The Brooklyn Bards’ Donal Nolan, dead at 58

He was many things—the family archivist, a regular at Kitty Kiernans, a native son of Bay Ridge, devoted caregiver for his mother, and an often corny joke teller. But more than anything did he know how to belt out “Danny Boy” with the best of them.

Donal Nolan, a local musician who co-founded the tri-state touring and traditional Irish acoustic band The Brooklyn Bards, died April 5, at age 58. Nolan is survived by his mother Mary, brother John, sisters Maureen and Carol, and nieces and nephews.

Nolan grew up in Bay Ridge and attended St. Patrick’s School and Fort Hamilton H.S.
He worked in the Financial District for many years before dedicating his tenor opera-trained vocals to beautiful Irish ballads.

The first gig The Brooklyn Bards ever played was at Kelly’s Tavern, an Irish sports bar in Bay Ridge owned by his cousin John Nolan. He was never surprised that Donal got into music, as a kid he was constantly involved in the church choir. Although he was born in America, his parents instilled a home culture that celebrated their Irish heritage. “Danny Boy” was one of Nolan’s most recognized covers; it’s no accident that it was his father’s favorite tune.

Joe Mayer joined the band in 2016, two years after it was founded, after finding a call for auditions on Craigslist. After playing a few songs, he and Nolan immediately hit it off over their passion and talent for music, and became close friends in the process.

Mayer still has trouble believing the news of the unexpected passing of someone who was so clearly full of vigor and life. The Sunday before he passed, Nolan performed one of his best renditions of “Danny Boy” at a funeral at Bay Ridge Manor.

“He just gave an amazing, amazing performance. He sang as strong and powerful as ever. And it’s so weird that he would be this good and then all of a sudden just suddenly gone,” Mayer said.

Although his cousin owns Kelly’s Tavern, Nolan was a regular at other Bay Ridge joints like Hunter’s Point steakhouse and Kitty Kiernans.

“And it literally took me an hour to get from the front door to say a word by his casket, say hello to his mom, and offer my condolences. It was just an hour just to get that. Place was packed, packed,” Steve Gannon, the owner of Hunter’s Steak & Ale House, said.

It makes sense to Gannon, though. He was always pleasant and smiling, never had a bad word to say to anybody and was just one of those neighborhood guys who seemed to know and run into everyone anywhere he went. Although he would frequent Hunter’s for dinner Gannon simply knew him from around the neighborhood.

Among his many other attributes, Nolan was something of a matchmaker. He helped set up Gannon with his now-wife Melissa.

Melissa and Nolan lived in the same building so Steve mentioned his interest. One random night after, Nolan walked up to Melissa, whispered in her ear, and said “Steve has a crush on you – but don’t tell him I said that.”

And all these years later, they’re still together.

“He was so friendly, listened and talked… someone you would naturally gravitate towards,” Melissa Gannon said.

If Donal Nolan wasn’t in either Hunter’s or Kelly’s, you’d most likely find him in Kitty Kiernan’s. The small Irish pub with space for open mics, was Nolan’s watering hole of choice, which he would visit almost every day.

Danny Sullivan, a regular at Kitty Kiernans, who knew Dolan for years, put it bluntly, “The whole neighborhood feels in mourning.”

Sullivan already misses Nolan’s bad jokes. It was a part of his act, incorporating jokes like “What do you call a successful Irish farmer? A man outstanding in his field,” while the band played along as the straight man.

“I keep expecting him to walk to the window, finish his cigarette, and walk-in” Sullivan said before getting emotional.

When asked how he would remember Nolan, Anthony McElroy, another regular at Kitty Kiernans’, said that besides being “a funny guy with bad jokes” he was one the only people he knew who would wear Ireland patterned pajamas to the bar and be spit-shined on Sundays.

“He did it well though. He did it well,” McElroy said in an interview, laughing as he reminisced.

Whenever Nolan was at the bar certain things were guaranteed to happen. You would get your fair share of bad jokes. You would get to see him sing and dance. You would hear him complain about bad singers at the open mics—McElroy said Donal never really “got” the idea of an open mic. He would give you his time and attention. He would do impressions of people in the bar. He would pick out good music for the jukebox. While he wasn’t a fan of rap in general, the fifty-year-old’s favorite song to play in the bar was “In The Morning”, a rap song about morning sex by J. Cole, a detail that bartender Maria Lopez said showed how funny of a guy he was.

“I was blessed to know him and he touched my life deeply,” Sullivan said.”The hardest working band in BK.”

Lets hope, wherever Donal Nolan is, that they have a tin whistle and a mic. It would be the proper avé to him.