JUDY MacMahon (née Preston), who was born on August 9th, 1943, and who died on January 20th this year, loved the oncoming of spring – in the past with its hopes of the showing season ahead and, in more recent times, increasing daylight to enjoy her garden at Lambertstown and walks with her many dogs.

Judy’s funeral service was celebrated in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Trim where, on October 5th, 1974 she married her late husband Lt Col Ronnie MacMahon whose own funeral service was held there in December 2010. It was also where her elder daughter Clare married Charlie Gundry in 2012. Harvest Thanksgiving was a celebration never to be missed.

It was Judy’s younger daughter Emily who delivered the eulogy in the Cathedral on Tuesday, January 23rd. She spoke of her mother’s childhood days at Swainstown, her time at Rahinstown with the Fowler family, her many seasons hunting as a child – especially in the company of Jessica Fowler/Harrington – and her participation in the Pony Club championships in England on the blue-eyed Phantom.

On leaving the confines of education – she spent two years at Alexandra College – Judy enjoyed an extended trip to Alberta, Canada, where she worked on cattle and horse farms. Perhaps it was there that she became a lover of blue jeans, a fashion item she seemed to always favour, but which her late husband Ronnie didn’t embrace until attending the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Having been born during Horse Show Week, it’s little wonder that this annual celebration of the Irish horse and equestrianism was the highlight of Judy’s season each year – both on a riding and social front. “Winning show classes during the day and dancing until dawn” is how Emily described her mother’s annual visit to the Ballsbridge showgrounds.

Judy McMahon with her daughter Emily

Champion of champions

Judy produced and rode many class winners and champions at Dublin, but her favourite was the locally-bred Parkhill on whom she won her lightweight class and the side-saddle championship in 1977. The full thoroughbred by Marwood was the perfect mount and, partnered by the most elegant of riders, was the epitome of a champion ladies’ hunter. One of her former showing rivals, Faith Ponsonby, described Judy as “a wonderful horsewoman... win, draw or lose, she was always so gracious”.

When Judy and Ronnie were first married, they lived in a wing at Swainstown, where Clare and Emily were reared until the family constructed and moved into Lambertstown in 1985. With Ronnie continuing the daily trip into McKee Barracks, Judy looked after the farm, produced their young horses and found wonderful ponies for her daughters to ride. “She sourced the most amazing ponies for us on no budget at all,” said Emily. “She would drive the length and breadth of the country, bringing us to every show, hunt and event her two demanding little angels requested. We wanted for nothing.”

Clare and Emily were to follow in their mother’s footsteps and ride champions in Dublin and, as she had ridden in point-to-points herself, Judy was delighted when her daughters also started racing between the flags.

Judy’s many staunch friends included English show rider and judge Bridget Millington, who here recalls how she came to know the Meath horsewoman. “Little did I realise that my first flight and my first visit to Ireland would result in meeting a lady who was to be my steadfast friend for nearly 40 years.

“Judy MacMahon was everything I wanted to be – a talented, all-round equestrienne. On the hunting field and in the show ring, she always immaculately presented, the epitome of understated elegance.

“She was a good judge of a horse, a friend of every dog she encountered and the patron saint of the rake! Animals adored her, people too, even if her opinion of your riding or judging could be brutal! I’m surprised we gelled as Judy was often last to leave parties, resulting in her being affectionately known as ‘Owlie’, compared to my ‘Lark’.

“Judy and Ronnie specialised in producing young horses and had them finely tuned to find many overseas buyers. They were sought-after judges in the UK, although she would comment how robotic and dull the hunters rode – she liked them ‘sporty and keen’.

“David Tatlow recalled their first meeting, hunting near Dunshaughlin. He was nursing a four-year-old and, having jumped a ditch and landed on a bank, he was walking along the top looking for an easier way to tackle the vast canal below. A lady on a grey horse then appeared and asked if he was needing a lead, to which he replied, ‘No, courage’. To this, Judy responded, ‘if you’ve any Irish in you, tuck in behind me’. She popped out over, he followed (of course the youngster negotiated it easily) and there began their lifelong friendship.

“Our trips together looking for young horses usually had us traversing the country, which prompted memories of days’ hunting and lamenting urban development. Even during the Covid summer, Judy was game to drive out to view foals. There were always new friends made, many late nights and wonderful stories swapped; wherever we went, Judy was always greeted and spoken of with great warmth and respect.

“Each time I left to return to the UK, Judy would say to me ‘there’s always a bed or stable for you here at Lambertstown’. A true lady.”

Judy McMahon with her daughter Emily


Others may not have known Judy as long as Bridget, but their respect for her horse knowledge and her many skills was just as sincere.

Judy and Ronnie were among a group of like-minded people who, in 1999, established the Future Event Horse League, now the Young Event Horse Series. Another founding couple, who have hosted legs of both leagues at Scarteen, were Chris and Sue Ryan.

The latter commented: “I didn’t know Judy during her heyday showing and riding, but admired her understanding of the production of the event horse... breeding, breaking, schooling and early competition outings.

“Along with Ronnie, Harold McGahern, George Mernagh and other members of the FEHL team, we spent many hours together, discussing the best way forward to help in the process of setting young horses on the path to successful eventing careers.”

Harold’s daughter Angela McGahern, now secretary/organiser of YES, expressed her admiration of Judy’s many skills. “Everybody is aware of what a knowledgeable and accomplished horsewoman Judy was, but they may not be aware that she was also incredibly creative and artistic.

“I was always in awe of the swans she made for the Lambertstown FEHL qualifier using chicken wire and feathers, which took centre stage at their water feature. She was readily giving of her time and went that extra mile to put her stamp on everything she undertook. She was also a great dog lover and you knew Judy was never too far away if the dogs were around!”

While the Co Meath venue dropped out of the Young Event Horse Series following Ronnie’s death, Judy and Emily most obligingly agreed to stage the opening day of the Covid-affected RDS National Equestrian Championships in 2021. With a great support team, which included Emily’s partner Philip Guckian, they managed to run the two young event horse finals, the Junior/Young rider class and four native breed championships on the one day.

Judy enjoyed a couple of days of the Dublin Horse Show in 2022 but, sadly, was unable to attend last year’s show, where Emily won the coloured horse class on one of the Lambertstown liveries, Cathy Grassick’s Kildangan Bellatrix.

Judy MacMahon is survived by her daughters Clare and Emily, grandchildren Jack (11) and Rosie (eight), sisters Anne and Meloo and brother Punch.