Huge crowd gathers for funeral mass of 'extraordinary' Noel O'Brien
A huge attendance gathered at the Church of Our Lady & St Joseph in Caragh, County Kildare, on Thursday morning for the funeral mass of Noel O’Brien, Ireland’s senior National Hunt handicapper, who died on Tuesday morning at the age of 57 following a long battle with cancer.
The racing world was strongly represented in the congregation and there was a guard of honour consisting mainly of his fellow Turf Club officials and colleagues past and present, who walked with the hearse as it arrived at the church.
Mass was celebrated by Fr Joe McDermott who referred to the large crowd present as testament to the respect so many people had for “an extraordinary man”.
McDermott also referred to many of tributes published in Wednesday’s Racing Post to convey how highly O’Brien was regarded both professionally and as a human being by so many people in racing.
Symbols of O’Brien’s life – a golf club, binoculars, a pack of cards, the cap he was rarely seen without and a photo of his family – were brought to the altar.
Fr Richie Flanagan, a friend of O’Brien, said: “I got to know Noel seven years ago through a mutual friend. Before I met him I asked my friend what Noel did for a living. I was told that he handicapped horses and as someone who knew absolutely nothing about racing I said 'that’s not very nice'.
“We often played golf together and shortly before he went into hospital for surgery we played a game and he won the money.
“He was a wonderful person and I never heard him utter an expletive. 'The little ba-' is about as strong as he got!”
'He loved talking'
At the end of the mass, O'Brien's brother John thanked everyone, including the medical team at St James's Hospital in Dublin, who had helped the family in many different ways since Noel underwent surgery in June for oesophageal cancer.
In a short and emotional speech, he mentioned how his brother "loved talking and would never use one word when ten would do".
Those representing the Turf Club included chief executive Denis Egan, outgoing senior steward Meta Osborne and her successor, Harry McCalmont.
Josh Byrne, registrar of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee, Peter Allen, the INHSC senior steward, and Cahir O’Sullivan, who was chief executive of the Turf Club when O’Brien joined the staff in 1977, also attended.
Horse Racing Ireland’s representatives included chairman Joe Keeling, chief executive Brian Kavanagh, director of racing Jason Morris and HRI Racecourses chief executive John Osborne.
Racing greats pay tribute
Others who attended included trainers Willie Mullins, Arthur Moore, Eoin Griffin and David Marnane; Michael Grassick, chief executive of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association; JP McManus and his racing manager Frank Berry; Eddie O’Leary of Gigginstown House Stud; Godolphin chief executive Joe Osborne; Frank Clarke, chief justice of Ireland; former government minister and European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy and bookmakers Paddy Power and Seamus Mulvaney.
Phil Smith and Matthew Tester, both BHA handicappers, Simon Claisse and Barney Clifford, clerks of the course at Cheltenham and Kempton respectively, and broadcaster Mike Vince travelled from Britain to join in bidding farewell to the hugely popular O’Brien who was buried in nearby Caragh cemetery after the mass.
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