When Joe Malone, who has died aged 85, took over as Bord Fáilte's manager in North America in 1967, he had some mountains to climb. Persuading travel-averse Americans to visit Ireland was not helped by the compulsory Shannon stopover. Every transatlantic flight in and out of Ireland had to touch down at Shannon airport, yet most visitors said they wanted to fly direct to Dublin.
Coming from a car hire background, he found the bureaucracy of working for a state tourist agency stifling. He adopted the tactic of “do first, ask for forgiveness later”. He moved the New York offices of the Irish Tourist Board out of a side street and on to a more visible site on Fifth Avenue.
A larger-than-life personality, Malone enjoyed the high profile his job gave him, and he networked (the phrase had not entered management-speak then) prodigiously. His lifelong commitment to Skål International, an organisation promoting global tourism and friendship, was just one manifestation of this.
Two years after he took the job, Northern Ireland ignited. No amount of spectacular photo essays in Ireland of the Welcomes, and glossy brochures could counter the effect of TV bulletins portraying the grim realities of gunfire on the streets of Belfast and Derry.
Instead of enticing images of the Cliffs of Moher and Ring of Kerry, potential tourists saw depictions of bomb-ravaged towns and villages with bodies in the streets, and police barracks under siege. The climb-back was difficult. Visitor numbers to the Republic of Ireland fell by a quarter in the three years following 1969.
But Malone put himself about, encouraging Irish tourism interests to go out and sell what they had to offer. “It helped in the American market to have an identifiable face spearheading the marketing campaign,” a colleague noted.
Led by example
It also helped that he worked hard, and led his staff by example. His career at Bord Fáilte overlapped with that of chairman PV Doyle, a successful hotelier who shared Malone's zeal for marketing rather than passively waiting for bookings to come in.
In 1976 Malone was appointed director general of Bord Fáilte and moved his family back to Ireland. He continued in that position until 1982, when outgoing taoiseach Charles Haughey appointed him to the board. As tourism recovered some ground, a new threat emerged in the form of rampant inflation.
Malone moved back to America in 1982 and briefly joined the Smurfit group's US operation, and shortly after that the General Automotive Corporation in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was twice appointed to the board of Aer Lingus. He refused the chairmanship of Celtic Helicopters, run by Haughey's son Ciaran, because Aer Lingus then owned a competitor – Irish Helicopters – but he invested £15,000 in the name of a family member. According to Colm Keena's book, Haughey's Millions (Gill & Macmillan), Malone thought the former taoiseach was miffed by his refusal. In his later years, Malone was president of three hotels, and he retired in 1992.
Joseph Noel Malone was one of five children of William Malone, a carpenter, of Breaffy, Castlebar, Co Mayo, and his wife Maura Mullen. He attended St Jarlath’s school in Tuam, Co Galway as a boarder, then spent a year in a seminary. A sporting injury forced to him to return home for a while, and he never returned.
Instead, he worked for Bord na Mona, but he soon left to join Dermot Ryan’s car rental business, where he rose to be managing director. Ryan had built a major business out of one Ford Prefect car and a lock-up garage in Dublin.
A young visitor from America called Imelda O'Mara called to the Ryan office to rent a car, and within seven weeks she and Joe were married. They went on to have seven children. A daughter, Sherie, died aged three of gastroenteritis.
Malone set up his own car-hire firm and eventually sold it to the UK Kenning group in 1964.
Energy and flair
In the 1960s, Malone had supported a controversial Fianna Fáil fund-raising outfit known as Taca. His background was strongly Fianna Fáil but even his critics conceded that while party loyalties may have opened some doors for him, he showed considerable energy and flair in any task he took on.
The family home and children’s schooling followed his postings: Dublin, New York, Dublin. They finally settled in Rye in New York state, where he died. His daughter Sharon said she benefited from the mix of cultures. In retirement, Malone was proud of having being named Mayoman of the year, and of the life presidency conferred on him by Skål International.
He is survived by his wife Imelda, and their children Sharon, Sandra (Pratt), Joseph jnr, Gina (Fitzmaurice), Meldie (Moore) Jennifer (Eckerson), and his sisters Maureen, Marguerite and Aine. His brother Liam and daughter Sherie predeceased him.