Last Saturday week, Oliver Brady lay in his bed in the Mater Private Hospital, the illnesses which had been his constant companion for almost two decades waging their final war with his body, but still his mind was planning for the future, thinking of the next horse, the next race, and maybe perhaps that elusive Cheltenham winner.
The effervescent racehorse trainer, businessman and charity fund-raiser made a call to friend and fellow trainer John Oxx about a horse he was offering for sale in the auction before Irish Champions Weekend got underway at Leopardstown. The 75-year-old wanted to know if it was worth buying.
Last Tuesday morning, September 16, Brady passed away peacefully in his sleep, the light finally flickering and dying. With it, went a man whose passion and spirit had brightened the days and lives of so many people he had met and those who knew him only through his famous celebrations at racecourses across the country when his horses won.
In 2003, Brady was told by doctors he had just six months to live after they removed a cyst the size of a golf ball from his stomach. Some people, when confronted with the cold reality of their imminent mortality would have shrivelled up, withered and accepted their fate, but not Oliver Brady. The trainer had fought illness for almost a decade by then, but he had been battling the odds for most of his life.
He was born into a family of ten in Ballybay, Co Monaghan in 1938, but life was difficult for the Brady family. As a young child, he lost his father, Johnny, and his mother, Annie, singlehandedly brought up her children. Oliver Brady was just 13 when he had to leave school and get a job, first in the local tannery, before ending up in a silk mill in Ballymena, an experience that would have a profound effect on his later career.
Like so many Irish people of his, and plenty of other generations, London called with the promise of work and a future that seemed cut off in rural Ireland. Brady set up a car dealership of sorts and through that enterprise his path crossed with that of the Shah family from Kenya. Their friendship would define the rest of his days.
In the early 1980s, he returned to Monaghan and set up the Shabra plastics recycling company in Castleblayney, with his best friend and soulmate Rita Shah. It expanded to become the Shabra Group, encompassing the Shabra Charity which the pair established in 2009 with the aim of funding research into heart disease and cancer in Ireland and supporting AIDS orphans in Kenya.
Brady established a training yard and stables in Ballybay, Co Monaghan, and horses sporting Shah's red and black silks became a feature of racing. Brady dreamed of the ultimate prize, a Cheltenham winner, but it was not to be, and his time at the festival was marked by a series of near misses. Baron De Feypo's third place finish in the 2007 Coral Cup the closest he came to grasping that victory, but to the bemusement of the Cotswolds crowd and the sheer delight of the Irish present, Brady celebrated as if he had triumphed, taking off his suit jacket and shirt, Superman style, to reveal the jersey of his beloved Monaghan beneath.
On Saturday, September 13, the Shabra Charity Cycle -the latest fund-raising endeavour by the pair's charity - took place around the Moyvalley Hotel in Co Kildare, which Brady and Shah along with other investors purchased earlier this year. Ever thinking of the future, Brady's final, short stint in the Mater Private was spent looking for more ways to help and he made Shah promise to carry on their work and buy a gene-testing machine for the hospital.
In an eloquently moving tribute, Shah revealed that Brady was buried with a bunch of geraniums for his beloved mother, whose photograph watched over her son while he slept every night.
"You told me once how you walked around Ballybay as a boy with cardboard in your shoes. Now you'll meet your mother in the style of a king, in a horse-drawn carriage," she said.