Tony O’Reilly was a true Irish legend, funeral is told

The businessman, rugby star and philanthropist Tony O’Reilly was a “true Irish legend” who inspired people to think bigger, his funeral has been told.

Mourners were told that Mr O’Reilly had lived a “dazzlingly full life” that was anything but mundane.

Ireland’s deputy premier Micheal Martin was among those who attended the service in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin for Mr O’Reilly, who died on Saturday at the age of 88.

President Michael D Higgins was represented by his Aide de Camp.

Tony O’Reilly funeral
Tanaiste Micheal Martin arrives for the funeral of businessman, philanthropist and rugby star Tony O’Reilly at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

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

He later became one of Ireland’s leading business figures, pioneering the dairy brand Kerrygold, becoming president and chairman of food giant Heinz and taking control of Independent Newspapers.

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.

Delivering the homily at the funeral, Fr Bruce Bradley said Mr O’Reilly accomplished so much in his 88 years, but was “never one who took it for granted”.

He said: “Despite the diverse, colourful, often fast-moving and no doubt distracting world he moved in so comfortably for much of the time, was never ashamed of the religion he was raised in.”

He added: “In his almost 90 years, Tony O’Reilly lived many lives; gifted and graced as he was in so many ways and in a life often wonderfully anything but mundane.

“It was a truly, at many times, dazzlingly full life.”

Tony O’Reilly funeral
Mourners arrive for the funeral of Tony O’Reilly (Brian Lawless/PA)

Delivering a tribute to his father, Cameron O’Reilly said: “It was a life of highs and lows, of ebbs and flows.

“Every emotion crammed into those 88 years.”

He said the family had been overwhelmed by thousands of messages of tribute in recent days.

He said the tributes reflected that his father had been “a giant of sport, of business, of media, who left permanent legacies in all three”.

He added: “A trailblazer who forged a path that others would follow.

“A titanic figure who lit up every room that he entered. A true Irish legend.

“He was all of those things and more.

“For years, people have tried to sum up, to uncover the secret sauce of what made Tony Tony – the rugby sensation, the raconteur extraordinaire, the high-flying business executive, the architect and driver of the literally lifesaving Ireland Funds.

“And what was it like living in his shadow? Very dark.”

He added: “So why was he able to do things that nobody has ever done before?

“The truth is, as we see it, he saw no limits to what he could achieve.

“Where people saw obstacles, he saw opportunities and he almost always went for the gap – whether on the rugger field or in the boardroom.

“And when he did achieve these extraordinary feats, he has inspired so many people, not just here in Ireland, but elsewhere in the world, to be bigger, to think bolder and to never have to accept second place.”

A number of figures from the sporting, business and media worlds attended the funeral.

Mr O’Reilly is survived by his six children and 23 grandchildren.