Saturday 21 April 2018

Death of developer who built face of Ireland

O'Callaghan was a generous patron of charity and the arts

Owen O’Callaghan in his offices in Cork. Photo: Provision
Owen O’Callaghan in his offices in Cork. Photo: Provision

Ralph Riegel and Ronald Quinlan

Few men have had such an impact on modern Irish life as developer Owen O'Callaghan.

Mr O'Callaghan (76) died in Cork after a short illness early yesterday morning with his family by his bedside.

Tributes were paid for his role in the economic development of Ireland and for his generous patronage of charities and the arts.

But the Rochestown-based developer is perhaps best known to the public not for his projects but for the planning controversies that sparked the longest-running tribunal in State history.

The retail centres and vast housing estates he developed over 40 years in the construction industry effectively helped shape modern Irish cities.

The projects he developed over the years included the Liffey Valley Centre in Dublin, Mahon Point Shopping Centre in Cork and the Opera Lane complex in Cork.

Owen O'Callaghan with Cllr Therese Ridge (FG) unveiling the plaque at the sod-turning ceremony for the Quarryvale/Liffey Valley development in April, 1997
Owen O'Callaghan with Cllr Therese Ridge (FG) unveiling the plaque at the sod-turning ceremony for the Quarryvale/Liffey Valley development in April, 1997

Read more: Well known developer Owen O'Callaghan dies after short illness

But for the best part of two decades, Mr O'Callaghan had vehemently fought the allegations levelled against him in the Mahon Tribunal.

The 15-year tribunal had found that Mr O'Callaghan provided cash to former Government press secretary and lobbyist Frank Dunlop in support of a strategy of corruptly paying politicians to support a rezoning of Quarryvale lands in Dublin.

When the tribunal published its findings in a 3,000 page report, Mr O'Callaghan rejected them as "unfair, biased and unjust".

Shoppers on Opera Lane, Cork city. Photo: Provision
Shoppers on Opera Lane, Cork city. Photo: Provision

Over recent years, Mr O'Callaghan focused most of his energies in his native Cork, with a hospital proposal, a bid for the €70m Cork events centre and a vast office complex.

Mr O'Callaghan was married to Shelagh and is survived by his children Brian and Zelda. His youngest daughter Hazel (22) died in a freak equestrian accident in July 2002.

A native of Ballincollig, Mr O'Callaghan was the son of a farmer.

Educated at St Finbarr's College in Farranferris, he qualified as a quantity surveyor in 1964 and went on to work for the Cork engineering firm O'Connell and Harley.

In 1969, he struck out on his own establishing a construction company - OMAC - with his brother Jack.

The O'Callaghans quickly established themselves as housebuilders with developments in Ballincollig, Youghal and Douglas.

In the 1980s, Mr O'Callaghan branched out with the establishment of O'Callaghan Properties, which is now acknowledged as one of Ireland's foremost developers of shopping centres.

Cork Chamber President Barrie O'Connell expressed sadness at the passing of Mr O'Callaghan, extending condolences to his family and colleagues at O'Callaghan Properties.

"Through his vision Owen made a hugely valuable contribution to the economy in Cork," he said.

"His various projects across retail, housing and office development resulted in the creation of thousands of jobs as well as enhancing both the social and economic infrastructure of the region.

"Owen displayed an outstanding commitment to Cork through his life and career and will be sadly missed."

Mr O'Callaghan's removal is tonight at 6.30pm to St Patrick's Church, Rochestown. Requiem Mass is at 1pm tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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