Kildare is set to have a new Senator, after Mary Ann O’Brien, the founder of Lily O’Brien chocolates and the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation, was appointed to the Seanad by Taoiseach Enda Kenny over the weekend.
A niece of the late horse trainer Vincent O’Brien, she is one of the most widely recognised and successful Irish female entrepreneurs.
After working in the horse-racing industry at home and abroad for a number of years, Ms. O’Brien discovered the whole world of making chocolate on a trip to South Africa in 1993.
By 1995 she had founded Lily O’Brien’s - named after her daughter - with 10 employees.
With contracts from Aer Lingus, British Airways, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s it wasn’t long before the comapany was well on its way to becoming the commercial success it is today.
It now has 120 full time and 100 contract staff at busy times of the year and had a turnover of more than E20 million last year.
She was named Image Business Woman of the Year in 2007 and the company, which exports 80% of what it produces, has also won several awards.
The other side of Senator O’Brien’s life is the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation, set up following the death of her son Jack who died when he was only 22 months old.
O’Brien and her husband Jonathan Irwin decided to help other couples in similar situations, and established the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation, a charity which employs six full-time nurses.
To date, they raised E13m to help more than 1,200 families, operating out of a small office in Johnstown.
Senator O’Brien is the first member of the Seanad from Kildare since John Dardis left in 2007.