Obituary: Noel Mulcahy

Former Senator who was also influential university academic, writes Liam Collins

Expertise: Noel Mulcahy

In an unpublished memoir, Senator Noel Mulcahy recalled how he was walking down Merrion Street with Charlie Haughey in 1981, when he broached the subject of being added to the 'ticket' in North-Dublin. He had already moved house from Dalkey to Sutton and was a member of Haughey's 'Strategy Committee' at the time.

But, instead of encouragement, 'The Boss' turned on him with such ferocity that passers-by recoiled at the language he used - and effectively that moment ended his political ambitions and he returned to the world of public affairs and academia for the rest of his life.

But he did have the satisfaction, later, of seeing his one-time leader involved in a heated row with his then mistress Terry Keane in The Druid restaurant in Dalkey, and marvelled at how the Taoiseach's sometimes very public private life never featured in the media.

Noel Mulcahy, who died last Thursday aged 88, was the son of an IRA man who grew up in the Garryowen area of Limerick as the new Irish Free State was coming into being. With his father, he used to walk around the new housing estates springing up around the city and marvel at the building of the Ardnacrusha Dam.

"My father would refer to the Earl of Dunraven and Lord Adare as nice people, but powerless in the new State," he said. He grew up in Limerick with all the associations of that city, politics, school, rugby, hurling, training as a singer under Stanley Boyer, father of Brendan of The Hucklebuck fame.

After attending The Crescent in Limerick, he got a scholarship in 1946 to study engineering in UCD, where he got to know a whole circle of people who would become influential in business and politics.

During the summers, he worked as a labourer on the rural electrifications scheme and when he qualified "gladly emigrated" to England. "London, of the 1950s, was just as mad as the 60s, there was just less money," he said. He worked for Marconi and took some pleasure, as the son of an IRA man, on working on the wiring of the new Royal yacht that was being built for Queen Elizabeth. In 1955, he returned to Dublin to work in Radio Eireann as it prepared for the launch of a new television service. He shared a house with Noel Lynch, a brother of Jack Lynch who he got to know, and worked on the construction and engineering involved in the Montrose Tower, which still stands in the grounds near Donnybrook to this day.

The broadcaster and folklore collector, Ciaran Mac Mathuna, was best man when he married Caroline, and together, they were part of the city's artistic set, attending concerts, taking part in plays and musicals and attending the Fleadh Cheoil. He performed with Milo O'Shea, sang with Brendan O'Dowda and knew Brendan Behan.

He was nominated to contest the 1977 General Election as a Fianna Fail candidate in Dublin North Central, but despite the party's landslide victory under Jack Lynch, he failed to get a seat. He said he spent too much of his time trying to get something done in the deprived docklands area of the city, instead of concentrating on getting elected.

He was appointed to the Senate where he remained until 1981.

"In the course of five decades from the Forties to the Nineties, I had the advantage of being in a position to observe at first hand dramatic changes in Ireland's development," he would later write. He was also a close advisor to fellow Limerick man, the then Minister for Education Donogh O'Malley, and they breakfasted every Tuesday mornings in the Shelbourne Hotel, where they plotted the introduction of free second-level education, one of the most profound Government decisions of his era.

After a spell in Nashville, working for Standard Processed Steel, he had returned to set up the American corporation's new plant in the Shannon Free Airport Zone.

He later became a specialist at the Irish Management Institute in Sandyford, Dublin and Deputy Director General of the organisation, then at the peak of its powers and influence.

He was also appointed by the Fianna Fail government to the RTE Authority, and was among those sacked when it broadcast a Kevin O'Kelly interview with IRA Chief of Staff, Sean MacStiofain, although his friend, the then Minister for Communications Gerry Collins told him over dinner at his house in Dalkey the night before that he was for the chop.

He was also appointed a director of the McInerney Property's construction group - which gave him some satisfaction, because as a young man, one of his first jobs was as a Clerk of Works with the firm, working with Dan McInerney on a new housing project in Limerick.

After a 20-year career with the IMI, instead of slipping into retirement, he became Dean of Engineering and Science at the University of Limerick. He moved back to live in Co Clare, spending the next 14 years as an academic and administrator, becoming Executive Vice-President of UL and Deputy Chairman of the Governing Body.

"Now in his 70s, he is still bursting with ideas," wrote a business journalist some years ago. He was then involved in a project aimed at turning waves and sea currents into energy. He was also a member of the Forum for Europe and helped to lead a successful campaign to have the Irish language formerly recognised as one of the official languages of the EU.

Noel Mulcahy is survived by his wife Caroline, and his children Daragh, Colm, Aisling and Garech.