O'Flaherty, Stephen (1902–82), motor factor, was born 23 January 1902 in Passage East, Co. Waterford, second son of Patrick O'Flaherty, farmer, of Passage East, Co. Waterford, and Kate O'Flaherty (neé O'Dywer), from Limerick. He was educated at the local national school and the CBS, Youghal, Co. Cork. After leaving school he went to England, where he worked for an engineering firm during the day and studied accountancy at night.
He returned to Ireland during the 1920s and took up a position with the Ford Motor Co. in Cork before moving to Dublin to work for McCairns Motors, where he subsequently became general manager. Shortly after the second world war he left McCairns to form his own company, Motor Manufacturers Ltd. His first break came when he purchased eleven Adler cars, which had been stranded in customs for the duration of the war, and sold them on at a considerable profit. He later became distributor for Overland Jeeps from the USA. American and British cars, such as Ford and Austin, dominated the postwar motor market, and O'Flaherty was determined to find a product that could compete with these. He thus signed (1949) a contract with German motor manufacturers Volkswagen to become the first franchise to assemble and distribute the VW ‘Beetle’ outside Germany. Given the company's associations with the Nazi regime it was a calculated risk, but O'Flaherty believed that, being small and economical, the Beetle was well suited to the Irish market. The cars were assembled at premises on Shelbourne Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin, and in October 1949 O'Flaherty launched the first model at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin.
The Beetle was an instant success and two years later he secured the rights to distribute Volkswagen cars in Britain. He established a separate distribution company, Motor Distributors, and later secured the rights to distribute Mercedes-Benz in both Britain and Ireland. He sold the English distribution rights of both brands to a London firm in the 1950s. By the time his company relinquished the English Volkswagen franchise it had sold more than 72,000 VW Beetles on the Irish market. He later introduced both Toyota and Renault cars to the Irish market. He retired from business in 1965, having become a millionaire from his association with Volkswagen. His sons Nigel and Michael took over the management of his companies. Despite shunning publicity O'Flaherty was occasionally outspoken in his criticism of what he viewed as the inefficiency of big government. On one occasion he suggested that Shannon airport should be offered as headquarters to NATO to generate revenue for the Irish state. The year before he died he was held hostage while celebrating his birthday, and it was reported that the thieves stole £250,000 worth of jewels and a gold bar. He died 13 April 1982 in Dublin and is buried at Dean's Grange cemetery.
He married first Dorothy G. Wilcox; they had two sons, Michael (b. 1932) and Nigel (b. 1937). With his second wife, Tina, he had one son, Ian (b. c.1966). The family lived at Monkstown, Co. Dublin.