*Brendan O’Regan’s youngest Great Grandchild Theodore O’Regan and his Mother Aoibhinn O’Regan with family members at the unveiling of the Bronze Sculpture of Dr Brendan O’Regan by Shannon Chamber of Commerce President Eoin Gavin at Sixmilebridge Town Square on Monday afternoon. Photograph by Eamon Ward.

BRENDAN O’REGAN’s legacy will never die with a life-size statue of the visionary unveiled in his native Sixmilebridge on Monday afternoon.

Heavy rain came to a stop as proceedings commenced in the square of Sixmilebridge at 14:10 on Monday afternoon with all five of Brendan O’Regan’s children Carmel, Declan, Geraldine, Margaret and Andrew gathered in the front row with eight of his grandchildren and his two great grand-children. His children travelled from the United Kingdom, Limerick and Dublin to attend the ceremony.

Before the series of tributes and speeches began, students from St Finnachta’s National School in Sixmilebridge played music as the hundreds of people in attendance took shelter from the beating rain.

Commissioned by Sixmilebridge Historical Society and Shannon Chamber, the statue was created by Kilbaha’s Seamus Connolly, one of the country’s leading bronze sculptors. Connolly’s grandfather ironically worked with Brendan in the early days of Foynes and he later transferred to Shannon.

His statue situated in the Square in Sixmilebridge is opposite the house Brendan was born into in 1917. He was the fifth of seven children of James O’Regan from Sixmilebridge and Nora Ryan from Kilrush. Their house was the largest in Sixmilebridge at the time with twelve rooms and it included a shop which served the entire village.

The Children of Dr Brendan O’Regan, from left Andrew O’Regan,Geraldine Guilfoyle, Margaret O’Regan, Carmel O’Regan and Declan O’Regan at the unveiling of the Bronze Sculpture of Dr Brendan O’Regan at Sixmilebridge Town Square on Monday afternoon. Photograph by Eamon Ward

A leader in thought and action, Brendan O’Regan’s contribution to Ireland’s economic progression is immense. He created Ireland’s first industrial duty-free zone, Shannon Free Zone, Ireland’s first new town of the twentieth century, Shannon Town, Shannon College of Hotel Management and, he was the ‘father’ of duty free, which is now a $90billion industry worldwide. Through founding Cooperation North, he was a conduit for international peace.

Audience members included project sponsors, Ei Electronics, representatives from Clare County Council, Eoin Gavin Transport, Neil Pakey, the Shannon Airport Group, Irish Hotels Federation (IHF), Shannon branch, and Shannon College of Hotel Management, University of Galway. Ei served as the main sponsor with Shannon Chamber pointing out that the project may not have even got off the ground without an instant positive response from CEO, Mick Guinee.

Brian O’Connell and Cian O’Carroll who both collaborated to write an extensive book on Dr O’Regan were present in the audience along with members of the public. Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, Cllr Joe Cooney (FG), Clare TD Michael McNamara (IND), Senator Timmy Dooley (FF), Cathaoirleach of the Shannon Municipal District, Cllr Donna McGettigan (SF), Cllr John Crowe (FG), Cllr PJ Ryan (IND), Cllr Alan O’Callaghan (FF), Cllr Pat McMahon (FF) and Cllr Pat O’Gorman (FF) were among those present with Cathal Crowe TD (FF) arriving as the event was drawing to a close.

Andrew O’Regan. Photograph: Eamon Ward

Brendan’s son Andrew told the crowds, “there aren’t words I can find to express our gratitude for the manner in which we humbled by your generosity”. He revealed it was the first time since his father’s passing in 2008 that the entire family was all together, “I’m sure the statue will bring a tear to their eye or two or ten,” he said to his siblings. He praised the sculptor for his “courtesy” in sharing his vision for designing Brendan as “a great communicator”.

“For us Brendan was really just our Dad, a father who loved us all unconditionally and unreservedly, while as children we knew in various ways of Brendan’s working life and his commitment to it, in other ways it was all just background to our family, we knew of his work and had a sense of its importance and had an idea of the belief and determination which he brought to it, it was only in my twenties in Shannon that I learned that his initial BOR were short for Bash On Regardless, I’m not sure to this day if that was in jest or awe but I think it might be a bit of both. I also wonder if as children we understood the manner in which Brendan as a man was able to make people understand that their contribution was important and that they were part of a bigger endeavour and something particular to the Mid-West”.

He added, “As adults we had a deeper understanding of this in a developmental sense but for me my very first time when I really understood it at an emotional level was when Brendan’s remains were being removed from the church in Newmarket-on-Fergus to Ennis for his funeral mass, without any direction from us as a family his cortege made its way through his home countryside and when it arrived at Sixmilebridge on the Tulla Rd, Fr Harry Bohan stepped out in the middle of the road, stopped the cortege and the hearse and the man and women of Sixmilebridge walked before Brendan’s hearse through the village, it had a really profound impact on me. Now in the Square across from the house where Brendan was born in 1917, this statue is being unveiled by you to recognise and honour him as one of your own. As you all know it takes a village to rear a child, it seems to me that some circle has finally been closed, he has come home”.

Secretary of the Sixmilebridge Historical Society, Tim Crowe explained, “one of the chief reasons we undertook this project was the lack of awareness of under fifties with Brendan O’Regan”. He was hopeful the statue would amend this and outlined their plans to commence an educational project in local primary and secondary schools so that every generation in the future will fully appreciate Brendan’s contribution to Ireland and, to the Mid-West region. “We die twice, once when our organs fail and secondly when people stop talking about us but Brendan O’Regan will never die”.

Tim Crowe. Photograph: Eamon Ward

President of Shannon Chamber, Eoin Gavin said he was double the honour as a Sixmilebridge man to unveil the statue of O’Regan. “Sixmilebridge is proud of their son and he is back where he belongs”. He commented, We want the story to continue. We want the next generation to understand and pay homage to the past and build a new future for this village, Shannon, and the region, just as Brendan’s successors have done and continue to do. The life-size bronze statue, strategically placed in the Square, Sixmilebridge, for all to see, will serve as a visible manifestation of the founding father of industry and tourism in this region and beyond. It will serve to preserve his memory forever”.

CEO of Shannon Chamber, Helen Downes stated, “people will be visiting this statue, more importantly is the impact it will have on our children and our children’s children”. She maintained Brendan’s impact “goes far beyond this region”.

Modern Ireland was shaped by O’Regan’s contributions to economic, social and cultural development, Cllr Cooney stated. “His initiatives include the world’s first duty-free airport shop at Shannon Airport, Ireland’s first industrial estate, Ireland’s first hotel school, the first New Town, and three separate peace organisations. He had an enormous impact – locally, nationally, and internationally”. Indeed one of Cooney’s predecessors was Brendan’s father James.

Fr Harry Bohan in addressing the gathering remarked, “the Bridge people will come unprepared, not properly dressed and with no script”. He recounted meeting Brendan in 1968 for the first time and added that he was sent to the University of Wales after his ordination to look at how the Mid-West was changing with Shannon Airport. “Brendan wasn’t about bricks and mortar, he was about people, families and communities, I often got call at 5am from Brendan in the morning saying ‘I have an idea’, I’d be tempted to say hold it till 12pm but I never did because it always came to fruition, every idea Brendan got it had to come to fruition, I describe him as a patriot, he didn’t die for his country but he lived for it”.

Fr Harry Bohan. Photograph: Eamon Ward

Feakle native, Fr Bohan added, “When I came to Sixmilebridge sixteen or seventeen years ago I couldn’t believe a statue of Brendan O’Regan wasn’t here or in Shannon Airport, thank God it is here now and thank God for Brendan O’Regan”.

Chief Executive of Ei Electronics, Mick Guinee said he was a long-term admirer of what O’Regan achieved, “you could say the economy in this area is Brendan’s legacy”. The Cork native remarked, “I was amazed to come to this region to find Brendan’s name was hardly known, hopefully that will be corrected with this statue”.

Mick Guinee. Photograph: Eamon Ward

Dean of Students & Director of Admissions at Cistercian College Roscrea, Seamus Hennessy served as MC for the hour-long unveiling. He admitted to having “a love affair” with Brendan during his days in radio and admitted that he was always a pleasure to interview. “This is about remembering a man whose energy and determination has shaped the way we live”.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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