Irish Builder Inherits £330 Million Fortune from Opium Trader Cousin

Denis Patrick McCarthy inherited £5 million (approximately £330 million today) from his cousin Charles Robert O'Keeffe, who made his fortune trading opium in India. McCarthy's inheritance, which included landed property and an annual income, made him one of the wealthiest men in the world in 1878.

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Irish Builder Inherits £330 Million Fortune from Opium Trader Cousin

Irish Builder Inherits £330 Million Fortune from Opium Trader Cousin

In 1878, Denis Patrick McCarthy, a builder and architect from Limerick, Ireland, became one of the wealthiest men in the world after inheriting a vast fortune of £5 million (approximately £330 million today) from his cousin, Charles Robert O'Keeffe. O'Keeffe, an Irishman who made his wealth trading opium in India, died intestate and unmarried in 1876.

Why this matters: This story highlights the significant impact of theopium trade on the global economy during the 19th century, demonstrating how it created vast fortunes for individuals involved. The inheritance of such a massive sum also underscores the importance of proper estate planning and the potential consequences of dying intestate.

Following O'Keeffe's death, his solicitors placed notices in the international press to locate potential heirs. Over 175 applicants made claims on the estate. McCarthy, born in Cork, had corresponded with O'Keeffe and produced evidence of their letters, ultimately securing the majority of the inheritance.

In a letter to McCarthy, O'Keeffe had previously stated, "I cannot estimate the exact amount of money I am worth." The fortune McCarthy inherited included not only the £5 million sum but also an additional annual income of £150,000 in landed property.

GA Stanley of New Square, Lincoln Inn, informed McCarthy of his windfall, writing, "I am directed to inform you that the first instalment of the O'Keeffe legacy has come to hand in your favour for £500,000." A small portion of the estate was allotted to McCarthy's brothers, with the Crown deciding the distribution.

McCarthy, a successful businessman in his own right, had married Ellen McNamara from Thurles in 1869, and the couple had eight children. His business address was on Cecil Street, while his home, known as The Cottage, was located on Barrington Street. In 1878, McCarthy built Barrington Terrace, which was later demolished and rebuilt.

The inheritance of Charles Robert O'Keeffe's immense fortune, amassed through opium trading in India, propelled Denis Patrick McCarthy to the ranks of the world's wealthiest individuals in 1878. The Limerick-based builder and architect's life was forever changed by this unexpected windfall from his cousin, showcasing the far-reaching impact of the opium trade during the 19th century.

Key Takeaways

  • Denis Patrick McCarthy inherited £5 million (≈ £330 million today) from cousin Charles Robert O'Keeffe in 1878.
  • O'Keeffe made his fortune trading opium in India and died intestate and unmarried in 1876.
  • McCarthy's inheritance included £5 million and an annual income of £150,000 from landed property.
  • Over 175 applicants claimed the estate, but McCarthy produced evidence of correspondence with O'Keeffe to secure the majority.
  • The inheritance made McCarthy one of the wealthiest men in the world in 1878.