The businessman and horse trainer was renowned for his charm and fondness for the good life, says Liam Collins
Published 21/03/2010 | 05:00
John Mulhern, businessman and horse trainer, was a familiar figure at Cheltenham races for many years, immaculately dressed in a crombie coat and trilby hat and puffing a large Havana cigar. In the bar of the Queens Hotel the owner of the Meadow Court Stud in Kildare would impart an important piece of advice to fellow Irish punters, "Your patriotic duty is not to bet on Irish horses -- your patriotic duty is to bet on winners and take money from bookies."
Debonair, charming and fond of the good life, he once claimed that if he was to write his autobiography it would be titled: Horses I Knew and the Women I Came Across.
But that all changed in January 1988 when he secretly married Eimear Haughey, the then 32-year-old daughter of the Fianna Fail leader Charlie Haughey and acquired for himself an unwanted prominence outside business and racing circles.
John Mulhern was born into that privileged world of Irish business in 1941.
His father Eddie was president of the Dublin Stock Exchange and his uncles Tom and Max were officials of the Turf Club. Their father had been manager of the famous 'Boss' Croker's stud in Glencairn, Leopardstown, Dublin where the famous Derby winner Orby was trained and which is now the residence of the British ambassador.
After studying veterinary medicine at University College Dublin, during which time he is said to have pawned his books for money to gamble on horses, he got a job as the Erin Foods representative in Manchester. He came back to Ireland in the early-Sixties to join Clayton Love Distributors. He went on to acquire a majority share in the company which distributed Findus Frozen Foods in Ireland. The success of its Fish Fingers, which had a guaranteed weekly market due to the Catholic Church 'fish only' policy on Friday, literally made him a multi-millionaire and allowed him to pursue his passion for racing at Meadow Court where he lived. A dapper bachelor, he was a familiar figure around the racecourses, the Horseshoe Bar in the Shelbourne Hotel and Le Coq Hardi restaurant with a string of beautiful women.
He hunted, played polo and attended race meetings in Ireland and Britain, pursuing his love of the sport and promoting his business interests. He was also a loyal supporter of Fianna Fail and a friend of 'The Boss'.
During his racing career he was closely associated with the Cheltenham Winner Friendly Alliance, Galmoy and Owen's Image. But perhaps his greatest racing coup was to buy Flashing Steel for his father-in-law and train the horse to win 26 races, including the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse. Mulhern and his wife later acquired Maddenstown Stud, also in Kildare. Mulhern was a forceful character on and off the racecourse and was once warned by the Stewards of the Turf Club for what they termed his "aggressive and belligerent attitude" to the racing authorities.
In later years John Mulhern's business affairs caused him a good deal of unwanted publicity. As the Sunday Independent revealed, he was a 'secret' investor in the failed independent radio station Century Radio, the subject of a lengthy investigation by the Flood/Mahon Tribunal; he also became embroiled in the Ansbacher scandal through dealings with his friend Des Traynor and the offshore bank Guinness & Mahon and in recent weeks he made a hefty €1.4m settlement with Revenue over unpaid taxes.
But to many people in racing and in business circles John Mulhern, who died last week at the age of 69, was an affable figure who was passionately committed to National Hunt racing.
He is survived by his wife Eimear, and was buried in St Conleth's Cemetery, Newbridge Co Kildare last Thursday.