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'A legend of the game has passed'

NEWS: Tony O’Reilly, one of Irish rugby’s greatest players and later a successful businessman, was lauded as a “trailblazer” by the Republic of Ireland’s prime minister after his death aged 88.


O’Reilly, who starred for both the Ireland and British and Irish Lions rugby teams before enjoying a brilliant business career, only to lose much of his wealth in later life, died Saturday in Dublin, his family announced.

“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,” the family said in a statement.

The Irish Rugby Football Union posted on X: “A legend of the game has passed.”

Simon Harris, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Republic of Ireland, said: “Mr O’Reilly was a giant of sport, business and media and left permanent legacies in all three.

“He was a trailblazer who aimed big on the international business scene.”


O’Reilly was also known for his role in setting up The Ireland Funds, which gave money from US donors into reconciliation projects around the Irish border in an attempt to undermine fund-raising efforts in America by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Harris said the Ireland Funds had a “transformative effect on the island of Ireland”, adding: “Tony O’Reilly was a giant and his passing will be felt by the many people he encountered in his long life.”

Born in Dublin in 1936, O’Reilly made his Ireland debut against France in 1955 and went on to win 29 caps for his country.


But it was as a wing with the Lions that O’Reilly secured his place in rugby history after becoming the youngest player selected by the combined side.

On the 1955 tour of South Africa, he scored two tries on his debut before appearing in all four Tests of a drawn series against the Springboks.

On the Lions’ 1959 tour of Australia and New Zealand, O’Reilly played 23 games, including all six Tests.

His overall tally of 37 tries in 38 games is the most of any Lions player, and his total of six tries in 10 Tests is another Lions record.

Although he retired from rugby in 1963, O’Reilly was given a shock recall by Ireland during the 1970 Five Nations as an 11th hour stand-in against England.

Unlike many sportsmen, O’Reilly achieved arguably even greater fame after his playing days, turning Kerrygold butter into one of Ireland’s best-known global brands before becoming CEO and then chairman of H.J.Heinz, the US food giant.

O’Reilly amassed a fortune that enabled him to take control of Ireland’s Independent newspapers group. He also invested in Ireland’s Waterford Glass.

But losses suffered by the companies led to him losing much of his wealth.

O’Reilly was declared bankrupt in the Bahamas in 2015, aged 79, following a debt judgement against him for €22.6 million ($24.6 million).

The Irish Times reported Saturday that O’Reilly had emerged from bankruptcy in January of this year.

Twice married, O’Reilly is survived by his six children.

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