Coakley, Denis (1922–87), businessman and farmer, was born 15 October 1922 at Bunkilla, Donoughmore, Co. Cork, the son of farmers Jeremiah Coakley and Katy (née Buckley) Coakley. Educated at Presentation College, Cork, and UCC, he qualified with a diploma in dairy science (1946) and joined the Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society (IAWS), where he became manager of a newly established plant for processing ryegrass seed at Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan, and later manager of the IAWS seed department. Having established the IAWS as a key player in the international seed trade, he was appointed its general manager in 1954, but this decision was later rescinded by the board; Coakley left the company in acrimonious circumstances.
With capital arranged through a British agri-business company, in 1956 he founded with Sean O'Connor and Paul Traynor, former IAWS employees, Denis Coakley & Co. Ltd, an agricultural wholesale distribution company. It became a major force in the Irish wholesale seed business, broke a strong European potash fertiliser cartel, and was the Irish agent for the chemical company BASF. Coakley reputedly bought seed from ships while they were still at sea and then sold the seed before the ship had docked; by so doing he dramatically reduced his overhead transport costs. Having established Denis Coakley & Co. as one of the foremost distributors of agricultural products, he was determined to diversify the product base of his company to avoid the pitfalls of relying on one market. To that end he exploited the connections he had developed during his time at IAWS with the German chemicals firm BASF. Initially his company was Irish agent for BASF fertilizers, but in 1960 it became the Irish agent for BASF raw materials. Ireland was one of only two European countries in which BASF did not have a direct presence and the agency was to prove the cornerstone of Coakley's success until the early 1980s. In addition to manufacturing chemicals BASF produced tape recorders and tape, which Coakley used to diversify further his business; he later complemented this side of his enterprise when he secured the Irish agency for the Japanese consumer electronics firm Sanyo.
The early 1970s saw Denis Coakley & Co. expand rapidly due to Ireland's entry into the EEC and the purchase of yet more businesses. In 1972 he bought out W. Drummond & Sons, his main competitor in the seed business, for £300,000, while diversification of the original business continued with the purchase of the wholesale jewellers Wagstaff & Wilson; in conjunction with the latter transaction he acquired the agency for Seiko watches. In 1973 he founded a firm in London for the purpose of importing agricultural machinery into both Britain and Ireland, and around the same time all his Irish operations were moved to a twelve-acre site beside his home at Clonee, Co. Meath. By 1976 Coakley's enterprises embraced the distribution of seeds (he controlled fifty per cent of the Irish market), agricultural and industrial chemicals, consumer electronics, jewellery, building materials, and wine and spirits. At the peak of their success Coakley's companies had a reported turnover of nearly £40 million and employed 400 people.
Despite the phenomenal expansion of Coakley's businesses and substantial turnover, success was shortlived with the onset of recession in the late 1970s and its continuance into the 1980s. High turnover masked small profits that became losses. The negative side of EEC membership began to tell on the agricultural sector and sales within the seed and agricultural chemicals division of Coakley's business were badly hit. In September 1979 Coakley's jewellery division lost the Seiko agency to a former employee. By the mid-1980s the Coakley business had incurred heavy debts, lost its valuable agencies, and was tottering on the brink of closure.
In the public sector Coakley was appointed chairman of the pigs and bacon commission in 1972 and served as chairman of Siúcre Éireann (1976–81), where he instituted a major modernisation and expansion programme to enable the company to compete with other European producers. He was prominent in his support of the Irish bloodstock industry and was a member of the Turf Club; he was appointed to the Racing Board in 1976. A successful racehorse owner, he was part of a four-man consortium that owned, among others, Nocturnal Spree, which was sold in December 1976 for £100,000 (having been acquired for £7,000). He was joint master of the Ward Union stag hunt from 1973.
Coakley was married to Margaret Mary O'Reilly, with whom he had three sons and two daughters; their home was Glenmore House, Clonee, Co. Meath. He died 23 January 1987 at Our Lady's Hospice, Harold's Cross, Dublin.