Born: June 30, 1946
Died: August 20, 2022
The inspirational co-founder of one of Ireland’s most successful Irish chocolate manufacturers, Connie Doody (nee Commins), has died following a short illness.
Together with former senator Mary White, Doody set up Lir Chocolates in 1986, building the company into an internationally renowned chocolate maker winning awards for their high quality produce.
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Widely acknowledged as a remarkable businesswoman and great food innovator, Doody began making hand-decorated chocolates in her kitchen with a hand mixer and a microwave to melt the chocolate. Her aim from the start was to create a range of handmade luxury chocolates using the finest natural ingredients.
Lir’s master chocolatier, Patricia Brady, who joined the business in 1987, was the third employee. At the time, it was relatively rare to see an Irish manufacturing business dominated by women at all levels but Doody said the trio didn’t face any discrimination.
In a 2017 interview, she said: “There was a bit of a drive on then for women in business but we didn’t see it as relevant, really. We weren’t trying to be women in business, we were just trying to set up a business.”
She had met Mary White at Dundrum for Success, a group creating employment in the recessionary 1980s. “We had chats about chocolates and Mary decided to give up her permanent and pensionable job in architecture to join me. I was 40 by the time we started (but) I was totally determined that I would do it,” she said.
The pair started making truffles in Doody’s home in the Dublin suburb of Dundrum. Her son, Richard, who was eight – and his sisters 10 and 12 – when their mother started the business says that the family was very involved in the early days. “I remember my sisters packing and selling the chocolates in Superquinn in Blackrock. And my dad, who was an electrical engineer with the ESB, designed some of the early machinery for making the chocolates,” he explains.
An initial move to a premises in Dublin’s East Wall in 1987 was followed in 2004 by a move to Lir Chocolates’ current location in Navan, Co Meath. The business won the contract to produce Baileys chocolates for the European market in 1997 and Guinness chocolates for the worldwide market in 2012. It also gained a strong presence in the market for creating own-brand chocolates for supermarket chains in Ireland and the UK. In 2015, it expanded into two premises and currently employs about 250 staff.
In 2007, UK-based chocolate maker Zetar bought the company and Zetar was later taken over by Germany food giant Zertus. At the time, Doody and White – who had been elected to the Seanad in 2002 – were happy to take lesser roles in the business. “It was the right step at the time. Mary and I were still board members. We managed to maintain our independence and we got money to help with production and a warehouse,” she explained.
Connie Commins was born, the youngest of three daughters to Martin and Bridget Teresa Commins, who were farmers in Frenchpark, Co Roscommon. She won a scholarship to board at the Convent of Mercy secondary school in Roscommon and became head girl in her final year.
After her Leaving Certificate, she got a job as an executive officer in the civil service at the Department of Posts and Telegraphs (now An Post). She studied for her bachelor of commerce degree by night and graduated with honours in 1971. That same year, she married Richard Doody but due to the marriage bar (the ban on the employment of married women in state jobs was only lifted in 1973) she had to leave her job.
Richard Doody worked for the ESB in various power generation plants, which resulted in the family’s moving from Goatstown in Dublin to Athlone, Co Westmeath, and Ennis, Co Clare, before returning to settle in Dundrum.
Back in Dublin, Doody returned to teach in the public service for a year before the birth of her first child, after which she was a full-time mother until she started her business in 1986.
Doody continued to work in the business into her 70s, thinking up new recipes and chocolate varieties. Highly driven and hard-working, she only retired fully from the business in June 2020. Her husband Richard (Dick) died in 2005.
An approachable woman with an infectious smile, Doody was well respected by her employees. “She had time for everyone. She always remembered people’s family members and asked about them and talked about her own family,” says Mary O’Rourke, head of product development and innovation at Lir chocolates.
A brilliant cook and good host, Doody regularly held gatherings in her home and particularly enjoyed her latter years in the new home she had built on the site of the family home, which also accommodated a second house for her daughter Sarah and her family.
Connie Doody (nee Commins) is survived by her children, Sarah, Claire and Richard, her grandchildren, Alison, Thomas, Lucy, Eimear, George, Charlie, Hugo, Saoirse and Alva, her sister Rosarie. She was predeceased by her husband, Dick, and her sister, Mary.