Pioneer of Irish showjumping dies aged 97

 

A LIMERICK man who was at one time hailed as the greatest showjumping rider in the world died at the weekend after a short illness. Major John Gerard (Jed) O'Dwyer (97), of Ballyclough House, Castletroy, who before the second World War led an Irish Army jumping team to win eight Nations Cups in a row, was usually associated with the famous showjumper Limerick Lace.

He was captain of the Army team that won the Aga Khan Cup five years in succession from 1935 to 1939 and a member of eight Aga Khan cup winning teams.

His achievement captured the public imagination for showjumping, making it a popular event for the first time.

After his individual win in the Berlin international show in 1934, he was complimented by Adolf Hitler, who brought him onto a dais and held his hand, telling him he was the finest horseman he had ever seen.

He was also received by Mussolini after the Rome event.

Major O'Dwyer had claimed that his "one great regret was that the Irish government under Mr de Valera, for political reasons, would not permit the Irish team at the height of its fame to take part in the [pre war] Olympic Games in Munich", although he was sent there as an observer. He once said: "Germany won that year with 24 faults but the Irish team which had just won eight Nations Cups with never more than 12 faults could easily have won the Olympic title". It was that incident, he said later, that decided him to retire prematurely from the Army.

Major O'Dwyer gave credit for the success of the Irish team from 1934 to 1939 to Colonel Paul Rodzianko, former personal equerry to the Czar of Russia, who fled to Ireland after the revolution.

Major O'Dwyer said: "He took a bunch of raw farmers' sons and in three years turned us into the greatest national team of all time. For six hours a day under the Colonel's strict eye, the team rode themselves and their mounts into the ground." Colonel Rodzianko reckoned that Ireland had a team that would have won the pre war Olympic Games had they been entered.

Since retiring from the Army Major O'Dwyer concentrated on farming and producing some exceptional jumping horses. They included Goodbye, Irish Rover and Ballyneety, which won the King George V trophy for Capt Kevin Barry.

He was a former chairman of the Irish Hunter Improvement Society and the Limerick Races Board.

Major O'Dwyer is survived by his sons, Noel, a former noted hockey international and showjumper, Frank and Anthony.