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Tough start Tipperary millionaire tells how he had no running water in his home growing up

Plucky Declan is now worth hundreds of millions of euro thanks to a hugely successful American public relations company he co-founded.


Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy with Declan Kelly

Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy with Declan Kelly

Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy with Declan Kelly

Tipperary GAA sponsor Declan Kelly - brother of Labour leader Alan Kelly - reveals that his parents were so poor when he was growing up that he sold potatoes by the side of the road to make ends meet.

Plucky Declan is now worth hundreds of millions of euro thanks to a hugely successful American public relations company he co-founded.

But he has never forgotten the dedication of his brave parents Tom and Nan, who did everything they could to propel their children to fame and fortune despite their humble roots.

"When I grew up in Ireland, my family was very poor," he confesses. "Both of my parents left school at 12 years of age and each had to work at three jobs every day, just so that our family could survive.

"From the age of five, I was helping my father to sell potatoes by the side of the road. We would go from one village to the next, trying to sell produce that we had grown in the fields. It was very tough for us as a family living from day to day. It was not until I was seven that we actually had running water.

"On one occasion, our house was burned to the ground and I ended up living with my grandmother for a year while my father built a new house with his bare hands."


Declan with Bill Clinton

Declan with Bill Clinton

Declan with Bill Clinton

Declan (52) makes his remarkable revelations in a new book, A Few Wise Words, a compilation of stories of success from 22 exceptional individuals - including Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry and Clive Woodward - who give their personal insight into what success is, how they got where they are and what they learnt along the way.

His parents Tom and Nan are from Portroe, near Nenagh. Tom was a small dairy farmer but when milk quotas were brought in by the EU in the 1980s he left farming and got a job with the county council as a labourer on the roads.

"My parents were wonderful and totally dedicated to our family," reflects Declan. "Their whole mission in life was to help me and my brother to get educated and go on to university. When you grow up poor, as I did, seeing your parents working so hard all of the time - and when they sit you down every night to tell you that they're doing this for us - it really inspires you.

"I was tremendously impacted by my parents. My mother had the most remarkable, amazing influence on my life, and still has to this day. She has this indefatigable spirit and just wanted to dedicate her entire life to her children. While my brother and I went on to pursue our careers, she has continued to do some extraordinary things, including raising lots of money for charities.

"For me, I had no option but to work very hard at school. I would come home, help my father with the cows and then lock myself away in a room with a table full of books, and study solidly for five hours. My parents would leave me alone, except to feed me, and once I was done, I would go off to bed. I did that almost every day for six or seven years."

He adds: "I will never forget the night when I learned that I had secured my place at university. It was also critically important that I attained the required level of exam results to avoid needing financial support from my parents. I was working that night with my mother in a meat factory.

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"Our job was to clean up the offices and workspaces at the factory.

"I dialled the telephone number of an automated service to hear my results. When we learned that I'd obtained a university place together with full financial aid, I remember just sitting there with my mother in the middle of the floor, just holding each other for 20 minutes and crying, because we both knew the real significance of that moment."

Declan began his career as a cub reporter with local papers before becoming a business journalist.

He drifted into public relations and then co-founded his first PR business in 1999, before moving to the US, where he co-founded Teneo, the hugely successful international consulting company headquartered in New York, where he remains CEO and chairman.

He became friends with Hillary Clinton and helped campaign for her in her presidential election bid. When she was US Secretary of State, Hillary appointed him as economic envoy to Northern Ireland in 2009, and he was highly praised for the contribution he made to the economy there.


Declan with Hillary Clinton

Declan with Hillary Clinton

Declan with Hillary Clinton

Last April he was executive producer of Together at Home, the online fundraising concert to mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic with performers including Elton John and Billie Eilish.

Declan was also famously pictured asleep at the Superbowl in Miami in February, where tiredness from his busy life caught up with him and he nodded off, but the image went viral and made headlines on American TV and papers.

Perhaps one instance perfectly sums up his industriousness.

"When I first went into communications in Ireland, I was a junior guy looking for my first big client," he recalls.

"I read something in a newspaper about a company, so I called up the office of the person who was running a particular project and asked if I could speak to him. His assistant told me that he wasn't there, and she eventually revealed that he was on his way to the airport to fly to a certain place.

"I told her that I'd call him the following day, but instead, I drove to the airport, bought a ticket, saw him on the plane and swapped with somebody so that I could sit beside him for the 45 minute flight. He had no option but to talk to me, and when we got off the plane, he agreed to have dinner with me that evening. That night, I got the business. At that time, it was the largest account I'd won in my entire life."

His company Teneo is valued at €600 million, has clients such as Coca Cola and FIFA, employs over 800 people with 19 offices throughout the world and has Bill Clinton and Tony Blair among its board members.

But Declan has not forgotten his roots and proudly sponsors the Tipperary GAA teams and also owns a house in Portroe, as well as a €16 million mansion in the Hamptons in New York with his wife Julie and their children.

  • A Few Wise Words, edited and compiled by Peter Mukherjee, is out now.

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