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There’s Only One ‘O’ in Nolan


I remember once saying to Eoghan “when I pop my clogs can you say some nice stuff about me?” He took a sip form his pint, sighed and said, “shut up, Bren.” The conversation was not going to go in that direction. 


I first met Eoghan about 200 years ago. Every time I met him, I felt I was about to go on an adventure. And in a way I did. Every time I met him it was like living a better life. And there were so many lives. His wonderful stimulating company could take you anywhere. You never knew what the topic of conversation was going to be or where it would end up. Indeed, there were times when we didn’t know where we would actually end up.


One of the places we did end up in was Ecuador. 


We were having lunch one day and we exchanged the usual banter about the industry. After a glass of wine or two, the conversation drifted, gently guided by Eoghan’s hand on the tiller, to more meaningful things like art and travel. A few weeks later Eoghan, Cecily Loughman and I landed in Quito high in the Andes. That was Eoghan for you. With anyone else we would have left it as a fanciful notion. 


I have so many fabulous memories of the man. But some of my favourites occurred in Ecuador. Having spent a few days in the capital, Eoghan decided we would visit the disgraced Bishop, Eamonn Casey. (He fathered a child with Annie Murphy while Bishop of Kerry – for you young’uns.) We eventually found the monastery where the Bish was hiding out, and Eoghan banged on the massive colonial wooden doors. There was a ‘Monty Pythonesque’ response in muffled Spanish from the other side: “Qué quieres?” And Eoghan shouted back that we were from Ireland and we just wanted to take Bishop Casey for a pint. We waited. No joy. But that’s not one of my favourites.


Later we travelled to a little town called Otavalo. Eoghan wanted to visit the market there. He had done some research and found out that its indigenous people were famous for their textiles. Typical Eoghan. Always with the detail. But we were out of season and while the market was interesting, it wasn’t as colourful as we’d hoped. Eoghan found a stall selling hand-weaved Panama hats that came beautifully rolled in balsa wood boxes. We bought some of these and then we retired to the relative comfort of our hotel, where we were the only guests. That evening after a dip in the pool, we ordered some beer and Eoghan sat with his legs in the water and his head in a book. I asked him what he was reading.


“Before we left, I bought a book of short stories by a South American author called Junot Diaz. I thought it might immerse us in the culture a bit.” And with that, he began reading aloud a story about two brothers who were searching their neighbourhood for a boy whose face was disfigured by a pig. ‘Ysrael’. And right there Eoghan immersed us in a world we would not have found without him. I loved every moment of that reading. And loved the bones of him for it too. After the story, he taught us how to play poker. I swear he cheated. 


The second memory was in a town called Baños. Eoghan had heard about this place from a friend who had travelled there. He also found out that the journey was 190 kilometres away and took 11 hours by bus. So, he befriended a taxi driver in Quito and we paid him $20 dollars each to drives us there. 

On the journey we could stop. Take snaps. And at one stage we drove through a waterfall. “car wash!” our driver exclaimed. This tickled Eoghan pink. 

We stayed in a quaint little hotel with a beautiful garden not far from the town square. Again, Eoghan made himself familiar with the locals. The stall holders slinging long strings of toffee across the street to each other, the shopkeepers, and a young boy no more than ten years old who used to polish shoes in the square. The day before we left, Eoghan decided he would take the young man for a treat in the ‘we sell everything’ mercantile opposite the boy’s spot. He gave him $10 and told him he could have anything of that value in the store. We thought he would buy himself some candy or a toy. The kid bought himself a new brush and some polish. Eoghan was taken aback at this. He slipped the boy another $10 and said to me “if only some of our clients cared about their business like that fella.” True. But that’s not the favourite memory I have of Eoghan. 

The morning we were checking out, Eoghan realised that he was running low on cash. He decided to pay by American Express. Now, those were the days before Internet. The young lady at reception politely told Eoghan that it would take a while because she would have to call New York to have the payment cleared. So, we waited. After a few minutes a young security guard walked in. He wore a wonky cap and had holster with a revolver in it. I had met the young man on his rounds before and so I greeted him. He stood alongside me and asked if we were moving on. “Yes” I said, as Eoghan was answering questions posed by New York via the receptionist while struggling to dig out his passport. “Is that a real gun?” I asked the young man. “Si Senor” and to my surprise he handed me the revolver. Of course, I turned to Eoghan and said; “Tell her to hang up and go start the car.” Eoghan looked at me, then the gun. The young girl at the reception looked at me, then the gun. “No tirar senor! No tirar!” Which I hastily assumed was “Don’t shoot.” Eoghan Looked at the young girl with his broadest calming smile and said; ”Bren give that young man his gun back. And wait outside.” Later that day he finally spoke to me again. “By the time I’m finished telling that story at home you’ll be in the same league as Butch Cassidy.”


Many, many years later at an ICAD event. I was introduced to a young Art Director at the bar. He said: “Are you the Bren O’Flaherty who held up a Post Office in Colombia?” Thanks Eoghan. 


And that was Eoghan. Lover of detail. Sweater of the small stuff. Craftsman. Narrator. Navigator. Bon Viveur. Adventurer. And a great friend to so many wonderful people. A magic mix of stimulation, inspiration, artifice, generosity and kindness. And if you knew him, you’ll have your own fabulous stories to tell and your life will be richer too. 



And finally. One evening in some pub. Johnny Ferguson, my brother Cathal, and me were sitting having a pint. Eoghan was late. When he came in, my brother started a chorus of “There’s only one Eoghan Nolan – One Eoghan Nolan.” Of course, Johnny and I joined in. 


Eoghan grabbed his pint and sat down. He looked at Cathal and said; “You’re absolutely correct Cathal. There is only one “O” in Nolan.” 


But I agree with my brother. There will only ever be one Eoghan Nolan. We will all miss him so very much. Thank you for everything, old pal.

A memory of the great Eoghan Nolan shared by Brendan O’Flaherty at O’Flaherty Creative.