An old friend of mine was ever fond of extolling the virtues of family solidarity when it came to the world of business. If brothers would only stand together in harmony, he would say, there were no limits to what they could achieve.
His mantra came back to me on a leisurely perusal of the latest list of Ireland’s wealthiest people in which, it can be said, Mayo more than holds its own, but where family ties and cohesion seem to be a key factor.
There are solo success stories too, of course. The wealthiest of the Mayo-connected is Martin Naughton, founder of Glen Dimplex, with wealth of €1.65 billion. A man of close Belcarra connections, where he still has a home, he was a generous contributor to the building of Belcarra Sports Centre several years ago. Of the native born wealthiest, Westport man Charlie Kenny and his family can boast of €477 million. The Dublin-based property investor was regarded as one of the very few to have survived the property wipeout of the last decade.
And another solo success is Martin Birrane of Ballina, former racing driver and owner of Mondello Park race track. A past pupil of St. Muredach’s College, Birrane’s property investments have him listed with a personal fortune of €155 million. But perhaps he is most widely known as the man who broke the Irish land speed record when he clocked 176mph on the then unopened M50 in Dublin in 1990.
But it is then that family fortunes really come into play. Tom Flatley left Kiltimagh for the US in the 1950s with just 30 dollars in his pocket, and wound up with a Boston based property empire employing 6,000 people. Staunchly Catholic and a noted philanthropist, he left €463 million to his family when he died in 2008.
The Hughes family of Portwest and Westport House make the rich list at €145 million, just ahead of the McHugh family of Achill connections whose Atlantic Dawn fish business is worth €132 million. Founded by Kevin McHugh of Bullsmouth, whose tragic death in 2007 rocked the fishing community to its heels, the family later disposed of his legendary super trawler, the biggest in the world, which measured once and a half times the length of Croke Park when built in 2000.
Michael Masterson of Achill heads a family owned UK construction and plant hire firm which has amassed a fortune of €106 million, while another pair of west Mayo property investors, Michael and Cathal Cannon, can boast of a €92 million bank balance. The brothers made world headlines a few years ago when they reputedly turned a profit of €60 million on the purchase and subsequent resale of the site of Berlin’s historic Checkpoint Charlie.
And all of that is before counting the McHale brothers, Padraic and Martin, of Kilmaine, whose McHale Engineerinig is one of the most successful in Europe, or the Smyth brothers of Claremorris. Anthony, Padraic, Thomas and Liam Smyth have an estimated wealth of €102 million, from 50 toy shops in Ireland and the UK, with associated property interests.
The McHale brothers, in turn, work closely with another pair of brothers, the legendary Luke and Brian Comer, natives of Glenamaddy. The Comers have a combined wealth running to well over a billion. The consortium is involved in hotels, shopping centres and housing development here and in Britain.
And also featuring on Ireland’s rich list are Bill Durkan, the Bohola-born builder, whose construction firm famously paid off €43 million in NAMA bank loans rather than continue to negotiate any further with the State’s banker; Barry Maloney, former CEO of Esat Digifone, and owner of the Mount Falcon Hotel; and Frank Salmon, founder of CMS Peripherals in Kiltimagh.