Celebrating O’Regan’s Life

Clare Champion, Friday, October 27, 2006

An exhibition celebrating the life of one of Ireland’s most noted peace ambassadors and initiators of commercial and industrial initiatives, will be held in Ennis next year.

Dr Brendan O’Regan’s many achievements include the setting up of the world’s first Duty Free Shop at Shannon airport and the establishment of Co-operation Ireland – the single largest organisation working in the area of peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland.

The Clare Museum exhibition, which has been approved by the Sixmilebridge native, will be officially launched in January 2007.

Announcing the exhibition, John Rattigan, Curator of Clare Museum stated, “Brendan O’Regan’s achievements as an industrial visionary and peacemarker are unrivalled. He opened up the Shannon area to tourism, industrial development and job creation, before establishing the framework for practical co-operation between all peoples on this island. The upcoming exhibition will honour all of his achievements and feature some of the many academic and civil accolades he has been awarded throughout his incredible career.”

Dr O’Regan was born in Sixmilebridge in 1917. He was greatly influenced by his father James O’Regan who was a local hotelier and chairman of Clare County Council. In 1938, after many years of studying in Europe, he took over the management of his father’s hotel – The Falls in Ennistymon – before being appointed manager of the St Stephen’s Green Club in Dublin.

In 1943, the Government appointed O’Regan as catering comptroller at Foynes flying boat base, which was a refuelling point for transatlantic seaplanes between Britain and the United States. He was later transferred to Rineanna Airport (now Shannon International Airport) where he continued as catering comptroller. It was here that O’Regan developed his desire to develop the entire Shannon region, as he became increasingly aware of the constant threat of Shannon Airport being over-flown by transatlantic traffic.

Dr O’Regan established the world’s first Duty-Free shops at Shannon Airport in 1950, less than a year before he set up the now world-famous Shannon Airport College of Hotel Management. During the same period, he travelled to the US to seek new business and returned with an active commitment to promote Shannon as a centre for tourism, airfreight and industry. It was his pioneering vision of the development of hotels and amenities in support of tourism that led to his appointment, in 1957, as chairman of Bord Fáilte Éireann (Irish Tourist Board) – a position he would hold until his retirement in 1973. During the late fifties, O’Regan also established the Shannon Castle Tours operation, incorporating the renowned mediaeval banquets at Bunratty Castle. It was also during this time that he was appointed chair of Ireland’s only regional economic development agency, Shannon Development Company.

Dr O’Regan’s commitment to regional development was further evident in his establishment of the Shannon Free Airport Development Company (SFADCo) in 1961. Building on the idea that any industrial zone surrounding an international airport needed an available workforce, O’Regan used SFADCo to purchase land for the construction of housing, which resulted in the first newly established town in the history of the Irish State. By the late 1960s and 1970s, Shannon Town became a haven for many Roman Catholics fleeing the outbreak of sectarian, political and religious conflict in Northern Ireland. This period had a profound impact on O’Regan who decided to retire from SFADCo and dedicate more time to his work with non-governmental organisations working for peace.

In 1978, Brendan O’Regan founded Co-Operation North (now Co-Operation Ireland), a non-denominational and non-party organisation with the goal of overcoming violence and unemployment through widespread and ongoing economic, cultural and social co-operation between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. In 1984, he established the Irish Peace Institute at the University of Limerick. The aim of the institute is to promote peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland, and to draw on conflict resolution in order to learn lessons that could inform other conflicts.

This philosophy led to his founding of the Centre for International Co-operation at Shannon in 1986. In 1993, meanwhile, O’Regan’s sense of practical patriotism was to the fore when he became a founding member of the Newmarket-on-Fergus based Obair – a community development organisation that focuses on enterprise and community development and provides support and services for young people.

Dr O’Regan’s work and commitment to regional development and cross-cultural exchanges have been second to none and have won him numerous accolades including the Commander of the British Empire (CBE) award for his contribution to peace. In 1984, he was voted Clareman of the Year and in 1995 he was made Freeman of the City of Limerick. In 2000, Dr O’Regan was awarded the Peace Dove by Co-operation Ireland in recognition of his contribution to promoting understanding and respect between the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Dr O’Regan has also received numerous doctorates from academic institutions. In 1978, he was conferred Doctor of Laws by the National University of Ireland with a particular mention of his “originality, courage and innovation”. In 1999, Dr O’Regan was awarded a Doctorate of Laws by the Queen’s University of Belfast for “his achievements as a peacemaker and as an industrial visionary”, while the University of Limerick recently honoured him for his work with the Irish Peace Institute and the development of the Shannon Region. Many of these awards will feature as part of the upcoming exhibition at Clare Museum.

According to John Rattigan, “Dr Brendan O’Regan’s life story displays many of the significant changes that have occurred within Irish society over the past 60 years. The exhibition will not only act as a tribute to Dr O’Regan’s achievements, but will serve to remind us of how our emergence as a successful and prosperous nation was built on his belief that ‘We are Irish and we are different’. Clare Museum is proud to be in a position to honour Dr O’Regan and looks forward to spending the coming weeks preparing the many exhibits that will reflect his remarkable career.”

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