As I sit down to write this and look around the room, there’s a painting of a hound waiting by the hock of a horse, a sculpture of a mare and foal on a dresser in the corner, a tapestry of the hunt hanging proudly behind me – mine is indeed an equestrian home and yet the closest I ever come to a horse is invariably by accident.
The equestrian world was my late husband’s passion and his enthusiasm was infectious, so much so that when I sit to reflect on our life together, it seems there is not a cherished memory or a friend or a time in our shared life that was not in some way tethered to a horse.
Of course, I should have always known what I was getting into when even for our very first date back in 1979 he took me, who couldn’t tell a calf from a colt and who most certainly was wearing inappropriate footwear, to hunter trials in Punchestown.
Though it was eventually Quentin that brought horses to The Journal in the late 1980s, it was, in fact, the Irish Farmers Journal that first brought horses to Quentin’s life. His colleagues got together to set up a riding club among the staff and Quentin was instantly hooked. By the time we had met a near-decade later, his world was very much shrouded in the clopping of hooves.
From the first to the last, every moment of our lives was painted with all things equine long before he ever envisaged setting up The Irish Horse pages. From our first anniversary, when he gifted me a point-to-pointer named Noreen’s Fancy, or to his broken pinky fingers that never quite healed his whole life, that he had snapped the time he tried to photograph our precious newborn daughter on the back of his stalwart black mare named Ella.
The Quintessential paperman
Indeed, it would be correct to say that my husband had two passions in his life, the other being his work. He was the quintessential paperman – dapper yet frazzled, in a pressed suit, with a colourful cravat around his neck, his untamed hair poking out and, back in the day, a Hamlet cigar hanging out the corner of his mouth. With the addition of his trilby hat, he quickly slotted into a crowd at ringside almost seamlessly.
So, when Quentin decided to set up The Irish Horse it seemed like a natural step in both his life and career by blending his two passions; the Irish Farmers Journal with the equestrian.
While I was probably naively thinking it would get the steeds out of my house and on to his pages, it seems from that moment onward our lives were somehow plunged even deeper into all things equestrian.
Like with all things he did, Quentin hit the ground running and it seemed, if memory serves, The Irish Horse was an instant success. He was by no means an expert in all the many facets of the sport horse world, but he was meticulous and eager and so he learned on his feet.
There was no off-season – from hunting, to sales, to racing, to hunter trials, to show season, from the ISA to the IPS to the SJI, from the ABC to the XYZ of horses – Quentin had it covered.
It was a year-round calendar of events and all the family got roped in. Joey, our youngest, was the first. I will always remember her jumping for joy one Christmas morning, the year Santa had left her a letter stating her gift was too big to fit under the tree, but it was waiting for her in the stable down the road. And with that, the jammed calendar expanded again to cover all children riding events.
We donned our finery for the races, we pulled up our wellingtons for hunter trials and wrapped up in our wools to follow the many hunts. Even our eldest, Darinagh, who didn’t share the same interest, would spend her Sundays when she came home from boarding school, sitting in Quentin’s office, totting up his figures for the sales.
He used his platform to help every association he could – if it had four legs and whinnied, he cared. And with that, every year the calendar of events grew.
How fondly I remember our summers, driving up and down the country to events big and small, we would pack a picnic and pony, and off we’d go.
With a thousand anecdotes to choose from, like the time my husband and daughter set off at 6am, box in tow, and drove halfway across the country before realising they had left the pony polished and braided behind, waiting eagerly, in the stable.
But in truth, now all these years later, the one thing that comes to mind as I think of those wonderful summers going show to show is that overwhelming feeling of bliss, as we sat at our little red portable picnic tables, long after the horses, the exhibitors, even the sun had packed it in for the day, laughing with great friends in the late summer twilight over a bottle of wine.
Long after our girls had grown up and left home, Quentin and I would still jump in the car and drive to different events around the country, though instead of meeting colleagues, he was by then meeting old friends.
I have a thousand names of people from all the many associations who were so special to Quentin and still today so special to me, but I could not name one without having to name them all. The list is surely 10 pages long. So in the spirit of Christmas, I will avoid another Doran-O’Reilly creating arguments in The Irish Farmers Journal over ad space!
Of course, it is winter now, and in our home that always meant one thing, the hunt. If winter could have a smell it would be that of wet mud drying by a fireside and minestrone soup, when Quentin and his friends would fill the house after the hunt each Saturday evening.
As I start to dust off the Christmas decorations, I think of our St Stephen’s Day. Our party after the hunt is a long-standing tradition, a tradition Quentin had started long before we even met. Yet 40 years later, our dear hunt friends still graced my doorstep, to celebrate a life of profound friendship together.
How blessed I am to have loved a man who loved horses.
Noreen Doran-O’Reilly was in conversation with Susan Finnerty.