Baroness Detta O'Cathain OBE

Baroness Detta O'Cathain OBE

03.02.1938 - 23.04.2021

Detta was an Irish-born British businesswoman and Conservative politician, the eldest child of Caoimhin and Margaret (née Prior) O’Cathain; born Margaret Mary Detta O’Cathain, she was educated at Loreto Abbey in Dublin, and Laurel Hill Convent in Limerick, before reading Economics at University College Dublin.
Detta started her career as an economist in Aer Lingus where she met William Ernest John Bishop. She married Bill in 1963, and then her work brought her to the U.K where she divided her time between London and Arundel. Bill died in 2001.
Detta O’Cathain held numerous high-profile business positions during a long and prestigious career.
These included working, in her early career, for the Rootes Motor company and Unigate; she later became the Managing Director of both the Milk Marketing Board and the Barbican Centre. She also held Non-Executive Director positions at Tesco, British Airways, French Bank BNP Paribas, Midland Bank, Channel Four, Sears, Allders and many others.
She was made a life peer as Baroness O’Cathain, of The Barbican in the City of London, on 21 June 1991. She served on a number of committees within the House, including the Constitution Committee and the Economic Affairs Committee. She also sat on the European Union Committee, chairing the Sub-Committee on Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment. She was selected to chair the House of Lords inquiry into civil use of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS). She also held posts on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and the High-Speed Rail Bill Select Committee.
Those who knew Detta will remember her as a cultured woman who loved classical music and art with a formidable intellect, and a deep Christian faith who showed leadership and courage in her professional life.
She is sadly missed by her nephews David Sandford Ward & Robin Ward, niece Jennifer O’Cahan, members of Bill’s family, her Goddaughter – Alexandra Stephenson, and her countless friends and associates who held her in such high esteem and valued her friendship dearly.

Rosaamund Greenwood


I will always remember our days out in London with such happiness. She would always have an amazing day out planned for my sister & I. Lots of laughter and very grown up conversations, no subject was off limits. She was also very patient, she foolishly mentioned one day when taking us to tea at Fortnums that they had a special clock, that had rotating figures that came out, we then insisted she wait until the next rotation. Future trips were timed so she did not have to wait outside for half an hour!

Gena Lynam (née MacMahon)


I have lovely memories of my cousin Detta. Our grandmothers were sisters (Mary and Katie Dineen from Rathmore, Co Kerry). Rest in Peace dear Detta.
Gena Lynam (née MacMahon),



With gratitude for happy times in Detta's company.

Kandy Bloom, London


A great woman of God, a woman of integrity and influence, clearly a great ambassador for Irish business woman who gained recognition in the UK in such a time as hers - by serving not only in politics and business but as a great encourager of men and women in the creative arts and social justice. Remembering musical encounters at the Barbican by a hugely dedicated Irish woman of influence. Condolences to her family, friends and so many like-minded men and woman trying to influence others for good.
Kandy Bloom

Paulyn Marrinan-Quinn.


As Detta's career and reputation in the business world, in the U.K soared, I had written to her in 1985 to invite her to participate in a documentary series that I was making, on outstanding Irish women, for Channel Four. By return, I received a polite letter, in her distinguished handwriting, explaining why she was declining.

Later, I was heading to London, one special weekend, with a group of my fellow Irish Barristers - who were members of the Middle Temple, to attend a Dinner there on the Saturday, preceded by a reception at Westminster on the Friday evening: Ireland was playing England at Twickenham on the Saturday .

On an impulse, I called Detta's office, and her P.A - Pam, put me on hold; the next I heard was Detta's voice - friendly and animated; she had recalled my earlier contact with her and, aware that it was a Rugby International weekend, she knew that lots of Irish people would be in London for the Match; I told her the details of my trip; I hoped that we might meet for a drink on the Friday after work. That suited her schedule - she would be in the area, so she would pop into my hotel and she could also drop me off at the House of Commons which would be on her way...

Just before the call ended, I added that I wanted to let her know that it was my intention to try to persuade her to change her mind about participating in the "GENERATIONS" series. In an amused tone, amid peels of laughter, she said there was no chance of that.!

How shall I know you ? she had asked. I shall be in a black suit, have shoulder length brown hair, and need to lose weight.

I was facing the main entrance, eagerly anticipating her arrival; but she had parked her car and come through a side entrance; elegant and smiling, she had leant around the side of my chair discreetly whispering: 'You do not need to lose weight'! So, our first encounter set the tone of what was to become a long and valued friendship .
We chatted about so much; but time was short and, as she drove me towards Westminster, I explained the theme of the series and my aim in hearing prominent women reflect on the influences from their family backgrounds on the shaping of their lives; she would think it over. The following Monday, she had agreed to participate.

We became good friends after filming the series in the Summer of 1986. I spent many memorable weekends with her and her husband - Bill - in London and in their unique home, at that time - The Malthouse - in Arundel.

Of the many happy memories, one seems apt on which to conclude this brief dip into a treasure chest of events and happy recollections. In Detta's flat in Twickenham one day, Bill overheard us talking inside, as he waited for us to join him on the terrace for tea. Detta was showing me a mural she had stencilled on a wall in the kitchen. Bill said: You sounded like a couple of Irish girls chatting in there!' Detta laughed heartily saying: 'Well, that is what we are!'

Picture above of Detta's 50th Birthday - her half century.

Remembered always, Detta - with respect and affection.


Julie Hannaford


Detta, remembering you with very fond memories and our chats and swims. You were truly inspirational to me with all of your achievements, courage and help. Rest in peace now. Love Julie Hannaford xx

Ferga (O'Cathain) Lynch


So sorry to hear of the recent death of my cousin Detta. She had quite an amazing life and career and achieved so much. She was also a very witty and cheerful person to be with.
I knew her best during the first 20 years of her life while she was in Ireland at family gatherings then.
May she RIP.
Ferga (O'Cathain) Lynch.
Co Westmeath.

John.McEntagart. 15 Wellington Lane.Dublin. d04e0k6.


Detta and I were great friends in Dublin, many years ago when we were in our twenties.
I met her many years later on a visit she made to Dublin,
We talked about many things, and I told her I was most impressed with her career.
I always knew she was clever, but she was also great fun.
I never remember a dull minute with Detta.
I am so sorry to learn of her death. May she rest in peace,

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