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Sir Robin Kinahan (1916 - 1997):
Businessman and politician

Robert George Caldwell, or Robin, Kinahan as everyone knew him, was born in Belfast and educated at Stowe School, Buckingham, from 1929 until 1933, when he joined the family firm, Lyle and Kinahan, wine and spirit merchants. In 1937, he received a Vintners' Company scholarship which enabled him to travel to France, Germany and Portugal to learn more about the trade.  His family was steeped in the business: originally from County Cork, they established a whiskey distillery in Dublin, where Kinahan's ancestor Robert was Lord Mayor in 1853.

At the start of the War in 1939 he was already in the 8th (Belfast) Anti-Aircraft Regiment, which deployed to France, returned before the Dunkirk evacuations, and took part in the defence of Coventry and London. It later deployed to India and Burma under the famous General Slim. At the end of the war he had reached the rank of Captain. He returned to the family business, though also completed his scholarship which had been interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, spending three months in 1946 working in the cellars of Domecq and other sherry producers.

He first ventured into politics in 1948:  he was elected for Oldpark to the Belfast City Council, representing the Ulster Unionist Party, in the process gaining the notable political scalp of Labour activist Billy (later Lord) Blease. In 1958 he was elected by a mere 45 votes to the Northern Ireland Parliament, representing Clifton in Belfast, though he did not stay long, becoming Lord Mayor of Belfast (and ex officio a Northern Ireland Senator) in 1959, then the second-youngest incumbent in that post. He maintained that as Lord Mayor, he could better represent his constituents as Lord Mayor than as a backbench Northern Ireland MP. Furthermore, the liberal-inclined Kinahan was unimpressed with the quality of debating at Stormont, the Northern Ireland Parliament, nor was he impressed with the general attendance record. He was Lord Mayor until 1961; he cited as his most notable achievements, the establishment of a municipal crematorium - opposed by all the major denominations - and the ban on keeping pigsties in central Belfast backyards. Perhaps another notable feature of his term of office was his liberal bent, inviting Cardinals to the City Hall and building relations with mayors of towns in the Republic of Ireland.

In 1963 he left politics to concentrate on business. He was a director of a considerable list of leading firms such as Inglis, Gallaher's, ET Green, Abbey Life, Eagle Star and Old Bushmills Distillery. As Chairman of Ulster bank he also had a seat on the board of National Westminster Bank in Belfast, was chairman of the Ulster Confederation of British Industry, and named as Top Businessman in Ulster. And of course he was chairman of the family firm, Lyle and Kinahan. A brief return to the political world occurred in 1972, when he served on Secretary of State Whitelaw's special advisory committee, set up as part of the "direct rule" system.

Though he made no secret of his ambitiousness, which he stated was nonetheless not exclusively pecuniary, he was also dedicated to charitable work, being involved, amongst other organisations, with the Northern Ireland Hospitals Authority, the Royal Victoria Management Committee, Abbeyfield, the Samaritans, Help the Aged, Cheshire House, the Burma Star Association and the Ulster Operatic Company, of which he was President.

Kinahan's wife, Coralie de Burgh, was a well-known painter from one of the oldest and most distinguished Anglo-Irish families. In 1961 they bought Castle Upton, at Templepatrick, which had been a monastery, and was the only house in Ireland to be restored by Robert Adam, in 1783, though it had fallen into a state approaching dilapidation; the Kinahans restored it to become a residence of character. The visitor on entering would be confronted with an imposing Orange tapestry, reminding them of Kinahan's close attachment to that organisation, which was though hardly what many see as stereotypical: Catholic employees of his firm were ready to cheer him as he marched, which he did every year on 12th July, with his lodge, Eldon Lodge number 7, and he was nearly expelled from the Order when giving away his wife's cousin, a Protestant, in marriage to a Catholic in a Catholic church; he also attended a Catholic funeral. Castle Upton is still in the hands of the Kinahan family, who maintain an art gallery there. His brother was Charles Kinahan, a businessman and politician.

Robin Kinahan was known to all as a charming and engaging man who inspired loyalty in his employees and colleagues as he was loyal to them. His distinctions included being High Sheriff of Belfast, 1955, JP for County Antrim, an honorary LLD from Queen's University, Belfast in 1962 and a knighthood in 1961. He was Vice Lord Lieutenant of Belfast 1976-1985 and was appointed Lord Lieutenant in 1985.

Born: 24 September 1916
Died: 2 May 1997
Richard Froggatt

Wesley McCann