Speech at the Unveiling of a Statue of Colonel William Hall Walker
Irish National Stud, Co. Kildare, 29th March 2015
Is mór an pléisiúr é a bheith anseo inniu, agus dealbh a nochtadh den Cornal William Hall Walker, bunaitheoir an Ghraí Náisiúnta agus fear a raibh ról lárnach aige i bhforbairt an pórú capall in Éirinn.
[It is a great pleasure to be here today, and to unveil this statue of Colonel William Hall Walker, the founder of the National Stud and a man who has played a pivotal role in the development of horse breeding in Ireland.]
I am delighted that Ambassador Chilcott and Mrs. Chilcott have been able to join us.
Colonel Hall Walker has been described as an eccentric man, but also as an inspired man. He was indeed a citizen whose innate creativity and huge imagination ensured his legacy here in Ireland would be a significant one.
As a passionate and enthusiastic owner, one of his early sporting achievements was to win the English Grand National in 1896 with a horse called “The Soarer”. It was with the proceeds of that victory that he decided to purchase the Tully Estate in 1900 from the Fay family. Winning the famous Gimcrack Stakes four times, he used the occasion of the customary victor’s speech in 1907 to propose the establishment of a National Stud for the development of a thoroughbred breeding sector, commencing a enterprise that remains one of Ireland’s great success stories.
Today Ireland is the largest breeder of thoroughbreds in Europe, and the fourth largest in the world. The industry is worth over one billion euro per year to the Irish economy, and provides direct employment to approximately 14,000 people. There is no doubt that this industry is a key part of our country’s economic activity, and that racehorse owners are an important support to much direct economic activity through the many breeding and training operations that exist throughout the country as well as to indirect activity including, of course, the off course betting industry.
However, while such economic activity is of fundamental importance, it should not be the sole means by which we judge the value of the horsebreeding industry to our culture and our communities. A love of horses, their breeding and training, are an integral part of Ireland’s identity and of our reputation abroad. Across the world, Irish breeders, trainers and racehorse owners command high respect amongst their counterparts, and that international reputation attracts many tourists to our shores every year.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to Colonel Walker. Through his vision and hard work, what was once a farm here at Tully quickly became one of the best studs at the time in Europe and his collection of foundation mares had a remarkable effect on racing. Even more significant was his introduction of the Aga Khan to English horseracing which was to make such a significant contribution to the upgrading of the thoroughbred.
The importance of the National Stud to our citizens, and the proud place it holds in our national psyche, was at no time more evident than during that landmark state visit in 2011, when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth travelled to Kildare specifically to visit the Stud, an event which was broadcast around the world.
In addition to his passion for thoroughbred horses, Colonel Hall Walker had, of course, an abiding interest in Asian horticulture and it was in that context that he brought a master horticulturist from Japan to Tully, to create the inspiring Japanese Gardens which, through their creative design and use of plants, flowers, trees and rockery, recreate the journey of life and beautifully sketch the human experience, and the many different pathways we must choose as we strive to realise all our possibilities.
Colonel Hall Walker was, indeed, a man unafraid to imagine and to turn his imaginings into realities to be enjoyed and shared by all, leaving the people of Ireland the legacy that is the Irish National Stud, a legacy which has ensured Ireland’s role as a major player in the horse industry. Last year the Stud provided a wonderful showcase for 116,000 visitors from home and abroad, eager to see the best Irish bloodstock and world class gardens in a beautiful setting.
Mar sin, tá áthas orm an dealbh seo a nochtadh agus ómós a thabhairt d'fhear a rinne sár obair ar son ár sochaí i dtaobh cúrsaí shóisialta, chultúrtha agus geilleagrach. Is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an uile duine a d'oibrigh go crua chun ócáid an lae inniu a eagrú agus gach rath don todhchaí a ghuí ar an uile duine a bhfuil baint acu leis an Ghraí Náisiúnta.
[I am delighted, therefore, to unveil this statue of a man who has made such a significant contribution to the social, cultural and economic dimensions of our society. I thank all those whose hard work has lead to today’s event, and I wish everyone involved with the National Stud every success as you continue your important work.]
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.