Unable to talk, walk or use his hands, he was confined to a wheelchair -- but his intellect was unimpaired. He wrote by using a special keyboard; to help him type, his mother often held his head in her cupped hands while he painstakingly picked out each word, letter by letter, with the aid of a rod, or "unicorn stick", attached to a headband which allowed him slowly to tap out words on a typewriter.
The courage and willpower he displayed in these circumstances was astonishing. In 1987, when he was 21, he published an autobiographical novel, Under the Eye of the Clock, which won the Whitbread Award. The book employed the character of a young man called Joseph Mehan to present Nolan's own struggle with disability. An introduction by Professor John Carey, Merton Professor of English Literature at Oxford, praised the author's sense of language, "expanding beyond its own boundaries, and beyond our reach".
When he won the Whitbread, Nolan's acceptance speech was read by his mother, Bernadette. "I want to shout with joy. My heart is full of gratitude," Nolan said. "Imagine, if you will, what I would have missed if the doctors had not revived me. Can it be right for man to turn on his handicapped brother and silence him before he can ever draw breath?"
He went on: "History is now in the making. Tonight, crippled man is taking his place on the world's literary stage."
Christopher John Nolan was born on September 6, 1965, at Mullingar, Co Westmeath, in Ireland. His family were small farmers, although his father, Joseph, also worked as a psychiatric nurse.
When Christy was six, his mother was told by a doctor that he had the brain of a baby, but a subsequent test found he was of exceptional intelligence.
The Nolans decided to sell up and move to Dublin so that he could attend the Central Remedial Clinic School there. When he was 11, he was given access to a new drug, Lioresal, which helped him gain some control over his head and neck, allowing him to use a typewriter with a head stick. For the first time in his life, he was able to communicate with words, and in a letter to his aunt and uncle he wrote: "I bet you never thought you would be hearing from me! To think that I would be able to write to you was beyond my wildest dreams."
In 1980, aged 14, he published his first book, a volume of poetry called A Damburst of Dreams, and, from Mount Temple Comprehensive School, he won a place to read English at Trinity College, Dublin.
The arduousness of taking a degree course with his disabilities, however, convinced him to leave without completing his degree; instead he concentrated on writing Under the Eye of the Clock.
Winning the £20,000 Whitbread Award enabled Christy to fulfil a long-held ambition. "He wanted to move to a place with a view," his mother said. "When he wrote his autobiography we lived in Clontarf. If you looked out the back door you saw a shed. If you looked out the front you saw some traffic." With the success of Under the Eye of the Clock, the family could buy a cottage in Dublin with views over the bay and towards the distant mountains.
Nolan now embarked on his novel The Banyan Tree. Published in 1999, it runs to 120,000 words and took him 11 years to write.
On one occasion, finding himself dissatisfied with the direction of the plot, he jettisoned 35 pages of text -- a brave decision, given that his pace of writing was such that he was lucky if he completed a couple of pages a day.
The book tells the story of an Irish rural shopkeeper's daughter, Minnie O'Brien, and her family and covers a period from the 1920s to the 1980s.
This was new territory for the author, who said: "My characters were able-bodied, voice-gifted and female. I knew I could do it, but it was hard trying to get inside the mind of a young girl, then grow old with her."
Ion Trewin, now administrator of the Booker Prize, said on the publication of The Banyan Tree: "The book is extraordinary -- a wonderful story, beautifully told. It is Joycean in its quality. When you think of Christy's disabilities, it is an even more remarkable work. But the novel is a tremendous piece of writing by any standards."
Nolan himself explained the difficult process of writing as follows: "My mind is just like a spin-dryer at full speed; my thoughts fly around my skull while millions of beautiful words cascade down into my lap. Images gunfire across my consciousness. Try, then, to imagine how frustrating it is to give expression to that avalanche in efforts of one great nod after another."
So gruelling was the process that, when he was six years into the novel, Nolan's mother suggested he give it up: "I got fed up and said to him 'Please stop. This is ridiculous, Christy, we're none of us having any kind of life'. I told him no one would criticise him for not finishing the book. I will never forget the look he gave me. I could see that he was horrified that I should even suggest giving up. He was hurt and shocked. It was just one look, but it told me everything I needed to know."
Nolan, and his mother, persevered. "Sometimes he'd go at it from 11am to 8pm," she recalled. "At other times, he would start, then shake his head when the inspiration wasn't coming. He never really knows until he gets the headgear on. But when the mood takes him, it is as if time stands still."
With the exception of email, which allowed Nolan to communicate more freely than before, the technological developments of recent years were of little help to him: his keyboard touch was too heavy, and, besides, he enjoyed the sound and rhythm of the typewriter.
In 1988, Nolan wrote (with the theatre director Michael Scott) Torchlight And Laser Beams, a stage version of Under the Eye of the Clock that was taken to the Edinburgh Festival. At the time of his death, he was working on another novel, A Dream Awakening, which remains unfinished.
Both U2 and REM have penned songs inspired by Christy, and he also won a number of national and international awards including the Medal of Excellence from the United Nation's Society of Writers in the US, and in 1991 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Lancaster University
He was Person of the Year at home in Ireland in 1988 and was awarded the Sunday Independent-Irish Life Arts Award for Literature
Christy Nolan is survived by the devoted family who looked after him throughout his life: his father, Joseph, his mother, Bernadette, and his sister, Yvonne.