis player and a keen angler. He will be missed in Galway and beyond

His association with NUI Galway continues posthumously through the O’Donoghue Centre for Theatre, Drama and Performance which opened in 2017 and was funded by his philanthropic donation. It is the second major theatre space in Galway born of Donagh’s generosity and vision. At the official opening of the centre in 2017, Higgins said: “This new centre is, of course, named in recognition of the patronage of Dr Donagh O’Donoghue who, while he has contributed so much to Galway’s economic and cultural life has, in particular, been a constant source of advice to NUIG and to NUIG’s administration.

“He has been involved in the expansion in every area. Donagh, Marcia and I, we all started as students in UCG in the same year, taking practically the same subjects, but more importantly we shared an interest in the same society be it the arts society, the debating societies and in particular, Dramsoc . . . Donagh’s interest in Dramsoc was thus an early one and would lead to his pioneering and enduring support for Druid.”

Gregarious with a mischievous sense of humour and hearty laugh, Donagh was a competitive golfer and tennis player and a keen angler. He will be missed in Galway and beyond.

He is survived by Marcia; his children Gillian, Denise, Peter, Andrew and John; sons-in-law Derek and Ian; daughters-in-law Emma and Fiona; grandchildren Daniel, Jake and Emily; and by his sister Maura Neligan.