The Kerry Jockey Who Took Edwardian England by Storm – ‘His Story Needed to be Told’

The Narrie that won the Derby, Bernard Dillon and the Rocky that wrote the book, Stephen Fernane and Dillon’s wife the famous music hall artist, Marie Lloyd will all have their night at the launch in Kerins O’Rahilly’s GAA Club on Thursday evening, June 6th at 7pm.

A story of triumph and tragedy, dreams and disasters is how one might describe the life and times of Bernard Dillon in a new book by Tralee-based journalist Stephen Fernane.

In a story that needed to be told, Stephen set out Dillon’s path from 1901, at the age of 13, when he left home with dreams of becoming a jockey in England.

“No one could have predicted that within three years he would be the most popular sporting personality in Britain and Ireland,” he wrote – and thus drawing us into the story.

For the first time since Bernard’s death in 1941, a book capturing his astonishing true story and rise to success as a jockey – and later his fall from grace due to heavy drinking – is available.

From Apprentice to Astute Professional

“From a talented apprentice to astute professional, Bernard Dillon won the Grand Prix de Paris in 1906 and the Epsom Derby in 1910 during a lifetime of sporting conquest and human tragedy.

Stephen Fernane explains how his reason for writing the story stems from his fascination with Bernard’s sporting achievements and the sadness that would later overshadow them.

The fact Bernard’s story is not widely known of is another motivating factor behind the book.

“Discovering Bernard’s career – and learning about all he achieved as a jockey – is what inspired me to write it. The inner demons that led to his demise in later life are just as fascinating. To think that very little is known about someone as colourful and complex as Bernard Dillon is astonishing,” said Stephen.

The Narie that Won the Derby

The book title: The Life and Times of Bernard Dillon: The Narie that Won the Derby’ is a deliberate nod to Bernard’s birth place at Caherina in Strand Road in Tralee in 1887.

“I want to bring Bernard home for the book launch. To bring his story back to where it all started and present it to others who may not know much about him. That is the best tribute I can give him.

Bernard is a ‘Narie’ for sure, which is why the Kerins O’Rahlly’s GAA Club is the appropriate venue. It remains his spiritual home as he was born only a few yards from the clubhouse,” Stephen explained.

Bernard Dillon’s journey from 1901 to 1911 was anything but smooth as he tried to cope with celebrity and adversity. Sadly, his downfall included domestic abuse and the mistreatment of his wife and famous music hall artist, Marie Lloyd.

A Turbulent Relationship

Bernard and Marie met in 1905 and so began a turbulent relationship. They were Edwardian England’s first celebrity couple with Marie eighteen years older than Bernard.

However, notoriety would come at a cost. Drink took hold of Bernard when he lost his jockey’s licence in 1913 over allegations of gambling. It marked the end of his reputation as a superstar jockey.

Stephen feels it is important to write Bernard’s story because of the random way it exists in the archives. Because Marie Lloyd was the more famous personality, information about Bernard’s life is usually seen through the lens of Marie’s biographers, as opposed to Bernard’s own perspective.

“Bernard wrote his memoir in 1922 which has largely been ignored until now.

Accounts of Court Sittings

While he does not explain the more violent side to his personality in the memoir, I was able to solve this by reading through many court sittings he appeared before,” Stephen said.

“Even though the court charges are upsetting to read, my aim is to show Bernard’s opposing sides – not just him as a famous jockey. But there are examples of closeness and intimacy between the couple that have never been written about before now,” he said.

“There is a chapter about Bernard and Marie being incarcerated at Ellis Island in 1913 because they

were unmarried. It’s staggering to imagine two of the most famous and wealthy people in Edwardian England being detained with hundreds of immigrants. They were the Posh and Becks of their time, for sure.

Nothing Straight About Bernard

“As for Bernard’s active service during WWI, a judge accused him of engaging in more violence in London than on the Western Front!

Nothing was ever straight forward in Bernard’s life from the time he left for England still in short pants,” Stephen explained.

Lastly, Stephen sums up Bernard’s life as ‘totally unorthodox’ and that the book is about more than just horse racing. “I wouldn’t want anyone to get the impression the book is solely about horses.”

Tragic Love Story

Significant though they are in Bernard’s life, there is an undertone to the book that symbolises a tragic love story between two people trying to deal with fame and infamy,” he said.

“This is a global story that started in a quiet Kerry street and extended to far off places like America, South Africa and the Middle East.

I just felt it was time for Bernard’s story to be told in his own words.

I think the book is fair to him and shows that no matter how successful we are in life, we’re all vulnerable to self-destruction,” Stephen said.

A Narrie Launch

The Life and Times of Bernard Dillon: The Narie that Won the Derby’ will be launched on Thursday, June 6th at the Kerins O’Rahilly’s GAA Club at 7pm by Mayor of Tralee Terry O’Brien.

A presentation of a framed photograph of Bernard Dillon will be made to the Kerins O’Rahilly’s GAA Club on the night. Everyone is welcome. Light refreshments will be served served.

Book price is €15. Pre-Orders at: www.buythebook.ie/bernarddillon

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