Farm Ireland

Thursday 19 July 2018

Why the Nations Cup at the Dublin Horse Show is one of the most storied and iconic events in Irish sport


The 2015 Irish winning team
The 2015 Irish winning team

Siobhán English

Next week as the Irish team prepares to bid for a 24th victory in the prestigious Nations Cup for the Aga Khan Trophy, Eddie Macken, James Kernan and Con Power will be the toast of the RDS as they celebrate the 40th anniversary of the memorable three-in-a-row between 1977 and 1979.

Together with the late Paul Darragh, and riding such legendary horses as Boomerang, Heather Honey, Coolronan, Condy and Castlepark, the quartet were heroes of show jumping in that era, remaining as a solid team throughout to win the trophy outright after their three successive victories in the Main Arena.

It was a win that would put them firmly in the history books as the greatest Irish team of all time.

Show jumping in the 1970s and 1980s was a major sport in Ireland, so much so that the Nations Cup was, for many, the highlight of the sporting year.

Although it has sadly lost some of its appeal more recently in favour of some other sports, it continues to be a source of huge enjoyment for thousands of equestrian enthusiasts on the Friday of the Dublin Horse Show each year.

As the show celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Aga Khan Trophy in 2016, it was an opportunity for many to look back at its wonderful history.

The three- in- a- row Aga Khan winning team of Paul Darragh on Heather Honey, Captain Con Power on Coolronan, James Kernan on Condy, and Eddie Macken on Boomerang
The three- in- a- row Aga Khan winning team of Paul Darragh on Heather Honey, Captain Con Power on Coolronan, James Kernan on Condy, and Eddie Macken on Boomerang

It was back in 1925 that Colonel Zeigler of the Swiss Army first suggested holding an international jumping event in Ireland. The proposal caught the attention of H.H. The Aga Khan (who then lived in Switzerland) and he offered a challenge trophy to the winner.

The first competition took place for that trophy in 1926 and in its inaugural year it attracted entries from Great Britain, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Holland and Ireland.

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On that occasion it was won by the Swiss team of Captain von der Weid (Royal Gris) Captain Bühler (Vladimir) and Major Kuhn (Novello). Switzerland went on to win it on a further two occasions in 1927 and 1930 to retain the trophy.

The second-placed Irish team in 1926 comprised of the newly-formed Army trio of Captains Ged O'Dwyer (Oisin), Cyril Harty (Cuchulainn) and Dan Corry on Finghin.

Two years later the same team would give Ireland its first victory on home soil.

This success can be attributed, in part, to the Army Equitation School's inspired appointment of Col. Paul Rodzianko as its head instructor earlier in the same year.

After Switzerland's win in 1930 the Aga Khan Trophy was introduced and with it came a new format. In order for a country to win the trophy outright they had have had secured three Nations Cup victories in succession.

Ireland won it a remarkable four times in succession between 1935 and 1938, winning it outright in 1937 thanks to the team of Captain Fred Aherne (Duhallow) Captain Dan Corry (Red Hugh) and Commandant Ged O'Dwyer (Limerick Lace).

In 1938 Captain Aherne rode Blarney Castle and joined his comrades Corry and O'Dwyer for a momentous fourth victory.

In 1946, after a six year hiatus caused by World War II, the Army Equitation School was re-established at McKee Barracks and the Dublin Horse Show once again hosted the Nations Cup.

Ireland won the Aga Khan trophy that year with a team made up of Comdt. Dan Corry on Antrim Glens, Capt. Jack Stack on Tramore Bay and Lt-Col Jack Lewis on Clontibret.

The first four-man teams appeared in 1948 and Ireland won the event again in 1949. Great Britain secured the first of two outright wins in 1953. They had also won in 1950 and 1951, with the 1952 show being cancelled due to a clash with the Olympic Games in Helsinki.

As a result the fourth Aga Khan Trophy was introduced in 1954, when female riders first made their appearance on teams from France, Germany and Canada.

Ireland fielded its first successful military and civilian team at Dublin in 1963. Capt. Billy Ringrose on Loch an Easpaig, Seamus Hayes on Goodbye, Diana Conolly-Carew on Barrymore and Tommy Wade on Dundrum proved an inspired combination and secured the Aga Khan trophy for that year.

Diana Conolly-Carew was replaced by Captain Ned Campion (Liathdruim) for the 1967 win, and it would be a decade before the Irish would strike again.

Close runners-up to Germany in 1976, 12 months later Ireland kick-started what was a wonderful few years for the sport.

"It was an incredible few years," James Kernan remembers. "I was only 17 when I was on the team that year. I wasn't due to be on the team for 1977 but a week beforehand the chef d'equipe Sean Daly decided to take Larry Kiely out and put me on instead with Condy."

It indeed proved to be a wise decision as the combination jumped a double clear to assist the team to a home win, a feat repeated for the next two years.

"Condy never touched a pole throughout," James added.

"In hindsight I probably didn't appreciate the significance of it then. It was only when I was on the winning team in 1992 that I realised how important it was."

That year James rode the great stallion Touchdown and was joined by Peter Charles (Kruger), Comdt Gerry Mullins (Lismore) and Eddie Macken on Welfenkrone.

Since 1992 Ireland has won it a further six times - 1995, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2012 and 2015 - with Bertram Allen (Romanov), Cian O'Connor (Good Luck), Darragh Kenny (Sans Soucis Z) and Greg Broderick (MHS Going Global) the last Irish quartet to hold the trophy high in the Main Arena.

The current Aga is the sixth in the series and has been competed for since 1980.

Perhaps this year Ireland will start the ball rolling to secure it outright once again.

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