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Rich Lister Eamon Cleary dies

Irish-born Kiwi multi-millionaire Eamon Cleary died at his Kentucky horse stud last weekend.

Mr Cleary featured in the NBR Rich List with an estimated fortune of $1.2 billion invested around the world.

However, Irish friends always maintained estimates of his global wealth were too low, particularly for his investments in South America, and he was worth well over $2 billion.  

According to overseas reports he'd had cancer in recent months.

Honorary Consul General of Ireland, Rodney Walshe, convinced Mr Cleary to bankroll a chair in Irish studies at University of Otago.

Mr Walshe describes Mr Cleary as "a typical Irishman". 

"He was very wealthy but to talk to him and to travel with him you'd have no idea of his wealth.

"He was very driven and he was very pleased to work with the University of Otago to set up that chair, which was a first."

Queenstown was a particular focus for Mr Cleary, who owned commercial properties, farms and high country stations there.

He sold 22,000ha Coronet Peak Station to Robert Lange, the former husband of singer Shania Twain, who earlier acquired another nearby high country station.

At the time of his death he still owned several residential properties at Lake Hayes, near Queenstown, mostly grouped in a new subdivision around Sicilian and Kavanagh Lanes.

Left school at 11

Mr Cleary was born in County Monaghan - near the town of Ballybay - in 1960 and left school at 11 to work on his father's small farm.

According to the University of Otago website, he was apprenticed to a block layer at 15 and started his own building business two years later.

At 20, he started a pre-cast concrete and reinforcing steel company, while continuing with his building business.

He married at 24.

Mr Cleary went on to develop one of the largest agricultural supply businesses in Ireland, which he sold in 1991.

By 1996, he had moved to New Zealand and established a business career, with substantial investments in agricultural land and commercial property in both the North and South Islands.

He had extensive business and property interests in Australia, Eastern Europe, Ireland and New Zealand, and developed agricultural and telecommunications businesses in Argentina and Chile. 

Mr Cleary has eight children. 

He was the proud owner of Rand, a thoroughbred that represented NZ in the Nakayama Grand Jump (Japan’s Grand National).

More by Chris Hutching and David Williams

Comments and questions

I can see some good Queenstown real estate hitting the market now.

I would not want to be on the wrong end of a business deal with Eamon, but I liked him very much. A real down to earth and clever guy who raised lovely unspoilt children.

I admired Eamon and his unpretentious nature.
His capacity to work far surpassed many today.
I wholeheartedly agree that he has raised children who are also hard working and unspoilt .
Something that is being lost today in many families unfortunately.
A character much respected around the world.

An affable and easy going person with a prestigious memory and the ability to see value in an proposition. Far sighted, he purchased property that was ignored by others who did not have his vision. A tough negotiator when the chips were down, he was nonetheless a man who did a deal on a handshake. Rich maybe, but a generous and visionary man.

Sorry to hear about Eamonn Cleary's death. He worked hard to make something worthwhile of his life and its sad that he is cut down like this. I knew him as a lad of 16 starting out in the building trade and he was clever and willing to work and learn. He got nothing easy in life and is a credit to his family in Ireland. Pity there aren't more like him in Ireland today. May he rest in peace.

I first met Eamon about 1978 when he attended a farming class in his native Monaghan and have followed his career progress since then. A man who started a farming career on a small holding in Drumlane Monaghan, Eamon has built up a huge land bank across the world and in doing so has earned respect from those he dealt with. A true gentleman who remained loyal to his native land and all who helped him in his career progress.
Eamon will be an inspiration to his lovely family and all who knew him.
May you rest in peace Eamon.

God Bless and rest in peace Eamonn You were a credit to your widely respected family,parish and citizens of Balybay ad surroundings.We offer our sincere sympathy to your wife, family,mother,brothers ,sisters ,uncle John and family circle.RIP