TRIBUTES have been paid to one of the horse industry’s most iconic figures, Alan Lillingston, who passed away at the weekend aged 79.
Mr Lillingston of Mount Coote Stud, Kilmallock suffered a heart attack while holidaying with his family in County Kerry.
He enjoyed a remarkable career that embraced success in the saddle, as a leading breeder and in the field of the sport’s administration.
“He was an outstanding, all-round horseman,” commented Frankie Ward, a close family friend who was holidaying with the Lillingston family in County Kerry when Mr Lillingston became ill.
“We were all down there for a week. Thankfully, all his family were there including his grandchildren.”
Born in Leicestershire, Mr Lillingston gained his early experience in racing with his uncle Geoffrey Brooke in England and Pat Hogan in Limerick. He moved to Ireland in 1939 and rode his first winner at Tralee at the age of 13.
He went on to land the 1963 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on one-eyed Winning Fair, becoming just the second amateur to ride the winner of the race, and still one of only three to have done so.
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 took over Mount Coote Stud, Kilmallock at the age of 23 and developed and expanded the operation, which is now owned and managed by his son Luke.
In total he was responsible for breeding or raising well over 100 black-type winners.
“He was a wonderful man. Whatever he did he did it to the top standard - it was the same as well with all the horse he produced for sale,” said Ms Ward.
“One man from England rang me the other day and said ‘I am chartering a flight to come over’. People are coming from all over the world to pay their respects – from Australia and from America. He was a very quietly-spoken man but very sure about whatever he was doing – he wouldn’t lead you astray if you asked him for advice and was very good to the young. He started off Jamie Spencer and got him going as a jockey and many others as well. He was a great family man.”
As an administrator, Mr Lillingston was an early member of Bord na gCapall (Irish Horse Board). He was involved in the creation of the Irish National Hunt Pattern Committee and was a former steward of the Turf Club and senior steward of the National Hunt Committee.
Mr Lillingston was also an accomplished golfer and was a member of Charleville Golf Club. Kilmallock Golf Society have a cup named in his honour.
“When he got ill he had to give it up but even then he said: ‘Gosh, if I got a buggy I could still go around. He never gave up,” said Ms Ward.
Joe Carroll, president of Charleville Golf Club said Mr Lillingston was a very popular member of the club.
“He came to golf late in life. He thoroughly enjoyed it. His wife was lady captain in 2008. He got immense pleasure from golf and often said he made fantastic friends through golf. We have very fond members of him here.”
Mr Lillingston was also remembered fondly by many at this week’s Galway Races.
Mr Lillingston is survived by his wife Vivienne and four children, Luke, Georgina, Sophie and Andrew, and eight grandchildren.
Paying tribute to his father, bloodstock agent Luke Lillingston said: “He was a remarkable all-round horseman who achieved enormous success in so many different aspects of the equine world.
“In latter years he took great pleasure in watching the success of so many younger people whose careers he had influenced along the way. Above all else he adored his family and Mount Coote.”
Mr Lillingston will repose at his home, Coote Lodge, Mount Coote Stud, between 6 and 8 this evening, and a service of thanksgiving will take place at the Church of Ireland in Kilmallock at 2pm tomorrow.
The family have requested no black ties.
Family flowers only, with donations if desired to the Injured Jockeys Fund or the church restoration fund.