Legal eagle kept an eye on racecourse mysteries


John Brennan:JOHN NEEDHAM Huggard Brennan, who has died in his 97th year, was a solicitor and closely involved in the administration of horse racing in Ireland. But he was more widely known as the mystery writer, anthologist, sometime racing correspondent and biographer John Welcome.

He was in the long tradition of mystery writers including John Buchan, Dornford Yates and Michael Gilbert, and his novels have some of the qualities of those writers who were masters of the light and accomplished professional thriller that is rare today.

His early literary efforts were novels of international intrigue, featuring as the hero Richard Graham, a former steeplechase jockey. Reviewing Hell Is Where You Find It(1968), Ken Gray in this newspaper wrote, “the book is at its best when it is concerned with racehorses and the people who gather around racehorses”.

Another, more high-octane, hero made his debut in Run for Cover(1958). “Pink champagne and barbiturates, Benzedrine for breakfast, and a glass of wine at Cap Ferrat evoke the giddy glamour and insidious shadow of danger for Simon Harald,” the blurb proclaimed of the fictional amateur Formula One driver.

Born in 1914, Brennan grew up in Glena, Wexford, and was educated at Sedbergh School. There he was secretary of the English literature society and also became school prefect. He played cricket and was a useful rugby wing-forward.

He went on to study at Exeter College, Oxford, after which he embarked on a legal career in Cork. Following the outbreak of the second World War he was commissioned in the Royal Artillery, but after his parents died in a fire he was released to take over the running of the family law firm in Wexford. He did not find the law completely fulfilling and added another string – writing – to his bow. His first novel was published in 1950.

Anthologies include Best Smuggling Stories(1967), Best Crime Stories(1968) and with Sir Rupert Mackeson he wrote three books on Snaffles.

His biography of the 19th-century jockey Fred Archer, published in 1967, was highly praised. Neck or Nothing, a biography of the nefarious trainer Bob Sievier followed in 1970, and The Sporting Empress: the Story of Elizabeth of Austria and Bay Middletonwas published in 1975.

Infamous Occasions(1980) chronicles a series of scandals which rocked the racing world, beginning with Sir John Bunbury’s accusation of cheating against the future George V. It also features the exploits of Peter Christian Barrie, a notorious runner of “ringers” who was sentenced to three years hard labour at the Old Bailey in 1920.

Irish Horse Racing(1982) received a mixed reception. The writer and close student of form Francis Stuart observed: “Mr Welcome has made an attempt like that of an amateur rider who sets out bravely at Aintree, even if he does not complete the course.”

Welcome’s novel Grand National, published in 1976, was more warmly received. One reviewer wrote that it “lays fair claim to match the real suspense of the afternoon’s nine-and-a-half minutes for each of its 25 chapters.”

His novel of the War of Independence, Bellary Bay, was set in Kerry, from where his family hailed.

He was a contributor to both the racing and literary pages of The Irish Times.

A member since 1961 of the Irish National Hunt steeplechase committee, to which he was twice senior steward, he became a member of the Turf Club in 1964.

A point-to-point enthusiast, he was a former chairman of Wexford racecourse.

His last outing as an owner was at Listowel in 1998.

He lived at Hermitage, Drinagh, Co Wexford. Predeceased by his wife Stella and son John, he is survived by his daughters Carol, Patricia, Pamela and Sarah (Sally).

John Needham Huggard Brennan (John Welcome): born June 22nd, 1914; died September 30th, 2010