Life of Innovator Celebrated at Exhibition

Clare Champion, Friday, February 2, 2007

By Dearbhla Acheson

An exhibition celebrating the life of one of Ireland’s most noted peace ambassadors and initiators of commercial and industrial initiatives will open in the Clare Museum next week.

The many achievements of Dr. Brendan O’Regan, including the setting up of the world’s first Duty Free Shop at Shannon Airport, will be honoured at the exhibition.

Dr Brendan O’Regan was born in Sixmilebridge in 1917. In 1938, after 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 him 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). It was here that he developed his desire to develop the entire Shannon region as he became increasingly aware of the constant threat of Shannon Airport being overflown by transatlantic traffic.

Dr. O’Regan established the world’s first duty-free shops at Shannon Airport in 1950. Less that a year before that, he set up the Shannon Airport College of Hotel Management.

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 Eireann – a position he would hold until his retirement in 1973. During the late 1950’s, O’Regan also established the Shannon Castle Tours operation, incorporating the mediaval banquets at Bunratty Castle. 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.

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, the established the Irish Peace Institute at the University of Limerick.

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.

Dr. O’Regan’s work and commitment to regional development and cross-cultural exchanges have won him numerous accolades including the 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. Meanwhile, 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 also received numerous doctorates form academic institutions around Ireland. In 1999, Dr. O’Regan was awarded a Doctorate of Laws by the Queen’s University of Belfast, 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 unpcoming exhibition at Clare Museum.

Press Cuttings