Sculpture a nod to local area's rich horse breeding heritage
GrangeCon Tidy Towns group was delighted to unveil the new sculpture 'Capall Agus Marcach' (Horse and Rider) in the village last week.
The sculpture was commissioned to celebrate over 100 years of horse breeding, training and racing in Grangecon. The horse industry has been the key source of employment in the village over the years and, today, there are a number of very successful local stud farms, along with independent horse trainers and stables.
The project started with a €1,000 government grant in celebration of 60 years of the competition and Grangecon Tidy Town's vision to celebrate the horse industry.
The committee approached Rupert Till, a former village resident who previously created the sculpture of 'Con', the granary hound, for the village. Rupert's inspiration for the new horse sculpture came from his love of horse racing paintings by Edgar Degas and Sir Alfred Munnings. The sculpture depicts a horse and jockey from the past, while the 3D design gives movement, allowing the horse to look like it is cantering out of the frame.
The frame itself represents time and conveys the message that locals could be celebrating racing connections with villagers of the past or the present, be it horse breeding, training or racing.
The grant covered the cost of materials and shipping and Rupert very generously gifted the sculpture to the village. In Rupert's own words: 'I owe an awful lot to the village and I loved living at Knockarigg, so whatever I am going to do is going to be very impressive and the envy of County Wicklow'.
The sculpture gained provenance en-route to the village as it was exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show in May, where it was greatly admired by all and, in particular, by celebrity gardener, Dermot O'Neill.
Grangecon Tidy Towns is extremely grateful to Rupert, as they would never have been able to afford such an impressive piece of art themselves, and his gift has allowed them to celebrate horses in a way that they never dreamt of.
On Saturday, September 29, Cllr Edward Timmins unveiled the commemorative plaque and provided an interesting history of Grangecon's long and successful tradition of racehorse training and breeding.
Special recognition was given to Francis Flood, Paddy Sleator and their families, who continue the tradition today.
Francis Flood won most of the big prizes in national hunt racing during his long career at the turf. Two of his most outstanding horses were 'Glencaraig Lady', winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1972, and 'Bobsline', which won the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham 12 years later. He also won the Irish Grand National twice with 'Garoupe' in 1970, the year he was crowned Champion Trainer, and with'Ebony Jane' in 1993.
Paddy Sleator was Champion Irish Amateur Jockey in 1934, 1937 and 1938, becoming a leading Irish trainer in 1958. In addition, he sent out the greatest number of winners each year from 1955 to 1961. Besides riding 'Reviewer' to victory in the 1934 Galway Plate, Paddy went on to saddle no fewer than nine winners of this famous race. The 1960 Champion Hurdle win with 'Another Flash' was the highlight of his Cheltenham Festival winners. His wins led to a change in Turf Club rules, whereby bumper form no longer qualified horses for flat handicap marks. Paddy's subsequent English campaign with a satellite stable led to similar rule amendments in Britain. 'Black Ice', 'Albinella' and 'Scottish Memories' were his outstanding jumpers, notching up almost 30 victories.
Today Paddy Sleator's daughter Diane runs the successful Barronstown Stud with her husband David Nagle, which has produced 22 winners of 33 Group one races in nine countries across three continents.
Grangecon Stud, owned by Rick Barnes, has also bred outstanding horses including 'Emerald Commander', 'Heatseeker' and 'Canary Row'.
Trainers working in the village today are Francis Flood Jnr, Helen Markham, John Sleator (carrying on the tradition from his father Noel Sleator) and Jackie McGeer, while past trainers included Willie Bourke, Marty Dunne and Victor Bones, who all contributed to the industry.
Grangecon Tidy Towns has extended its thanks to Rupert Till, for his impressive sculpture; Edward Timmins and Wicklow County Council for dealing with planning permission requirements; Moore's Pub for hosting the refreshments; and to the great crowd that joined them on the day to celebrate the unveiling.
The Tidy Towns committee operates purely upon voluntary donations received from village residents, without which such projects would not happen.