In memoriam: Eddie O’Connor – A giant of both public and private enterprise

The renewable energy sector in Ireland and across the globe mourns the loss of Roscommon man, Eddie O’Connor, a trailblazer in the field. Mr O’Connor passed away last weekend, at the age of 76. As the Roscommon People looks back on his remarkable life, his visionary leadership and indelible contributions to the advancement of renewable energy are celebrated and remembered.

Hailing from Elphin, Co Roscommon, Eddie O’Connor’s journey was one of passion, innovation, and unwavering commitment to sustainable energy. He was a proud alumnus of Elphin Grammar School and later of University College Dublin, where he obtained his degree in chemical engineering and a master’s in industrial engineering, later complementing these with a doctorate in business administration. His academic achievements were the rock-solid foundation for a career that redefined Ireland’s energy landscape.

Tributes have been extended across the country and the world, reflecting on Mr O’Connor’s extensive legacy. Minister for the Environment, Climate, Communications and Transport, Eamon Ryan TD, expressed deep sadness at Mr O’Connor’s passing, lauding him as a true pioneer in the development of renewable energy and a visionary who was always ahead of his time.

Bord na Móna to Airtricity

In the late 1990s, Eddie O’Connor made a significant career shift, moving from his role as CEO of Bord na Móna to champion renewable energy in the private sector, a decision that marked the beginning of a new era in sustainable energy development in Ireland. He founded Airtricity, which under his leadership became a beacon of innovation, establishing Ireland’s first offshore wind farm. His entrepreneurial spirit didn’t stop there; he went on to co-found Mainstream Renewable Power and SuperNode, further cementing his status as a visionary and leader in the niche business sector.

Mainstream Renewable Power, under his guidance, grew into a global powerhouse in renewable energy with projects across five continents. His work with SuperNode was equally groundbreaking, focusing on cutting-edge technology to efficiently connect offshore wind production with markets over long distances.

As reported by the Irish Times, John Fitzgerald, Chief Executive of SuperNode, captured the essence of Mr O’Connor’s character and contributions, describing him as an: “… amazing person with great intelligence, vision, vitality, courage and resolve”. Mr Fitzgerald continued to remark that everyone at the company was “devastated” by the loss of Mr O’Connor.

Elphin roots

Locally, Mr O’Connor’s roots in County Roscommon were a source of pride, and his connection to his home town of Elphin remained strong throughout his life. In reading the innumerable tributes being paid to Mr O’Connor, it becomes evident that his dedication to renewable energy was not just a professional pursuit but a personal mission, deeply ingrained in his belief in a sustainable and energy-independent future.

Former Midlands correspondent with RTE News, and current author, community worker and newspaper columnist, Ciaran Mullooly said this on the passing of Mr O’Connor: “Eddie O’Connor was a visionary – even in his early days working in the power station in Lanesborough.

“I often wonder if Bord na Móna would have started the true process of just transition two decades earlier if he had not left so early. I extend my deepest sympathies to his family”.

Eddie O’Connor’s legacy is not merely in the businesses he created or the projects he spearheaded. It lies in the path he blazed towards a greener, more sustainable world. His work inspired a generation of environmentalists and entrepreneurs, and his vision of a renewable future continues to guide the industry.

In paying tribute to the late Mr O’Connor, Minister Eamon Ryan took to X (formerly Twitter) to say: “So saddened to hear of the death of Eddie O’Connor. He was a visionary and pioneer of the renewable energy industry here and across the wider world. His legacy will include all the work he did promoting a European #Supergrid and on the #Supernode. #RIP”.

Minister Pippa Hackett also paid tribute to Mr O’Connor, noting his role with Bord na Móna: “Joining the many voices paying tribute to Dr Eddie O’Connor. His work was relevant to the Midlands, through his transformative role with Bord na Mona but it’s his work on the  Supergrid concept that will be his lasting legacy. Thank you Eddie. RIP”.

The late Eddie O’Connor of Roebuck, Dublin is mourned by his wife Hildegard, children Lesley and Robert, brother, sisters, grandchildren, and a community of colleagues, friends, and admirers. The impact of his life’s work resonates far beyond the shores of Ireland, leaving a lasting legacy in the global pursuit of sustainable energy solutions. Eddie O’Connor’s memory will live on, a testament to his extraordinary contributions to environmental stewardship and renewable energy.