Even in death, smiling Irishman helping others

Dunlop's mother, Ann; son, Charlie; and wife, Nancy. (Photo courtesy of Denise Foley, irishphiladelphia.com)
Dunlop's mother, Ann; son, Charlie; and wife, Nancy. (Photo courtesy of Denise Foley, irishphiladelphia.com)
Posted: April 04, 2013

It was the usual for the tightly knit Irish and Irish- American community in the area - tragedy strikes, the phones ring, and fund-raising begins.

This time, it was for Charlie Dunlop of Havertown. The 46-year-old electrician, who had emigrated from Northern Ireland, dropped dead in his kitchen. His wife and young son walked in to find Dunlop sprawled on the floor.

For many in the Irish community and beyond, Charlie Dunlop's death more than a year ago felt like a direct hit. The cliche seemed to fit - everybody knew Charlie.

"His [funeral] viewing lasted for five hours," said Charlie's father, Sean Dunlop, of Donaghmore, a village in Ireland. "We were dumbstruck."

What surfaced after Dunlop's death from a massive heart attack were the Charlie stories: wiring a new house at no charge, a loan of airfare to Ireland so that a friend could visit home, the Thanksgiving invite to a Philadelphia newcomer with no family in town.

Many of those stories circulated Saturday night at the Springfield Country Club, during a benefit to honor Dunlop. The $100-a-seat event, attended by 518 people, was at first organized to start a college fund for Dunlop's 7-year-old son, Charlie.

But Nancy Dunlop said no thanks. Her husband would prefer that the money help others, as he had always done.

The Charlie Dunlop Memorial Fund will aid families in trouble. Resources will be available immediately, instead of having to rely on a last-minute benefit event or collecting donations. Sadly, it will be thanks to Dunlop.

He came to the United States in 1987, after spending his childhood in County Tyrone, where his lifelong love of Gaelic football began.

Leaving the nest

He lived with his grandmother for three years, taking care of her and learning to cook. But at 20, he wanted to make a move he thought would help him to "better himself," said Sean Dunlop, 69, a retired bus driver.

So, "he left the nest," said Charlie Dunlop's mother, Ann, 68, a retired nurse who came in from Ireland to attend the benefit. "If he didn't like it, he could always come home."

Charlie Dunlop headed to Minnesota, where a cousin had settled, but Dunlop didn't like it. He had friends in Philadelphia, so he moved within a year. He found a second home.

In 2001, he married Nancy McFadden, whose grandfather was born in Ireland. Her family owns McFadden's Tavern in Upper Darby.

Dunlop worked as an electrician, and later started his own company, which his wife now runs. Dunlop played tin whistle in a band that performed in Irish pubs. He helped to restart a County Tyrone football team in a Sunday league that plays at Cardinal Dougherty High School.

Cahal O'Boyle and Dunlop played football together for a local team.

"I met Charlie through friends," said O'Boyle, 42, of Media. "I didn't have a place to stay when I came [from Ireland], and he put me up."


On Saturday, friends and family shared fond memories of a man with a boisterous laugh who loved Chinese food, and who had financed the construction of a house for his parents in Donaghmore.

"Charlie was passionate about three things," said Jake Quinn, a friend who helped organize the banquet, "a united and free Ireland," Irish music and culture, and Gaelic sports.

The evening began with Bridget Reilly playing Dunlop's favorite song on the tin whistle, a haunting "The Lonesome Boatman." Then, friends staged a procession, carrying the jerseys of Ireland's 32 football teams mounted on poles.

Nancy Dunlop, 45, said that if her husband knew about the big fuss that was being made in his honor, he'd say, "Well, stop the lights!" It was his signature phrase, expressing surprise and disbelief.

Quinn added:

"He'd say, 'Remember the young Irish men and women we lost before their time,' " Quinn said, " 'Let's not forget them, either.' "

Contact Kristin E. Holmes

at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

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