Whiskey magnate, sheep farmer and WW2 soldier who met Yeats

Obituary: Alexander (Aleck) Crichton

Alexander (Aleck) Crichton:  May 9th 1918 - April 18th 2017. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Alexander (Aleck) Crichton: May 9th 1918 - April 18th 2017. Photograph: Brian Farrell

 

Alexander (Aleck) Crichton had a long life but he never wasted a moment. He was a whiskey magnate who served as governor of Bank of Ireland. A second World War veteran, he served with the Irish Guards during the Normandy campaign – Operation Overlord – in 1944. Apart from that he was a Co Sligo sheep farmer who was a staunch supporter of many local causes, serving over the years as chairman of a charitable foundation for Sligo hospital, president of the Yeats Society which oversees the annual Yeats Summer School, and enthusiastic promoter of Sligo Feis Ceoil, and the Beltra agricultural show which he helped to found.

There was a family tradition of medicine on one side and whiskey on the other . His father was Dr Brian Dodwell Crichton, the first paediatrician in Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital , and an ancestor, Sir Alexander Crichton, was Physician in Ordinary to Tsar Alexander I of Russia around 1800.

Aleck’s mother was Violet Isabella Jameson, daughter of Andrew Jameson, head of the family whiskey firm , who served in the Seanad with WB Yeats who regarded him as something of a mentor.

Close to 90 years after the event he recalled for an audience in Sligo an early encounter with the poet, when he and his mother were invited for afternoon tea to the Yeats’s family home at 82 Merrion Square. Yeats’s wife George entertained the guests as the small boy waited somewhat nervously for the great man to enter the drawing room.

“He remembered that there was a bird cage with canaries in the corner and when Yeats finally entered, he stopped at the cage, took a fountain pen out of his top pocket and poked it through the bars of the cage playing with the canaries for a few minutes, before addressing the visitors,” recalled Stella Mew, former chief executive of the Yeats Society. “He was very impressed with Yeats who was a tall man , well over six feet, and had great presence,” added Mew.

Family seat

Crichton was raised in the family home on Fitzwilliam Square but spent a lot of his boyhood at the family seat in Carrowgarry Beltra which he inherited on his father’s death in 1950.

He was educated at Uppingham school, Rutland, in England and at King’s College, Cambridge. After graduation he joined the family whiskey firm John Jameson and Sons but in 1939, at the age of 21, he joined the 2nd Battalion of the Irish Guards, an armoured regiment which was part of the second wave of assaults against German forces in Normandy.

In 2014 Crichton was one of a number of Irish men conferred with the Legion d’Honneur at the French embassy in Dublin in recognition of their role in assisting in the liberation of France. “On that day he recalled that they landed in tanks and he remembered going up over the brow of a hill and seeing France laid out in front of him stretching towards Belgium, and the tremendous feeling of being part of the effort to bring peace to that land,” recalled Mew.

In France, Crichton was wounded by mortar fire in heavy fighting near Caen but returned to serve in Germany.

At the end of the war he resumed his duties with the family distilling business and he initiated the merger which brought Jamesons, Powers and Cork Distillers together to form Irish Distillers with Frank O’Reilly of Powers as chairman. Crichton was the company’s delegate at the European Economic Community in Brussels. He served as governor of the Bank of Ireland from 1962 to 1964.

‘Aesthetic sense’

But he had many interests away from business. “He had a terrific aesthetic sense. He loved trees and flowers. He lived several different lives,” said Mew who recalled in particular his passions for rock climbing, sailing and the piano. There were two grand pianos in Carrowgarry and guests recall Crichton mischievously tinkling the ivories loudly on the mornings when they were late to appear at the breakfast table. After his retirement Crichton had returned to Carrowgarry where he devoted himself to sheep farming and immersed himself in community activities.

He was a regular at Christ Church Dromard, a pretty country church with traditional box pews and oil lamps, where he played the organ and tended to the lamps, on the basis that he was one of the few parishioners not talented in the flower arranging department. His funeral service was held there and he was laid to rest in the adjoining cemetery.

Predeceased by his wife Joan, Crichton is survived by his four daughters, Mary, Tania, Barbara and Catherine.