Denis Lynn takes one last tour of his business empire before being laid to rest - Finnebrogue Artisan founder and chairman died in tragic accident

Family, colleagues and friends have paid tribute to Downpatrick entrepreneur Denis Lynn in a final celebration of his life on his Finnebrogue Estate today.

Friday, 7th May 2021, 1:50 pm
Updated Friday, 7th May 2021, 8:51 pm

Mr Lynn, 63, died in a tragic quad bike accident at his home on Finnebrogue Estate on Sunday night, prompting tributes from across NI.

During a celebration of his life in his newly built massive pool house on his estate today, his siblings told tales of the early signs of his entrepreneurial mind and love of animals, including breeding hamsters and chickens for sale, and doubling his pocket money by telling his father he had lost his sixpence, when he had simply hidden it.

Mourners were also told how he came second in Northern Ireland in his 11+, and although he left school at 15 with no qualifications, his early talent for managing his siblings, disregard for rules and convention, high intelligence and personal drive would later see him regarded as the “big brother” of the family and chairman of his own food empire, employing 1000 people and with a £100 million turnover.

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Family and friends clap along to the music in celebration of the life of Denis Lynn as his remains are taken on one last tour of his business empire in Co Down today.

A young granddaughter who called him ‘Papa D’ said he was “shockingly brave and encouraged us to be brave too”.

She spoke of how he loved to go on long walks with them and how he let her steer his boat - which she almost crashed.

“He was such an amazing person and every time I saw him I knew I was going on another adventure,” she said. “I think he liked being with us because he could get away with not acting his age.  He was like a 63-year-old teenager. He will  not be easily forgotten and all of us here will carry his legacy for the rest of our days.”

One of his daughters, paying tribute, added: “I know your dad died when you were 15 years old and that changed your life forever. But you channelled this sadness into success. And we will try and do the same for you.”

Denis Lynn's wife Christine (in dark blue) and family look on as his remains are carried out of the celebration event for his life in a wicker coffin.

Business colleagues also told how Marks & Spencers - one of his business partners - is to hold a special seminar in London next week about “how we can be more like Denis Lynn”.

A phrase repeated throughout the occasion was that he “never knew when he was beaten”.

Mourners heard how in later years he said: “I want to change the world through food”.

Many charities have paid tribute to his generosity since his death.

Founder and chairman of Finnebrogue Artisan Denis Lynn takes takes HRH the Prince of Wales on a tour of his business. Photo by Aaron McCracken

Mourners heard today how he would be reduced to tears at the plight of children in Malawi when he was visiting a hospital that he supported there.

Several of his daughters paid tearful tribute to their father, noting that while he lost his father when he was only 15 - an experience they said drove him to succeed - they now found themselves following in his footsteps and would aim to do him proud.

As his wicker casket was carried from the building, a public address system broadcast the upbeat song ‘When I get to heaven’ by American folk singer John Brine.

As the music picked up outside, his wife Christine led others following the coffin in singing and clapping along to the music in celebration of his life.

Denis Lynn, Chairman of renowned Downpatrick food company Finnebrogue Artisan. Photo by Aaron McCracken

Mourners were told his remains would be taken on one last tour of his factories to ensure everything was being managed correctly, before he would be laid to rest on the estate.

:: Jago Pearson, Chief Strategy Officer of Finnebrogue Artisan, gave the following eulogy today;-

“Denis used to say there are different types of people in this world. Some have integrity. Others have intelligence. There are those with an abundance of energy. Too few have all three. And even fewer have a crystallised view of right or wrong. Of purpose. Of meaning. Of reason for being.

Denis Lynn was not like the rest of us. There was nobody who had more of all these qualities than him.

Denis wanted to change the world, and he wanted it done yesterday.

And while his premature passing leaves a long list of things he still wanted to achieve; his list of accomplishments are long and they are exceptional.

Ian Murphy of Invest NI presents Denis Lynn with the Food and Drink Award at the Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards in 2015.

From pioneering a new French fry in the early days to transforming the way we farm deer, from making the UK’s finest sausage to developing revolutionary nitrite-free bacon – and more recently the biggest food evolution of them all, making plant-based the best it can be possibly be, all without being bound by the way it’s always been done.

The job creation. The investment. He put this rural corner of Northern Ireland on the map.

But above all, Denis just loved making new products. He spoke of literally hearing music in his mouth when he ate and was developing food. He had a gift for identifying what was happening to the structure, succulence and flavour and articulating it in a way nobody else could.

But he was more than just the builder of a business or producer of groundbreaking new creations.

He was a visionary with an infectious passion for delivering positive change for the planet and its people.

He eradicated childhood malaria deaths in an entire district of southern Malawi. He supported the work of Cancer Fund for Children. He led efforts to eradicate school holiday hunger long before it was fashionable. He did so much more that went unseen.

The other month he sent me one of his late night texts. It was a quote, and it read:

‘Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.’

Denis certainly lived alright. He lived in the present, he took risks, he made mistakes and he enjoyed himself. He was human and he was a genius.

For some, he was a difficult man to work for. He spotted blaggers a mile off. He had no time for laziness or for lack of ambition. If someone spun him a yarn he would call them out - and he’d often show them the door.

When I started working with Denis I suggested it may be wise for us to clean up his single foray onto social media; that being his LinkedIn entry. After all, I was his communications adviser.

The entry for education on his profile read…. School: Sullivan Upper.

Field of Study: Looking out the window

List of activities and societies: Drink, girls, climbing trees, avoiding idiots, avoiding people who want to beat you up, avoiding people who want to know your religion and then beat you up, trying to pull women at discos without ever having to dance, driving cars just within my limits with no legal right to do so, avoiding listening to the noise that told us to hate or fear a long list of people, including prods, Brits, free staters, Argies, Ruskies. Oh and more drink.

His sign off? Sullivan in the 70s was an awful school...

Well, that told him. And in turn Denis told me it was not to be deleted, no matter the potential reputational risk to him or the business.

Denis called a spade a spade. His loyalty to those who were loyal to him was total and it was unwavering.

And his mission was delivering a better world for Christine, his children and his grandchildren – all of whom he adored.

His mission is now Finnebrogue’s mission.

Because for the Finnebrogue team he put together, all chosen by him personally, he was our founder, leader and inspiration.

We will miss the gin & tonic fuelled brainwaves.

We will miss the deep conversations about the meaning of life.

We will miss the times he gave us his opinion, and after some persuasion secured our agreement… only to start arguing the polar opposite case within seconds of us coming round to his thinking.

There will, of course, be a few that won’t miss Denis. I’m thinking of the planning officers at the district council.

Last year, amidst a global pandemic, he built Europe’s largest plant-based food factory on land he did not own, with money he did not have and with planning permission that had not yet been granted.

Somehow, he had a sixth sense that he was running out of time. And he lived every day as if it were his last.

The tragedy of Denis’s premature passing is he won’t see his latest ambitions realised. It does not escape me or my Finnebrogue colleagues that the responsibility now lies with us to fulfil Denis’s dreams.

That does not just simply mean continuing to grow Finnebrogue. The ambition was never to build a multi billion pound business.

The reason Denis got up every morning was to deliver real and lasting change, to build a more sustainable planet and a better future for its people. He did this through food. We will do it by realising his ambition and delivering on his vision.

So Denis, thank you for the opportunities, your wisdom, your zest for life, your integrity, your undying sense of right and wrong. Above all, thank you on behalf of us all for your friendship.

It has been our honour to have known you and to have worked with you.

We hope we can do you proud.

And before I invite reflections on your life from your children, your siblings and your friends, I suppose all that’s left to be said from me is, in your own words…

Good luck, cheers, bye.”

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