Jonathan Irwin, former Goffs MD and Jack & Jill charity founder, dies aged 82

Flamboyant former bloodstock agent credited with ‘innovative and charismatic’ leadership

The death has taken place of the former managing director of the Goffs sales company, Jonathan Irwin. He was 82. One of the most colourful figures in the bloodstock industry, outside of racing Irwin was a founder of the Jack & Jill children’s charity.

Educated in Eton, and at Trinity College in Dublin, he first came to prominence when appointed MD of the Goffs Sales company in 1975, aged just 33.

During his time in charge, he helped Goffs move from the RDS in Ballsbridge to its current location in Kill, Co Kildare. He also oversaw the introduction of the Cartier Million race, a hugely valuable event confined to graduates of the Goffs sales ring and a model still replicated today.

A statement from Goffs on Sunday said: “Jonathan was certainly one of the most colourful bloodstock characters of his generation and his legacy lives on in the modern day Goffs.


“As well as overseeing the design of the complex, he approached the whole business in an innovative and charismatic way.

“Shouting bid spotters, international guest auctioneers, black tie select sales and the first multi-currency bid board at any auction in the world, an innovation that was almost instantly copied by the likes of Sotheby’s and Christie’s, were amongst his ideas that have stood the test of time.

“European records were regularly set from the outset with the first sale setting the trend with the IR127,000 Guineas Be My Guest being followed nine years later by a Shergar colt realising IR3,100,000 Guineas (equivalent to €4.2 million today), an Irish auction record that stood for 39 years.”

The Goffs chairman Eimear Mulhern commented: “It is with great regret that we hear of the passing of Jonathan Irwin.

“Jonathan was a titan of the bloodstock industry, transforming and modernising a business which heretofore had been routed in tradition.

“He inspired a whole generation, of which I am one, as to a new way to market and promote the business in a truly innovative way. His contribution to Goffs was immense and we are still the beneficiaries of his vision to this day.

“On behalf of the shareholders and board of Goffs we send our deepest and most sincere sympathy to his wife Mary Anne, his children, his extended family and wide circle of friends.”

Brought up in England, the son of actors, Irwin entered the racing industry as a bloodstock agent. He continued to be a well-known public figure having left Goffs.

Along with his wife, Mary Ann, he set up the Jack & Jill children’s foundation after their son Jack suffered permanent brain damage soon after his birth. He passed away in 1997, aged 22 months.

The Jack & Jill foundation said its home nursing care model has supported almost 3,000 children across Ireland over the last 26 years, without what it called “any means test, red tape or waiting list”.

It described Irwin as its “chief fundraiser, our chief ambassador, who had true grit, charm and compassion in spades.” In a statement, it said: “He was unique. Articulate, charismatic, debonair, persuasive, driven, imaginative, flamboyant; a true one-off and the ultimate showman.”

The statement added: “Jonathan Irwin was charisma personified. From an Anglo-Irish background of actors and academics, this Eton educated, Trinity drop-out had what he himself called “a glittering career” in several roles. Bloodstock agent, auction house boss, announcer, publisher, racecourse executive and more.

“He worked for BBA Ireland, the Turf Club and Goffs – where he dreamt up and introduced the Cartier Million, Europe’s Richest race and the first IR£1 million sports event in Europe.

“He was also involved in Dublin International Sports Council and the Special Olympics and, more recently, the ‘Horses of Hope’ Equine Centre at Castlerea Prison.

“However, none of these roles, he said, was more challenging or rewarding than his role with Jack and Jill, where he advocated on behalf of family carers with all his might.”

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Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column