Dr Isolde Liebherr, vice-president of the Liebherr group, was inducted into the Order of Innisfallen — a rare distinction given to people who make unique contributions to the area.
The Liebherr container crane factory employs 630 in Killarney, while three of the company’s top hotels have a combined workforce of 275 in the area.
Speaking at the ceremony in Muckross House, Killarney mayor Sean O’Grady said the tremendous debt of gratitude owned to the Liebherr companies could never be fully appreciated by honours alone.
Killarney Chamber of Commerce and Tourism president Michael Buckley recalled how Dr Liebherr’s father Hans, who founded the company in his native Germany after the Second World War, came to Killarney in the late 1950s.
He had planned to set up a facility in Mallow, Co Cork, but the plan was “subtly hijacked” by a group of Killarney business people who wanted to provide jobs outside of the seasonal tourism industry.
In her acceptance address, Dr Liebherr spoke of her family’s continuing love for Killarney and how she learned all about tourism from working alongside local people in the Liebherr-owned Hotel Europe.
“I studied closely the way tourism workers here entertained and catered for tourists from all over the world,” Dr Liebherr said.
“They have natural friendliness and hospitality. Some have worked in our hotels for more than 40 years.”
Dr Liebherr, who already this year was conferred with an honorary doctorate from University College Cork and given the freedom of Killarney, was a special guest of the Kerry branch of the Irish Hotels Federation at its annual ball in Hotel Europe last night.
She was presented with a portrait by artist Paul Kelly, commissioned by the Killarney business community.