The image shows him with his friends at 2 a.m. Sunday, but everything after that is a mystery, one compounded by the blurry memory of friends who had been drinking. Now, an intense search is under way across the northern city of Bydgoszcz and in its Brda River involving more than 100 police officers.
Photos of Nolan have been plastered around the city and one police official says the disappearance is highly unusual for a usually peaceful place.
"Nothing like this has ever happened (here) before," police spokeswoman Monika Chlebicz told The Associated Press on Tuesday, providing new details into the search.
Nolan's own phone has been out of service since around the time he was last photographed. After his friends had slept and woke up later Sunday morning, they tried calling Nolan in his hotel room and only then realized he had never returned there.
They then returned to the riverside bars where they had been the night before to look for him, but about 15 hours lapsed before they reported him missing.
Police said they have no information pointing to foul play and that so far they are treating Nolan as a missing person. Rescue divers were called in Tuesday to begin a search of the Brda River, which runs through the historic city centre and is lined with bars and restaurants. The underwater search will resume Wednesday.
"Mr. Nolan's friends are of course trying to help the police, but the problem is that it was a party night; they don't remember exactly when it was that they last saw him. They are trying to remember, but it's not very easy and so their information is not very helpful" so far, Chlebicz said.
Nolan, of Blessington, County Wicklow, was in Poland for Euro 2012 games. He had been travelling with friends in a rented camper van, but was also registered at a hotel on the city's outskirts. He was last seen visiting local bars after watching televised games in a fan zone Saturday night.
Chlebicz said she is sure the missing Irishman has not left Poland nor travelled far from Bydgoszcz, because he had left his passport at the hotel and only had about 300 zlotys ($90) on him. A credit card he was carrying has not been used since his disappearance.
"We are hoping for a happy end to this situation, but right now we really don't know what has happened," she said.
In Ireland, Nolan's parents were distraught with his father expecting a call from his son Sunday on Father's Day after speaking to him the previous day.
"If there's anything anybody can do, we'd really appreciate it," Jimmy Nolan said during an interview Monday night on Irish state television RTE.
Fighting back tears, the father said "I know he's probably OK, but I mean, if anybody anywhere knows anything, please just let us know. Text us or ring us, or ring" the Irish police. He and his wife Essie appealed for Irish soccer fans still in Poland to help search for their son.
A Twitter campaign aimed at finding Nolan, who studies environment engineering at Tallaght Institute of Technology in Dublin, was launched in Ireland with the hashtags (hashtag)FindJames and (hashtag)JamesNolan.
Associated Press writers Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, and Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this report.