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Saturday 21 October 2017

Margaret Jeffares has... A taste for success

Margaret Jeffares talks about juggling the demands of a food business with her passion for horses

Margaret Jeffares with the multiple winning gelding Ballykelly Emperor
Margaret Jeffares with the multiple winning gelding Ballykelly Emperor
Des and Margaret Jeffares with Ballykelly Empress, winner of the All-Ireland two-year-old filly championship in 2014
Siobhan English

Siobhan English

A passion for good food and even better horses has given Margaret Jeffares an idyllic lifestyle that has brought her to all four corners of the world.

From the Dublin Horse Show, to the Taste of the World Festival at the Breeders' Cup race meeting in California, Margaret is perfectly at home once surrounded by some of her life's true loves.

Born and reared in Quin, Co Clare, Margaret spent much of her childhood with horses and ponies. Her father Tom Frost was a well-known judge and competitor on the show circuit, and so it was hardly surprising that his only daughter followed in his footsteps. Her brothers Gordon and Austin, meanwhile, pursued other interests.

As a teenager she remembers competing against the likes of Frances Cash at the RDS, but it was only after spending a year training in dressage with US Olympic rider Dorothy Morkis that she had a change of heart, and decided to return home to study tourism and marketing. "I loved horses and riding but felt I needed to do something more," she said.

Having come from a farming background Margaret always had a passion for the industry, and one day hoped she could give something back to the farmers of Ireland by way of a business in the food and hospitality sector.

"I had already started a consultancy firm in 2000, but I was chatting to my dad one day and asked him what he thought of me setting up a business to help farmers diversify through food. Instead of telling me I was mad, he said that I would need a recession to bring people back to their roots. He was so right."

That was in 2005, and a short time later, as the recession was about to take hold, Margaret founded Good Food Ireland. In her wisdom she had identified a gap to link the agriculture and food sector with the hospitality sector, a link that has made Good Food Ireland the huge success it is today.

With some 600 food producers, farmers, fishermen, restaurants, hotels and cookery schools on their books, Good Food Ireland is the only all-island collection of places committed to offering a genuinely top Irish food experience.

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"For a long time I felt that nobody was pulling all these sectors together, and I really wanted to create a commercial opportunity for them."

Today it is the premium Irish food experience brand, representing Ireland's culinary identity at home and abroad, showcasing the very best food together with the people behind the food.

"Pioneering has bought massive challenges but I thoroughly enjoy it," she said.

A chance meeting on a night out in Quin with fellow showing enthusiast Rebecca Monahan in 1990 led to Margaret meeting her husband Des. In 1994 and she relocated to Drinagh in his home county of Wexford, from where she now operates Good Food Ireland, as well as the equally successfully equine operation, Ballykelly Sport Horses.

In addition it is also home to Ballykelly Blackcurrants, which has been in the Jeffares family now for three generations.

To run any successful business takes a lot of commitment, and so Margaret has little time on her hands as she divides her time between the office desk and the stable yard.

For several years while building up her business Margaret had gone away from horses altogether. But, by her own admission, that was never going to be a permanent arrangement.

"When Dad gave me a present of a foal I knew I had no choice but to get back into them. That was a filly by Clover Clon."

In the years that followed Margaret decided to start her own breeding programme and purchased two more fillies - a yearling and a four-year-old.

That four-year-old turned out to be Corrib Eva, a hugely successful campaigner by Salluceva which proved to be one of the most prolific foundation mares on the farm.

"Both her dam and grandam came from Clare and I had bought her from Tom Casey as Dad used to show a lot of horses for him at the time."

Four generations on the dam side were RDS winners, and Corrib Eva herself won the mares' class there in 2006 and finished up as reserve champion.

Her first foal, the filly Ballykelly Hi Hope, was sold to the Britain as a three-year-old in 2005. She returned to the RDS under saddle two years later to win her lightweight hunter class for owner Debbie Boylan.

That same August show proved to be a truly memorable one for Margaret and Des Jeffares who produced another mare, Debbie's Clover, to win the prestigious Breeders' Championship with her Master Imp colt foal, Ballykelly Mac Master.

Eventing

Now eventing in Britain, he was one of many colts produced by the Farney Clover mare who, in the following years, also bred Ballykelly Emperor.

By the thoroughbred stallion Emperor Augustus, he was crowned the Galway Crystal All-Ireland three-year-old gelding championship in 2013.

"He was also sold to Debbie Boylan soon afterwards. He wasn't shown much as a four-year-old but will contest the middleweight classes this summer."

Now 17, remarkably Debbie's Clover only ever produced one filly. That is Ballykelly Emperor's full-sister Ballykelly Empress, a reserve All-Ireland champion as a foal and winner of the All-Ireland two-year-old filly championship in 2014.

"We've had a lot of interest in her since, but she's definitely not for sale," Margaret said.

Another youngster not yet for sale is Ballykelly Flash Dance. By the Irish Draught stallion Gortfree Hero, he is the latest winner out of Corrib Eva and achieved much success as a foal in 2014 with two All Ireland reserve championships to his name at Ballinasloe and Mountbellew.

Over the years Corrib Eva has been a loyal servant and, though now 19, is still on the show circuit.

For 2015 she is in foal to the Oldenburg stallion OBOS Quality 004, as is Ballykelly Tigris, another good mare who produced such show winners as Ballykelly Clover Diamond.

Owing to the success of previous progeny by the sire, Debbie's Clover is back in foal to Emperor Augustus and, not surprisingly, Margaret is hoping it will be third time lucky as she prepares for the 2015 show season.

"We have a small number of horses here but we've been very lucky with them," she said while paying tribute to Des who is a vital cog in the wheel for Ballykelly Sport Horses.

"We always believe in producing our horses slowly and giving them time to mature and it seems to pay off. We've never had a bad horse. I suppose we've been blessed really."

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