Tributes flow in for the late Jonathan Irwin, co-founder of The Jack and Jill Foundation

by Rose Barrett
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Yesterday saw the announcement of the sad passing of Jonathan Irwin, described as the “wonderful brave and kind founder of the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation.” Aged 82, Jonathan died on Sunday morning after a short illness.

The charity wrote online “Jonathan has led a wonderful life that has touched and supported so many families and he never tired of helping others, right up until the end.” Survived by his wife Mary Ann O’Brien (former Senator and the inspiration behind Lily O’Brien’s) and six children, he was sadly predeceased by three sons. Jonathan turned his grief and his vision into support for others. “What else can I do?” he’d often say.

That vision became a reality of a home nursing care model in his son Jack’s name that has supported almost 3,000 children here over the last 26 years and counting, without any means test, red tape or waiting list. 

“Jonathan was our Chief Fundraiser, our Chief Ambassador, who had true grit, charm and compassion in spades,” wrote the charity. 

“He was charisma personified. From an Anglo-Irish background of actors and academics, this Eton educated, Trinity drop-out had what he himself called “a glittering career” in several roles. Bloodstock agent, auction house boss, announcer, publisher, racecourse executive and more. He worked for BBA Ireland, The Turf Club and Goffs – where he dreamt up and introduced the Cartier Million, Europe’s Richest race and the first IR£1m sports event in Europe.”

Goffs stated he had been appointed MD of the company in 1975, aged only 33, and led the business over the following progressive 15 years. “European records were regularly established, with the first sale setting the trend through Be My Guest (IR127,000 guineas) being followed nine years later by a Shergar colt realising IR3,100,000 guineas (the equivalent of €4.2 m today), an Irish auction record that stood for 39 years.”  He introduced The Cartier Million during his tenure, and was also MD at Phoenix Park during the O’Brien/Sangster period and a director at BBA Ireland.

Described by Goff’s Chair, Eimear Mulhern as a “Titan of the bloodstock industry”, Goffs will observe a minute’s silence at 11am on Monday, ahead of the Goffs December National Hunt Sale.

“He was also involved in Dublin International Sports Council and the Special Olympics and, more recently, the ‘Horses of Hope’ Equine Centre at Castlerea Prison. However, none of these roles, he said, was more challenging or rewarding than his role with Jack & Jill, where he advocated on behalf of family carers with all his might,” noted Jack & Jill. 

“Jonathan won many awards over the years including Irish and Global Fundraiser of the Year, PR Excellence Award, a People of the Year Award and he was made Fellow of the Faculty of Paediatrics and received a Knighthood of St Lazarus. But, for this brilliant storyteller, the best reward was the feedback from the families about the difference that Jack & Jill made.”

Rare Ireland wrote “Jonathan turned the grief of his family into a way of bringing comfort and support to thousands of Irish families. Our sincerest sympathies go to Jonathan’s family, friends and all the staff and volunteers at Jack & Jill. His legacy will live on through the amazing charity founded in his son Jack’s name,”

The Jack & Jill Foundation concluded “Never one to retire, he always stayed in touch, and we were very glad to have him at our recent staff Strategy Day in Kilkenny where he received a standing ovation. When the shock waves subside a little, we will share our memories of Jonathan and the many tributes already rolling in.

“He was unique articulate, charismatic, debonair, persuasive, driven, imaginative, flamboyant; a true one-off and the ultimate showman. The late Jonathan Irwin, June 21, 1941 – December 10, 2023

May He Rest in Peace

Photo Facebook Jack & Jill Foundation

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