Mulcahy, John Augustine (‘Jack’) (1906–94), industrialist, businessman, and philanthropist, was born 26 August 1906 at Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, fifth among twelve children of Patrick Mulcahy, town clerk of Waterford , and Mary Mulcahy (née O'Shea). He was educated locally in the national school and in the CBS secondary school; however, his schooling was interrupted by the war of independence. He later told his family that he spent time in Kilkenny jail for killing the Black and Tans who attacked his sisters, and that he escaped death only because he was under age. A dispatch carrier for the anti-treaty forces during the civil war, Mulcahy was imprisoned by the Free State government for thirteen months before emigrating to the US in 1923 at the age of seventeen. He was a lifelong supporter of the Fianna Fáil party.
Mulcahy studied accounting at the City University of New York (CUNY) while he worked for U.S. Rubber at night. An obituary in the Yearbook of the Society of the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick in the City of New York (1994) states that Mulcahy graduated from CUNY with BBA and took courses in accounting at New York University; however, according to his son Jack, he left university to work full-time before taking his degree.
Mulcahy's business interests were steel and pharmaceuticals. After working as an accountant, he joined Quigley Co., Inc., a company that produced materials for the manufacture of steel. Starting as the company's treasurer in 1932, he became president and chief executive officer in 1952. As the company grew so did Mulcahy's profile, and in 1962 he met Richard Nixon in Florida. Unlike many Irish-Americans, Mulcahy was not a supporter of the Kennedy family and once commented: ‘I didn't like them. I find it incomprehensible that the Kennedys should vote in the senate in favour of an immigration law which prevented Irish people from entering America’ (Irish Times, 1 Oct. 1970). Following his meeting with Nixon he became a firm supporter of the Republican party and Nixon's subsequent presidential campaign.
Under Mulcahy's leadership Quigley grew into an international company, and he became the first Irish-American industrialist to invest substantially in Irish business when he opened Quigley plants in Cork and Dungarvan in 1963. In 1968 Quigley was taken over by the pharmaceutical giant Charles Pfizer & Co., of which Mulcahy became a substantial shareholder. A founder member of the Irish–American Council for Industry, he believed that the then predominantly agricultural Irish economy would have to give way to industry to stem the tide of emigration. When he located the first Irish Pfizer pharmaceutical plant in Ringaskiddy, Cork (1969), Mulcahy provided hundreds of jobs for Irish workers. His initiative was a vote of confidence in the Irish economy that encouraged other American business investment. When the journalist Barbara Walters went to Ireland for a TV special, she invited Mulcahy to appear to discuss American and Irish business partnerships.
In addition to his business interests Mulcahy began to accumulate personal assets in Ireland at this time, with the purchase of the Kilfrush House estate near Hospital, Co. Limerick. In 1970 Kilfrush and Mulcahy hosted Nixon and a round of Vietnam peace talks that brought the North Vietnamese to the table. Mulcahy also has a place in Watergate history: his telephone conversation with the president on 23 April 1971 from 10.35 to 10.38 a.m. is recorded in the Watergate archive.
Mulcahy also purchased Woodruff House and estate near Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. A sportsman as well as a businessman, he recognised that Ireland's spectacular golf courses and long summer evenings had the potential to establish the country as a destination for tourists interested in golf holidays. In 1968 he decided to built a world-class course at Waterville Lake Hotel and golf links in Co. Kerry. He engaged Ireland's great golf architect, Eddie Hackett, to design what is regarded as Hackett's best-known course.
As part of his investment in tourism he bought Ashford Castle at Cong, Co. Mayo, in 1970, with the intention of turning it into a hotel. The Victorian castle had been built one hundred years earlier for Arthur Edward Guinness (qv) on the site of the thirteenth-century de Burgo castle. (The village of Cong was familiar to Irish-American viewers from the 1955 film classic The quiet man, by John Ford (qv)). Mulcahy supervised the renovation of the castle and built a golf course before he sold the property in 1985. During the Mulcahy years, Ashford Castle was Ireland's best-known luxury hotel. Both Aer Lingus and the Irish Tourist Board recognised his work for Irish tourism by awarding him the gold medal awards of their respective organisations.
In 1971 he established Mulcon Ltd to oversee the numerous development projects that were owned by John A. Mulcahy Ltd. In its first year Mulcon Ltd oversaw the building of a 16,000 sq. ft. office block at Blackrock, Cork, and the construction of the hotel, clubhouse, and golf course at Waterville. When the Waterville course was completed in 1973 Golf World called it the ‘best golf course built in Britain and Ireland in the last fifty years’, and Golf Digest rated it twenty-third of the top twenty-five international courses. Mulcon later completed the reconstruction of Ashford Castle and Lyonstown Stud near Cashel, Co. Tipperary, which Mulcahy had also purchased as part of a plan to stop the trend of exporting Ireland's top bloodstock. Like many wealthy Americans he had thoroughbreds in training with Vincent O'Brien. However, although O'Brien was a highly successful trainer he was – until he met Mulcahy – seeing his owners reap most of the profits. Mulcahy advised him to ensure that he secured a share in every horse that he trained, and thereby changed the great trainer's fortunes dramatically. Mulcahy became a close friend and supporter of O'Brien and his family, to whom he was known as ‘Uncle Jack’. In partnership with O'Brien he attempted to rejuvenate the Irish bloodstock business by bringing bloodlines back to Ireland that had been lost through exports. From 1970 he and O'Brien travelled to the US, where O'Brien was convinced the toughest and most genuine stock was to be found. The two men broke new ground for European racing when they travelled to the Claiborne farm, Kentucky, which was owned by the legendary breeder Bull Hancock. From there they sourced many yearlings that later had highly successful careers, including Thatch, Swingtime, and King Pellinore. For a time Mulcahy was a fringe member of the syndicate that included O'Brien, his son-in-law John Magnier, and Robert Sangster.
Although born in Ireland, Mulcahy described himself as an ‘American citizen first, last, and all the time’ (Irish Times, 1 Oct. 1970). His loyalty to his adopted country and to his friend Nixon was made clear in an incident in 1974: during a mass which Mulcahy was attending, comments about Nixon were made in the sermon. Although the priest had been using the example of Nixon to illustrate the negative effects of constant press attention, Mulcahy took offence and intervened from the congregation. He objected to Nixon's being mentioned from the pulpit, described him as an honest man and a friend, and accused the US media of being inspired and run by communists.
In the 1980s Mulcahy became concerned about the threat to the Atlantic salmon. When there appeared to be little interest in the condition of salmon in Co. Waterford, Mulcahy decided to investigate. He and his family conducted their own research and concluded that drift-netting was the major threat to the fish. As a result, Mulcahy bought up the netting rights for a salmon pool on the Blackwater, funded an extensive salmon-restocking programme after an outbreak of the Irish salmon disease in the region, and raised local awareness of the danger to this valuable resource. On 25 March 1982, during a Dáil Éireann debate about sea fisheries, David Andrews, TD, paid tribute to Mulcahy for his timely and generous intervention.
Mulcahy, indeed, was a benefactor to many Irish causes and projects. Many gifts were given quietly; some were given without the knowledge of his family. A 1973 gift of £10,000 to the Waterford GAA helped with the construction of the Dan Fraher Field; his subvention for the New History of Ireland provided a share of the crucial initial funding for the project.
In 1958 Mulcahy was elected a life member of the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick. In 1969 Fordham University awarded Mulcahy an honorary degree and named its chemistry building after him. The designation honoured Mulcahy's commitment to Fordham as a long-time trustee and benefactor, as well as his own industrial interests. He was also one of Iona College's benefactors, and Iona recognised his support by naming its sports complex the John A. Mulcahy Campus Center in a dedication ceremony on 7 October 1974, conducted by Terence, Cardinal Cook. The NUI conferred him at a ceremony in UCG with an honorary doctorate in the early 1970s. A member of the board of the American Irish Historical Association, on 1 May 1971 he was awarded the Association's gold medal, an award presented annually to ‘an outstanding American of Irish lineage’ (New York Times, 2 May 1971).
Mulcahy died in New York after a long illness on 21 September 1994. Before his death, he asked that his ashes be buried on top of the seventeenth tee, known as ‘Mulcahy's Peak’, at Waterville golf course. He was survived by his wife, Naomi Einsel Mulcahy, and his sons, Kevin and John (‘Jack’). A photograph of Mulcahy with Vincent O'Brien is in Vincent O'Brien: the official biography (2005), at p. 150.