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Shannon Airport, County Clare. Where it all began for our industry way back in 1947 when Aer Rianta (the name means airways in the Irish language) opened the world’s first duty free shop. That shop – and the entire global business sector it spawned – was inspired by one man, Dr Brendan O’Regan, a visionary, statesman, entrepreneur and ultimately man of peace in Ireland.
Dr O’Regan, whom I was blessed to get to know well, passed in 2008 at the age of 90. In 2018 Shannon Airport marked what would have been his 100th birthday with the unveiling of a bronze bust sculpture cast in his likeness.
Last week, en route back to Heathrow after the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, I had the chance to see this splendid work for the first time and to silently honour a man for whom I had so much respect. It was good to see Shannon Airport placing so much emphasis on its heritage and to see the excellent biography, ‘Brendan O’Regan – Irish Innovator, Visionary & Peacemaker’ , written by Brian O’Connell with Cian O’Carroll, prominently displayed in the store.
I suspect that after the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open a certain Colm McLoughlin, who began his duty free career 50 years ago at Shannon Airport in 1969 may have stopped too to pay his respects to Dr O’Regan. One small west coast Irish airport has been the starting point for two of the most influential figures in the history of the duty free industry. Now, that really does deserve celebration.
Anyone who is involved in duty free anywhere in the world should understand this: that Dr Brendan O’Regan gave breath not just to an industry but to a concept. His great achievement was that, at the very essence, he took commerce and made it a force for good – so it was no longer just commerce. That is his outstanding heritage.
He transcended business. Not many people do that. And not many ideas do that. Not many people bequeath great notions. He has.
He once said: “I will fight to the last breath helping to make peace in my country”. And he did. – From The Moodie Blog, February 2008
PICTURE GALLERY: CAPTURING THE CRAFTS, HERITAGE AND SPIRIT OF IRELAND AT SHANNON AIRPORT