Boylan, James (1899–1982), footwear manufacturer and company director, was born 23 June 1899 in Ballybay, Co. Monaghan, eldest son among five sons and six daughters of John Michael Boylan, small farmer at Ballybay, and Hannah Boylan (née Connolly). Educated locally, he left school (May 1914) to serve his apprenticeship in a footwear shop owned by his uncle, Mat Connolly, at Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan. Connolly also ran a wholesale business and by 1919 James Boylan was acting as a commercial traveller on behalf of the firm. During the war of independence he was briefly a member of the local brigade of the IRA.
In September 1923 he became a representative for Steadman's of Bristol, footwear manufacturers. He was one of the company's most successful salesmen; the economic war between Britain and Ireland (1932–8) later led him to change from an agent to a wholesaler. Steadman's later (1938) offered him a job as head sales representative for the north-east of England, but he refused the offer and instead purchased premises at O'Connell St., Dublin, where he founded his own wholesaling firm, Boylan Bros. The second world war made sourcing supplies difficult for footwear wholesalers, but James had built up excellent contacts during his time with Connolly's and Steadman's that enabled him to maintain a constant supply. He gained a reputation throughout the retail trade as a reliable supplier and Boylan Bros was successful enough by the end of the war to enable him to purchase (1944) the village of Mullan Mills in Emyvale, Co. Monaghan. The village consisted of an 18,000-square-foot boot factory, which had ceased production in 1942 due to lack of leather supplies, and twenty-five workers' cottages. He was dedicated to developing an indigenous manufacturing industry and used his contacts in Britain to source the leather needed to produce boots. In 1945 Mullan Mills recommenced production as James Boylan & Son Ltd, with local people making up the 120-strong work force. The factory initially made boots for farmers, but as the skills of the workers became more sophisticated the company won many contracts for supplying the Irish army with its military footwear.
During this period he was also involved in founding Tara Shoes Ltd, which manufactured women's shoes at Kells, Co. Meath, and in 1950 he was instrumental in founding Ballybay Tanners (1950–75) in an attempt to remove the dependence of the shoe trade on Britain for sole leather. In 1955 he and his two brothers, Mat and Shaun, came to the rescue of Governey's of Carlow, footwear manufacturers, when they prevented the factory from closing by purchasing it from the Governey family. Mat Boylan, the largest leather agent in the country at the time, had been supplying the leather to the factory, and Shaun Boylan, who was a successful footwear retailer and wholesaler, had been selling the shoes through his chain of shops. Legislation protecting the manufacturing industry meant that 95 per cent of shoes purchased in Ireland at that time were manufactured in Ireland. This enabled James and his brothers to turn around the fortunes of the ailing factory in Carlow by obtaining the license to manufacture Lotus shoes. Although never political, he and his brothers were friendly with Seán Lemass (qv), minister for industry and commerce and subsequently taoiseach, who offered James a place on the board of directors of CIÉ in 1957. He refused the position to concentrate on his other interests.
He stepped down as managing director of his companies in 1969 but remained as chairman, during which time James Boylan & Son Ltd obtained several manufacturing contracts from companies such as Clarks and Levi Strauss. In 1974 Boylan Bros moved from O'Connell St. to premises in Kevin St. and was subsequently merged with the business in Monaghan. In addition to his career in the footwear industry James Boylan was an active member of the Federation of Irish Industries as chairman of the Footwear & Leather Manufacturers Committee. He was president of the Dublin chamber of commerce in 1967 and chairman of the board of governors of Jervis St. Hospital. He lived latterly at 46 St Ann's, Ailesbury Road, Dublin, and died 9 March 1982.
He married (1932) Alice, daughter of Peter Molloy of Glasgow, publican, and his wife, Mary; they had one son and three daughters, including the model Maura Boylan, who worked with Sybil Connolly (qv) and the Paris couturier Pierre Balmain.