The late Northern Ireland businessman Denis Lynn has been hailed as “an innovator and visionary who leaves behind an extraordinary list of achievements”.
Mr Lynn, founder and chairman of Finnebrogue Artisan, was killed in a quad bike accident at his home in Killyleagh on May 2.
The 63-year-old father-of-four is survived by wife Christine, daughters Kerry, Clare, Tara and Ciara and his wider family circle.
His large food production firm, based outside Downpatrick, employs around 1,000 people across four sites in Co Down and supplies several major UK supermarkets.
A company statement said: “Denis was our founder, leader and inspiration.
“We will best honour his memory by invoking his passion for making food the best it can possibly be, without being bound by the way it’s always been done – and by trying every day to make the world a better place,” it added.
Describing Denis as “an innovator and a visionary with an infectious passion for delivering positive change for the planet and its people” it said he “also leaves behind Finnebrogue and a vision for its future”.
“Finnebrogue was his creation,” the statement said.
“It now falls on all of us – the Finnebrogue family – to continue his outstanding work.”
Tributes to the leading Northern Ireland businessman have come from far and wide.
Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick said Mr Lynn “showed what hard work and determination can achieve”.
“His loss will be felt by many who admired his entrepreneurial spirit and innovation,” she added.
“Denis developed world class products and new brands in the food processing industry such as the specialised bacon.”
Belfast Telegraph restaurant critic Joris Minne, who previously worked with Mr Lynn, called him a trailblazer.
“Denis Lynn defined the meaning of entrepreneurship. His food innovations made a big impact,” said Mr Minne.
“From selling chips across Northern Ireland to his venison plant in Finnebrogue estate where his products including venison sausages, burgers and rumps all made from Irish red deer, he was always doing things differently.
“He struck deals with major retailers including Marks & Spencer, supplied top restaurants including Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in Berkshire and then made headlines when he introduced Naked Bacon, a safer product which doesn’t use harmful nitrites.
“Everything he made was very tasty, well researched and reliable.
“I enjoyed working with him in the early years of Finnebrogue when he employed about 40 people and faced a lot of opposition to his expansion plans. Almost 20 years on, Finnebrogue now employs 640.”
Mr Minne added: “He was a Red Adair character thirsty for adventure and his commitment to his business and his family was never less than complete.”
DUP MLA Jim Wells said the community was shocked to learn of Mr Lynn’s sudden death.
“He made a huge contribution to the economic life of the area,” said Mr Wells.
South Down SDLP MLA Colin McGrath described My Lynn as “an entrepreneur who worked hard and delivered hundreds of jobs to the Downpatrick area”.
“He cared about our area and his charity work was understated and had impact especially in Africa,” said Mr McGrath.
Mr Lynn started his career in the world of food by “selling pizzas and pies out of a little white van,” according to the firm’s website.
In the 1990s, he bought the Finnebrogue Estate outside Downpatrick and began to farm beef and venison.
“Denis established Finnebrogue as the largest farmer and processor of deer in the UK, supplying Michelin star restaurants, top supermarkets and celebrity chefs,” according to the company website.
Between 2015 and 2018, he opened three new factories and helped to grow the business’s turnover to nearly £100m.
In 2018, Mr Lynn was named the UK’s most innovative director of the year by the Institute of Directors.
Finnebrogue now produces own-brand bacon, sausages and burgers for many UK retailers, including Marks and Spencer, Asda and Waitrose.
Last year, it announced plans to enter the plant-based food market, investing £25m in a new factory and creating 300 jobs.
Mr Lynn had no farming experience before he bought Finnebrogue Estate.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph in 2016, Mr Lynn revealed that he had “never had any cunning business plan”.
He added: “One of my faults, which is also a strength, is the fact I have no idea when I am actually beaten.”
A website biography tells how Mr Lynn left school at 15 and worked as a salesman and a food distributor, before going out on his own aged 27 and buying processed food to sell it to cafes and restaurants.
Then came Finnebrogue Artisan, one of Northern Ireland’s biggest meat producers.
The statement said the board of directors had appointed non-executive director David Manning as interim-chairman and non-executive director Colin Walsh as interim deputy-chairman.
The senior management team will lead the business on a day-to-day basis.