There was a great sense of occasion in Granard recently as the town turned out at the local library to welcome the arrival of the famed Hickstead trophy to the birthplace of Ireland’s greatest showjumper, Eddie Macken.
The famed Hickstead Derby, one of the great showjumping competitions will forever be associated with Eddie Macken and his legendary showjumper, Boomerang, after the pairing won it an amazing four years in a row, 1976-79. All the experts agree that it is a feat that will never be repeated and it remains one of the great achievements in the world of sport.
The trophy was given to the town on loan from Dundalk IT as the town looks to honour its greatest son. There is no doubting the immense respect in which Eddie Macken is held locally and that was best illustrated by Cllr PJ Reilly, who worked so hard to bring the trophy to Granard on loan. He remembered how at the height of his career in the 1970/80s, the country came to a standstill when Macken competed. He recalled: “Houses and hotels and anywhere there was a television or a radio went quiet. He was truly one of the sporting greats of his time”.
His Granard roots remained a huge source of pride for Macken and he remains a frequent visitor back to the town. His sister, Doris Looker spoke on the night and said how Eddie was currently in Canada and was aware and delighted that the trophy was arriving home on loan. Another speaker from the Macken family was his brother and popular local businessman, Johnny. He said that Eddie and the Macken family were always very proud of Granard and the great support which the town had shown to him throughout his career.
Today the Macken’s aptly named Boomerang bar stands proudly in the town and it was apt that t’was to the Boomerang that the gathering later retreated. Another speaker on the night was local vet, Brian Gormley, who on many occasions has been attributed with playing a pivotal role in the young rider’s development and critically helped get him into Iris Kellett’s famed showjumping academy.
He told how it was so rare to come across a jockey with such commitment and sense of purpose and that was what really set Macken apart. He also recalled how the Granard man’s exploits prompted an entire generation of young riders to go into showjumping and it was his success that also helped develop the showgrounds located alongside the St Mary’s GAA grounds. He said it would be fitting if the showgrounds were now renamed the Eddie Macken arena.
It was a proposal that was roundly met with enthusiastic applause whilst local businessman, Jimmy Donoghue, who was one of the original committee members behind the development of the showgrounds, said he would be especially honoured to second this proposal.
A very special guest on the night was the Director of Dundalk Institute, Denis Cummins, and his wife, Sandra. He explained how the trophy came to be in the possession of the college. Macken enjoyed the sponsorship of the Carroll’s cigarette company and the Carroll family were enthusiastic art collectors.
After Macken won the Hickstead derby a record fourth successive time, three replica trophies were crafted and one of these went on display in the Carroll’s factory in Dundalk. More recently the factory closed and was later purchased by Dundalk IT to facilitate the expansion of its campus. The Carroll family kindly allowed a number of pieces of art to remain and these included the Hickstead trophy.
Mr Cummins said he was honoured to be in Granard with the trophy and he was well aware of the close connection with the sportsman and the north Longford town. He was also especially pleased that the college continues to have a strong relationship with students from the area and he was delighted to assist when first approached about allowing the trophy to come on loan to Granard.
The Hickstead trophy is currently on display in Granard town library.