A CHARMING man who never failed to have a kind word and a smile – that was how Alan Lillingston was described at a service of thanksgiving for his life, following his death at the age of 79.
Hundreds of people gathered at St Peter and Paul’s Church of Ireland in Kilmallock on Friday afternoon to pay their respects to the esteemed horseman who passed away last week after suffering a heart attack while on holiday with his family in County Kerry.
“I remember vividly arriving in this beautiful little church to be greeted by a pair of smiling eyes as I walked into the sacristy. From that very moment we were friends,” said Reverend Stan Evans, who celebrated the service of thanksgiving.
Outside, under a cloudless sky, children in their Sunday best skipped about on the lawns while men and women stood silent, hanging on the every word of Rev Evans as he shared memories of the horseman who won the 1963 Champion Hurdle in Cheltenham on one-eyed Winning Fair.
A specially erected marquee on the church grounds hosted more friends and acquaintances. They had come from all over - neighbours from Riversfield, Fairyfield, Ballingaddy, and Martinstown, dear friends from the UK and US.
The attendance, Rev Evans noted, was “incredible”.
Similar scenes were played out on Thursday evening at nearby Mount Coote Lodge where more paid their respects, amongst them champion jockey Tony McCoy.
Mr Lillingston, Rev Evans noted, appreciated so much of God’s gifts to him – “his English rose, Vivi, his wonderful children and grandchildren – and he most certainly loved his neighbours – hence the incredible number of you who are here today”.
Rev Evans recalled “those sparkling eyes that never failed”.
A photograph on the front of the thanksgiving booklet captured the essence of the horseman - dressed in a wax jacket and tweed flat cap standing in an open field with a broad smile across his face.
Mr Lillingston was crowned champion amateur in Ireland before breaking his neck in a fall at Tramore in 1964. After that he switched to three-day eventing, a sphere in which his horsemanship again took him to the top. He gained selection for the 1968 Mexico Olympics only for his horse Biddlecombe to suffer an injury two days before the event, and won a team gold medal at the 1979 European championships.
Following the deaths of his parents, Mr Lillingston, a native of Leicestershire, took over Mount Coote Stud in Kilmallock at the age of 23 and developed and expanded the operation, which is now owned and managed by his son Luke.
Rev Evans noted how wonderful it is to know that Mr Lillingston shared very special moments with those most dear to him in Kerry last week including his beloved wife Vivienne, daughters Georgina and Sophie, sons Luke and Andrew and his eight grandchildren.
“Laughter, fun and banter, and the joy of his beloved family all sharing in a most wonderful celebration – what was to be a celebration of life itself,” he recalled. “As the family came together around the table in the restaurant last Thursday evening, little did they know that they would be coming together to share in that final meal. A true celebration of love.”