In Memoriam: Iris Kellett (IRL), 1926-2011



Death of an Irish Legend

- Iris Kellett, one of the most influential figures in the history of Irish equestrian sport, died last Friday aged 85. She leaves behind a long legacy of excellence as a competitor, trainer, breeder and horse producer but will be best remembered for her own hugely successful career and for her mentoring of many of Ireland's greatest Jumping riders including Eddie Macken.

In 1935 at the age of nine, Iris walked her pony, Sparklet, from her home at Mespil Road in Ballsbridge to win her first rosette at the RDS - and she never looked back. She placed herself firmly on the map when clinching the British Ladies National Championship in 1947 and, that same year, was a member of Ireland's very first civilian Jumping side that competed in Nations Cups at Newport and Blackpool against teams from England, Sweden and Italy. Until then the sport of Nations Cup Jumping had been restricted to members of the military. She already had 150 wins at national level under her belt.

She was always ahead of her time. At the age of 12 she was already teaching large numbers of pupils at her father, Harry Kellett's, riding school in Mespil Road. She carried a confidence and competence into everything in which she would become involved.

Iris was just 22 years old when she won the Grand Prix at Dublin Horse Show - a feat matched by only two other Irish lady riders in the history of the event. And her career went into over-drive when, in 1949, she won the coveted Princess Elizabeth Cup at White City in London, a feat she again repeated two years later. All of these successes were recorded with her great gelding Rusty who denied his humble origins as a plough-horse to become one of the true stars of his age.

A devastating schooling fall brought her career to a swift halt in 1952 however. She fell so heavily that her leg shattered and her shinbone was driven into the ground. It would be 10 years before she would be sufficiently recovered, but she made an extraordinary comeback and in 1969 was crowned Ladies European Champion at the RDS before retiring. She then concentrated her energies into training, combining the education of the next generation of Ireland's top show jumpers with riding lessons for many of Ireland's top businessmen including the inimitable Charles J. Haughey and Conor Crowley. But her star pupil was Macken. He arrived as a raw recruit in 1969 but, blessed with many of Iris's best horses including Morning Light and Maxwell, he duly followed in her legendary footsteps. Iris was also pivotal in the careers of Peter Charles and the late Paul Darragh amongst many others.

She eventually moved her training establishment to Kill in Kildare, was a Director of Bord na gCapall (Irish Horse Board) throughout the 1970s and helped develop a degree in Equitation Science at Limerick University. She judged, lectured and gave demonstrations worldwide and served on many committees, influencing the evolution of equestrianism like few others.

Such was the respect and awe in which she was held, and such was her great charm and dignity, that she was almost always addressed as "Miss Kellett". The Irish horse world is at a loss with her passing. Her funeral service takes place today (Wednesday, 16 March 2011) at St John's in Kill, Co Kildare at 11am with burial afterwards at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold's Cross, Dublin.

Photo caption: Iris Kellett riding Rusty at the 1949 Dublin Horse Show




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