Peter Queally obituary: Entrepreneur who seized every opportunity that came his way

Starting with a farm, businessman went on to co-found one of Europe’s largest meat processors and a major Irish agri-food business

Born: November 19th, 1939

Died: August 19th, 2023

Peter Queally, the Irish entrepreneur who co-founded one of Europe’s largest meat processors, has died aged 83. The Waterford businessman and farmer was a well-known figure in the food industry, having founded Dawn Meats with his brother John Queally and business partner Dan Browne in 1979. Dawn Meats now has a staff of 8,000 in 12 countries with annual revenue of more than €2.5 billion.

Peter and John Queally were also founders of the Arrow Group, which is one of the biggest agri-food businesses in Ireland. A diverse group of companies, Arrow operates cold storage businesses, the Glenpatrick carbonated water bottling facility, and a dog food processing plant, Irish Dog Foods, in Naas, Co Kildare.


The youngest of three sons of Michael and Ellen (Nellie) Queally, Peter Queally grew up on a farm in Greenan, Co Waterford. Following his education at Dungarvan Technical College, he went to the Salesian Fathers-run agricultural college in Pallaskenry, Limerick, but didn’t complete his studies. Instead, when his eldest brother, Michael – who later became a Fine Gael senator – inherited the family farm, Peter and John bought a nearby farm at Matthewstown, which they ran together.

In 1965, Queally married his childhood sweetheart, Eileen Cullinan, and the couple set up home in Bunmahon, Co Waterford on the farm Eileen inherited from her parents. The two brothers continued working both farms while starting the first of many businesses together – sand and gravel quarries, which supplied materials for much of the new roads as Waterford city grew. They also ran a construction company for a time, garnering skills which would allow them to build all their own factories over the next 40 years.

In the late 1970s, in partnership with Eddie Kearns, the brothers built cold stores for the surplus supply of food in the then-European Economic Community (now the European Union). By the mid-1980s, when Kearns exited the business, they had cold stores in Ireland, England and later in the United States. The Queally family continued to develop the business and is now the largest cold store operator in South Africa.

“Dad’s ability to find good people he could trust and work with was the secret of all these businesses. His whole ethos was to back the jockey and not the horse. If he had a good person, he could build the business around that person,” said Peter’s son, Ivor Queally, who works within the family business.

Peter Queally was the one raising finance for new projects and acquisitions while John – who continues to work in the family businesses – brought engineering and operational skills to the partnership.

A key aspect of the Queally business empire was that each new business grew out of the former one. The boning halls and abattoirs of Dawn Meats sprung up from the realisation that there was money to be made from processing the meat in cold stores. Dawn Pork & Bacon developed from rearing pigs on the family farms.

His whole ethos was to back the jockey and not the horse.

In recent years, some of the businesses’ most striking deals included when, in 2012, Dawn Meats opened a dedicated facility in Carroll’s Cross, Waterford, to supply burgers to McDonald’s outlets across Europe, producing approximately 400 million burgers a year for the fast food chain.

In 2017, Dawn Meats took over the two meat processing plants held in the Republic by Tyrone-based meat processor, Dunbia, in a merger which saw both companies combine their UK businesses. That deal made Dawn Meats the largest meat processor in Ireland, with the business then processing one million cattle and three million sheep annually. In 2020, Dawn Meats took over Dunbia in a move that allowed it to continue to grow as a meat supplier in the UK market following Brexit.

In 1980, Peter and Eileen Queally and their eight children made their home in Gardenmorris House, an early 19th century French-style country house estate. The house, which incorporated an older house built in the 1600s and a large farm, was the ancestral home of the Power-O’Shee family, who sold it to the Queally family.

Reflecting on her father’s successes, his youngest daughter Rebecca Queally says that although he was not academic, Peter had a hunger for learning and a natural ability with numbers. “He was a risk-taker. He seized opportunities. Nothing fazed him. He rolled up his sleeves and figured things out. He saw mistakes as learning experiences. He often said that you could have people with all the degrees in the world and no common sense.”

Ibec chief executive Danny McCoy described him as “an innovative leader” with “an exceptional dedication to ethical and environmentally conscious beef production” and someone who “consistently championed Irish business”.

A proud Waterford man, he was also a strong supporter of the GAA, horse-racing and the local community. “He absolutely loved his local area. He was proud of where he came from, and the people he grew up with remained his friends throughout his life. He was also very charitable and had an incredible ability to mentor people,” Rebecca said. For more than 20 years, Peter Queally was chairman of Tramore Racecourse and was one of the key people who prevented its demise 25 years ago.

He enjoyed huge support from his wife, who was the engine of the home as well his most trusted confidante. Throughout her husband’s many endeavours she was the “unflappable” person behind the scenes, whether catering for guests when business meetings were held at home or accompanying him on many of his trips abroad. “My parents went on their honeymoon to Killarney, and on the way there my dad dropped into a mart in Cahir to buy some cheap lambs and he did the same in Killarney, so she knew what lay ahead for her,” said Ivor Queally.

He is remembered by his family and those who knew him for his vision, humility and irrepressible sense of mischief. Until his health declined recently, work was his passion, and he liked to be kept informed of all that was happening in the business. Throughout his long and successful life, his loyalty and attachment to the area and people he grew up with never faded. He remained living at home until he died, enjoying nothing more than going out to watch the cows and calves in the fields.

Peter Queally is survived by his wife Eileen, his children, Liam, Marie-Louise, Ivor, Aisling, Barbara, Irene, Cathal and Rebecca, sons-in-laws, daughters-in-laws, grandchildren and brother John. His brother Michael predeceased him.