Friday 13 December 2019

Gentleman of turf who 'talked with kings, walked with crowd' is buried

Des Hughes' (inset) wife Eileen and son Jockey Richard Hughes
Des Hughes' (inset) wife Eileen and son Jockey Richard Hughes
Des Hughes' (inset) wife Eileen and son Jockey Richard Hughes
Eimear Mulhern (Daughetr of Charles J Haughey) and Tracy Piggott (right) along with Mouse Morris.
Jon Jo O'Neill and Aidan O'Brien
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

THEY came in their hundreds to pay tribute to the gentleman of the turf who had brought joy to so many with his hard-fought wins.

The green racing silks of leading jockey-turned-trainer Dessie Hughes, a photograph of his beloved family, his field glasses and a shoe from his hero horses Hardy Eustace and Our Conor were brought to the altar to encapsulate his loves.

Dessie was a "gentleman" recalled family friend Fr John Byrne in the brimful Carmelite Church in Kildare town, near the trainer's famed Osborne Lodge base on the Curragh.

"Like everyone involved in his beloved sport, horseracing, disappointments and disasters are inevitable, success is precious when it comes. Dessie knew both and through both remained the same gentleman.

"He talked with the crowds and walked with kings, and never lost the common touch," said Fr Byrne of the 71-year-old trainer who had been battling illness for some time.

Chief among the many mourners who filled the pews were his wife and biggest supporter Eileen, daughter Sandra and son Richard, the three-time champion flat jockey.

Many of the jockeys he had help learn the ropes, with a quiet word in the ear, turned out to pay tribute including Conor O'Dwyer, who had been among those to steer Hardy Eustace to victory, and Bryan Cooper, who began to show his own flair under Hughes' guidance.

There were many well-known faces from the winner's enclosure including trainer Aidan O'Brien, his friend trainer Jonjo O'Neill, Mouse Morris, Willie Mullins, Paul Shanahan from Coolmore, former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and former EU commissioner Charlie McCreevy and Barry Connell, owner of Our Conor, with whom he celebrated Cheltenham success. Many had travelled great distances, including jockey Pat Dobbs who flew in from Dubai.

His daughter Sandra, who thanked staff at St Vincent's Private Hospital for their care, recalled that chief among the core values their beloved father instilled in others was to "be up early, work hard and be kind to others".

A letter which Dessie had penned home to his mother at the tender age of 15, some 56-years ago, when he'd joined a racing yard in Thurles, was read out to laughter by his grandson David (15).

It recalled a simpler life of wireless in their room, those famous 6.30am starts, and ended by reassuring her that "they are Catholics".

He had shown his flair early as he played a starring role in hurdle racing in the '70s, landing the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham aboard Monksfield in 1979.

Lar Byrne, the owner of Hardy Eustace, with whom Dessie had thrilled the masses with his Champion Hurdle wins at Cheltenham in the famous Cotswolds in 2004 and 2005, recalled the joy that the extraordinary horseman had brought to so many and his love of storytelling. He also recalled the sad loss of jockey Kieran Kelly, who claimed a glorious victory aboard Hardy Eustace, before tragically suffering a fatal fall at Kilbeggan Racecourse in 2003.

He described how Dessie, a working class boy, from Whitehall, Dublin, often told how during his school days, Dessie vividly dreamed of being on the back of a horse, when the only one he ever saw was the one pulling the milk cart.

"There are gentlemen and then there is Dessie Hughes," he said, echoing the words of Conor O'Dwyer.

He described how the "true blue national jumps man" had a great eye for a horse, and had also proved such a mentor with a tough word but who was also "so so very kind" when it was needed with his young proteges.

Many of those from the next generation that he had helped along their path made their way back to the Curragh yesterday to help him on this, his final journey.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News