John O'Connell (right), co-founder of West Cork Distillers and EY Industry Entrepreneur Of The Year 2020, pictured with EY Partner Frank O'Neill at West Cork Distillers in Skibbereen, Co. Cork. (Picture: Naoise Culhane)

At an annual awards ceremony held virtually for the first time in the history of the EY Industry Entrepreneur Of The Year programme, John O’Connell of West Cork Distillers has been named the Industry Entrepreneur Of The Year.

The prestigious Special Award – presented annually to individuals who have made a significant contribution to life on the island of Ireland through their vision, innovation and commitment to excellence – was fittingly awarded to the front-line staff of both the Health Service Executive (HSE) and An Garda Síochána, whose selfless commitment and contribution helped protect vulnerable members of Irish society during the pandemic. 

The finals event was attended by an audience of more than 2,000 people, collectively the 24 finalists of this year’s programme employ more than 5,000 people and have revenues in excess of €400 million.

Founded in 2008 by three lifelong friends Denis McCarthy, Ger McCarthy and John O’Connell in Union Hall, County Cork in 2008, West Cork Distillers is one of the largest, wholly Irish owned distilleries in Ireland with a distillation capacity of four million litres of pure alcohol.

With distributors across the globe, its award-winning West Cork Irish Whiskey and Garnish Island Gin are now being sold in almost 70 countries.

West Cork Distillers also contract manufactures Irish whiskey for global spirits companies that require an Irish whiskey in their portfolio without investing in a physical distillery.

In addition, they also have an Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) approved co-operative foundation whereby locals from West Cork, and beyond can purchase Irish whiskey for investment purposes.

Matt Cooper of Inflazome – a pioneering biotech company developing breakthrough medicines to help people with debilitating inflammatory diseases – was named EY Emerging Entrepreneur Of The Year™ 2020.

Nicola Mitchell of Life Scientific was named the International and overall winner of the 2020 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. Life Scientific specialises in the development and registration of generic (‘off-patent”) agrochemicals.

The EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ programme is a global recognition programme run in 145 cities in more than 60 countries. When determining the winners, the judges evaluate a number of criteria, including innovation; value creation; strategic direction; financial performance; national and global impact; and the entrepreneur’s contribution to society and industry. 

The 2021 programme will be open for nominations from January 2021. For further information, please visit