Irish businessman and former Dunne Stores chief Ben Dunne passes away at the age 74

Irish businessman and former Dunne Stores chief Ben Dunne passes away at the age 74

BEN DUNNE, the Irish businessman who formerly headed his family's eponymous chain of retail stores across Ireland, has passed away at the age of 74.

It is believed the Cork native passed away while on holiday in Dubai.

Mr Dunne made headlines in 1981 when he was kidnapped by the IRA on his way to open a new store in Co. Armagh but was later released unharmed.

He later took charge of the family business following the death of father in 1983 and oversaw its expansion into England.

Mr Dunne leaving the Moriarty Tribunal in April 2000 (Image:

Mr Dunne left the company almost a decade later following his arrest in America but despite a number of controversies, he later set up a successful gym chain.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was among those to pay tribute to the 'larger than life' businessman.

"He led a life less ordinary and in turn he made some mistakes in life. The best people do," said the Taoiseach, according to RTÉ News.

"He never allowed that to defeat him or hold him back. He touched the lives of tens of thousands who will mourn his loss."

Career and controversy

Dunnes Stores was founded by Mr Dunne’s father, also named Ben Dunne, with a single store in Cork in 1944.

The younger Dunne worked for the company from a young age as it expanded across Ireland, branching into Northern Ireland in 1971 and Spain in 1980.

On October 16, 1981, Mr Dunne was on his way to Portadown to open a new branch when he was kidnapped by masked gunmen.

He was detained for six days before eventually being freed, with his captors reportedly giving him the bullets they claimed they would have used to kill him had they been discovered.

It is not clear if a ransom was paid, with the family denying at the time they had handed over the money, while other reports say friend and fellow businessmen Patrick Gallagher paid for his release.

Dunne himself, however, refuted the latter claim in a 2014 interview with Miriam O'Callaghan but admitted a ransom had been paid.

He also told the presenter how he chose not to dwell on the experience and instead tried to look back at the 'funny side of things'.

Mr Dunne and Charles Haughey in Dublin in 1986 (Image: Eamonn Farrell/

He revealed how, years later, he broke the tense atmosphere at a lunch with Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness by joking about the kidnapping.

He told O'Callaghan: "I turned around and I said, 'Listen fellas, if this is a fundraising lunch, it's a refund I'll be looking for'.

"They broke their hearts laughing, I laughed and we had a fantastic one-and-a-half, two-hour lunch after that."

Either way, a ransom of around £1.5m was dwarfed by the reported IR£100m his sister Margaret Heffernan paid to buy his share of the family business in 1992.

The buyout, signalling the end of his association with Dunnes Stores, came in the wake of Mr Dunne's arrest in Florida for cocaine possession and solicitation.

Later that decade, he was embroiled in further controversy when he was found to have made large donations to several Irish politicians, including former Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

Despite the setbacks, Mr Dunne found further success after establishing a chain of gyms in Ireland.

Founded in 1997, Ben Dunne Gyms also opened sites in Manchester and Liverpool, which were acquired by JD Gyms 2018.


Among those paying tribute to Mr Dunne was Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

She posted on Twitter: "Very sad to hear of the sudden death of Ben Dunne. My thoughts are with his beloved family.

"He was a good man who cared about people. We will never see his likes again."

Meanwhile, Cork City councillor Ken O'Flynn praised the impact Mr Dunne had on the Irish retail sector.

"Ben Dunne was not only a successful and influential business figure but also a genuinely good-hearted man who cared deeply for people," he posted on Facebook.

Mr Dunne pictured in 2006 (Image: Leon Farrell/

"His significant contributions to the growth of the supermarket empire and his role in shaping Ireland's business landscape are incomparable.

"Following the passing of his father in 1983, Dunne courageously stepped in to take over the family supermarket empire.

"Under his guidance, the company experienced tremendous growth, leaving a lasting impact on the industry.

"His vision and leadership were truly remarkable."

Mr Dunne is survived by his wife Margaret and found children.