*Photograph: Ruth Griffin
MICHAEL BLAKE enjoyed a hero’s welcome when he returned to Tuamgraney on Wednesday evening with the Aga Khan trophy, the most famous piece of silverware in showjumping.
Noted as one of the most glittering prizes in sport, the trophy was donated by Aga Khan III in 1926. Intensive security surrounds the movement of the silverware but Michael’s role ensured it headed to East Clare. The cup is entitled to travel for the purposes of a civic event and it was the first time it travelled outside of the capital.
In August, he as the Chef d’Équipe led Team Ireland to glory in The Nations Cup at the RDS with the trophy then presented to Michael and his colleagues by President Michael D. Higgins. It ended a seven year gap for the country to claim the Aga Khan and was Ireland’s twenty fourth time winning it.
Early qualification for the 2024 Olympics in Tokyo has also been secured and they are the first representatives of Team Ireland to have sealed their seats on the plane to Japan.
A civic ceremony saw Michael joined by fellow team members Cian O’Connor and Max Wachman, representatives of Horse Sport Ireland, Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, Cllr Tony O’Brien (FF) and his colleagues in the Killaloe Municipal District, Cllr Pat Hayes (FF), Cllr Pat Burke (FG) and Cllr Joe Cooney (FG). Senator Timmy Dooley (FF) completed the line-up of dignitaries.
At the request of Michael, the event was held in The East Clare Memorial Park. The historic event was recorded by Scariff Bay Community Radio for broadcast.
Wednesday’s event concluded with Michael giving a rendition of ‘Danny’s Boy’ followed by streams of people among the crowd of hundreds queueing to get their picture with the Aga Khan. His commitment to bring the trophy back to Tuamagraney was mentioned by several officials on the nights.
Michael said that the success capped off “a fantastic year” which included winning the Nations Cup in four different continents. “In six and a half days our world changed, we got the Aga Khan and Olympic qualification, it was fantastic”. He recalled the 1963 Grand Prix success of his late father John and acknowledged “he wold be thrilled with this”.
He maintained, “Irish people are good to follow the plan, you’ve to target what you want to do and we’re good at targeting our aims and wanting to follow them through”. Michael revealed that he spent time in St Vincent’s Hospital in the lead up to the success while celebrations included heading to The Embassy Grill in Ballsbridge for fish and chips.
Tuamgraney’s own Mayor, Mary Coffey described the occasion as “absolutely fantastic”. She said, “Tuamgraney is a brilliant village with an awful lot of skill and talent”.
Mayor of Clare, Cllr O’Brien lauded the achievement, “We look at these things on TV and we admire from afar. This is a fantastic occasion. Welcome to Tuamgraney and East Clare on the banks of beautiful River Shannon and Holy Island nestling in the background”. He added, “His achievements and successes didn’t happen by accident. Michael has a passion and a to horses and equine industry which is known the length and breadth of the country”. The commitment of the Blake family through different generations to the local horse show in Scariff, life in Tuamgraney and across Clare was also referenced by the Killaloe man.
Director of High Performance with Sport Ireland, Paul McDermott said the win was “unbelievable”. “It is a great iconic sporting trophy. He is doing a brilliant job. I am thrilled for everybody involved. Sport is a tough business and we’re a gifted nation”.
CEO of Horse Sport Ireland, Joe Reynolds revealed that the most “significant” thing he has completed in his role was recruiting Michael Blake.