Belfast Telegraph

Tyrone school honours ex-pupil McClay who built billion pound firm Galen

By Allan Preston

One of the most respected philanthropists and business leaders in Northern Ireland's history is to receive a posthumous honour from his former school.

Born in Cookstown in 1932, pharmaceutical industrialist Sir Allen McClay founded Northern Ireland's first ever £1bn company, Galen, and a second successful business, Almac Sciences, in 2001, before his death at the age of 77 in 2010.

Now, Cookstown High School is to honour its distinguished past pupil by renaming its old Assembly Hall after him.

The McClay Hall will also have a plaque unveiled by his widow, Lady Heather, on September 7.

When he left Cookstown High School, Sir Allen went on to qualify as a pharmacist in 1953 after completing an apprenticeship at the Belfast College of Technology (now Belfast Metropolitan College).

He founded Galen in 1968, but famously quit in 2001 when the company decided to move the business to the United States.

The very next day, he started a second company, Almac Sciences, close to the Galen site and by using his own wealth saved hundreds of local jobs for workers who became part of what he called "the Almac family".

After receiving an OBE and CBE, in 2006 he was also knighted for his services to business and charity.

His charitable work began seriously in 1997 when he founded the McClay Trust, which supported cancer research.

The trust donated £20m to Queen's University, which has included sponsorship of a PhD at the university's Cancer Research Centre.

The trust also funded the £3.5m McClay Research Centre at the School of Pharmacy which opened in 2002, and contributed money to the building of the new University Library at Queen's, which opened in 2009 and is now named after McClay.

Sir George Bain, a former vice-chancellor at Queen's, has described McClay as "the most significant philanthropist Northern Ireland has ever known".

After his death in 2010, many political and business leaders hailed the huge impact which Sir Allen had made on business and charitable work in Northern Ireland.

In 2010, Arlene Foster, then Enterprise Minister, commented: "Whilst Sir Allen's contribution to the economy was immense, we should remember that, first and foremost, he was both a family man and an inspirational mentor to those who worked for Almac."

The late Martin McGuinness, who was Deputy First Minister at the time, added that Northern Ireland had lost "not only a wonderful businessman but also a true gentleman".

"Sir Allen McClay was perhaps the most successful businessman we have ever produced," he said.

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