Saturday 17 February 2018

Obituary: The Irish peer who outlived curse

The 8th Marquis of Waterford: July 14, 1933 - February 11, 2015

Lord Beresford, a friend of the Duke of Edinburgh. Photo: Associated Newspapers.
Lord Beresford, a friend of the Duke of Edinburgh. Photo: Associated Newspapers.
Curraghmore House: The seat of the Anglo-Irish Beresfords.

The 8th Marquis of Waterford, who has died aged 81, was an Irish peer and a noted player in the Duke of Edinburgh's polo team.

That Lord Waterford reached the age he did might have surprised the superstitious, for some believed his family to be the object of a particularly malevolent curse. He himself inherited the title at only a year old, when his father, the 7th Marquis, died aged 33 in a shooting accident in the gun room at the family seat, Curraghmore, in Co Waterford.

The 3rd Marquis broke his neck in a fall in the hunting field in 1859; the 5th shot himself in 1895, worn down by years of suffering from injuries caused by a hunting accident which had left him crippled; and the 6th Marquis, having narrowly escaped being killed by a lion while big game hunting in Africa, drowned in a river on his estate in 1911 when he was 36.

Neither were the less exalted members of the family immune. Lord Delaval Beresford was killed in a railway accident in Texas in 1907; while in 1910, a Mr C de la Poer Beresford lost his life while attempting to stop a runaway horse.

The marquisate was created in 1789 for George Beresford, the 2nd Earl of Tyrone, and the Beresfords would become one of the most decorated Ango-Irish families, producing a succession of notable politicians, churchmen and soldiers - Lord William Beresford, third son of the 4th Marquis, won a Victoria Cross at Ulundi during the Zulu war of 1879.

John Hubert de la Poer Beresford, who would become the 8th Marquis in infancy, was born on July 14, 1933, the elder son of the 7th Marquis and his wife Juliet. He was educated at Eton, then served as a lieutenant with the Royal Horse Guards Reserve.

A highly skilled horseman, Lord Waterford rode the first of his many point-to-point winners while still at Eton, and he went on to become the youngest-ever member of the Irish Turf Club. Polo, however, was his true calling: from 1960 to 1985 he was captain of the All-Ireland Polo Club and its highest handicap player.

For 12 years (1960-72), he was a member, at both medium and high-goal level, of the Duke of Edinburgh's Windsor Park team, which won the British open championship for the Cowdray Park Gold Cup twice, and on another occasion the high-goal Warwickshire Cup.

At one stage, his Curraghmore team, which enjoyed success both at home and abroad, was comprised of himself and his three sons, the Earl of Tyrone, Lord Charles Beresford and Lord James Beresford.

Inevitably, there were spills. In 1962, both he and the Duke fell heavily when their ponies collided in Windsor Great Park; and a few weeks later, Waterford was taken to hospital when a ball hit by an Argentine player struck him near the eye, causing a deep wound. Turning out for the Duke's team in 1967, Waterford had to be treated for concussion after his pony rolled on top of him.

After retiring from the Army, Waterford returned to Curraghmore and became director of a number of enterprises to provide local employment, among them the Munster Chipboard company, Waterford Properties (a hotel group) and, later, Kenmare Resources, an Irish oil and gas exploration company.

He was a founder patron of the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera.

Lord Waterford devoted much of his time to maintaining and improving the Curraghmore estate, with its 2,500 acres of farmland and 1,000 acres of woodland.

He married, in 1957, Lady Caroline Wyndham-Quin, younger daughter of the 6th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl. They had three sons and a daughter. His eldest son, Henry Nicholas de la Poer Beresford, Earl of Tyrone, born in 1958, succeeds to the title.

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