Charlie McNally obituary: Promoter who lived the rock’n’roll life

The Dubliner worked with U2 and Thin Lizzy and was a cabbie to the stars in LA

Charlie McNally

Charlie McNally


Born August 27th, 1951
Died March 14th, 2020

Charlie McNally, the music promoter who had a seminal influence on bands including U2, Thin Lizzy and The Boomtown Rats has died.

McNally was a colourful figure in the Irish rock scene during the late 1970s and early 1980s. He spent many years in Los Angeles, consorting with a multitude of celebrities as a cabbie to the stars.

He was part of the promotion team for the Dalymount Festival in 1977 – Ireland’s first large open-air rock gig, which was headlined by Thin Lizzy and also featured The Boomtown Rats, The Radiators from Space and Graham Parker and The Rumour.

He went on to form Kick Records, which released the first ever Irish rock compilation album, Just for Kicks. This featured U2’s song Stories for Boys (which he also recorded as their first single) as well as tracks by Berlin, DC Nien and Rocky de Valera and the Gravediggers.

McNally also promoted gigs by the Jam, the Stranglers, The Boomtown Rats and The Greedy Bastards, a fun band comprising Phil Lynott, Bob Geldof, members of the Boomtown Rats and The Sex Pistols.

He was the first of seven children toFrank McNally, the owner of Dublin shoe shops, and his wife, Breda. Charlie was born in Coventry and lived in London until he was 11. Although he was christened Thomas Francis, he became known as Charlie after a school mate at Oatlands College, Stillorgan, Dermot Morgan (of Father Ted fame), said “he was a proper little Charlie” and the name stuck. He married Margot Kent in 1972, and the couple had three children, Jason, Lisa and Marc. They lived in Kilmacud.

Student years

McNally studied economics and politics as a mature student at University College Dublin (UCD) from 1975-1978. While there he became involved in organising gigs and he formed lifelong friendships with people including Dave Kavanagh, who later became manager of Clannad and the all-female group Celtic Woman. McNally also spent a year as president of UCD students union, beating the future senior counsel Gerard Danaher to the position.

In 1980 he moved to LA following the breakdown of his marriage and ran the cabbie company Olympic Limousines, driving the rich and famous around the city. During his time there he also worked for a time as a personal assistant to Hollywood movie producer Jerry Weintraub. He was also active behind the scenes on the civil rights activist Jesse Jackson’s campaigns for the Democratic nominations in the run-up to the US presidential elections in 1984 and 1988.

Variously described as an extraordinary mischief maker, an ambitious risk taker and a great ideas man, McNally lived the rock’n’roll life to the full. He dressed flamboyantly and will be remembered by many for his luminous petrol-blue suits. He had numerous friends in the Irish media and rock music and counted Bob Geldof, Rod Stewart, music publisher Johnny Lappin and film producer Billy McGrath among his close friends.

Foiled plans

He returned to Ireland in 1996 and worked on a number of projects, many of which never came to fruition. One such project was, a live booking engine integrated with hotel reservation systems that was launched in August 2001, two weeks before the September 11th terrorist attacks in the US. Another was Charlie Davidsons, a plan to import electric motorbikes for hire on Dublin streets. And another in 1998 was to refurbish the footpaths around St Stephen’s Green with sponsored bricks. This Millennium Mile project would have involved the placing of 2.8 million bricks at £20 a brick. His plan was to donate half the funds to cancer research, as the previous year he had developed – and subsequently recovered from – throat cancer. In 2011 he was director of elections for John Kelly, Labour Party candidate for Roscommon-South Leitrim.

Living latterly in Rathmines, he had a heart attack in 2015 from which he recovered. However, ongoing health issues in the last 12 months of his life were followed by two subsequent heart attacks, the last of which resulted in his death.

Charlie McNally is survived by his children, Jason, Lisa and Marc.