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Whelan left his mark on modern Limerick

IN Limerick, Pat Whelan's dual role as high-profile rugby "alicadoo" and property developer means he has probably left a bigger physical mark on the city in recent years than anyone else in politics or business.

In fact, it's hard to think of anyone who has had a bigger impact on the Limerick city skyline since Bishop Ryan commissioned St John's Cathedral back in the 1850s.

He and long-term business partner Pat Chesser, a well-known city auctioneer, were the main movers behind the Clarion Hotel. The building towers 17 stories over Limerick, overlooking the spot where the Shannon River meets its estuary.

The curved, metallic building dominates the western approach to the city; it is now under the control of NAMA.

Whelan was also the chairman of the redevelopment committee behind the €40m transformation of Thomond Park, the project that turned the storied but rundown rugby ground into a state-of-the-art modern stadium.

The project earned him Limerick Person of the Year in 2008, with a gala dinner at the Clarion to celebrate.

Whelan got the Thomond job thanks as much to his impeccable rugby credentials as his facility with property. He is a former Munster and Ireland rugby star, and went on to manage the Irish rugby team until 1998. Since 2008 he has been one of the two Irish members of the International Rugby Board.

The overlap of property and sport embodied by Whelan is not unique to the city, but it saw him rubbing shoulders with household names from the city's sporting and business elite.

It was Whelan who first revealed JP McManus's €4m contribution to the Thomond Park project, but the high profile connections haven't always worked out so well.

Last year rugby star Paul O'Connell was one of a group of investors that took legal action after a €13.4m UK property deal went sour.

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