Multi-millionaire publican, senator and Fianna Fail backroom figure
‘Eddie knew how to pick winners – and he wouldn’t have learned that at school, because he left at 14. But he had the brains to know it was no good backing losers,” said one of the many publicans who attended Eddie Bohan’s funeral in Dublin last Wednesday.
He went on to become a multi-millionaire publican and auctioneer, a member of Seanad Eireann for 20 years and chairman of the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) and President of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI).
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When his friend and fellow Longford man Albert Reynolds was sacked as Finance Minister by Charlie Haughey in November 1991, it was Eddie Bohan who drove him out of the gates of Leinster House in a brand-new Jaguar and was involved in plotting his triumphant return to power and election as leader of Fianna Fail and Taoiseach in 1992.
Edward Joseph Bohan was born third of a family of seven on a small farm near the village of Drumlish in north Longford. He left school as soon as he could and went to Dublin, where he joined his two brothers in a grocery shop in Camden Street.
By the age of 19 he had struck out on his own wholesaling sweets and confectionery, travelling the country plying his trade and building up the business with three vans on the road. In his spare time he ran dances to raise extra cash.
In October 1956, at the age of 23 he married Elizabeth (Betty) Lambert from Rathmines, and the following week the Longford Leader commemorated the young businessman’s growing success with a photograph of the happy couple, headlined: ‘Longford man goes to Riviera on Honeymoon’.
But within months of returning home his burgeoning business was hit by a general recession and he went bust. Dealing with an official bankruptcy assignee didn’t suit Eddie’s temperament and he recalled that after answering two or three questions he knew it wasn’t going to work, so he and Betty packed their bags and emigrated to the United States.
He by-passed New York and headed for LA, getting a job running a petrol station for Chevron, ending up as a successful car salesman and garage owner. He used to regale friends with stories of fishing trips to Mexico with his buddies from the police department and his exploits in the bright lights of LA, where three of the Bohans’ four children were born.
But when his official bankruptcy period came to an end, he returned to Dublin. According to one of his friends after a year running his new business venture, Bohan’s pub in Meath Street, he gathered his creditors together and, much to their surprise, paid them what he could, resolving never to owe a cent to anybody again. It was the beginning of a career that would see him buy and sell various pubs as well as becoming owner of The Flowing Tide across the road from the Abbey Theatre.
His son Eddie told the congregation at his funeral Mass that “the best decision of his life” was to team up with two young barmen Charlie Chawke and John McGrath. He helped set them up in their first pub in Wexford Street, but according to a publican friend “he owned it after hours” turning up after closing time with various cronies, including the up-and-coming Fianna Fail politician Donogh O’Malley, although his friend added, “he wasn’t fussy what party they were”.
He was known for “taking an interest” in various pubs and he was a long-term investor in another of Chawke’s pubs, The Oval in Abbey Street, once the haunt of the staff of Independent Newspapers.
He also developed an interest in politics and horse racing. These interests coalesced when he was one of the investors in a now dissolved syndicate with an eclectic group of 17 Leinster House insiders, including Dessie O’Malley, GV Wright, and PJ Mara, that owned the successful Noel Meade-trained horse Arctic Copper. Although he was a hardy annual at Cheltenham and Galway, he once told me he hadn’t seen a horse run all week at Cheltenham. He had his own corner in one of the bars and friends and associates knew where he held court.
In 1987 he successfully ran for Seanad Eireann on the Commercial and Industrial panel and he held his seat in five subsequent elections with the support of publicans around the country and county councillors – who were guaranteed All-Ireland tickets if their county was in the hurling or football final, bottles of whiskey if they were not.
“He was a hard man, but I found him exceptionally honourable,” said one friend.
Known as a “quintessential Fianna Fail backroom figure” he rarely spoke in the Seanad but according to former LVA chief executive Frank Fell he had a huge influence on behalf of the ‘bar lobby’.
“Eddie knew everybody and he played the politician, he was brilliant at networking,” he said.
However he was the recipient of unwelcome headlines in his own right when he appeared in the 2007 Revenue Commissioners ‘defaulters’ list after making a settlement of €2,032,000 for unpaid taxes and penalties.
“At least I had the money to pay it,” he quipped when asked about it.
According to his son Eddie, his father was “generous and a great guy to be around” but he “really died” when his wife Betty died in November, 2017, after 61 years of marriage.
Eddie Bohan, who lived in Rathgar but always maintained close ties to Longford and his rural roots, died last Sunday at the age of 86 and is survived by his children, Barbara, Beverly, Liz and Eddie.