Ann Ferris created history in 1984 when becoming the first woman to win the Irish Grand National, writes Paul Clarke.


Legendary commentator Michael O’Hehir emphasised the enormous significance of what he was witnessing at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday back in 1984.

“The silence is deafening,” he told television viewers after Bentom Boy had pulverised the opposition, enabling the teak-tough Ann Ferris from Glengormley, Co. Antrim to become the first female jockey to win the Irish Grand National in its long history dating back to 1870.

He spoke glowingly about the epoch-making nature of the triumph, but the big crowd at the County Meath venue appeared to be in a state of shock.

Those were days when women were still fighting for recognition in the racing game and people like Ferris and her equally mighty sister, Rosemary Rooney, were among the small band of pioneering figures who did so much for those who followed them.They included Nina Carberry, who became the second female to win the Irish National in 2011 on Organisedconfusion for her uncle Arthur Moore, and Katie Walsh who triumphed four years later aboard the Sandra Hughes-trained Thunder And Roses.

Ann and Rosemary came from a family which was immersed in racing and their father Willie Rooney rode 401 point-to-point winners and also trained and bred horses successfully at Mount Top Stud. That day at Fairyhouse 40 years ago must have been the best of all as he trained the winner and the third-placed horse, each of them ridden by one of his daughters.

Both women were formidable and fearless competitors who were more than capable of holding their own against the men. Ann was Ireland’s champion point-to-point rider in 1976 when her tally of 23 winners represented a fine return at a time when fixtures were condensed into one spring season only.

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