Saturday 24 February 2018

Obituary: Aleck Crichton

A dutiful man who steered Ireland's whiskey industry to success, writes Charles Lysaght

FULL LIFE: Battle of Normandy veteran, industrialist and sheep farmer Aleck Crichton with great-grandson Conrad Boyle in 2014. Photo: St John’s College, University of Cambridge
FULL LIFE: Battle of Normandy veteran, industrialist and sheep farmer Aleck Crichton with great-grandson Conrad Boyle in 2014. Photo: St John’s College, University of Cambridge

Charles Lysaght

As grandson and heir of the former leading unionist the Right Honourable Andrew Jameson, head of the Jameson whiskey firm, Aleck Crichton, who has died aged 98, became, as a young man in the 1940s, a major figure in Irish commercial life.

These were testing times for Irish whiskey as it had been displaced after World War I as the market leader in Britain and America by the more ruthless and less law-abiding pedlars of Scotch, who had run the gauntlet during the prohibition years.

In the 1960s, so as to meet the challenge of marketing Irish whiskey abroad, Aleck initiated the merger that brought Jameson, Powers and Cork Distillers together to form Irish Distillers.

Ever dutiful, painstaking and cautious, he became the new company's delegate at the European Economic Community in Brussels, where vital battles about regulation and competition had to be fought.

In export markets, especially the United States, it was the Jameson brand, not the more Irish-sounding Paddy or Powers, that made most impact, even among Irish Americans, a trend maintained since the 1980s when Irish Distillers was absorbed by the French giant Pernod Ricard. That pleased Aleck, who was quite competitive.

Like his grandfather, Aleck joined other captains of Irish business on the Court of the Bank of Ireland. He served his two-year term as governor between 1962 and 1964. A conversation he had with John Leydon of the National Bank opened the way for the merger of the Irish business of the two banks in 1965.

This led to other bank mergers and probably prevented the Irish banks from being swallowed up by foreign predators.

Apart from playing a seminal role in charting the future shape of two important sectors of the Irish economy, Aleck served business in this country selflessly as president of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Post Office Users Council.

What was remarkable about Aleck was that he had a full life both before and after his long business career.

Born Alexander Cochrane Crichton in Dublin on May 9, 1918, he was the son of a medical doctor with a family tradition in the profession going back to Scotsman Sir Alexander Crichton, a pioneer in psychiatry who, around 1800, was Physician in Ordinary to Tsar Alexander I of Russia.

Brought up between the Crichton family home at Beltra in Sligo and England, Aleck himself was educated at Uppingham School in Rutland and King's College Cambridge.

He was commissioned in the Irish Guards at the outbreak of war and was in the second wave of troops to invade Normandy in June 1944.

Two months later, he was wounded by mortar fire in heavy fighting near Caen but returned to serve in Germany at the end of the war before coming home to start his business career in Dublin.

Aleck was a deeply serious man. On his retirement from business in the 1980s, he sold his house in Wellington Road and committed himself to sheep farming at Carrowgarry, Co Sligo.

He contributed quietly and diplomatically to Sligo life as chairman of a Foundation for Sligo Hospital and promoted his beloved chamber music locally - he was an accomplished pianist himself.

Later, he was president of the Yeats Society Council, which hosts the annual Yeats Summer School founded in 1960 and established as a major literary festival under the directorship of Tom Henn, an Anglo-Irish Cambridge academic who was the uncle of Aleck's wife, Joan.

In 2014, Aleck was among the surviving Irishmen conferred with the Legion d'Honneur by the French ambassador in appreciation of their wartime service assisting in the liberation of France.

Very deaf and becoming frail, he did not feel able to make the celebrations in Normandy, but was consoled to be represented by a great-grandson, Conrad, singing in a choir that came from his old university of Cambridge.

Aleck was predeceased by his wife Joan and is survived by his four daughters, Mary, Tania, Barbara and Catherine, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Sunday Independent

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