ST PATRICK'S DAY SPECIAL: The top five Irish entrepreneurs

Smarta has cast its gaze over the Emerald Isle to bring you a list of the top entrepreneurs in Ireland. Here's our shortlist:

Michael O'Leary

First up, the one and only Michael O'Leary. Known as "Oh Really" to the business press, the Ryanair boss is one of the most prominent figures in the aviation industry, famed for his wacky strategies to squeeze extra pennies out of passengers on his low-cost airline.

This is the man behind the axed 'standing cabins' and the 'pay to pee' concept, which proposed charging flyers to use airline toilets. The man who purchased a taxi plate for his Mercedes-Benz so that he could legally whizz down Dublin's bus lanes and avoid traffic jams. The list goes on.

Nonetheless, O'Leary has grown Ryanair from a tiny regional airline into an aviation giant with 7,000 employees, flying 1,100 routes to 155 airports in 26 countries with a market cap of over £7bn.

Michael Dawson

Dublin-based entrepreneur Michael Dawson founded The Gift Voucher Shop (GVS) in 2002. His start-up journey was beset with challenges: Fundraising post 9/11 was a nightmare and the Irish entrepreneur only  secured £800,000 of the £1m he needed to get off the ground. "We were never cash-rich," he says. The USP of this voucher business: Dawson introduced a brand new voucher concept, the One4All, which can be spent in some 4,500 different stores on the high street. For indecisive shoppers, the One4All is a magic bullet, but they've also been a huge hit with corporates looking to reward staff.

Nearly a decade on, GVS is Ireland's leading supplier of gift cards and gift vouchers with 4,500 One4all outlets in Ireland and over 17,000 across the UK and, recently, Malta.

Niall Donnelly

Niall Donnelly is the boss of Arrogant LLC, the brash-named firm behind a portfolio of ten nightclubs and bars in Hollywood and London. The business has seen phenomenal growth despite the recession, opening the first-ever US Rolling Stone magazine venue in February this year in Hollywood.

Donnelly has also dipped his toe into the e-commerce market, launching, the 'Groupon for nightlife' in January 2011. Donnelly has been cited as one of the "100 Greatest Self-Made Irish Entrepreneurs" by Irish Entrepreneur Magazine, as well as topping the list of Top 10 Irish Entrepreneurs to Watch Worldwide in the Irish Times.

Anthony O'Reilly

Sportsman-turned-entrepreneur Tony O'Reilly is credited with being Ireland's first billionaire. Between 1955 and 1977, O'Reilly won 29 caps playing rugby for England. His career took a new bent when he began consulting in the early sixties. In 1962, Anthony O'Reilly developed the Kerrygold butter brand for the Irish Dairy Board.

In 1987, O'Reilly became the chairman of Heinz, building the international corporation into an £11bn brand. Following a corporate career, O'Reilly decided to dabble with media, buying into Dublin-based Independent News and Media (INM) in 1973. O'Reilly retains 28% of the firm, which currently boasts over 200 newspaper and magazine titles, including The Independent. Fellow Irish entrepreneur Denis O'Brien is also shareholder in INM, controlling the majority stake. O'Reilly was knighted in 2001 for services to Northern Ireland.

Ulick McEvaddy

Ulick McEvaddy keeps his powder very dry. A former Irish intelligence officer who learned to speak Russian while manning 'the Russian desk', he founded Omega Air Inc, based in Washington, in 1984. McEvaddy runs the aircraft sale and leasing business with his brother Desmond McEvaddy. The firm is now one of the biggest traders for Boeing 707 worldwide and has branched into parts, repair and refuelling.

The US defence industry is Omega's prime customer, but the McEvaddy brothers have also branched out into real estate, investing in the €600 million Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport development project that includes a hotel, conference centre and retail ventures on 160 acres of land.

Is there an Irish entrepreneur that merits a mention but has been sadly omitted? Let us know below. The Top five Irish entrepreneurs II will go live later this afternoon, in celebration of St Paddy's Day.

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