Michael Mehigan, the businessman who brought McDonald’s fast food restaurants to Ireland, has died in his Dublin home. Mehigan was granted the franchise for the first McDonald’s restaurant in Ireland on Grafton Street, Dublin, in May 1977. Less than two years later he opened a second McDonald’s in Upper O’Connell St, Dublin, in January 1979.
As managing director of Pantry Franchise Ireland (trading under McDonald restaurants), Mehigan operated a total of 12 McDonald’s in Dublin over the following 20 years. In 1999 he sold Pantry Franchise Ireland to McDonald’s Restaurants of Ireland for an undisclosed sum. According to a business report in The Irish Times in February 1999, the company’s annual turnover prior to the sale was understood to have been £25 million.
Michael Mehigan first got the idea to open McDonald’s in Ireland when he was working for McDonald’s in Vancouver, Canada. At the time most people thought it was a crazy idea yet he returned to Dublin in 1975, wrote up his business plan and was successful in his bid to run the first franchise for McDonald’s in this country.
According to his wife Mary Mehigan, Michael dedicated himself to making the business work. “He was a quiet, unassuming man who worked long hours in his business,” she says.
In the early days of McDonald’s a number of workers mounted a picket protesting that staff were not allowed to be members of a union. Following a Labour Court recommendation, Mehigan agreed to take back workers who were on the picket line except the ring leader who had in fact been expelled from the Irish Trade and General Workers Union.
Over the subsequent years Mehigan opened McDonald’s restaurants throughout Dublin city centre and suburbs.
“Some of the team who started with him are now chief executives of international companies, and 11 of them have opened up McDonald’s franchises of their own in Ireland,” says Mary Mehigan.
Corinne White, who worked as marketing manager for Mehigan and continues to work for McDonald’s Marketing Company of Ireland, says that he was a true gentleman.
“He was kind and considerate, and a great role model and mentor who led by example, with his finger on the pulse of every aspect of the McDonald’s business. It is testament to Mike’s leadership that many of the employees from the early years are still working in McDonald’s or have become franchisees. Long-standing employees refer to “having ketchup in our blood”, says White.
Michael Mehigan, the middle child of five of David and Mary Mehigan, grew up in various locations around Ireland as his father’s job in the bank moved from Dingle, Co Kerry, to Dungarvan, Co Waterford, and then to Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, where he was appointed manager of the Munster and Leinster Bank in 1950. The family remained in Mullingar for the next 12 years while Michael and his older brother, John, boarded in Newbridge College for their secondary education.
Following school, Mehigan moved to Dublin, where he worked for an insurance broker. At the age of 28, he emigrated to Canada , where he worked for several years expanding business opportunities for McDonald’s in Canada.
He returned to Dublin in 1975, and began to build up his McDonald’s franchises here. He was also instrumental in setting up the Ronald McDonald Children’s Charity in Ireland, whose fundraising led to the establishment of the Ronald McDonald House next to Our Lady’s Children Hospital [now Children’s Health Ireland] Crumlin in 2004. This house provides accommodation and support to the families of seriously ill children receiving treatment at the hospital.
As is the practice in many other countries, McDonald’s also sponsored local sports teams, educational programmes and litter collections. The McDonald’s Young Writers’ competition which ran for a number of years from 1992 resulted in the publication of four books by O’Brien Press featuring a compilation of short stories and poetry written by Irish children.
On St Patrick’s Day – the busiest day of the year for McDonald’s – Mehigan accompanied McDonald’s characters on to the sponsored floats in the parade and to children’s hospitals to perform magic shows. He also visited each of his restaurants, serving customers green shamrock milk shakes.
Throughout his career Mehigan maintained life-long friendships with his school friends from Newbridge College, and was on the school’s board of governors for a time.
When in 1983 about 50 past pupils of Newbridge College gathered for the 25-year class reunion in Dublin’s Clarence Hotel, the celebrations continued for a second night in a pub in Terenure. And as the night wore on and food was not available, Mehigan dispatched a taxi to McDonald’s on Grafton Street which returned with 60 Big Macs for the group of men still ensconced in the suburban pub.
In 1989, Mehigan married Mary Hilton, who he had met while she was managing director of Dublin Tourism. “I contacted Michael because I wanted McDonald’s to sponsor a float in the St Patrick’s Day parade which I was organising at the time,” she recalls. Within two years the couple were married, and Mary joined her husband in the running of the McDonald’s restaurants.
The Mehigans sold their business in 1999 after which they both retired. Michael’s health declined in the last 12 months and he received full time care in his own home, provided by Mary aided by a team of nurses and carers.
Michael Mehigan is survived by his wife Mary (nee Hilton), his sisters, Berna (O’Mahony), Josephine (Duggan), brother David. His brother John pre-deceased him
Born: November 11th, 1939
Died: March 16th, 2022