DENIS O’Sullivan, who sadly passed away on Friday, May 1st, having suffered a brain haemorrhage, was without doubt one of the best horsemen I have ever met, as well as being a true gentleman.
Way back in September 1969, we persuaded Denis, who was at the time working with Iris Kellett to come and join the BBA Ireland team of ‘flying grooms’ which consisted of a unique group of men specially selected for their skills of horsemanship and their ability to handle horses in confined spaces on an aircraft travelling over long distances, at 35,000ft.
Denis was very popular with all our owners and his skills were very much in demand. He travelled on all the Coolmore stallion flights to and from Australia and New Zealand in the early days, and with all the yearlings coming from the USA to Ireland for Dr. M.V. O’Brien.
He was instrumental in delivering horses safely to many of our clients around the world, as far away as Japan, Hong Kong, India, the USA and of course to the various countries within Europe.
Denis had a unique ability to calm horses. He loved and trusted them and they responded in a positive way to his kind and gentle nature. He was also very courageous.
On one particular flight of broodmares with foals at foot, travelling in loose boxes, most unusually one of the mares was trying to kick her young foal. Without hesitation, Denis climbed into the box with the mare kicking wildly and picked the foal up in his arms. He somehow managed to avoid being kicked himself which could have resulted in serious injury or worse.
The foal completed the remainder of the flight outside the box completely safe under the calming care of Denis.
The stories of Denis’s feats in almost 40 years of flying horses around the world are many.
In a remarkable show of respect following the funeral mass on May 4th, all of Denis’s neighbours and friends lined up on both sides of Elmcastle Walk in Dublin, where Denis lived, and clapped as the funeral cortege passed slowly by.
Denis will not only be missed by his loving family, wife Hilda, son Jeffrey, daughter Lisa and many friends but also by everyone who knew him in the bloodstock and racing world. May he rest in peace.