Long before entering the political stage, Albert Reynolds had already forged a successful career by changing the Irish showbusiness landscape.
Almost half a century before paving the way for the Northern Irish peace process, the man from Rooskey in Co Roscommon was working in a number of jobs before landing a position as an employment clerk in Bord na Móna and eventually in CIÉ as a clerical officer in Dromod in Leitrim in the early 1950s. Following a course in accountancy, he was soon offered a promotion in the CIÉ accountancy office in Ballymote.
However, it was his brother Jim’s return from Australia which led him into the business which was to make him famous.
The pair both saw a niche for the emerging Irish showband scene and knew that with the huge popularity of bands like the Miami Showband, Royal, Capitol, and Joe Mac and The Dixies — there was a need for purpose-built venues in rural Ireland.
The brothers built their first dancehall near their home in Rooskey — the Cloudland — which could hold 2,000 people.
The dancehall changed the nature of the showbusiness industry and the business boomed with the Reynolds brothers eventually operating 14 dancehalls around the country.
Huge US stars such as Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison were also brought to Ireland by Albert Reynolds.
By the mid-1960s, with competition from pubs putting on acts of their own, Reynolds decided it was time to leave the business and sold his share to his brother Jim.
The future taoiseach became involved in a range of projects. These included buying a bacon factory in the Liberties in Dublin; a share in Odeon Cinema in Longford, as well as the Longford News; and he even began exporting seafood.
However, it was in 1971 that he struck on the business that his family remain involved in to this day. Along with Matty Lyons, Reynolds founded C&D Pet Foods in Edgeworthstown on the outskirts of Longford
After some initial teething problems, the company grew into a multi-million euro export business mainly through a long and very profitable relationship with British supermarket giant Sainsbury’s. It remains a significant employer in the region to this day.
According to Tim Ryan, author of The Longford Leader, a biography of Albert Reynolds, his success as a politician was a direct result of his skill and daring as a businessman.
“He had a no-nonsense attitude in business which he took with him into politics and it worked. Not everything he did worked, but he was prepared to weigh up the options and take a risk. It was the same with the peace process which was a huge risk at the time. He took a chance at a crucial time,” he said.
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