Wine merchant a key figure in Cork’s commercial scene

David Nicholson: May 17th, 1933 – October 4th, 2013


David Nicholson, who has died aged 80, was the doyen of one of Cork’s old merchant prince families. A successful businessman, he built up Woodford Bourne and Co to be the second largest wine merchant in the country.

With a love of sailing, he was a former commodore of both Kinsale Yacht Club and the Irish Cruising Club. A keen student of family history, he co-authored a fascinating book which traces the company’s involvement in the drinks industry back to 1750. Significantly, he presented UCC with the family archive in 2005, an important economic snapshot spanning over a century of Irish business life.

After prep school in England, he went to Newtown secondary school in Waterford and then took a business degree at Trinity College Dublin. By the time he started running the family business in the 1960s, the Nicholsons already had 150 years as wine and spirit merchants behind them.

The Woodford Bourne grocery store at the junction of Patrick Street and Daunt Square was where professionals and well-off Cork people bought tea, wine and whiskey, including a curiously named Extra Old Mild Invalid’s Whiskey. Port was bottled for the exclusive Cork and County Club. Liqueurs, sherry, coffees, spices, pickles, fish sauces, beer and flowers were also sold. At Christmas, there were turkeys, cake, plum pudding and wax candles.

Remarkably, the company records show that in 1932 the upstairs flat at 64 Patrick Street was let to one Gen Tom Barry, who had commanded the third west Cork flying column during the War of Independence – the company had supplied both the British army and navy. David Nicholson’s son, Eddie, says: “I don’t know whether the general was using a Protestant-owned shop for protection or if the family saw him as security. Whichever it was, the shop was secure for many years, probably thanks to his presence.”

Shrewd management
Facing competition from new city centre supermarkets in the early 1980s, he converted the old shop to a fast-food outlet and opened another on Dublin’s O’Connell Street. On a visit to the US, he had witnessed the upsurge of McDonald’s, though he missed its Irish franchise by a whisker.

Under his shrewd management, Woodford Bourne and Co ranked second after Gilbeys in the Irish wine market by 1978. It was the first Irish firm to import wine from the south of France – it arrived in Cork in tankers with a capacity of 30,000 bottles.

With Mitchelstown Creamery, he developed the Royal Tara brand following the success of Bailey’s Irish Cream, and exported it to 24 countries before selling his stake to the co-op. He also opened a cash and carry outlet in Cork.

He owned the Oyster Tavern in Market Lane, a meeting place for generations of Corkonians, until he sold it in 1990. The Nicholsons’ bonded warehouse at Sheares Street, a listed building and one of Cork’s oldest premises, is still run by the family as a leisure complex cum bar and restaurant.

Nicholson sold Woodford Bourne and Co to Wardell Roberts in 1988. Since then, much of his time was devoted to social golf and sailing and he is remembered as the best of company.

In tribute to his service as commodore from 1970 to 1973, the flag flew at half-mast over Kinsale Yacht Club to mark his passing.

He is survived by his wife, Joan, daughters Anna, Christine and Lorrayne, son, Eddie, and brother, Brian.