Colin O’Daly obituary: Michelin-star chef, co-founder of Roly’s and painter

In 2009, O’Daly retired from Roly’s Bistro and went on to become a full-time artist

Born: September 23rd, 1952

Died: August 4th, 2023

Colin O’Daly, the Michelin-star chef, co-founder of Roly’s Bistro in Ballsbridge, Dublin and latterly well-regarded painter, died aged 70 last week, following a short illness.

At a time when there was only a handful of restaurants with Michelin stars in Ireland, O’Daly brought fame and fortune to the Francis Brennan-run Park Hotel in Kenmare, Co Kerry, when he won a Michelin star in 1983 within eight months of his arrival as head chef.


In the late 1980s, O’Daly won a Michelin star for his own venture, The Park restaurant in Blackrock, Co Dublin, within three years of its opening. Encouraged by its success, he borrowed heavily to extend the business, renovating a nearby building with lavish interiors. The economic downturn resulted in the bank taking possession of his business, leaving him with enormous debts.

In early 1992, O’Daly found himself signing on the dole but, after a brief spell living in Connemara, Patrick Campbell of Campbell Catering gave him a job cooking traditional Irish breakfasts and rewriting the manuals for Bewley’s cafes. Within 12 months, his career took off again when he partnered with Roly Saul, John O’Sullivan and John Mulcahy to open the French brasserie-style restaurant in Ballsbridge. Roly’s fast became one of Dublin’s smartest and most popular restaurants, frequented by the cognoscenti of business, arts and political circles.

In 2009, O’Daly retired as head chef at Roly’s, opting to spend a year in Mexico painting before returning to Ireland to become a full-time artist, working as a culinary consultant on the side. “I realised that I was going too fast and if I didn’t stop work, I would have been dead six months later… I left when the party was at its height,” he said in an interview in 2021.

Although not fitting the stereotype of the flamboyant and volatile chef, O’Daly was ambitious and driven in his culinary career. In interviews, he admitted to having a “wicked sense of humour” and a “mad streak” but it was his sheer determination and long hours of hard work that led to his success. “He had a great passion, love and respect for food. There were no tantrums and cross words in the kitchen. He was also a great mentor to young chefs. In my 43 years of restaurant life, I have never seen any chef who could train junior chefs like him,” said Roly Saul.

The second eldest of five children of Paddy and Rita O’Daly, Colin grew up initially in the grounds of Dublin Airport where his father worked in the aviation industry. His elder sister, Anna, was killed in a car crash at the age of seven when Colin (aged 6) was holding her hand as they crossed a quiet country road near Dublin Airport. The family later moved to Glasnevin to be closer to schools for their children. But O’Daly was a sickly child and missed out on a lot of his education at the Catholic University School in Leeson Street.

With few options open to him, he trained as a chef – getting his first job at the Dublin Airport restaurant then one of the best in Ireland – at the age of 16. While there, he won a gold medal for his beef Wellington at the 1971 catering exhibition in Dublin’s Liberty Hall.

Following his six years training as a commis chef, he went to work at the prestigious Ashford Castle in Cong, Co Mayo. However, due to ill-health, he returned to Dublin and did several short stints at the Clarence Hotel, The Crofton Hotel and the restaurant at University College Dublin, where he met his future wife, Lynn Nagle, then a social sciences student working in the restaurant part-time.

The couple got married and moved to Co Galway where O’Daly took his first job as head chef at Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara. Family life was difficult as all three sons suffered from a rare genetic condition similar to cystic fibrosis. To be closer to medical specialists, the family moved back to Dublin for a time.

O’Daly later returned to the west of Ireland, this time to work at Newport House, a country-house-style hotel in Co Mayo before getting his big break as head chef at the Park Hotel in Kenmare.

After a few years in Kenmare, the family returned again to Dublin during which time their son, Stephen, died aged three. While looking for a family home to live in, O’Daly spotted and bought a rundown restaurant in Blackrock. With borrowings from the bank, he opened The Park restaurant within weeks, building up a steady clientele of high-end diners.

However, the Michelin star he achieved for the restaurant couldn’t compete with the economic crises of the late 1980s and the bank foreclosed his businesses. His marriage also came to an end during this time and friends rallied round to help him through one of the most difficult periods of his life.

His friend Catherine Byrne said that O’Daly had an indomitable ethereal spirit, which allowed him to see the positive side of even the darkest moments. “He suffered great losses but he was a true survivor. He had a colourful life which was punctuated by great achievements and setbacks but, throughout all of this, he remained gentle, witty, talented and kind.”

Having reached a deal with the bank to pay off a fraction of his debts over seven years, O’Daly became head chef at Roly’s Bistro in Ballsbridge in 1992. He later held stakes in this restaurant and its sister restaurant in Palm Beach in Florida, where he also worked for a time. His second son, Conor, died in 1999, aged 12. And, in 2002, O’Daly ran a Babette’s Feast-style fundraiser (a reference to the 1987 Danish film) in the Guinness Storehouse, raising over €100,000 for Crumlin Children’s Hospital.

Reflecting on his life in an interview in 2002, he said: “You lose a whole space in your life when you have to struggle. Drugs [for the boys’ condition] were very expensive but also I was being successful and when you were home you were asleep and you weren’t good to be with. I was wired to the mains.”

In his 50s, O’Daly began painting more seriously, nurturing a love of art which had been passed on to him from his grandfather, Patrick Hickey, who lectured at the National Gallery. He quickly established himself as a painter of abstract landscapes and urban interiors with exhibitions in places including Gormley’s Fine Art Gallery, Dublin.

In 2016, he left Dublin to visit a friend in Bantry, Co Cork, and never really returned to the capital. In the last number of years, he shared his life and his studio with his partner, Sarah Falla, a painter originally from Guernsey who moved to live with O’Daly in west Cork in 2020.

His long-time close friend Leo Hallissey said that he was happy in his last years. “Colin was a man of great intensity. He suffered from a lot of serious health issues which he overcame with courage. He swam with sharks and survived. He was happy and reasonable healthy in his final years. It was a chance for him to be himself, to relax and paint every day. He never lost his sense of mischief and wonder,” said Hallissey.

Colin O’Daly is survived by his partner Sarah; his daughter Anna; his son Owen; his grandchildren, Harry and Alfie; his brother Ronan and sisters, Gemma and Angela. His sons, Stephen and Conor, predeceased him.