Tony O'Reilly dead: Rugby player turned Kerrygold and Heinz businessman dies aged 88

Irish rugby player Tony O'Reilly, right wing for the Ireland national rugby union team during a training session circa October 1958 near Dublin, Ireland Picture: Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesIrish rugby player Tony O'Reilly, right wing for the Ireland national rugby union team during a training session circa October 1958 near Dublin, Ireland Picture: Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Irish rugby player Tony O'Reilly, right wing for the Ireland national rugby union team during a training session circa October 1958 near Dublin, Ireland Picture: Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images | Photo by Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
A rugby legend who went on to forge a successful career as a businessman has died aged 88.

Tributes have flowed for Ireland and British and Irish Lions legend Tony O’Reilly, who has died at the age of 88.

Mr O’Reilly, who was also known for being one of Ireland’s leading business figures and a media magnate, died in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin on Saturday.

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In a statement, Mr O’Reilly’s family said: “In the coming days, there will be many worthy tributes made to Tony O’Reilly’s unique and extraordinary achievements in the fields of business and sport. As well as to his extraordinary philanthropic vision which was best evidenced by the establishment of the Ireland Funds at a dark time in this island’s history.

“But, for us, he was a dearly-loved dad and a granddad. 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.”

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 Lions. The winger played in two Lions tours and still holds the record for the most tries scored with 37. He also played 29 games for Ireland.

Irish Taoiseach Simon Harris paid tribute to Mr O’Reilly, saying: “It is with great sadness that I have learned of the death of Tony O’Reilly. 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.”

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Mr O’Reilly was knighted in the 2001 New Year Honours by the late Queen Elizabeth II “for long and distinguished service to Northern Ireland”.

In his business career he pioneered the dairy brand Kerrygold, turning it into one of Ireland’s best-known global consumer brands.

He later became the chairman of the food giant Heinz and in 1973 took control of Independent Newspapers, publisher of the Irish Independent, Sunday Independent and Evening Herald. 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.

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