Category: Archive

Echo Profile: Yer only man

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Long before Ronan Tynan was singing patriotic songs at Yankee Stadium, Connie Doolan was hitting the high notes at Gaelic Park — and just about every other Irish American event within a hundred mile radius.
This week, the man whose name became synonymous with Ireland’s fastest game, and its most famous beverage, is set to take a step back.
But not entirely. Twist his arm a bit and he will still appear to sing Amhr_n na bhFiann or the Star Spangled Banner.
And he might impart a tale from a veritable library of stories accumulated over the years in his role as the public face of the Guinness brewing company in North America.
Connie Doolan’s story spans the miles between The Lough in Cork City and Long Island, New York, his present home.
But in a career that took in the airline business, hurling stardom, the U.S. Army and the task of presenting Guinness afresh to an entire continent, Doolan has run up more than mere mileage.
And along the way he has gained a family, the grand marshal’s sash in the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade, and the satisfaction of working to ensure that there are now more Guinness taps being pulled in the United States than in Ireland.
“I came to America in February, 1955. But that was at the end of the time when emigrating to America was for ever,” Doolan said in an interview as he entered his ultimate week as director of trade relations for Guinness North America.
The young Doolan’s chances of seeing his homeland again were boosted by two things. He got a job with an airline, Capital Airlines, and his prowess as a hurler landed him a place on a New York team that was heading to Ireland later that arrival year.
He would make a second return trip two years later when his New York team bested All Ireland champions, Wexford.
Back in America, meanwhile, Uncle Sam was selecting his own all stars and Doolan was front and center.
“I entered the service and was posted to Fort Campbell, Kentucky where I was trained as a combat engineer,” said Doolan.
After two years active duty and two years on active reserve, Doolan worked several different jobs but quickly found it necessary to steer his career towards a more definite course.
The same could be said for his personal life. In 1962 he had married
Anne Murphy, a New Yorker whose family roots were in Longford and whose brother, “Irish Eddie Murphy” was once a highly rated heavyweight boxer.
With new responsibilities, and a family on the way, Doolan joined the staff of the Ballantine Brewery, a famous New York company that sponsored some of the city’s biggest sports franchises.
“None of the brewers were doing anything in the Irish community so I started player of the week and player of the year awards at Gaelic Park sponsored by Ballantine. We would give away tickets to the All Ireland as prizes,” said Doolan.
In 1964, along with the late John Kerry O’Donnell, Doolan organized a New York GAA team for a world tour that included Australia.
“We met this journalist in Sydney and we got talking about amalgamating the rules of Gaelic football and Australian rules. Well, we communicated the idea back to the GAA in Ireland and that led to the eventual birth of the compromise rules game.”
Apart from having a direct hand in the creation of a new code, Doolan was also a father with a growing career.
He left Ballantine before the 1960s were played out and briefly co-owned a restaurant called Danny Boy’s on Second Avenue in Manhattan.
It was a brief venture. Guinness, a rather exotic drink to the great majority of Americans, was in need of the Doolan touch. He joined the company in 1969.
“To say that Guinness was in its embryonic stages as a brand here at that time would be an understatement. The only way was up,” Doolan recalls.
A basic problem was that U.S. beer dispensers were hooked up to carbon dioxide or compressed air. Proper pulling of a pint of Guinness required a combination of carbon dioxide and nitrogen.
There was also the matter of ridding the market of popular mythology.
“There was a belief, believe it or not, that Guinness had to be boiled or that once drunk it would congeal and ruin your system.
“I found myself having to educate as well as sell while also explaining the culture of Guinness, the company, as well as the product. But that made the job more interesting and challenging,” said Doolan.
Doolan met the challenge to the point that Guinness is, today, as familiar to Americans as just about anything else that pours from a keg, can or bottle.
What was additionally extraordinary about Doolan’s skill as a pitch man was the degree to which he became an instantly recognizable figure to huge numbers of people, not just in the Irish and Irish American community, but in others too.
His willingness to join up, turn up, and very often open up an event with his formidable vocal chords made it no surprise at all that he was chosen, in 1992, to lead the St. Patrick’s Day Parade up Fifth Avenue.
“I got this letter from an elderly man at the time,” Doolan recalls. “He wrote about hurling but asked be to raise my top hat outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral as a sign that I had received his letter.”
The photo of Doolan doing just that remains one of the enduring parade memories of recent times.
Doolan, Mr. Guinness and then some, is this week setting off on a new course, one that will lead to new memories of the family kind.
“The referee is looking at his watch. You’re ahead by two points. You feel in good shape, you’re happy with yourself and you walk away feeling satisfied,” he said.

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