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Former owner of the Independent Tony O’Reilly dies aged 88

Tony O’Reilly has died at the age of 88 (Cathal McNaughton/PA) (PA Archive)
Tony O’Reilly has died at the age of 88 (Cathal McNaughton/PA) (PA Archive)

Tony O’Reilly, one of Ireland’s leading business figures, has died at the age of 88.

Mr O’Reilly, who was also known as a media magnate and international rugby player for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions, died in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin on Saturday.

Ireland’s deputy premier Micheal Martin said Mr O’Reilly had an “extraordinary impact on Irish business, sport, media and society”.

In a statement, his family said: “In the coming days there will be many worthy tributes made to Tony O’Reilly’s unique and extraordinary achievements in the fields of business and sport.

“As well as to his extraordinary philanthropic vision which was best evidenced by the establishment of the Ireland Funds at a dark time in this island’s history.

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“But, for us, he was a dearly-loved dad and a granddad.

“He lived one of the great lives and we were fortunate to spend time with him in recent weeks as that great life drew to a close.”

Born in Dublin in 1936, O’Reilly made his international debut for Ireland in rugby in 1955 and soon became the youngest player to be selected for the Lions.

In his business career he pioneered the dairy brand Kerrygold, turning it into one of Ireland’s most well-known global consumer brands.

He later became the chairman of the food giant Heinz. In 1994 O’Reilly acquired a 50 per cent stake in The Independent titles in London through Independent News and Media (INM), with the Mirror Group holding the other half. Four years’ later INM bought out the Mirror. It was sold to Alexander Lebedev in 2010 and his son Evgeny is still a shareholder.

He was also known for his philanthropy, setting up The Ireland Funds, which gave money from US donors into reconciliation projects around the Irish border.

Mr O’Reilly, who had joint Irish and British nationality, was knighted in the 2001 New Year Honours by the late Queen Elizabeth II “for long and distinguished service to Northern Ireland”.

Mr Martin said on X: “Saddened to learn of the passing of Tony O’Reilly a pioneering spirit who had an extraordinary impact on Irish business, sport, media and society.

“Through the Ireland Funds, Tony changed the global narrative on peace and reconciliation on this island.

“My deepest sympathies to his children, family and friends.”

As news of his death emerged, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) posted on X: “A legend of the game has passed.

“Our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”

Mr O’Reilly was the father of six children.