William Henry Stanhope: A knowledgeable enthusiast for Irish equestrianism


WITH THE death of William Stanhope - Lord Harrington - at the age of 86, the Irish equestrian world has suffered the loss of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic of horsemen, who has done much to promote the cause of Irish riders and horses in different spheres.

It was on his initiative while senior master of the Limerick Hounds, that Clonshire equestrian centre was formed by the Co Limerick Hunt Club in 1991 and its present worldwide reputation is the result of his inspiration.

In the 1960s he, with Judge Wylie, raised funds to ensure that Ireland could send a three-day event team of an international standard to the Olympic Games. As part of this campaign, he organised the first international three-day event staged in Ireland, at Punchestown.

He had his own commercial stud at Greenmount, Co Limerick, where stallions Tin Whistle, Montaval and Flyover stood.

When chairman of the Bloodstock Breeders' Association, he played a crucial role in persuading then minister for finance Charlie Haughey to make lenient fiscal terms for horse breeders so allowing Ireland to become among the top countries for racing and breeding.

He also achieved remarkable success as an adviser to David Robinson, a business magnate, who had made his money out of TV rentals and had decided to prove that flat racing could pay.

The Stanhopes, which is the family surname of both the earls of Harrington and the earls of Chesterfield, were successive lord lieutenants in Ireland during the 18th century.

Lord Chesterfield, a witty and tolerant man, was woken during his time in office with the news that the Papists of Dublin were rising.

"Rising," he said looking at his watch, "it is a time for all good people to rise, I shall do so myself."

His cousin, the first Earl of Harrington, was his immediate successor as lord lieutenant and was in Dublin from 1747-1750.

Bill Harrington was born at Elvaston Castle in Derbyshire and succeeded to the title at the age of seven when his father was killed in the hunting field.

His mother remarried a well-known amateur rider, Luke Lillingston, who hunted the Meath hounds in the 1930s.

Having left Eton at the beginning of the second World War, Bill Harrington was too young to enlist so he joined the police for two years.

He then served in the 15th/19th Hussars in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany where, he said, he arrested Admiral Karl Doenitz who had been made head of state after Hitler's suicide. The admiral had been most reluctant to surrender to such a junior officer.

At the end of the war, he was sent to Palestine, but soon afterwards left the army and came to live in Ireland, buying Dooneen in Co Limerick.

A few years later, he moved to Greenmount at Patrickswell. There he pulled down the original house and built a new house with such lofty interiors and large dimensions that it was likened to the foyer of an intercontinental hotel.

During the season he hunted and, like Surtees, might be said to have believed: "All time is lost wot is not spent in 'unting."

In the early days, he went out at least four days a week keeping some 50 hunters for himself and his family.

He was master of the Co Limerick Foxhounds from 1972 to 1993 and again from 1997 until his retirement in 2001.

Some years ago, he sold Greenmount, which has become the present Limerick racecourse, and moved with his wife Cilla to Ballingarry.

Lord Harrington was first married to Eileen Foley-Grey with whom he had three children.

When that marriage was dissolved, he married Anne Chute with whom he had three children; his third marriage was to Priscilla Cubitt with whom he had a son and a daughter.

William Henry Leicester Stanhope, 11th Earl of Harrington: born August 24th, 1922; died April 12th, 2009.