THE late Grace Tyrrell (17), asides from being a highly accomplished rider, was also a very bright young student who excelled in many areas of life.
The daughter of well-known Co Laois veterinary surgeon Andrew and his wife, Maria, Grace would have turned 18 on May 1st next. Her only sibling, Jim, is currently studying veterinary science at the renowned Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Ponies and horses were always part of Grace’s life growing up and she was recognised as a very talented rider who won many accolades at national and international level.
The family’s connections to Portlaoise are very strong as both Grace’s parents grew up there. Andrew’s father was a vet in Portlaoise and he followed him into the veterinary profession, while Maria, a qualified solicitor, worked in London for a few years before returning to her home town. Having known each other since they were children, the couple married and set up home in the countryside.
As a young child, Grace attended the local girls’ school and similarly, Jim attended the local boys’ school in Ballyfin parish before they moved onto the local secondary schools in Portlaoise.
Grace was a very bright student at school, obtaining brilliant results in her Junior Certificate. She did not particularly like the structure of school as such but had many good schoolfriends and many more in the equestrian world. From her earliest days, Grace was very active in the Laois Pony Club where she had plenty of friends and had a lot of fun in ponies.
She competed several times at the Dublin Horse Show, twice with the IPC Musical Ride in 2011 where the theme was ‘Mounted Gardaí’ and again in 2012 where their theme this time was ‘Downton Abbey’. She was fourth in the Pony Club intermediate combined training at the RDS and loved the whole excitement of taking part at the Dublin Horse Show with her friends.
With a wonderful academic record in school, Grace could have had the world at her feet in whatever career path she chose. Indicating a strong interest in science and particularly genetics, she was a highly articulate girl who also loved debating and writing.
Among Grace’s many accomplishments was entering the Martin Wills Writing Awards where the judging panel gave great merit to her highly developed writing skills in the Under 15s category. Barely 13 years old at the time of entering, she sent off her entry unknown to her family after seeing the Awards featured in The Irish Field. Her amazing story went on to be runner-up in its category. Grace and her parents were duly invited to Newmarket and she was thrilled with what was a lovely trip.
Grace worked at Goffs Sales from time to time, she kept all the sales catalogues and followed all the pedigree lines. She had a genuine love of genetics, she was fascinated with Jim’s mount Gorsehill Jewel, bred by Anne Bannon via embryo transfer, and her interest in this area seem to have started from that. She was keen on doing genetics at college, however Grace could have done anything she put her hand to such was her multitude of natural talents.
A lovely dressage rider, Grace enjoyed a lot of success eventing. Asides from her many wins and placings at venues nationwide in Eventing Ireland competitions, she enjoyed international success, both individually and also as a key part of Irish squads and teams.
Grace Tyrrell competing for Ireland in Poland 2019
Individually, the pinnacle of that success came when riding her mother’s Fiona’s Fionn, Grace won the CCI2*-L at Tattersalls International Horse Trials in 2019. The prestigious class took place over a strong course and in winning, Grace recorded what was one of only two Irish wins of the event across all competitions that year. She had been placed fourth the previous year but flew around the famed Co Meath track on the grey to triumph 12 months later to the delight of her family, friends and the wider public.
A vital part of Ireland’s Under 16 (pony) eventing team that won the team bronze at the 2019 European Championships in Poland that August, Grace was also the best of the Irish individually finishing in 11th place. Grace loved competing in Poland and found it a great experience overall.
In the aftermath of her death, her devastated family feel that Grace was very much a casualty of the wider societal implications of coronavirus. At school, Grace and her peers were doing their pre-mocks and she was putting herself under intense pressure to do well.
“With Covid, everything was online and she was having a hard time of it. Grace was so worried about her Christmas exams, there were lots of tears, she felt she would not get what she wanted. Every test was being treated as a calculated Leaving Cert grade. Every drive home she was in tears, thinking she was not doing enough.
“She was tired, everything was online. She and her friends were all online together but texting and Snapchat is not real communication at the same time. Her riding, her eventing, that was all gone, it was all very isolating for her,” described her devastated mother Maria.
Perhaps significantly, Grace, who loved riding, had not ridden her horse since October.
“We got many lovely letters from young people – some of them from lads who told us how Grace was the one who would talk them around if they were feeling low over something or other. They told us how supportive Grace was to them and how she could really empathise with people,” said her family.
Anxious for Grace to open up to someone, a Zoom call with a psychologist was in the process of being arranged. Very tragically, events overtook that happening.
Her family recalled Grace had been happily working at the thoroughbred sales in Goffs for a few days before she was due to return to school. She was in touch with friends on her phone and by email the night before she died.
There were no ‘red flag’ type warnings or indications for her family and friends of what was to happen. The untimely nature of her death was the most sudden and enormous shock to her devastated family, relatives, neighbours and friends.
“I would say to any parent, seek advice if you are worried at all about your child. Arm yourself with some tools, don’t be in the dark with what to do, I’m sorry I did not. Grace was a casualty of coronavirus, we are never going to hear the numbers. We are left with the ‘what-ifs’ and there was so much more to Grace,” said her mother Maria.
Grace’s light burned so brightly during her life and it will continue to shine on in the memory of all who who knew and loved her.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis.
If you are affected by any issues raised in this article, you can contact Pieta House which operates a 24-hour Crisis Helpline and Text Service, Freephone 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 51444.
The Samaritans operate a free phone service at 116123.
Early promise: Grace Tyrrell and Bobbilicious, winners of the juniors at the Irish Pony Club eventing competition at Coolboy in 2015