Born a decade apart – O’Brien on April 9, 1917, La Rue on July 26, 1927 – hardly 35 miles separated their places of birth. O’Brien was born at Churchtown, Co Cork. La Rue, or Daniel Patrick Carroll as his mother named him, was born in Cork city.
Both were born in an insular, impoverished country where opportunity called but once if it called at all. These men, born just either side of Irish independence, overcame these challenges and lived lives of considerable achievement. La Rue, like more or less everyone else on the planet, would not feel slighted by having to stand in O’Brien’s shadow if the scale of their achievements were considered.
O’Brien was the pivotal figure in world horse racing in the last half century. His victories include four Cheltenham Gold Cups, three Champion Hurdles and three consecutive Grand Nationals; when he turned his attention to the Flat, at the age of 41, he went on to take 27 Irish Classics, three Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes and 16 English Classics, including six Epsom Derbies.
This is by no means a comprehensive record, but it is because of his enduring presence on the racecourses of the world that O’Brien will be primarily remembered. He will be remembered too as an inspiration by anyone with a few acres, a decent mare and a dream – he reached his great heights despite modest beginnings.
His long time ally Lester Piggott, who never wastes words, put it simply when asked to place O’Brien in racing’s pantheon: “Of course Vincent was the greatest – look at the figures.”
Danny La Rue chose a career path that may not have been too crowded in the Ireland of the 1930s. He, as the self-styled grand dame of female impersonation, became one of the biggest stars on the cabaret circuit.
Each of these men can teach us valuable lessons. Both had a dream, both had talent and both had determination, courage, energy and an appetite for work. Both succeeded. Both lives are a cause for celebration.