Crowley, Vincent (1890–1965), businessman, was born 12 May 1890 in Farnham Street, Cavan town, the youngest of three sons of Patrick Crowley, a teacher hailing from Ballymore, Co. Cork, and his wife Bridget (née Halpin), who was from Co. Armagh. His father taught English at St Patrick's College, Cavan (1887–93), but by 1901 was working as an accountant in Dublin where the family lived in reduced circumstances at Bayview Avenue, North Strand.
Vincent left school aged 13 to join the Crowe Wilson company as a clerk, and for long worked obscurely in bookkeeping. Similarly his brothers were warehouse clerks. While his immediate family had fallen down the social scale, his wider relations had risen to the top of Dublin's catholic professional classes. One uncle, Michael Crowley (see below), was an eminent accountant, while another, John Crowley, was a successful solicitor. The progress of the extended Crowley kin provided both opportunity and motivation for Vincent, who, despite never qualifying as a chartered accountant, set up an accounting practice with Peter Kennedy in 1919. Based in 37 Westmoreland Street, their partnership was called Kennedy, Crowley and Co. Initially the firm specialised in liquidations, then the staple of most accounting practices. Much of his business came from the Munster and Leinster Bank, where his Cork roots may have proved useful, the bank being more Munster than Leinster.
An excellent networker, he ingratiated himself with other professionals and businessmen, most propitiously with Arthur Cox (qv), a renowned solicitor specialising in commercial law. Their two firms shared clients and referred business to each other. This professional relationship blossomed into an enduring friendship of contrasts. Always well turned out, Crowley enjoyed mingling, and dealt with clients in a notably smooth and structured fashion, meticulously putting everything in writing. A brilliant eccentric, Cox dressed shabbily, appeared to be utterly disorganised and disdained social activities; once when Crowley invited him to dinner in an exclusive restaurant, Cox ordered a boiled egg. Every year, the two travelled to Lourdes together as brancardiers (helpers to invalids attending the grotto).
Crowley audited the Knights of St Columbanus, a secretive and high-powered order of lay catholics, inaugurating its Irish Accountants Society in 1925. A pious young man and a former secretary to the men's sodality of St Agatha's parish, North William Street, he was also alert to the opportunities his association with the Knights provided for worldly advancement. The Knights covertly wielded considerable influence, and in the aftermath of Irish independence in 1922 were determined to right an imbalance whereby protestants dominated business and the professions. As a result, Kennedy, Crowley and Co. benefited from the government's policy of steering a larger proportion of state work towards catholic accounting practices.
In the late 1920s, Crowley's closeness to Patrick McGilligan (qv), minister for industry and commerce, enabled him to land lucrative audits for the ESB and the Agricultural Credit Corporation upon the formation of those semi-state entities. During its early years the ESB failed to keep proper accounts, obliging Crowley to complain in 1929 that he could not vouch for all the expenses. In July 1930, Kennedy, Crowley and Co. dispatched staff to the ESB to regularise its internal accounts.
Crowley's aggressive pursuit of business, which transgressed the prevailing (somewhat self-interested) notions of professional propriety, and the perception that he benefited from denominational cronyism, aroused jealousy, particularly within venerable protestant accounting practices such as Craig Gardner. Taking a dim view of his lack of accounting credentials, Craig Gardner members began referring to him maliciously as an unqualified success. He tried to laugh such comments off, but was privately beset by insecurities therein. Accordingly, he set himself the highest professional standards.
In 1932 his partnership with Kennedy ended acrimoniously. After buying Kennedy out in June, he continued as principal of Kennedy, Crowley and Co., operating from 4/5 Westmoreland Street. The retention of the all-important semi-state audits necessitated a qualified partner within the practice, for which he recruited Dermot O'Brien. (Their partnership also concluded in rancour in 1950 when Crowley's eldest son, Niall (1926–98), had passed his accounting exams and was capable of assuming the role of qualified partner.)
Following the election of a Fianna Fáil government in early 1932, many professionals who had worked for the Cumann na nGaedhael administration lost out on state business, but Crowley was unaffected. In time he became very friendly with the Fianna Fáil minister for industry and commerce, Seán Lemass (qv). The tendency of elements within the accounting profession to regard him as an interloper probably commended him to Lemass, who regarded the established professional elites as hidebound and bent on perpetuating social stasis. In 1934 Lemass appointed Crowley to the Trade Loans Advisory Board.
Crowley's relationship with Lemass enabled his firm to benefit from Fianna Fáil's more interventionist approach, and he picked up audits and consultancy work with semi-state entities such as Aer Lingus and the Irish Life Assurance Company, and with newly established industrial companies operating under close state supervision, including the Irish Aluminium Company, the Irish Sugar Company, Irish Wire Products Ltd, Irish Ropes Ltd, Salts (Ireland) Ltd, Irish Worsted Mills Ltd and Cement Ltd. He played a pivotal role in providing administrative support for a late-emerging industrial sector. As well as advising and seconding employees to these new companies, he served for many years as chairman of Irish Tanners Ltd.
He was also entrusted with politically sensitive receiverships, most notably that of Irish Steel Ltd in 1941, which he had formerly audited. After Crowley negotiated a £200,000 loan guarantee from the government in 1942, Lemass appointed him chairman of the financially restructured company. There was no managing director, placing the part-time board under considerable strain. Effectively executive chairman, Crowley strove vainly to keep the strategically important enterprise afloat during challenging wartime conditions. The company was liquidated in 1947, with Crowley, once more acting as receiver, selling the assets to the state, which created its own Irish Steel entity.
Kennedy, Crowley's industrial clients were mainly Irish subsidiaries of foreign concerns, and the Control of Manufactures Acts of 1932 and 1934 required new manufacturing companies to be 51 per cent Irish-owned, subjecting those not meeting this criterion to a restrictive and cumbersome licencing system. Operating in tandem with Cox, Crowley helped his clients to evade these legislative entanglements. Aware that it needed foreign investment and technical expertise for its industrialisation drive, the government tacitly encouraged their activities, making only token efforts to close off loopholes in the law. Indeed, the duo cooperated closely with Jim Beddy (qv), chief executive of the Industrial Credit Corporation, a state body that served as either a lender or underwriter to their clients.
Speaking in the dáil, Lemass denounced foreign companies and their local advisors for violating the spirit of the legislation, but as a regular attendee at dinner parties in Crowley's house, he praised the work performed by his host. By rescuing the Fianna Fáil administration from its own election rhetoric and from the contradictions between its stated goals of industrialisation and self-sufficiency, Crowley and Cox saw themselves as engaging in practical nationalism. Relations with government officials were not entirely harmonious and Crowley pressed his clients' case vigorously when seeking to blunt the effect of politically motivated directives, particularly in relation to locating new industries in remote rural areas. In the main, compromises were worked out fairly amicably by Crowley and Cox with various civil servants.
Once the pioneering work of the 1930s and 1940s was completed, Kennedy, Crowley and Co. was firmly established as one of the leading accounting practices. For all that, it remained very much a family firm, operating in a staid, small-scale profession: in the mid 1960s it had five partners and fifty staff. Crowley's eminence was personal, rather than organisational. Following a health scare in 1960, he gradually relinquished the management of Kennedy, Crowley to his sons, three of whom became partners. He was a member of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce from 1938, serving as president for 1960/61, and was appointed director of the Provincial Bank in 1951 and of Salts Ltd in 1960. A keen cinema-goer, he was long-time secretary to the Irish Cinema Association. In 1965 he was involved with other prominent businessmen in a charitable scheme to house forty traveller families on the outskirts of Dublin.
He died 3 August 1965 in his residence at Stillorgan Road, Donnybrook, Dublin, and was buried in Deansgrange cemetery. In 1925 he married Eileen Gunning, daughter of Laurence Gunning, an ecclesiastical silversmith of Dublin; they had five sons and two daughters. One son became a priest, another a district court judge; the others established Kennedy, Crowley and Co. (latterly, Stokes Kennedy Crowley) as Ireland's premier accounting practice. Of the three, Niall served as chairman of AIB and the Irish Life Assurance Company, Laurence became the country's foremost liquidator, and Conor (1928–99) acted as a leading corporate finance advisor, as well as being a prominent financier and fundraiser in his own right.
Vincent's uncle Michael Crowley (1849–1926), businessman, was born at Glaunasreglasia, Co. Cork, the fifth son of John Crowley, teacher, of Ballymore, Co. Cork. Educated privately and by the Christian Brothers, he trained as an accountant and auditor in the office of John MacDonnell and Co., Dublin, and was admitted a partner in 1873. However, he was dismissed in August 1879 and legal proceedings ensued as Crowley seized a land deed from MacDonnell's offices, claiming he was owed £183.
The next year he established a practice in partnership with J. Humphries, trading as Crowley, Humphries and Co., first at Essex Bridge and later in Dame Street. In 1888 he founded his own practice, M. Crowley and Co., moving from Dame Street to College Green eight years later. His brother John was a solicitor and principal of the firm of Crowley and Bolger, and the siblings shared a number of clients. Irish commercial life then being rigidly segregated along religious lines, his clients were drawn from catholic businesses and organisations such as the Gaelic League, the Parnell Monument Committee, Boland's, and the Freeman's Journal.
His identification with the catholic/nationalist community led to controversy in 1902 when after inspecting the financial accounts of the suburban township of Pembroke he adjudged its deficit to be much larger than the initial estimate made by Robert Gardner (qv), a member of the Pembroke council and principal of Dublin's largest accounting firm, Craig Gardner. Crowley was aligned with nationalists who aimed at subsuming Pembroke into the Dublin City Council, whereas Gardner wanted to preserve Pembroke as an independent unionist-controlled enclave and intemperately denounced Crowley's conclusions.
In 1885 Crowley was elected a member of the Chartered Accountants of Canada and became the first Irish member of the Society of Accountants and Auditors (Incorporated). In late 1887 he was one of thirty-one Irish accountants who signed a petition requesting a charter for a professional association of Irish accountants. After a royal charter was granted in May 1888, he became an original fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland (ICAI) and a member of its council. When an Irish branch of the Society of Accountants and Auditors (Incorporated) was formed in March 1901, Crowley was appointed a member of the society's committee. However, the ICAI was opposed to the formation of this branch, and as a result he resigned from the society's committee and tendered his resignation to the ICAI council in 1902. His resignation was not accepted by the ICAI and he went on to serve as its president for 1912/13.
In 1891 his book The commercial handbook and office assistant was a publishing success in Britain and Ireland. Reflecting his growing reputation, he became a fellow of the Statistical Society and in 1894 received a medal and diploma at the International Competition of Professional Accountants held in Lyon, receiving a further medal and diploma in the same competition held in Paris in 1900. He also edited the Directory of limited companies registered in Ireland (1901), which listed some 1,120 limited companies. In 1914 he published a pamphlet, The income and expenditure of the kingdom of Ireland before the union, presumably as part of an ongoing public debate regarding the sustainability of Irish public finances in the event of home rule.
In failing health, Crowley retired in autumn 1924, selling his practice to John Purtill, a former employee, and resigning from the ICAI council after thirty-six years. He moved to Paris where he died on 16 July 1926. In 1876 he married Mary Irwin, with whom he had four sons and a daughter. He lived in various Dublin locales including Sandymount, Merrion, Killiney and Carrickmines, and also in Bray, Co. Wicklow. His son Michael O'Keeffe Crowley was admitted to the ICAI in 1904 and worked in M. Crowley and Co. before emigrating to New York city where he established a practice.