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Obituary: Willie Coonan

Property agent was shy in private but outgoing in business, writes Jerome Reilly


Networker: Willie Coonan

Networker: Willie Coonan

Networker: Willie Coonan

Willie Coonan built a blue-chip property agency off the cuff. As an aide memoire, Willie J wrote notes on the back of his hand. By the end of the day, the left hand of this natural-born networker was inky blue with names and phone numbers.

With no more space on the flesh, the immaculately laundered double cuff took more memos. Before retiring to bed, the reminders were transcribed on to yellow Post-it stickers. And they would form the basis of the next day's work, setting up deals and selling property.

When Willie said he would "get back to you" he meant it. Every square inch of his desk was covered in hundreds of Post-its, as was the car dashboard and speedometer. The little notes were the making of a successful and respected commercial and residential real estate business.

In 1961, Willie Coonan, then 18, joined the family business established in 1892 by his grandfather, Edward A Coonan. Willie's father Billy died young and he served his apprenticeship under his widowed mother Eileen, who took over the reins of the business.

Based in Maynooth, Coonan's already had a reputation for selling prime farmland in north Kildare and south Meath when Willie took the helm in 1978. He worked incredibly hard, establishing a reputation as an expert in the area of stud farm valuations and sales. He was directly involved in the sale of more than 60 stud farms and properties including Ireland's first £1m farm, Bushfield, near Castledermot. The sale hit the headlines in the late 1970s and a report captured the excitement as Willie, with gavel in hand, took the competing bids. "It was similar to hearing that Roger Bannister had run a mile in less than four minutes. For Willie Coonan who is the fourth generation of his family in the auctioneering business it was a great personal triumph. His brilliance was in taking the £1m bid in his stride and fighting for every last penny of the remaining £183,000," the Irish Independent report stated.

Willie loved the romance of property and the white-hot heat of a high-octane auction, yet privately he was shy, quietly spoken, easy going, with impeccable manners and a gentle chivalry. But business allowed him to find an outgoing personality. He was at the heart of the sales of Carton House Hotel, Maynooth; Humewood Castle, Wicklow; Greenmount, Limerick (now Limerick Racecourse); Ballymacol Stud, Dunboyne; Dollys Grove, Dunboyne; Castlesize, Sallins; Ballymaglassan Stud, Batterstown; Ballysheehan Stud, Cashel; Baroda Stud, Newbridge and Derrinstown Stud. Willie's son, Will, has headed the company in recent years with business partner Philip Byrne. But Willie remained involved daily as a consultant until his death at home last week, aged 76. He died peacefully in his sleep from a suspected heart attack. Willie is survived by his wife Mary and children Will, Sally and Lisa, sons- and daughters-in-law, seven grandchildren and brother, Eddie, and sister, Marie.

A private funeral has taken place but a public celebration will be announced later.

Sunday Independent