Tuesday 20 February 2018

A man who tried to make the grass greener for those on both sides

Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

By Darragh McManus

Hugh Green was a remarkable man who took a remarkable journey, through his life and around the world – and never forgot where it all started.

It's a story that begins like something from the 19th Century, and encompasses travel, industry, luck, philanthropy, fortune and glory: the classic rags to riches tale.

This Donegal native who became one of New Zealand's wealthiest businessmen returned home religiously every year until his death this summer, at the age of 81.

Appropriately, the radio documentary Far Off Hills are Green, which tells his story, opens with Paul Brady doing a poignant version of 'The Hills of Donegal'.

Hugh was born in Raphoe in 1931, fifth of eight children, and almost immediately it was a hard-knocks life. He had to leave school aged 12, barely literate, to find work.

Four years later the family home was repossessed by the bank. Hugh took the boat to Scotland and began working as a labourer on hydroelectricity schemes there and in England.

At 19 he took up the offer of passage to Australia, spending two years cutting sugarcane in Queensland before deciding to return to Ireland via New Zealand and Canada. In a twist of fate, he never made the permanent move home.

In 1951, Hugh and his friend Barney McCahill got a contract digging trenches and laying cable for the Post and Telegraph Department in the NZ city of Wellington.

From there they went to Auckland, where the Green & McCahill construction company was established.

From 1960 onwards their success exploded, with a series of huge contracts:.

By his early 30s he was a millionaire, and regularly made the New Zealand rich lists. But it wasn't all about the money – just as important to Hugh was his charity work, donating millions of dollars to needy causes through the Hugh Green Foundation.

Last March Hugh was named as Donegal Person of the Year, which he considered the greatest honour of his life.

Happily married to Moira for 56 years, Hugh Green passed away in July. His last request was that his ashes be interred in the family plot in Raphoe – home for good at last.

Far Off Hills Are Green, produced and presented by Mary Harte, airs on Newstalk this Saturday, with a repeat on Christmas Day.

Irish Independent

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