Welcome Address by Mr. Frank Kearney on Rachael Blackmore’s visit to Scoil Ruáin on Tuesday 10th May 2022

Rachael Blackmore May 10th, 2022

A dhaoine uaisle,

Thar ceann foireann agus daltaí Scoil Ruáin, fearaim fíorchaoin fáilte roimh dhuine d’fhíorlaochra Thiobraid Árann, réaltóg na rasaíochta agus cailín bán Chill Náile, an marcach dochloíte, Rachel Blackmore.

Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the staff and students of Scoil Ruáin, I extend a hearty and heartfelt welcome to one of Tipperary’s true all-time heroes, and the darling of Killenaule, the great Rachael Blackmore.

For those of you who don’t know there has been much talk in the media in recent times of glass ceilings and how two of Ireland’s most illustrious daughters, Rachael Blackmore and Katie Taylor, have repeatedly showered us with broken glass, such are the glass celilings they have shattered. Breaking glass ceilings can best be described in words made famous in the original Star Trek series on television: “to boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before” when Captain Kirk on the star ship Enterprise was venturing into the unknown to explore space, the final frontier.

These ladies have done what was, up to very recently, unimaginable in their respective sports of horse racing and boxing.  Not only have they put female participation in these most physically and mentally demamding sports on a par with their male counterparts, they have surpassed the achievements of the vast majority of males in their sports and proved themselves to be true legends in their own lifetimes.

It is, indeed, a privilege to welcome Killenaule’s very own sports superstar home, to her own people, to us who marvel at and rejoice in her achievements in the saddle.

Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle, names to rival the legendary Arkle and Pat Taaffe, two female equine stars whose names will be forever linked and indellibly etched in the pantheon of horse racing’s greatest and, indeed, in the annals of Ireland’s all-time greatest sports stars.

Ireland, and particularly Tipperary, has long loved its horses and the “sport of kings”. Only down the road from Rachael’s birthplace stands the most famous stud farm in the world, Coolmore. Some of the greatest horse trainers ever known are living among us today: Aidan O’Brien, unrivalled in flat racing, trains just outside Cashel in Ballydoyle. The peerless Willie Mullins has become the most successful jumps trainer of all time. Locally we have a host of successful horse trainers, including Edward O’Grady of Ballynonty and Mouse Morris of Fethard. Tipperary has produced jockeys of international class over the decades such as Mick Kinane and Christy Roche on the flat and Charlie Swan and Killenaule’s Tommy Ryan over the jumps.

Our very own Scoil Ruáin can boast of a great tradition in producing talented young jockeys such as Shane Hassett, Ben Coen, Gavin Ryan and Andrew Slattery and most recently, our promising fifth year, Jake Coen. We follow their careers with great interest and no littlr pride.

It is unquestionably true, however, that Rachael Blackmore stands head and shoulders above all these greats and aspiring greats in what she has done for the sport of horse racing. She has given the sport a publicity, a profile and a prestige that none of her predecessors has managed. She has brought an army of young adoring fans, boys and girls to the sport.

Just a reminder of some of the glass ceilings, the firsts, in Rachel’s litany of achievements:

Rachael was the first female jockey to ride the winner of the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham racing festival, the Olympics of jump racing. This she achieved last year on the unbeaten (and possibly unbeatable) mare, Honeysuckle. They followed up with a second victory in the same race at this year’s festival. We hope that the treble will be achieved next Spring in the Cotswold Hills.

Rachael was the first female jockey to be crowned leading rider at the Cheltenham festival, riding six winners over the four days last year, a truly incredible achievement.

Rachael was the first female jockey to ride the winner of jump racing’s most famous race, the Aintree Grand National, a gruelling marathon of four and a half miles over some of the stiffest and most intimidating fences in  the world of racing. To add to the sweetness of the occasion, the horse, Minella Times, was bred by Clonmel hotelier, John Nallen.

This year Rachael became the first female to ride the winner of the “blue riband” of jump racing, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, having been agonisingly denied in last year’s race. A Plus Tard put up a fantastic display of jumping and showed a scintillating turn of speed to storm up the hill to the line.

These victories have propelled her to international stardom and she has been honoured with the RTE Sports Personality of the Year in 2021 and the BBC Sports Person of tha Year last year as well.

All these successes have been achieved in a very short period of time as Rachael only became a professional jockey seven years ago in 2015. Rachael has been instrumental in advancing the career of Henry de Bromhead, the Waterford trainer for whom Rachael rides as stable jockey.

One would be forgiven for thinking that, with the enormous effort and dedication required to get to the very top of her sport, that Rachael’s education may have been neglected. Far from it! This remarkable young lady had achieved a degree in Equine Science from the Universtiy of Limerick before she became a professional jockey. The message here is clear: it is possible to combine excellence in both sport and education with focus, hard work, commitment and dedication.

Another interesting fact that many people may not know is that Rachael’s mother, Emir, taught here in Scoil Ruain for a year before going on to Carrick-on-Suir where she still teaches.

Rachael, we really appreciate you taking the time to visit our school and for allowing us to thank you in person for the great lift you gave to the entire community during the challenging and gloomy days of lockdown last year. You lifted the hearts and spirits of the people of Killenaule, Tipperary and indeed, the whole of Ireland with your swashbuckling exploits on the racetracks of Ireland and England.

We admire you for your grace and modesty amid all the adulation you have had showered on you for your equestrian excellence.

We treasure you as a role model for the students in our school, girls and boys, for showing what can be done with a positive attitude and a determination to follow your dreams.

Finally, mar fhocal scoir, we wish you well in your future career. We have no doubt that further success awaits you and we pray that you will stay clear of serious injury throughout all your days in such an attritional sport.

Guímid gach rath ort, a Rachael, agus beannacht Dé ort anois agus sa todhchaí.

Q and A Session

  1. Of your three greatest victories, the Champion Hurdle, the Gold Cup and the Grand National, which has given you the greatest pleasure?
  2. Can you tell us about the influence of John “Shark” Hanlon on your career?
  3. How did you get the job of stable jockey to Henry de Bromhead?
  4. Would you consider yourself a healthy eater?
  5. Apart from Brian Hayes, obviously, who would you be most friendly with in the weigh room?
  6. When you were in school were you ever involved in any other sports such as team sports?
  7. Is A Plus Tard capable of winning back-to-back Gold Cups just as Honeysuckle did in the Champion Hurdle?
  8. Was there ever any other career that you would have liked to pursue apart from being a jockey?
  9. How did you manage to balance your sporting and academic life when you were in school and university?
  • Can you briefly describe your average day during the busy Winter racing season from morning to evening?
  • Did you ever feel overwhelmed by obstacles in your career because of your gender?
  • Were you disappointed with the form of some of Henry’s horses this year? I’m thinking particularly of Bob Ollinger and Journey with Me>
  • The English pundits and racing experts are very confident that Constitution Hill will dethrone Queen Honeysuckle in next yeart’s Champion Hurdle. Are you worried aboput him?
  • You have ridden a number of horses for the all-conquering Willie Mullins stable such as Sir Gerhard in last year’s Champion Bumper. Would you accept the job of stable jockey at Closutton and ditch Henry if you were offered the chance?
  • What young horse in Henry’s yard are you most excited about for next year?
  • What is the nicest thing that you treated yourself to with the prizemoney you have earned in your career?
  • What advice can you give to the students listening to you here today?