The First Captain’s Log

The club’s first real captain, founder member Paul O’Connor recalls the beginning of Raheny Shamrock 60 years ago.

In April 1958, on the “Drum battery” train from Amiens Street to Raheny, a staff member of the Evening Press, Paddy Boland who lived in the newly built Avondale Park, was discussing Raheny Sport.

Boland regretted that 18 Months after Ronnie Delaney had won the Olympic 1500 metre gold medal in Melbourne, no athletic club existed in the area.

After serious banter, it was decided to call a meeting in the first week of September 1958 with a view to forming a club in Raheny.

About 37 attended the inaugural meeting, mainly in the 16 to 25 age group with Paddy explaining that a Scottish sprints coach from Springbourne was willing to become coach (Ed:Eugene O’Leary).

A vote for club captain resulted in Hugh Hardy, (winner with Louth of a 1957 All-Ireland Football medal), beating Paul O’Connor who was appointed vice captain.

Training started the following Saturday in St.Anne’s Park and a meeting to elect a full committee was called for October.

Hugh Hardy sent a Letter of resignation from the position of captain, so I automatically became captain, which I retained for four years.

In the summer of 1959 we had our first taste of track and field, competing in many open sports, as well as Dublin and Leinster championships, we were strong in the relays, sprints, and long jump.

Paddy Noonan and I were selected by Dublin for the Dublin Inter county team for sprints, long jumps and relay.

We progressed to the final in which we defeated Galway, and won exact replicas of GAA gold medals.

We continued to build up a good coaching structure and organisational club through the following year.

That autumn we proposed to the Dublin board that we would organise the first ever indoor athletic sports in Ireland as the new boom in America was “indoors” where Ronnie Delaney was known as “chairman of the boards”.

Being an NACA club meant no international stars could participate, but our brave and ambitious two day event went ahead in the show jumping arena at Burton Hall, Stillorgan, thanks to owner Capt.Hume Dudegon and Capt. A.Brocklebank of the Army.

We also included a basketball tournament on the first night, and finished the second night with a six bout boxing event.

In the first ever Irish indoor athletic race over 660 yards. Donal Cullen (UCD) won from Parnie Byrne, (Blackrock), Matt Rudden (Laragh) won the second race from Freddie English (Blackrock).

Matt Rudden later won the mile in four minutes 57 seconds on the lap turf surface.

The Raheny Shamrock Athletes competing where; Paddy Noonan, Peter O’Reilly, Matt Gahan, Paul O’Connor, Tom O’Leary, Paddy Doherty, Albert Culleton, Tommy McDonnell and Tom Philips.

In the next few years we acquired many new members, such as Chris Farrelly, Matt McCarthy, Ronnie Foster, Paddy Fay, Roger Kingston (Bandon) and Michael Heery, most being in the junior and U-20 age groups.

We competed in the inter-clubs, open sports, Dublin and Leinster championships, both cross country and track and field with some degree of success, most notable and successful being Matt Gahan, Paddy Noonan, and Tom Philips.

Philips became the club’s first All-Ireland track champion when he won the 4 mile title in 1962 beating former champions Harry O’Gorman and Matt Rudden.

Women’s athletics was frowned upon by the clergy and was particularly discouraged by the archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid.

In the north there were some female athletes and in 1956 Maeve Kyle, from Kilkenny, but living in Dungannon was picked in the 400 meters for the Melbourne Olympics.

Kyle made the final and finished seventh, this helped to inspire Crusaders and Clonliffe Harriers and some individual women to begin training groups.

In 1963 the UCD club began a ladies section, and their athletes living on the northside came to Raheny Shamrock to be coached by me.

Shona Murphy, Amy Barry, Gay and Mary Guiney and Moya O’Carroll, became familiar sights in the Raheny area.

The university clubs could only retain athlete’s membership for the duration of the varsity season, from October to April, after which they reverted to their local clubs.

However as there was no women’s club in Raheny, the committee agreed by a slim majority to allow me to form a women’s section, in March 1964.

With the UCD girls, I met a group of new members at the old school, (later our club house) and amongst them were Therese Burke, Mary McGran who was elected first lady captain, Margaret Carolan, Grace O’Leary and Mary McDonnell.

Soon many others joined, we held our first cross country for them on the same St.Anne’s course as the men used.

It was funny to see their lady like behaviour at the first ditch, each stopping to let the person in front cross the stream first.

They learnt really fast though and soon we were taking gold and silver medals in the Dublin and Leinster championships, in individual and team events.

The real icing on the cake came in 1967, when after the formation of BLE, the first ever Irish women’s cross country team competed in the World Championship in Chepstow.

The team was 50% comprised of Raheny Shamrock A.C members, Siobhan Lynch, Ursula Kennedy and Ann Keating and later, Siobhan’s sister Mary Lynch, became one of Ireland’s best distance women athletes, winning track and cross country titles, and representing Ireland many times.

In tandem with the cross country successes, we were producing some excellent sprinters, and field eventer competitors in the women’s club, where we won many championship in individual and relay events.

Moya and Fionnuala Henderson(Nic Ionraic), Margaret Carolan, backed up by May McGran, Ursula Kennedy, Mary McDonnell, Therese Burke, The Guineys, Moya O’Carroll and other UCD squad members made a great team.

Margaret Carolan won the Leinster 440 yards championships in 68 and the Munster 400 meters after moving to Limerick in 1969.

Both the men’s and women’s clubs were consistently in the top echelons in athletics in the NACAI, but at last, after many unsuccessful attempts the “split” in Irish athletics was eventually healed when in early 1967 the amalgamation with the AAU saw the formation of BLE.

This opened the way for all clubs to avail of international competition for the first time.

One committee know-all, back in 1964 voted against forming a women’s section, as “it would become a marriage bureau”, was laughed at, but later was proved partially right.

Mar McGran married Matt McCarthy (both deceased), Therese Burke married Tommy McDonnell, Margaret Carolan married me, Fionnuala Henderson married Coleman Nolan of Crusaders, Mary Lynch married Roger Kingston, Siobhan Lynch (RIP) married Declan Treacy, and Mick Heery married May Adams.

I am sure there have been many others who tied the knot in later years throughout membership of a fantastic club.

Tickets are available for the club’s 60th anniversary dinner dance on November 9 – details here