Dozens of mourners including friends, family and store staff formed a guard of honour and applauded Primark founder Arthur Ryan today as his funeral cortege passed the chain’s original store in Dublin.
Mr Ryan, who died earlier in the week at the age of 83 after a short illness, opened the store 50 years ago, where it traded as Penneys.
Today, Penneys staff filled Jervis Street in the centre of the city, as the hearse carrying Mr Ryan passed by, in a poignant tribute to a man hailed as a retail giant.
Just 10 years after the opening of the original Dublin store, he expanded to Britain, opening a store that he called Primark to avoid a legal battle with US brand JC Penney.
Primark went on to become a household name, bringing ‘cheap chic’ to the UK High Street and the world, with a total of 370 stores across 12 different countries.
Mr Ryan, often described as a workaholic, was chief executive until 2009, stepping into the chairman’s seat where he remained until his death. He oversaw a huge expansion of the business, which took annual sales to £2billion a year.
He has been described by peers as a secretive and private man, who rarely gave interviews despite his astonishing success.
Penneys staff form a guard of honour for the funeral cortege of Penneys and Primark founder Arthur Ryan, as it makes its way past the location of the first ever Penneys store, on Mary Street, Dublin
Dozens of staff, friends and family members made up the mourners who lined the street to pay tribute to Mr Ryan in Dublin today, outside his beloved store
The coffin of Penneys and Primark founder Arthur Ryan is carried from the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin, following his funeral service
Arthur Ryan, founder of Primark and pictured left with his wife Alma Carroll Ryan, died at the age of 83 after a short battle with illness
Alma Ryan the widow of Penneys/Primark founder Arthur Ryan leaves the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin, following his funeral service
The boss also helped cement Primark’s name on the UK high street, buying 120 former Littlewoods branches in 2005.
The tribute to Mr Ryan outside the Penneys store came ahead of his funeral at the Church of the Scared Heart in Donnybrook in south Dublin.
George Weston, chief executive of Primark’s parent company, Associated British Foods, told mourners of that Mr Ryan did not fit any stereotype.
‘Arthur was a brilliant, complicated, dedicated, powerful man. And I adored him,’ he said.
‘Arthur was fascinating and wonderful because he just didn’t fit the stereotypes. He was shy but could dominate the room; he was ruthless and caring; parsimonious and generous. He didn’t suffer fools but he helped those in need; he was master of the detail but also of the next ten years.
‘He was a storyteller who knew the detail. He was a huge presence who gave talented people space in which to operate. He was demanding of people but loyal to them and they to him. He was a hard man but a big softie.
Shop staff, family and friends look on as the coffin of Primark founder Arthur Ryan is carried from the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin, following his funeral service
Staff lined the streets to watch the hearse carrying Mr Ryan pass the store he opened 50 years ago, in a poignant tribute
His wife Alma joined mourners at the funeral of her husband, who oversaw the expansion of Primark into a huge retail franchise
‘He loved his country and I hope his country recognises how much he did for it. And he loved the business he built maybe in part to show the world what Irishmen and women are capable of.’
In his tribute, Paul Marchant, chief executive of Primark, hailed Mr Ryan as a ‘retail pioneer’.
‘He championed value fashion long before anyone else and he knew that customers loved a good deal, they loved a bargain and if something wasn’t selling he dealt with it quickly by aggressively marking it down,’ he recalled.
‘Arthur we are all going to miss your wisdom, your guidance and your support. We’re definitely going to miss your humour and your stories, even the factually correct ones, but most of all we’re all going to miss your genius and your friendship. We all owe you so much.
‘The legend however will continue to live large.’
Ryan helped cement Primark’s name on the UK high street and this year the chain’s biggest outlet opened in Birmingham to the delight of shoppers, boasting a cafe, restaurant and beauty salon.
Colleagues have praised him for his commitment to his work, never seeking fame or celebrity and focusing solely on the job.
Young and older staff members alike stand side by side in tribute as the funeral cortege for Arthur Ryan makes its way past the location of the first ever Penneys store
Mourners applaud as the funeral cortege for Penneys/Primark founder Arthur Ryan makes its way past the location of the first ever Penneys store, on Mary Street, Dublin
A mourner carries a photo of Mr Ryan and a trademark Primark shopping bag that pays tribute to the company founder, who died after a short illness
Ryan was an intensely private man and was barely known among City types, refusing to giving press interviews and residing in one of Dublin’s most secure houses.
He had a huge fear of kidnap after two colleagues were snatched by the IRA during the Troubles in the 1980s, keeping his diary secret and ‘taking no chances’.
The retail tycoon suffered further heartbreak when his son, grandson and grandson’s girlfriend drowned at Baltimore Harbour, West Cork in June 2015.
His son Barry, 51, dived in to the water to save his son Barry Junior, 21, and his girlfriend Niamh, but all three were later found dead.
The coffin of Penneys/Primark founder Arthur Ryan is carried from the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin, following his funeral service
Ryan was born in Dublin but moved to London as a young man to begin his retail career as a tie buyer at Swan & Edgar. He also worked for London fashion wholesaler Carr & McDonald.
When he returned to the Irish capital he worked at a Dunnes Stores in Cornelscourt.
In 1969, he opened his first Penneys store in Dublin’s Mary Street, which still stands to this day, after he was hired by the Weston family to set up a discount clothing retail business.
In 1974, he brought Penneys to London, where it was renamed Primark to avoid legal problems with US chain JC Penney.
In 2009, Ryan gave up his day-to-day control of the firm as chief executive and became chairman of the company instead.
His son Barry Ryan was a senior executive at Penneys and worked in Dublin before his death in 2015.
Arthur Ryan lost his son Barry, 51, (pictured) in a tragic accident in West Cork in June 2015
Ryan’s son Barry, 51, dived in to the sea to save his son Barry Junior, 21, (left) and his girlfriend Niamh (right), but all three were later found dead
Ryan’s strong work ethic was praised by colleagues and employees after news of his death today.
George Weston, chief executive of Primark’s parent company, Associated British Foods, said: ‘Arthur Ryan will be remembered as one of the great giants of retailing.
‘When my grandfather, Garfield Weston, and uncle, Galen Weston, recruited Arthur to run Penneys in 1969 with only one store in Dublin, they knew they were hiring an exceptional trader.
‘But what three generations of Westons learned over the following decades was that Arthur was also a great leader and business builder, driven every day by a relentless desire to delight his customers.
Mr Ryan and his wife Alma Carroll are pictured together as his Primark empire grew
Queues are pictured outside Penney’s discount store in Dublin, after the first one opened in the Irish capital in 1969
Penneys is pictured in the same location in Dublin today. The company trades under the name Primark outside Ireland after a legal threat from US firm JC Penney
Arthur Ryan (pictured with his wife Alma Carroll Ryan as he was given an honorary doctorate at Dublin Institute of Technology in 2011, left and with daughter Jessica, right) has died age 83
Mr Ryan was intensely private man, never giving interviews. He is pictured here in an Instagram picture posted by his wife Alma
‘Arthur Ryan made fashion accessible to all and his legacy looms large. He built a phenomenal world-class retailer, the foundations of which will always belong to Ireland.’
Paul Marchant, chief executive of Primark, said: ‘He challenged us all to be the best we can be.
‘His drive and passion was always shown alongside great humility, integrity and support for our people. All of these characteristics remain guiding principles at Primark today.’
He added: ‘Throughout his entire career, Arthur remained deeply connected to the business and the customer, regularly visiting stores and walking the shop floor.
‘His legacy will continue in the business that he founded and built.
‘Those of us who worked closely with him will cherish his friendship and wisdom and he will be hugely missed by all of his Primark family.’
He is survived by his wife Alma Carroll Ryan and their daughter Jessica.