Thursday 22 February 2018

Vincent Nolan

For the charismatic businessman, working was a means of making money to enjoy life, writes Liam Collins

FOR Vincent Nolan, who was buried in Deansgrange Cemetery in Dublin last week after his death at the age of 87, life was one great long party.

"You play golf all day and the piano all night, when do you sleep?" he was once asked. "Life is too precious, I don't have time for sleep," he replied.

When he came to Dublin from Belfast as an 18 year old in 1941, he knew nobody. But he joined golf clubs and tennis clubs from Milltown to Skerries, (once they had a piano) and before very long he was surrounded by a huge circle of friends, men to play golf with, women to love and an audience for his music.

Working in the Dublin branch of his father's fish business, HJ Nolan Ltd, was a means of making money to enjoy life. Yet he was a consummate deal-maker who turned a glut of salmon into a mail-order; he would go to conventions in Britain, Europe or America and through charm and his love of the piano meet the right people, and his thirst for technology meant he was one step ahead of competitors.

His first address was in Merrion Square, Dublin. He then moved to The Rise in Mount Merrion and from there to Kerrymount Avenue in Foxrock, where the post-Leopardstown races parties were legendary. He also lived in Sutton and ended his days in St Anne's in Ailesbury Road.

He met Yvonne Callaghan at the Phoenix Park races in 1958, an event he jokingly described as "the most expensive race meeting I was ever at".

It wasn't long before he was playing golf and cards with the Taoiseach Sean Lemass, out on the town with his great friend Jeff Smurfit and later going to concerts and meeting such famous figures as Frank Sinatra (who got a side of smoked salmon every Christmas) with his friend Oliver Barry.

Another great friend, the Governor of New York Hugh Carey, was always glad to welcome him to the Big Apple. In a phone call to Vincent's son George last week, Carey joked that Vincent had outwitted him once again by getting to the Pearly Gates before him.

Vincent Nolan always had a twinkle in his eye and treated everyone he met as if they were the most important person in the room.

"He was a charismatic character," said his son George, who has succeeded him in Nolan Seafood. "He never had a bad word to say about anyone -- but if something needed to be said, he had others to do it for him."

Typical of his style was playing a round of golf at Palm Springs with an American banker friend of his, Leo Van Ditti. It was 9.20am in the morning and the banker pointed to a house on the course and said "my friend Hoagy Carmichael lives there". "I'd love to meet him," said Vincent. So they knocked on the door and between talking, singing and playing the piano, didn't leave until after midnight. He came away knowing that Carmichael's favourite from all the songs he had composed was You'll Never Know If You Don't Know Now rather than the more famous Stardust.

Gadget mad, he was on the board of the Swedish electronics firm Ericsson for many years; he almost went into business with Mirabeau chef Sean Kinsella, whom he met on a cruise liner, and along with Joe O'Reilly, Oliver Barry, Jim Aiken and Jim Hand, established Dolphin records.

Along the way he owned Ascot dry cleaners and wasn't above promoting concerts in the National Concert Hall for his good friend Jim Doherty.

When he owned Dolores Lynch's pub in Courtown, Co Wexford, a group of people stood around the piano singing to Vincent's accompaniment very late one summer's night when a stranger asked in awe, "when does this pub close?" only for Vincent, without missing a beat, to reply "October".

He was partial to champagne but Vincent was not a big drinker, he was too busy playing the piano, talking about old friends or chatting up the ladies. His wife Yvonne, whom he idolised, died nine years ago. In the last few years, he shared his life with Kay Moran who loved music and friendship as much as he did.

His last outing was to the Michael Buble concert in the Aviva Stadium and despite his age, he walked home, only to have a fall with tragic consequences. He died in the Mater Hospital on Friday, October 22. He is survived by his five sons, Harry, Edward, George, Vincent and David.

At his removal in Donnybrook Church last Monday, which was attended by former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, Oliver Barry, Norma Smurfit, Ben Dunne and hundreds of friends, a power cut in D4 suddenly quenched the lights as people queued to sympathise with his family.

It was a fitting, though unintended, gesture as certainly the lights went out for a lot of people with the passing of Vincent Nolan.

Sunday Independent

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