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Return to Gold, Silver and Green: The Irish Olympic Journey 1896-1924
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This is a remarkable book. It looks at Irish athle November 16, 2010
Reviewer: Bill Mallon Journal of Olympic History from Republic of Ireland  
This is a remarkable book. It looks at Irish athletes in the Olympic Games from 1896 1924  during most of which time Ireland did not exist as an independent nation. Rather  from 1896 1920  their athletes competed under the British flag  as Ireland did not become independent until 1921. But it is hardly true that Irish athletes did not compete in the Olympics prior to that time. In addition to competing for Great Britain  many of them competed for the United States after emigrating to that nation  and some of them were likely still Irish nationals in that era in which participation details were not checked as closely.  Kevin McCarthy is an Irish historian who is a senior inspector in the Department of Education and Science at Cork University in Ireland. He has written several other historical works  and in this book  he brings his expertise as a professional historian to the Olympic Games  of which he has been an ardent fan and devot e for many years. The book is described as being the result of six years of research across Ireland  but the detail is such that one imagines that it has encompassed much of his adult life.  The book is separated into chronologic chapters  usually devoted to each Olympiad and Irish participation in each of them. It begins in 1896 with John Pius Boland  the winner of the tennis singles and doubles  with Fritz Traun   who was a Dubliner. In his chapters on the 1904 Olympics  McCarthy focuses on the Irish Whales  a popular name for the many Irish Americans who specialized in weight throwing events for the United States. From there thru the 1920 Olympics  McCarthy describes not only the Irish athletes who were required to compete for Great Britain  but also gives great detail about the Irish athletic detail which supplied so many nations  athletes  especially the USA.  Interspersed throughout are descriptions of the internecine political and national struggles among the various groups that controlled Irish athletics. This struggle would not end within the time frame of the book  as in 1948  two sets of teams tried to represent Ireland at the Olympics. And throughout the story of the struggle for Irish independence and its effect on the athletes is handled in a fine manner. The final chapter   From Antwerp to Paris 1920 24  gives information about the formalization of the Olympic Council of Ireland and its recognition by the IOC  as Ireland prepared to enter its first formal independent team at the 1924 Olympics.  It always amazes me that so many nations  seemingly without large Olympic histories  have produced extensive books on those histories. Recently I received a book on the Olympic history of the Saar  which competed at the Olympics only one time as an independent entity  that being in 1952  yet the book is over 390 pages. McCarthy also does not spare the detail  as this description of the early history of a nation that did not yet fully merit that description  goes to over 410 pages. But the book never seems overly long  as it engrosses the reader.  I really liked this book  but as I must do in my medical field  here I must make a disclaimer   I m of Irish ethnicity   the original Mallons came from Ulster  under the name O Meachl in. But I think you ll like it anyway.

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When Irishmen mined gold for other lands Marti March 1, 2010
Reviewer: Gerard Siggins Sunday Tribune from Republic of Ireland  
When Irishmen mined gold for other lands     Martin Sheridan from Bohola  Co Mayo  throwing the discus for the United States at the London Olympics of 1908The period from the birth of the modern Olympics up to the birth of the state was a rich one for Irish sport  as this book illustrates. Dozens of Irishmen won the contests for gold  although all had to stand on the podium as the Stars and Stripes  Union Jack or Red Ensign was hoisted up the flagpole.     The first gold medallist  John Pius Boland  who won tennis in 1896  objected to the union flag being flown  and he was not the only athlete to bridle at being labelled  British .     The period saw the last flourishing of the great period of Irish throwers and jumpers who led the world for more than 30 years. Men such as Tom Kiely from Ballyneale  Co Tipperary  who broke 28 world records in his career  and five time gold medallist Martin Sheridan from Bohola  Co Mayo  were the leading athletes of their time  but the field sports tradition soon died out in rural Ireland in favour of Gaelic football and hurling.     The GAA was first and foremost formed to promote and run athletics  with team sports a lesser consideration. Their rise led to a decline in track and field in Ireland  but Kevin McCarthy shows that was not the case in the Irish communities in the United States. The GAA stateside produced several leading athletes who collected a sackful of gold medals in those early Olympic Games.     The author also shines a light on the extraordinary story of the Olympic gaelic football and hurling matches  staged as demonstration sports at St Louis in 1904  Chicago Fenians beat St Louis Innisfalls by 10 points to nil  while the Innisfalls won the hurling .     The strong underlying theme of the immensely detailed Gold  Silver and Green is of Irish sport struggling with its changing nature and finding a new identity as the nature of the nation changes.     By 1908 nationalist leaders such as Roger Casement were urging that a separate Irish team be entered for the London Olympics  while by 1920 there was a near mutiny at Antwerp when competitors demanded Ireland be given recognition as a separate entity.     The foundation of the Olympic Council of Ireland is covered  along with a delicious scandal when its secretary  JJ Keane  clumsily boasted of  the Irish Race Olympics   which became the Tailteann Games  in a letter to Baron de Coubertin. The baron seems to have been quite miffed by this potential rival and had to be placated by Keane.     The 1924 Paris Olympics  when the team was called Ireland   not the Irish Free State   completes the story. And who was the new nation s first Olympic medallist? Only Jack B Yeats  who won a silver medal for painting for  The Liffey Swim .     Kevin McCarthy s comprehensive volume is a fascinating story of sport during a crucial era in our history.

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Gold Silver and Green is a book about sport but a February 25, 2010
Reviewer: Leitrim Observer from Republic of Ireland  
Gold  Silver and Green is a book about sport but also about the politics of sport.  Dealing with the first quarter century or so of the modern Olympic Games  the book examines how Irish participants fought not only sporting battles but often significant political ones too  given the fact that Ireland did not have independent nation     The standard of athletics sports in Ireland in the latter half of the nineteenth century was phenomenal.     A huge proportion of the great athletes in this period came from a small pocket of rich countryside know as the Golden Vale. North Cork  west Tipperary and much of County Limerick may well have produced more world records  more international and Olympic champions than any other rural are in modern times.    The first modern Olympic champion  James Connolly  might well have represented the USA but both his parents came from the Aran Islands. The first brothers to win Olympic athletic medals were Irish; the first time gold  silver and bronze medals in an athletic event were won by men from the same country involved three Irishmen from neighbouring counties; the first athlete to win five Olympic titles was Mayo man Martin Sheridan.    The famous efforts of decathlon champion Tom Kiely to represent  Tipperary and Ireland  in 1904  and of world long jump record holder Peter O Connor to climb a flagpole armed with an Irish flag are given ample coverage in the work.    Author Kevin McCarthy is a Senior Inspector with Department of Education   Science and  Gold  Silver   Green: The Irish Olympic Journey  1896 1924  will be published on February 1  retailing at  39.

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Flying the flag: Reliving Ireland s golden days of February 15, 2010
Reviewer: Ryle Dwyer Irish Examiner from Republic of Ireland  
Flying the flag: Reliving Ireland s golden days of Olympic glory   By Ryle Dwyer    THE Winter Olympic Games opened in Vancouver  Canada  early this morning  Irish time . The controversy over the Irish bobsleigh team prompted memories of earlier controversies about Irish participation in the Olympics.        In a timely book  Gold  Silver and Green  Kevin McCarthy covers phenomenal Irish successes at the early modern Games  see review in today s Weekend . The next summer Olympics will be in London in two years  time  but no one could dare expect Irish born athletes to perform as successfully as when the Olympics were first held in London in 1908. Irish born competitors won 37 Olympic medals that year.    Many may recall the sensational incident at the 1968 Games in Mexico  where two American athletes gave a black power salute after being presented with their medals for the 200 meters. Both stood without shoes as an expression of black poverty. Each also wore a black glove on one hand. Tommie Smith  the gold medal winner  also wore a black scarf  while John Carlos  the bronze medallist  wore a necklace of beads  which he said  were for those individuals that were lynched  or killed and that no one said a prayer for .    As the Stars Spangled Banner was being played  each raised his gloved hand in a clenched fist salute. It was a dignified protest.  If I win  I am American  not a black American. But if I did something bad  then they would say I am a Negro   Smith explained.  We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.      But White America didn t understand. Avery Brundage  the American President of the International Olympic Committee  demanded that Smith and Carlos be expelled from the Games and banned for life. American officials delayed until Brundage threatened to expel the entire US track team.    It was a far cry from Athens in 1906 when Peter O Connor of Waterford protested at the raising of the Union Jack for his second place in the long jump. He climbed up the flagpole and waved a homemade Irish flag  while Con O Leary from Charleville waved a similar flag standing on the ground.They weren t suspended. O Connor went on to win the triple jump in which O Leary was second  while O Leary won the high jump. He also won a silver medal in the high jump as part of the Great Britain and Ireland  GB I  team in 1908. His colleague Tim Ahearne of Athea  County Limerick  won gold in the triple jump  and Joseph Deakin from Wicklow led GB I to a win in the three mile team race  while Denis Horgan of Lyre  near Banteer  won silver in the shot put.    Bobby Kerr   a native of Enniskillen   won a gold medal in the 200 meters and a bronze in the 100 meters representing Canada. But Irish born athletes had the biggest impact competing for the USA. The Irish American Athletic Club  IAAC  of New York had 17 competitors forming the nucleus of the American track and field team in London.    At the opening ceremony  all but one of the flag carriers dipped their flags as a mark of respect as they passed King Edward VII in the stand. The sole exception was Ralph Rose  the American flag carrier  who reportedly said:  This flag dips for no earthly king.     The incident set the tone for a bitter rivalry  approaching a sporting war between the British and Americans. The Irish Americans were blamed for the flag incident.The president of the US Amateur Athletic Union was John E Sullivan  the American born son of a construction worker from Co Kerry.  We all know Sullivan well   wrote William Sloan of the American Olympic Committee   his great faults are those of his birth and his breeding.     Other white people tended to look down on the Irish in America  so Irish American athletes saw the Games as a chance to refute the ignorant calumnies depicting them as a debauched and inferior race. They considered the Games a chance to defeat Britain on behalf of both the USA and Ireland. Martin Sheridan of Bohola  Co Mayo  won two gold medals and a bronze in field events  bringing his total medal haul to nine at the Games in St Louis  Athens and London.     John Flanagan from near Kilmallock won the hammer throw to become the first man to win the same Olympic event at three consecutive Games on the four year cycle.     Irish born competitors made a clean sweep of the hammer medals in London. Flanagan s IAAC club mate  Matt McGrath from near Nenagh won the silver  while Con Walsh from Carriganimmy  Co Cork  won the bronze medal representing Canada. John Barrett  from near Ballyduff  Co Kerry  finished fifth in the shot put behind Ralph Rose  the controversial American flag carrier  but Barrett was hampered by an injury after one of the Americans  accidentally  dropped the shot on his foot. Incidentally  Barrett s twin brother  Ed  won a gold medal in the tug of war and a bronze in wrestling. John Carpenter won the 400 meters for the USA  but was disqualified after it was ruled that he deliberately ran wide to prevent the British runner Wyndham Halswelle passing him in the straight. Carpenter was disqualified and the race was re run in lanes without him. The other competitors refused to run  so Halswelle became the only athlete to win Olympic gold in a walkover.    The athletics came to dramatic end when Dorando Pietri of Italy staggered into the stadium and collapse while leading in the marathon. With Johnny Hayes   the New York born son of an Irish couple from Nenagh   approaching fast  British officials picked up Pietri and essentially helped him to finish first. But he was then disqualified  and Hayes was awarded the gold medal.    The 1908 Games brought Irish Americans  closer to sporting  social and political acceptance in the USA than ever before   according to Kevin McCarthy. Their exploits provided a huge boost for their full acceptance in the USA as Americans. Many Irish people thought there would no holding them  if Ireland were independent.    Matt McGrath  the man from Nenagh who won silver in the hammer in London  went on to win gold at Stockholm in 1912. He was still competing for the USA in his 50th year at the Paris Games of 1924. He actually won the silver medal to become the oldest track and field medallist of all time.    That was the year that Ireland was first officially represented in the Olympics. By then  any prospect of powerful Irish athletic performance had evaporated. In the next 84 years Irish competitors would win only four medals in track and field events.     Pat O Callaghan won two gold medals  Bob Tisdall and Ronnie Delany won one each  and John Tracy won a silver medal. By contrast  Irish born competitors won the equivalent of 16 gold  10 silver and two bronze medals between 1904 and 1912.    Of course  the Irish also won medals in the 1924 Games in Paris   for cultural events. Jack B Yeats won an Olympic silver medal in  mixed painting   while Oliver St. John Gogarty won a bronze for his poetry in the  mixed literature competition .       This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Saturday  February 13  2010

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Cracking tale of Ireland s impact on the early mod February 15, 2010
Reviewer: Ken Early Sunday Business Post from Republic of Ireland  
Cracking tale of Ireland s impact on the early modern Olympics      Few Irish people today realise they are the heirs to the world s greatest tradition of hammer throwing.    Throwing weights around a field once captivated the Irish imagination as rugby does now. In the eight Olympiads between 1900 and 1932  an Irish born athlete won the hammer seven times   a stunning record of dominance unmatched even by the steroidfuelled Soviets of later years.    You could look through Olympic records without realising such an era of Irish supremacy ever happened because the first five wins are credited to the USA. Likewise  the Dublin born winner of the first Olympic tennis championship appears in the record books as John Pius Boland  GBR . Irish athletes could not compete for Ireland until the Paris Games of 1924. By then our slide into athletic mediocrity was under way  and our only medallists that year were Jack B Yeats  silver  Art  and Oliver St John Gogarty  bronze  Poetry .    The question of why Ireland suddenly stopped producing world class track and field athletes is not central to this richly detailed and absorbing book  but  intriguingly  Kevin McCarthy places much of the blame on the GAA. In his view  the Association was narrowly focused on developing hurling and football at the expense of athletics and prioritised political point scoring against the IAAA over the best interests of Irish sport.    The IAAA was the Irish Amateur Athletic Association  whose athletes competed under the banner of Great Britain and Ireland.    Many chafed at the designation. The 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens saw what is reckoned to be the first political protest at an Olympic event  when irate long jump silver medallist Peter O Connor delighted spectators by scaling a 20 foot pole to wave an Erin Go Bragh flag in protest at the Union flag that had been hoisted in honour of his achievement.    McCarthy shows how Irish aspirations to sporting independence foundered on the rocks of pre war geopolitics. Baron de Coubertin  the conservative French aristocrat who founded the Olympic movement  was friendly with the conservative aristocrats who ran British sport; the signing of the Entente Cordiale between France and Britain in 1904 scuppered any chance that his IOC would press the Irish case.    By contrast  the IOC was happy to grant Olympic recognition to the Habsburg province of Bohemia and the Russian fiefdom of Finland: de Coubertin didn t mind upsetting the hostile Habsburgs and Romanovs. At least not until 1907  when Russia joined the AngloFrench alliance and Finland s independent status was swiftly revoked.    McCarthy s story comes alive with the 1908 London Games  a triumph for Irish American athletes and a carnival of Brit bashing. At a time of anxiety over Britain s fading imperial glory  the last thing the Games organisers needed was an American team managed by the   renegade Irishman   James Sullivan  captained by an   Irish Whale   in Martin Sheridan  and roared on by a scabrous press  determined to   knock the spots off the Britishers  .    Sheridan  a Mayoman who won discus gold in 1904 and 1908  emerges as a towering figure. He is said to have persuaded the US flag bearer at the opening ceremony not to dip the US flag to King Edward VII with the line   this flag dips for no earthly King    inspiring a tradition that endures to this day. An uncompromising nationalist   Sheridan regarded Irishmen who competed under the aegis of Great Britain and Ireland as traitors.    Sheridan was also an accomplished wind up merchant possessed of a Runyonesque prose style.      The American team was handed a real sour lemon here when the tug of war event was announced   he wrote in the New York Evening World.    The Americans took the field in regular shoes  and   what was our surprise to find the English team wearing shoes as big as North River ferryboats  with steel topped heels and steel cleats  while spikes an inch long stuck out of the soles ... they had to waddle like County Mayo ganders ... The shoes they wore were the biggest things over here and clearly made for the purpose of getting away with the event by hook as well as by crook  . The indignant English team offered a rematch  the Americans refused.   The explanation that [they].    . .wore only   their usual boots  is a characteristic instance of English hypocrisy   the Gaelic American newspaper taunted.   Lord Desborough might just as well have said   Why  my dear sir  these are exactly the same boots that Lancashire men kick their wives with   for all its relevancy to the charge of unfairness.     Other such cuttings get across a sense of the strange fervour of the time: the extreme nationalism; the naked rancour and contempt; the obsession with sporting achievement as an indicator of racial vigour.    The book is a labour of love  and while many readers will find that it contains much more information about century old issues of sports administration than they strictly require  McCarthy has made a valuable contribution to the study of an aspect of Irish history that should be better known.

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SUCH is the popularity of hurling football socce February 15, 2010
Reviewer: Diarmuid O Donovan Evening Echo from Republic of Ireland  
SUCH is the popularity of hurling  football  soccer and  rugby that the majority of people  when asked to associate  another word with the word  sport   will inevitably  respond with one of the following; hurling  football   soccer or rugby. This is not surprising because we  are fed a constant diet of these four games by the various elements of the sports media. The improving sports  book industry is also dominated by publications devoted to the big four. Other than Kieran Shannon s recent Hanging from the Rafters  there are very few sports books that examine  the social dimension behind the facts of sport. The Americans have led the way in true sports history. These writers not only produce the facts of their topic but explain them in the context of their time.    A new book  Gold  Silver and Green: The Irish Olympic Journey 1896 to 1924 by Kevin McCarthy was published by Cork University Press last week. It is a book that can sit  comfortably on the history as well as the sports bookshelf. This book examines the stories and circumstance  of over 75 Olympic medals which were won by Irish born athletes in the Olympics prior to 1924. The number  is even greater when you include those of Irish parents who  were born abroad.    The author  Kevin McCarthy is a native of Cappoquin  County Waterford. He is a senior inspector with the Department of Education and Science. He is a member of the International  Society of Olympic Historians  the Hibernian Athletics Historical  Association and on the advisory board of the  Winged Fist   a historical society dedicated to Irish American athletics. He is also a life long sports fan and member of Cappoquin   Affane GAA club.    When asked how this book evolved he replied  The initial research for Gold  Silver and Green was undertaken as part of my PhD studies in UCC on the  Irish and Irish American Involvement in the Olympic Games prior to independence  and its impact on nationalism and national identity . Personally  I feel the importance of sport has been  underestimated in academic circles.      This begs the question what can we hope to learn from the book?  I think the book shows how Irish athletics was at the top of the tree in a wide range of events when the  Olympics began. The traditions of the Gaelic Athletic Association  IAAA  in areas like hammer throwing   shot put and jumping events were very strong  but it also shows that the GAA did not have an international  vision capable of using the great Irish athletes to establish an  Irish identity abroad.  The irony was that a perceived  unionist athletic body  the Irish Amateur Athletic Association  was probably responsible for getting more Irish competitors onto this new world stage at the Olympics. What also emerges is the huge role played by Irish sportsmen  many of  them in the Irish American Athletic Club in New York  in gaining acceptance for the Irish in the USA  and in  helping things like fundraising for the 1916 Rising into the bargain.     It also shows the degree to which a wide range of political figures like Roger Casement  Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins could see the value of an Irish Olympic team as a  means of establishing our international identity.   Kevin feels that the GAA was less nationalistic prior to 1916 than people might think. In the course of outlining the amusing story of the Irish Cycling team in Stockholm in 1912  he explains that the row between the GAA and the IAAA at  the time was more about the control of Irish sport than nationalist politics. The events of 1916 changed  everything and by the early 1920s the IAAA were as good as gone.  However  the take over by the GAA of mainstream Irish athletics did not result in a great athletic or  Olympic revival  with hurling and football now very firmly established in nationalist circles and the rest of the world having caught up with and passed Irish standards in Olympic  sports by independence.  The appreciation of the achievements of these pre 1924 Olympians is still of the hit and miss variety as Kevin found in the course of his research.   While some Olympic medals are well protected in museums  as with Tom Kiely s 1904 decathlon medal in South Tipperary museum in Clonmel  I have  on more than one occasion   been  introduced  to Olympic medals taken from hiding places in teapots or displayed in less than secure locations.   One of the unusual stories in the book concerns the proposal to play an exhibition of hurling at the 1900 Olympics which were held in Paris.    There are suggestions that a Cork team was to take part in the hurling exhibition. A report in the Kerry Sentinel explained;  The exiled Gaels of London are sending teams to a Paris exhibition  Cork being unable to accept the invitation  to do so... There  in the intellectual capital of the world  will be heard the crash of the cam n  and I hope the music of the Gaelic tongue on the lips of excited hurlers.  Another report  in the United Irishman  said that the game was to be between the  Chicago and London Gaels although the original idea was  that Cork and the Chicago men should play.  It should be added that apart from newspaper reports nothing  has been found in either the Olympic or GAA records to suggest that an exhibition game was ever played. What is known however is that hurling and football were exhibited  at St Louis in 1904. Munster was the power base of  Athletics in the latter half of the 19th century. This is reflected in the Olympic success of athletes from the province. Kevin McCarthy s take on this is that economic circumstances  and tradition played a large part in Munster s high profile.   Many of the great Irish weight throwers and jumpers came from good farming stock  with good protein rich diets and more available time and training facilities than urban  dwellers or employees.  Tradition played a huge part too.  The quality of the sports meetings in places like Kilmallock  Clonmel  Banteer  etc was world class  with Irish  national records broken at such meetings very regularly and occasionally  world records too. Although our greatest Olympian before independence  Martin Sheridan   9 medals  including 5 gold  came from Co Mayo.   Munster athletes included Tom Kiely from Tipperary broke 28 world records in his career  while Peter O Connor from Waterford broke four world long jump records in less than  two years. In the Golden Vale area  John Flanagan from near Kilmallock won three Olympic hammer titles  Pat O Callaghan from near Banteer won two and individual titles were won by Matt McGrath  Nenagh  and Paddy Ryan of Pallasgreen   all between 1900 and 1932 and all hailing from within a thirty mile radius of Croom  Co Limerick.      Gold  Silver and Green is a giant leap forward in helping  sports fans and historians understand and appreciate  why and how our relish for competitive sport evolved. It reminds us  if we need to be reminded at all   that sport and politics have never been too far apart. As Kevin McCarthy points out in his conclusion however  the story of these  Olympians of the pre 1924 era deserves commemoration in its own right. Their success raises questions of how generations of political and sporting bodies have failed to develop  our international athletic prowess in any consistent way since  the foundation of the state. In the last paragraph of the book   Arthur Griffith s observation that  revolutions are slow and often barely perceptible things  is alluded to. If Griffith is correct  we can only hope that this book could be the beginning of a proper and reasoned debate on how to harness and re ignite the sporting prowess of this country for the health and benefit of not just the elite  but for everyone.

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