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How it began: O'Regan's innovative dream allowed region to take off

SHANNON Airport and the surrounding region would not have emerged as a leading industrial hubs were it not for a catering manager who was supposed to supply flying boats.

The enthusiasm and drive of Brendan O'Regan was first noticed by former Taoiseach Sean Lemass while Mr O'Regan worked as manager of the St Stephen's Green Club in Dublin.

Mr Lemass asked Mr O'Regan to take over the catering role at Foynes, Co Limerick, in 1943, where flying boats would land on the Shannon estuary.

In 1945, he moved to the small airport being built on the northern side of the estuary.

The innovative Mr O'Regan successfully petitioned the government to have this area of the fledgling airport declared a tax no-mans land in a bid to convince the rich and famous to part with their money.

As a result, the world's first duty free shop started out in 1947 as a simple kiosk selling linen and souvenirs.

Realising also that the standard of hotels needed to be improved, he established the Shannon College of Hotel Management in 1951. Today, many hoteliers and senior managers at top hotels around the world are graduates of the college.

Former Shannon Airport director, Liam Skelly -- first director general of Aer Rianta International -- said Mr O'Regan "was held in the highest esteem by all who enjoyed working what they considered to be with him rather than for him".

In 1957, Mr O'Regan was appointed chairman of Bord Failte. Afterwards, he appro-ached wealthy American Al McCarthy to establish the Shannon Shamrock Hotel and followed this by persuading another American, Bernard McDonagh, to build three hotels in the region and purchase Dromoland Castle.

In 1961 he helped establish the Shannon Free Zone, which attracted industry from around the world. He also pioneered the 'Rent an Irish Cottage' scheme in villages across the region. In 1984, he established the Irish Peace Institute at the University of Limerick.

A proud Clareman, Brendan O'Regan died in 2008 at the age of 90.