The Irish are often said to be an extreme people, a nation of fiery red-headed temperaments and dramatically poetic sensibilities. Recently, the country’s economy has been marked by those same extremes. A land of financial ups and downs, it prospered in the boom years as the ‘Celtic Tiger’ roamed the streets of Dublin and claimed his territory in the newly built-up and extortionately-priced suburbs. For most of the twentieth century Ireland had, in fact, been lagging far behind her European contemporaries in terms of economics and innovation. War, high unemployment rates and a lack of foreign investment meant the country saw soaring levels of emigration through the 1970s and into the 1980s. But when the multinationals like Microsoft and, later, Amazon and Google started to set up offices in Ireland money was coming thick and fast. The Celtic Tiger years which marked the turn of the century were Ireland’s wealthiest to date with construction, property and the tech industry all flourishing on the small island. They weren’t shy about lending and spending the new found wealth, with prices soaring to unprecedented levels during the boom years.
But Ireland has since had a dramatic from financial grace: she was one of the first European countries to cave to the global financial crisis. In 2008, Ireland entered a recession which deepened so far that a joint EU-IMF (International Monetary Fund) deal was required to rescue the country and its banking system from financial collapse. Some high-profile, wealthy Irish figures became very public victims of the recession – Sean Quinn serves as painful reminder of what the Irish made and lost in the last decade – but through the dark days, a few business moguls hailing from the Emerald Isle have managed to hold on to their wealth. So which Irish citizens made it on to the rich list? Who weathered the financial storm with ease and which keen entrepreneurial spirit made money in spite of the hostile environment? The individuals on this list deserve credit for succeeding against the odds, but the country’s generous corporate and personal tax rates can’t hurt either. With investments in energy, technology, finance and FCMGs all featuring in theinvestment portfolios of the country’s wealthiest inhabitants, we take a look at the versatile range of the top 10 richest people in Ireland.
10. Ellis Short $1.36 billion
Born in Independence, Missouri in 1960, of Irish-American pedigree, Ellis Short is the youngest of the richest people in Ireland and like many of his wealthy contemporaries, has chosen to rediscover his Irish roots and relocate to Ireland. Short began his career working for General Electric before entering the private equity group Lone Star, founded by fellow rich-lister and Irish citizen, John P. Grayken. As well as his investments in property, Short is also the owner of the English soccer team Sunderland and – more controversially – was investigated by the South Korean government in 2003 for his purchase of a 51% share in the country’s fifth largest bank, the Korean Exchange Bank,. Charges were dropped in June 2008 though, and since then Short appears to have steered relatively clear of controversy – or as much as a billionaire can, that is.
9. Paul Coulson $1.5 billion
A Business graduate of the prestigious Trinity College, Dublin, Paul Coulson ranks as one of the more elusive members of our list. So mysterious is Coulson that Irish publication, The Sunday Business Post, ran an article in January of this year entitled “Who is Ardagh’s Paul Coulson?” Happily, we can provide the answer: Couslon initially worked for the audit and advisory firm Price Waterhouse Cooper before setting up his own accounting agency. The Ardagh Group, Coulson’s main source of income, is a leading glass and packaging manufacturer. It’s the market leader in the US, with global sales of a reported $7.4 billion, and Coulson has a 37% share in the company. Coulson is also the owner of a property on Dublin’s most expensive street, Shrewsbury Road. He famously sold the 24 acre Irish Glass site at the height of the Irish property boom for a record $558million USD. The site is now valued at less than $54 million; clearly Coulson was a rare winner in the Celtic Tiger years.
8. Martin Naughton $ 1.7 billion
Martin Naughton, a native of Dundalk in Ireland’s County Louth, has been a long-term fixture on the Irish rich list and with his company Glen Dimplex now the world’s leading manufacturer of domestic heating appliances it looks like he’ll be a member of the billionaire club for a long time to come. Naughton founded his company Glen Electric in 1973, acquiring the heater manufacturers Dimplex four years later. In 2003, Naughton became the sole owner of the Glen Dimplex group. Naughton is low key compared to his contemporaries. He lives in County Meath with his wife and is an emeritus trustee of the University of Notre Dame and has also established an annual scholarship for 60 Irish schoolchildren, proving that Naughton is a billionaire who knows how to give back.
7. Dermot Desmond $1.75bn
If you were looking for a contrast to Martin Naughton, you couldn’t get a better example than Dermot Desmond. This flamboyant entrepreneur is originally from the town of Macroom in County Cork but he now owns properties around the world, as any billionaire would. Desmond, like Coulson, began his career in Price Waterhouse Cooper, later working for Citibank before founding NCB Stockbrokers in 1981. Desmond sold the company in 1994 for $39 million USD and founded International, Investment & Underwriting, a private equity firm which he still owns. Desmond also holds a 15% share in the newspaper group Independent News Media and he’s a majority shareholder of the Scottish soccer team Celtic F.C. Desmond has long courted controversy in Ireland; the mogul was subject to public enquiries over the nature of payments he made to the former Irish Prime Minister and fellow scandal magnet, Charles Haughey. In the late 1990s Desmond was also a shareholder of the telecoms group EsatDigifone, a company founded by fellow rich lister Denis O’Brien.
6. Pearse Lyons €2.2bn
Like Glen Dimplex owner Martin Nauhton, Pearse Lyons also hails from the town of Dundalk in County Louth. Lyons began his career in the brewing industry, working for Harp in County Louth and later for Guinness at their headquarters in Dublin. In 1980 Lyons moved away from brewing and founded Alltech, a company specialising in animal health, nutrition and innovation. The company now operates in 128 countries with its headquarters in Kentucky, USA. It appears that Lyons has recently returned to his brewing roots, though, with Alltec, now producing a number of beers in addition to their animal produce. We assume the beers are for human consumption only…
5. John Dorrance III$2.23bn
John Dorrance is something of a wild card on our rich list, and in more ways than one. A native of the United States, Dorrance moved to Ireland in 1994 where he lives to this day with his wife in the affluent suburbs of south County Dublin. Unlike our other rich listers, Dorrance had a significant leg up in becoming a billionaire: as heir to the Campbell’s soup dynasty Dorrance inherited the fortune his grandfather made when he discovered the method for creating condensed soup. Dorrance is not lacking in entrepreneurial spirit, however, as the soup giant sold his 10.5% share in Campbells in 1995 for $1.5 billion USD. Share price for the company dropped sharply soon after the sale, netting him a tidy profit. At that time, Ireland clearly had 1.5 billion for granting Dorrance Irish citizenship.
4. John P.Grayken $5.15 billion
Similar to John Dorrance, John P. Grayken was born in the United States and was only awarded Irish citizenship later in life. If we’re being kind we’d say he was attracted to Ireland for her beautiful scenery, but we’re sure the low tax rates didn’t hurt. Grayken made his fortune founding the Texas-based firm Lone Star in 1995. The company has significant investments in property and “distressed assets” in the United States, Canada and East Asia. While remaining fairly low key on the billionaire front, Grayken’s company, in 2003 Lone Star were caught up in investigations into investments made in the Korean Exchange Bank, which saw a warrant issued for Lone Star’s general counsel Michael Thomson. All charges were later dropped and the company’s capital commitments are currently valued at over $45 billion USD. It seems fair to say that although he’s ‘only’ at number 4,Grayken isn’t doing too badly for himself.
3. Denis O’Brien $5.15 billion
Aged 55 and a native of County Cork, Denis O’Brien may not be Ireland’s wealthiest man, but he is undoubtedly the most notorious on our list. Ranked by Forbes at number 255 on the world rich list, O’Brien made his money by founding the telephone company EsatDigifone in 1995. In 1997 the company’s future was secured when it won the 2nd mobile phone licence in Ireland. However, the same public enquiry that revealed Dermot Desmond’s dealings with the Irish Prime Minister also concluded that O’Brien’s company most likely attained the contract illegally. While no evidence was ever found however and no charges were brought, the public’s bad feeling towards O’Brien lingered. A global entrepreneur, O’Brien also owns the Caribbean telecoms company Digicel who sponsor Jamaican Olympian Usain Bolt: In 2012 the company’s operating value was put at $1.08 billion USD. Alongside Digicel, O’Brien also owns a number of other companies including the commercial aircraft company Aergo Capital Ltd and Communicorp, who control a number of European radio stations. Although O’Brien is a native of Ireland, he’s currently listed as a resident of Portugal – a country with even lower tax rates than Ireland.
2. Hilary Weston $8.4 billion
The only woman on our rich list, Hilary Weston was born Hilary Frayne in Dublin in 1942. A former model, Weston met her husband – the Canadian tycoon Galen Weston – in Ireland before relocating with him to Canada where she is now a fixture on the social and philanthropic circuit. The Weston family own the George Weston food processing firm as well as the grocery chain Loblaw and the Holt Renfew retail group. Outside of Canada, Holt Renfew also control Ireland’s upmarket store Brown Thomas as well as London’s famed Selfridges department store, which is managed by their daughter Alannah. Weston lives with her husband in Canada and from 1997-2002 served as the 26th Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario. She is also the founder of the Hilary Weston Foundation for Youth, obviously.
1. Pallonji Mistry $10.5 billion
The number one on our rich list is also by far the most elusive, at least in Irish circles. The Indian born industrialist Pallonju Mistry is also an Irish citizen. He’s the now-retired chair of the ShapoorjiPallonji Group. Although you may not have head of the ShapoorjiPallonji Group, you’ve most certainly heard of the companies in their portfolio, which include Tetley’s Tea, Jaguar and Land Rover. Although Mistry is registered as a citizen of Ireland, it’s believed he lives mainly in Mumbai with his Irish-born wife, Patsy. Mistry’s path to billionaire’s row began when his father purchased shares in the Tata Group – which deals in engineering and energy services. Now Mistry’s 45 year old son Cyrus is the chairperson of the firm, making this billion dollar empire a third-generation family affair. Pallonji tops the list of billionaires in Ireland, while he’s the fifth richest man in India.
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