Luke Mullins obituary: Former Army captain who drove growth of Galway Races

Born: January 6th, 1922. Died: June 21st , 2019

Capt Luke Mullins recognised the magic associated with the history and tradition of the Galway Races and his military experience was a great benefit in his new role.

Capt Luke Mullins recognised the magic associated with the history and tradition of the Galway Races and his military experience was a great benefit in his new role.

 

Capt Luke Mullins, who has died aged 97, spearheaded the development of the Galway Races during the 1970s and 1980s.

A spirited character, he was an engaging conversationalist and raconteur with a great interest in people and in the sport and politics of racing. He had a formidable memory and delighted in telling stories about the characters, contests and rivalries that are the essence of racing.

Mullins grew up on a farm at Doninga House, Goresbridge, Co Kilkenny, in a family which was steeped in agriculture and horses. He was the last surviving child of Catherine and William Mullins. His brother Jim later became a well-known figure in agribusiness, his brother Paddy was a renowned horse trainer and another brother, Bill, was an Olympic showjumper and later quartermaster general of the Defence Forces. He had three sisters: Mary, Ursula and Evelyn.

After boarding school at Knockbeg College, near Carlow town, Mullins studied agriculture at the Albert College, Dublin, now DCU. He joined the Defence Forces during the Emergency in 1941. He was commissioned into the cavalry corps in 1944. He served overseas in Cyprus with UNFICYP in 1967-1968. During his UN service, he also acted as a steward at the racecourse in Nicosia.

Skilled marksman

He was a skilled marksman and his years with the cavalry corps enabled him to develop his interest in engines and machinery. Most of his military career was spent on the Curragh but he always retained his love of horses and was a keen racegoer, huntsman and breeder.

Mullins married Rita Ryan, a member of a business family in Newbridge, Co Kildare, in 1955 and they shared a common interest in racing. Mullins left the Army in 1970 and his family moved to Galway when he began his new career with Galway Racecourse.

He recognised the magic associated with the history and tradition of the Galway Races and his military experience was a great benefit in his new role.

Mullins took over the management of the racecourse at an exciting time when Lord Michael Killanin, then chairman of the Galway Races, was also chairman of the International Olympic Committee. Consequently, the media paid great attention as Ballybrit blossomed.

Under the guidance of Lord Killanin and his active committee of local businessmen, Mullins set about developing the Galway festival into the success it has now become.

During his time in Ballybrit the festival meeting grew rapidly from three to six days and new attendance and betting records were created almost every year. Much effort was invested in erecting a new stand, modernising the enclosure facilities and developing the racetrack itself.

He had personal success too when his horse Negrada won the Galway Hurdle in 1976.

One of the extraordinary events during Mullins’s time at Galway Racecourse was the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ballybrit in 1979 to celebrate a youth Mass. Mullins was at the centre of the visit, working closely with the late Bishop Eamonn Casey.

Mullins retired back to Newbridge in 1989. He was a regular visitor to Lexington in Kentucky, the equine centre of the United States, where his elder son David was one of the first of a wave of Irish people to settle in the horse industry there. David owned Doninga Farm but sadly died in 2008 aged 51.

Ardent racegoer

Back home, Mullins remained an ardent racegoer at meetings all over the country. He continued as an honorary member of the Galway Races committee and was awarded life membership of the cavalry club. Although he outlived most of his contemporaries, he retained his keen intellect to the end and enjoyed the company of the generations that followed him.

He had enjoyed robust good health up to a year ago and was active outdoors until a few days before his death. He attended Punchestown Races in May when his nephew Willie Mullins was crowned champion national hunt trainer for the 13th time. Later in May, he attended the first meeting at the refurbished Curragh facilities and toured the impressive new stand.

His wife Rita predeceased him in 2004. Their daughter, Catherine, died in infancy.

He is survived by his daughters Jane and Mary, son Eric, and 11 grandchildren, four of whom have followed him into the equine business. He has one great-grandchild.

Military honours were rendered at his funeral, which was attended by many former Army associates and friends in the racing industry.