Remembering Tony O’Reilly

International recognition

Letters to the Editor. Illustration: Paul Scott

Sir, – What an extraordinarily pinched and petty article by Fintan O’Toole on the legacy of Tony O’Reilly (“Tony O’Reilly’s secret past shaped his need to play the life of an Ascendancy landlord”, Fintan O’Toole, Opinion & Analysis, May 21st).

I don’t really know whether O’Reilly was driven by notions of success based around the Anglo Ascendancy. To be honest, I don’t really care. What I do care about is the fact that Tony O’Reilly was the first person who saw the potential in our network of creameries and co-ops producing the best milk in the world to develop a brand that would deliver real income to those co-ops and through them to their farmer-suppliers and rural communities. In the kind of language that I would have thought Fintan O’Toole might like, he had a “vision”, but I know that “visions” about humdrum matters like (finally) making a living from milking cows on a family farm are not the kind of lofty matters that great Irish heroes have “visions” about. But I can assure him – and anyone else – that realising that particular vision, turning it into a reality and getting that reality on shelves around the world, has delivered more for this country and its rural inhabitants than any amount of the “visions” and “reimagining” that we are constantly being told must dominate our waking hours here in the countryside.

Kerrygold, the brand practically invented by Tony O’Reilly and developed further by his colleagues in Bord Bainne and his successors in Ornua, denotes quality and heritage, and is a source of great pride for Irish farmers. Fintan O’Toole’s tetchy postscript will be forgotten before a block of Kerrygold taken out of the fridge is soft. – Yours, etc,

DENIS DRENNAN,

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President,

Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association,

Limerick.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole wonders what indigenous Irish brands have had global success on the scale of indigenous Danish brands. A number come to mind: Kerry Group, CRH, Smurfit Kappa, Guinness, Kingspan, Glen Dimplex, Ryanair and Aer Lingus, not to mention the hugely successful brand of Ireland itself. – Yours, etc,

JOHN BEAN,

Maynooth,

Co Kildare.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole’s column attributing Tony O’Reilly’s career motivation and lifestyle to a teenage revelation read more like a review of Citizen Kane than an evidence-based assessment.

Perhaps the assertions could have been substantiated with quotes from interviews with the man, and those who knew him? – Yours, etc,

SEAN RYAN,

Castleconnell,

Co Limerick.

Sir, – Sir Anthony O’Reilly was the first non-family person to become chairman of HJ Heinz. Under his leadership the company expanded its reach across the globe and reached a valuation of $11 billion by the time he stood down in 1998. I find it extraordinary that Fintan O’Toole makes no reference to this in his attempt to deconstruct Tony O’Reilly’s business reputation. To diminish his achievements with Bord Bainne, for which he was headhunted by Heinz, as a “gold wrapper on a slab of butter” is unnecessarily offensive.

Unfortunately, it didn’t end there, with the suggestion O’Reilly’s drive in sport and business was a consequence of his parents’ marital status, which frankly is irrelevant. Success is what drives sport and business, and Tony O’Reilly had much of that in both fields. Your columnist, of course, makes no reference to O’Reilly’s philanthropy, including the Ireland Fund.

Tony O’Reilly was the first Irish businessman to achieve international recognition. He was an inspiration to those who have followed him. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL GANNON,

Churchtown,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – We read of “the great absence in O’Reilly’s career as the nation’s premier capitalist: innovation”. Whereas, in an earlier remark we hear that O’Reilly “became a marketing genius when he put a gold wrapper on a slab of old Ireland”. I wonder what definition of innovation Fintan O’Toole is using? Kerrygold was a wonderful piece of innovation that has stood the test of time and been emulated by many other brands. You can walk into almost any grocery store in the world and see this iconic brand to this day. If that’s not innovation then I wonder what your columnist thinks it is? Tony O’Reilly was one of our greatest innovators.

He was one of our greatest sportsmen, a brave and hardworking businessman who took risks. He climbed to the top of HJ Heinz and delivered growth, profit and shareholder value for many years. He worked hard to build peace through the Ireland Funds. He refused to be typecast. He lived a hell of a life.

The focus should be on that. – Yours, etc,

DAVID O’LEARY,

Churchtown,

Dublin 14.