Paddy Kilroy


Businessman and lawyer served on many boards

PADDY KILROY, who has died aged 79, was a lawyer, businessman and philanthropist.

A practising solicitor, he was closely involved with the motor industry and was chairman of the Smith Group, later occupying the same position at Gowan Distributors.

His directorships included Banque National de Paris, Insurance Corporation of Ireland, Irish Life, Waterford Glass, Ryanair and Universal Honda. He chaired the boards of Church and General Insurance and Surgical Distributors.

Interviewed by The Irish Timesin 1991, he was asked why he was so much in demand as a director.

He replied: “I suppose it is because of the pool of experience I have gained down through the years and that I can hopefully make common-sense judgments.”

He rejected the notion that the role of non-executive directors and chairmen of companies was a titular one: “I think non-executive directors of companies have a great deal to contribute.

“They can be more objective in their consideration of the issues in hand and can bring to bear (possibly) a scope of experience that isn’t available to the executive directors.”

He admitted freely that Waterford Glass had made many mistakes while expressing his belief that the group would overcome its difficulties.

He did not want to see the manufacturing process transferred overseas because of the “extraordinarily developed skills” in Waterford. But he added that a company could only exist if it was making a profit.

He accepted that cars were “far too expensive” in Ireland, but said that the car industry had always been regarded as “a kind of money chest for the exchequer”.

Born in Callan, Co Kilkenny, in 1929, he was one of the 10 children of Thomas Kilroy, a Garda sergeant, and his wife Mary (née Devine).

He won a scholarship to St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, and later studied at University College Dublin, qualifying as a solicitor in the early 1950s. He was an award-winning debater as a student.

He worked for the legal department at the National Bank before establishing his own firm in 1954.

In addition to building up a successful practice, he also lectured in company law and corporate governance at the Law Society.

He was legal adviser to his friend Con Smith, who he assisted in setting up the Smith Group.

The group held the franchise for Renault, and he became chairman after Con Smith was killed in the Staines air disaster in 1972.

For many years he was executive chairman of Gowan Distributors, which specialised in Peugeot and Citroen vehicles and had various subsidiaries including Kitchen Accessories Ltd and Technical Equipment, distributors of electrical components and switchgear.

He retired from Gowan in 1995, and worked as a consultant until a few years ago. A founder member of the UCD graduates’ discussion circle Tuairim, he was the first Catholic to become a governor of Marsh’s Library.

A quiet supporter of many charities, he was a member of the first board of Trócaire.

Deeply interested in the arts, he and his wife Dorothy enjoyed theatre and collected art.

He was a former chairman of the board of the Abbey Theatre.

He was an avid sports fan and attended Croke Park regularly to watch Kilkenny notch up another all-Ireland championship. Lansdowne Road and Old Trafford were other sports grounds he liked to visit, and he also travelled to see the British Open. He was delighted to support the Republic of Ireland in Italia ’90.

He was a member of Milltown Golf Club and also took a close interest in horse racing. The Paris Motor Show conveniently coincided with the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, and he rarely missed Cheltenham or the Christmas meeting at Leopardstown.

In recent years he realised his dream of becoming an owner, and had the pleasure of seeing Saddlers Mark, Platino and Travino race in his colours.

In the early 1980s he was honoured by the French government which made him a Chevalier de l’ordre Nationale de Merité for his contribution to commercial relations between Ireland and France.

Known for his lively sense of humour, family was at the heart of his life.

He is survived by his wife Dorothy, daughters Aisling, Helen, Cliona and son Stephen; his son Mark predeceased him.

Paddy Kilroy: born October 12th, 1929; died February 13th, 2009