Mid-west to Honour Man Who Invented Duty-Free Shopping

Irish Examiner, Monday, February 12, 2007

By Gordon Deegan

Museum recalls remarkable career of Shannon Development founder Dr Brendan O’Regan.

A major exhibition has been launched to celebrate one of the most influential figures of the 20th century in the mid-west – and the man credited with inventing duty free shopping.

At the Clare County Museum in Ennis, An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern launched the exhibition honouring the life and times of Dr Brendan O’Regan.

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

He is also recognised as the driving force behind opening up the Shannon area to tourism and the 90-year-old holds a CBE for establishing the University of Limerick-based Irish Peace Institute.

The exhibition is entitled Empowering the People: The Career and Achievements of Dr Brendan O’Regan.

Dr O’Regan said: “ I am particularly proud to be a Clareman and to have been involved with the county and its people through Shannon and Bord Fáilte, now Fáilte Ireland, during the course of my career.”

He added: “I am acutely aware of the fact that this exhibition not only acknowledges my role, but the role of all the men and women who worked with great determination to ensure the success of Shannon Airport and its contribution to the life of Co Clare. Without their enthusiastic support, much of what has been achieved would not have happened and I owe them a debt of gratitude. On my own behalf and on behalf of the O’Regan family, I wish to thank all of you for this honour.

Curator of Clare Museum, John Rattigan said: “Dr O’Regan’s life story displays many of the significant changes that have occurred within Irish society over the past 60 years. Clare Museum is proud to be in a position to honour Dr O’Regan and looks forward to displaying the many exhibits that reflect his remarkable career.

Clare County Librarian Noel Crowley said the exhibition marks a continuation of the council’s cultural services policy of recognising the contributions made by Clare people to the development of the county, the region and the country.

“It follows on from previous exhibitions dedicated to the lives and achievements of former Irish presidents Dr Patrick Hillery and Eamon de Valera”, he said. “The exhibitions form an integral part of the museum’s policy of ensuring that the public is provided with an opportunity to make repeat visits while reflecting the rich heritage and history of the county”.

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 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.

Dr O’Regan was later transferred to Rineanna Airport, now Shannon Airport, where he continued as catering comptroller.

It was there a desire grew in him to develop the entire Shannon region, as he became increasingly aware of the constant threat of Shannon Airport being overflown by transatlantic traffic.

He established the world’s first duty-free shops at Shannon Airport in 1950, less than a year before he set up the world-famous Shannon College of Hotel Management.

Dr O’Regan also helped establish Shannon Development in 1961.

Building on the idea that any industrial zone surrounding an International Airport needed an available workforce, Dr O’Regan purchased land for the construction of housing, which resulted in the first newly established town in the history of the Irish State.

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