Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 March 2018

Eamon Cleary -- A real farming entrepreneur

Eamon Cleary, who died recently on his Kentucky stud farm aged 52, was one of greatest entrepreneurs to emerge from Ireland's agri sector. He left school at 11 and went from zero to global billionaire in a couple of decades. Those who watched his rise marvelled at his appetite for graft, his nose for a deal and his uncanny investment timing.

He was reared on a small farm near Castleblayney and his first teenage venture was making concrete lintels with a cement mixer and vibrators. He acquired a premises and farm shop at Lishenry in Cavan. He traded in job lots of any commodity where he could "turn a shilling". He brought fertiliser in from the North and priced it competitively.

For most of the 1980s cattle growth promoters, and even beta agonists, were legal, and Eamon Cleary was reputed to have been one of the first in Ireland to cash in on that market.

He made a huge financial leap forward with the purchase of the 250ac St Martha's Convent farm beside Navan. Land prices were depressed in the late 1980s but Eamon Cleary is reckoned to have recovered most of the cost of the farm by selling off the milk quota and silage.

Next up was the Celtic Tiger and the farm was ideally placed for the development of expanding Navan. Ironically, a Meath farmer who looked at St Martha's prior to the sale rejected it because it was "so close to the town that dog worrying of sheep would be an issue". Cleary had a wider vision of its worth.

Cleary's next investment was in Southland, New Zealand. He became the region's biggest dairy farmer just before its dairying and land prices took off. Alongside the dairy farming he became a major developer in the nearby tourist centre of Queenstown.

In 2006 Mr Cleary sponsored a Faculty of Irish Studies at Otago University and was listed as one of the wealthiest people in New Zealand, worth more than NZ$1bn.

Again exiting at the top of the market in New Zealand, his next investments were in Argentina, Australia, Eastern Europe and North America.

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He is survived by his wife Catriona and eight children.

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