Brendan O’Regan 1917-2008

Brendan O’Regan combined a benign Irish nationalism with a concern for others. The former drove him to show what the first generation of free Irishmen could achieve and the latter to generate sustainable employment both in Ireland and the developing world.

Brendan established Ireland’s first industrial estate on a windswept wasteland at Shannon, thereby spearheading the country’s export led industrialisation drive. To guarantee accommodation for key personnel, he created Ireland’s first New Town there.

Trained as a hotelier, Brendan ran a first-class restaurant at the wartime flying-boat base in Foynes, County Limerick, where Irish Coffee was invented. He founded Ireland’s first hotel management college, now a school of the National University of Ireland Galway and served for eighteen years as chairman of the state’s tourism board. Internationally, he became recognised as the ‘founding father’ of the $70 billion-a -year duty-free business.

In his later years, Brendan worked tirelessly for reconciliation and social justice. He established three peace organisations including Co-operation Ireland, which hosted the event where the historic handshake between the British monarch and a former IRA leader took place.


O’Regan played a central role for 30 years in creating an international tourism industry in Ireland

  • Ran fine-dining restaurants at Foynes and Shannon Airport for the first transatlantic air travellers
  • Irish Coffee was created and served for the first time at his catering operation at Foynes
  • Ran a first-class family hotel and persuaded several Irish Americans to build new hotels
  • Founded Ireland’s first hotel management school
  • Was the founding father of worldwide duty-free airport shopping having persuaded Irish Government to permit it at Shannon.
  • In the 1950s Shannon duty-free shop attracted transatlantic travellers, making it Ireland’s biggest tourist attraction
  • Chaired the Irish Tourist Board, Bord Failte, from 1957 to 1973
  • International tourist industry in Ireland now employs 600,000 people with annual number of North American visitors increased from 15,000 in 1948 to more than 2,000,000 in 2019


  1. Given exceptional personal mandate in 1957 by Irish Government to run the Shannon Airport Development Authority
  2. Appointed Chairman of Ireland’s first regional development organisation, Shannon Free Airport Development Company
  3. Established Ireland’s first industrial estate, the Shannon Free Zone, 1959
  4. Creates Ireland’s first New Town at Shannon, 1960
  5. Pioneered Foreign Direct Investment in Irish manufacturing by US companies at Shannon, 1961
  6. By 1966, Shannon was producing 32% of Irish industrial exports, mostly by American companies,

World Impact

  • The Shannon Free Zone becomes the model used by the United Nations to promote industrial development in the undeveloped world.
  • O’Regan travels widely to Third World countries to assist in establishing export processing zones
  • Future President of China Jiang Zemin visits Shannon in 1980 and decides that Shannon is the model to follow for the development of the Chinese economy.
  • A succession of Chinese leaders, including current president Xi Jinping in 2011, come to Shannon in recognition of Shannon’s special role in the successful transformation of China’s economy
Xi Jinping with Vincent Cunnane, CEO, Shannon Development (SFADCO) visiting the company's offices with Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, 2012

Xi Jinping with Vincent Cunnane, CEO, Shannon Development (SFADCO) visiting the company’s offices with Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, 2012

Peace and Social

  • Established DEVCO to co-ordinate the efforts of Irish State bodies to channel resources and personnel to assist in the economic development of the Third World, 1975
  • Established Co-operation North, now known as Co-operation Ireland, to promote greater contact and understanding between Irish people North and South, 1978
  • Established the Irish Peace Institute, to promote academic research and fresh thinking related to peacebuilding, particularly on the island of Ireland, 1985
  • Established the Centre for International Co-operation to promote greater understanding and dialogue between the Capitalist and Communist worlds, 1986
  • Set up Obair in Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare to deal with a range of social challenges, particularly unemployment, through community effort, 1993
The O'Regan family, 1964

The O’Regan family, 1964. Pictured: Brendan O’Regan with his wife, Rita and their five children, from left: Carmel, Margaret, Declan, Andrew and Geraldine.