LIMERICK’S rich Olympic lore will be celebrated as part of a conference at the Hunt Museum next month marking Shannonside’s year as European City of Sport.
Waterford author Kevin McCarthy - whose book ‘Gold, Silver and Green: The Irish Olympic Journey 1896-1924’ was published last year - said that “over the course of the first six modern Olympic Games, the entire nation of Germany won 11 medals and Limerick won 13”.
These were the days before independence and none of John Flanagan (Kilmallock), Paddy Leahy (Pallasgreen), Con and Pat Leahy (Cregane) or Timothy Ahearne (Athea) actually won medals for Ireland. Most, Mr McCarthy said, were won by Limerick men representing the United States. But there was no doubt about where the Olympians were bred.
“I was talking to Ronnie Long (Limerick AC) about this and Ronnie said that if you put a compass on Croom and drew a 30-mile radius around it, you would find half the Olympic medals ever won by Irish athletes. So I did that myself, and he wasn’t wrong. There’s an incredible tradition there.”
Limerick, Mr McCarthy said, was central to one of the most successful athletics clubs in history, the Irish-American Athletic Club in Queens. Three-time Olympic hammer champion John Flanagan - a native of Kilbreedy, Kilmallock, and a New York cop - was a member of this prestigious club whose athletes won 55 Olympic medals over two decades in the early 20th century.
“And it wasn’t just the athletes, the club officials would have had deep connections with Limerick. Mike Murphy, who trained the US Olympic team for the 1908 Games was from Limerick. And PJ Conway, who was president of the Irish-American Athletic Club, was a Limerick man as well.”
Pallasgreen’s Paddy Ryan was another extraordinary member of this club. The world hammer record he set in 1913 was unbeaten for 25 years, longer than Bob Beamon’s. Legends like Jesse Owens and Sergey Bubka are among only five athletes who have set more longlasting world records.
Watching the Limerick-Dublin hurling match in Croke Park last month, Mr McCarthy said he couldn’t help noticing the irony that Ryan O’Dwyer - who put three goals past Limerick on the day - was a grandson of Paddy Ryan’s.
The seventh annual conference of Sports History Ireland takes place at the Hunt on September 10 (9.30am to 3.30pm) with talks on everything from GAA and Munster Rugby to swimming and golf, as well as how sport interacted with politics and religion.