• Mon. Nov 28th, 2022

Secret life of Primark’s Arthur Ryan amid kidnap fears and family tragedy

Jul 8, 2019

His stores are the most popular high street shops in the world with his empire stretching right around the globe.

But despite founding the hugely successful Primark chain, Arthur Ryan lived a tragic secret life blighted by death, heartache and fears he wold be kidnapped.

The businessman has died aged 83, Primark has confirmed.

Primark boss Paul Marchant said: "Arthur Ryan was a truly gifted retailer and a visionary leader.

"He was a true retail pioneer. He innovated and was never complacent, despite many successes.

"He challenged us all to be the best we can be. 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 believed to have been born in Ireland in 1935, although even this is a closely guarded secret.

Ryan began his career in retail after moving to London.

He started out as a tie buyer for Swan & Edgar but soon moved to fashion wholesaler, Carr & McDonald.

After honing his craft in Britain's capital, Ryan returned to his native Dublin and began work at Dunnes Stores.

Aged just 27, he opened his first Penneys store on Dublin's Mary Sreet in 1962.

Just 12 years later, the model had proved so successful Ryan took his brand global and opened his first shops in Britain.

They were re-named Primark to avoid legal problems with the American chain, JC Penney.

While always a staple on the high street, the store's popularity exploded in 2005 when it bought a huge number of Littlewoods outlets.

This coupled with Primark's close attention to what was on the catwalks – and ability to copy styles for a fraction of the price – cemented it as a shopper's favourite.

It was even affectionately dubbed Primarni – a nod to how closely it followed designer brands.


But while his businesses were flourishing, Ryan was experiencing a very dark time in his private life.

While he still visited stores once a fortight – his life was lived in utmost secrecy.

Few would recognise one of the most influential men in British fashion, who even after stepping down as Primark's chief executive was still its chairman.

He has appeared in just one promotional video for the chain and lived in one of Dublin's best protected homes.

Ryan was rarely seen in public without his team of bodyguards and was said to have been terrified for his safety.

His concerns were not entirely unfounded.

At the height of Northern Ireland's Troubles, Irish retail magnates were often targets for the IRA.

Ben Dunne, a department store boss, was even snatched by the terror organisation in 1981.

But even after the Troubles ended, Ryna's preoccupation with safety and anonimity did not.


He was rarely seen out in public wthout a disguise, even though he was said to be the life and soul of the party when he was with his friends.

And even though he had a retail career spanning almost more than 60 years, the first tme he was photographed and spoke in public was at the Retail Week awards back in 2010, where he was honoured with the lifetime achievement award.

Very little is known about his private life.

Married to former entertainer, Alma Carroll, the couple had one daughter, Jess Ryan.

The retail boss, who is arguably more successful than Philip Green, also had four children from a previous marriage.

Ryan's life has also been blighted by unimaginable tragedy.

His son Barry and grandson Barry Davis, 20, drowned after they were pulled out to sea by a freak wave.

They had been fishing with Barry Jnr's girlfriend Niamh O'Connor, who also lost her life, at Baltimore rocks in West Cork.

The young couple were swept out to sea by the wave and Barry dived in to help them but got caught up in it too.

Barry's daughter Charlotte, then 14, witnessed the whole thing and spoke at their inquest about running to find help but coming back to discover they had all died.

She said: "Niamh was screaming. My dad told me to keep going. He swam out to Niamh. I thought as I was walking up the hill that they would be okay and I was making a big deal of it.

"I saw Barry was going backwards to the other side. Niamh and my dad were closer. I couldn't see Barry. I started to panic."

Two tourists who heard her cries for help called 999 but despite the fact the Baltimore Lifeboat crew were on the scene in less than 10 minutes it was too late to save Niamh and Barry Snr, whose bodies were found floating close to where they went in.

More than 80 divers, most of who were volunteers, spent days trying to find Barry Davis. His body was found 10 days later.

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