Tuesday 20 February 2018

Obituary: Des Cullen

Gifted motorsport enthusiast with 'a glint in his eye and appetite for fun', writes Liam Collins

RACE ACE: Des Cullen
RACE ACE: Des Cullen

Des Cullen, who has died aged 86, was a towering figure in Irish motorsport. Described as a "naturally gifted all-rounder", he took part in road races, car rallying, motorbike racing, scrambling and auto test at home and abroad, winning more than 1,000 trophies from 1950.

"He lived a bold, often irresponsible life, with a glint in his eye and an appetite for fun," his son Michael, who raced with and against his father, told mourners after his father's funeral Mass in the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Foxrock.

In 1951 at the age of 20 he set the 200cc motorbike lap record in the Phoenix Park and would proudly declare that it has never been beaten.

He went on to race there for 45 consecutive annual events. Ten years later he won the Holmpatrick Trophy car race in Dunboyne, Co Meath, at an average speed of 76mph, in an Austin-Healy Sprite.

Born on December 20, 1930, he was educated in St Peter's College Wexford, where he was a handy football player. In the mid-1940s, his father sold the family farm and moved to Dublin, where he worked as a fundraiser for the Fine Gael party.

Des left school after the Intermediate Certificate and joined Buckley Car Accessories. In 1956, he moved to Reg Armstrong Motors and travelled to every corner of Ireland setting up the company's dealer network for NSU, Honda and Opel, before opening his own business Wheelspin Ltd, later Des Cullen Cars, which operated from Rathmines and later the Beacon in south Co Dublin. When his son, Michael, graduated from UCD in Commerce his father remarked to him and a group of his friends, "we're all UCD men now". When one of them said they hadn't realised he was in UCD, he replied: "I didn't, I am a UCD - Used Car Dealer."

Des Cullen and his brother, Jim, were steeped in motorbike and car racing of all types and spent their weekends and spare time tinkering with cars and travelling to events far and wide, first in Ireland then all over the world.

In 1961 while on holiday with a group of friends in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, he met Colette Parris, who was born in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, but grew up in Dublin.

One of her sisters, Bernie, was the mother of Veronica Guerin, murdered on the orders of drug peddler John Gilligan.

Des and Colette married nine months later in 1962 and had three children - Michael, Pauline and Annmarie.

In later years, Des and his son, Michael, a champion bike and car racer, travelled all over Ireland, the UK, Europe and the US, racing in everything from Ford Fiestas to Ferraris.

"No mater how good or bad the results were, whether we won or whether we lost, dad enjoyed every minute of every race," said Michael.

"It is a fantastic ability, to be able to enjoy success and failure in equal measure.

"Dad was able to do so because he had a strong belief that life was always to be enjoyed, both work and play and he absolutely followed this mantra during his entire 86 years."

In 2007, as Michael Cullen was spending most of his time on the Beacon Hospital project, they closed the car business but his father took an office in the nearby complex and continued to use it up to weeks before his death.

His wife, Colette, died on New Year's Eve in 2005 after 43 years of happy marriage. Two years later, through a mutual love of cars, he met Angela McGurk and they had a wonderful life together and a busy social life attending vintage car events all over Ireland.

Des Cullen, who died on January 14, lived for most of his adult life in Terenure but in later years lived in Foxrock.

Sunday Independent

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