Darragh, Paul (1953–2005) showjumper, was born 28 April 1953 in Killiney, Co. Dublin, son of Austin Darragh (qv) and his first wife Marie Therese (née Roddy); he had three sisters and a younger brother. At the time of his son's birth, Austin Darragh was a general practitioner in south Dublin, but later became renowned for the provision of independent drug-testing services to a great many of the world's major pharmaceutical companies.
From an early age Paul, watching through the garden hedge, was fascinated by the activities in the small riding school next door. That early interest developed into a lifelong passion and career. He learned to ride and in 1963, aged 10, won a pony competition at Newcastle horse show in Co. Wicklow. In 1965 his mother bought him a pony called Peggy Sue from Iris Kellett (1926–2011), the leading Irish woman showjumper and subsequently a notable trainer, who helped Darragh develop the skill and precise riding style that marked him out as a future champion. He and Peggy Sue were a formidable pairing in the pony jumping classes, and won scores of competitions throughout Ireland in the 1960s. He was chosen to represent Ireland in the European Junior Championships in 1969, 1970 and 1971, won two silver and one bronze medal in the individual competitions, and contributed to the winning of a team gold medal in 1971.
As he moved into the senior classes, Darragh was chosen to represent Ireland in the Nations Cup competition for the Aga Khan trophy at the Dublin Horse Show in August 1972, the youngest rider in that prestigious event up to that date. He was small and lightly built, always immaculately turned out, and though quick to react to critics and fiercely determined and competitive, he was an enthusiastic team player. At the time, showjumping was experiencing unprecedented popularity as a spectator sport, internationally as well as in Ireland, largely thanks to television coverage of events, and showjumpers were among the first sportsmen and women to be recognised as celebrities. Perhaps not surprisingly, his father's hopes that Paul might follow a medical career were to be disappointed; none of Paul's obituaries mention any significant commitment to a school or college. The young man concentrated all his efforts on becoming one of the leading figures in the golden years of Irish showjumping.
He was associated for sixteen months with the government agency, Bord na gCapall, as an amateur rider, with access to the top horses and training from the celebrated Polish instructor, Colonel Wladislaw Zgorelski; but following a row with the newly appointed trainer, Erich Bubbel, he was suspended in July 1973. Relations were further soured when Darragh published a statement in the press, and it was announced that he was moving to England to work with the renowned showjumper Harvey Smith and his business partner Trevor Banks. After more than a year in Yorkshire, during which time he competed successfully in a number of events, including the Wembley Horse of the Year show, and won the Texaco Cup at Stoneleigh (1974), he returned to Ireland. With his lifelong friend and most serious rival Eddie Macken moving to Germany, there was an opening for Darragh to replace him and ride Kellett's outstanding horse Pele (later even more famous as Kerrygold). Darragh and Pele won the 1975 Jumping Derby at Hickstead, and were met by a marching band and enthusiastic crowd on their return to the stables.
Darragh established a riding centre at Marlay Grange in south Co. Dublin, then in 1979 moved to Waterside Stud, near Tara in Co. Meath. He competed for a number of years on horses sponsored by the tobacco firm P. J. Carroll and Co.; his horse Nuxer was re-named P. J. Carroll and became the champion speed showjumping horse in the world, having won over 100 competitions with Darragh, including an unrivalled four wins at the major event at Aachen in Germany. Darragh also took part successfully in national and international competitions on a small but valiant mare, Heather Honey. The pair were part of the Irish team that won the Aga Khan Cup at the Dublin Horse Show three years running (1977–9), thus winning it outright, the first time that Ireland had done so since 1937. The Irish team had the same four riders in all three competitions: Darragh, Eddie Macken, Capt. Con Power and James Kernan. Their horses were all household names, and the men remained as close as brothers after the shared experiences.
Darragh supported his Nations Cup teammates, Macken, Kernan and Paul Duffy, on the opening morning of the Dublin Horse Show in 1985, when they announced they were on strike against the continuation of the policy of imposing a military chef d'équipe on any team that had at least two army riders. Negotiations resolved the issue in time for the competition to take place, but the ill-feeling evident indicated that there were problems in Irish showjumping. Darragh won the Dublin Grand Prix in 1987 on Carroll's Trigger, and (adjudged eligible to compete despite Carroll's sponsorship, because he temporarily resumed amateur status) was a member of the not particularly successful Irish showjumping teams in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games in Seoul and Barcelona respectively. Darragh's mother died just as he returned from Barcelona; her horse Killylea, Darragh's Olympics mount, had died on the journey home, only a few hours earlier.
In the 1980s, Darragh took part in puissance competitions on a huge gelding called Carrolls Young Diamond, even more than usual justifying his nickname 'Little P'. Together they faced walls of over 1.75 metres in height; a spectator noted that Darragh inspecting the jumps in Cavan Equestrian Centre could walk under several of them without stooping.
In time Darragh began to concentrate more on training pupils and horses, and in 1995 Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of Jordan, daughter of King Hussein, came with a string of horses to Darragh's stable to develop her equestrian skills. He had several successes with her horses, including a World Cup qualifier in Seville in 1996 (with Cera) and in the Olympia International Championships, also in 1996 (with Scandal). In 1997, and again with Scandal, he had a double clear in the Nations Cup competition at the RDS, with the result that Ireland once again won the Aga Khan trophy. He held several positions in the world of equestrian sports and was a non-executive director of the Equestrian Federation of Ireland.
In 1978 he married Jane MacDougald, who had a hairdressing business in Co. Kildare, and was the daughter of William MacDougald, a veterinary surgeon from Stradbally, Co. Laois. Paul Darragh died suddenly at his home in Co. Meath on 3 January 2005. His funeral mass at Rathfeigh catholic church on 7 January was attended by hundreds of mourners, including many showjumpers. He was survived by his wife, two daughters and a son, as well as by his father and siblings.
In 2006, Austin Darragh funded in memory of his son and first wife the Peggy Sue Trophy, for the winner of the 138AB Grand Prix in ponyjumping.