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1932-2017 West Offaly remembers its Tailteann gold medallists

Thursday, 21 December 2017

1932-2017 West Offaly remembers its Tailteann gold medallists thumbnailPictured is the crowd gathered to commemorate the men from West Offaly who claimed gold in the 1932 Tailteann Games tug-o-war competition with the unveiling of a billboard on the Ballycumber Road, Ferbane on Sunday last MT51861KOG

THE men from West Offaly, who claimed gold in tug-o-war at the 1932 Tailteann games, were commemorated with the unveiling of a billboard in Ferbane last weekend.
On Sunday, December 17 last a crowd gathered on the Ballycumber Road, Ferbane for the unveiling where they were addressed by West Offaly History's Aidan Doyle, who thanked all those who made the occasion possible.
Mr Doyle then spoke about how in the hot summer of 1932 a very varied group of men from the district had rounded the Ballycumber road corner, Ferbane on the back of a two tonne lorry for a long journey to Dublin's Phoenix Park, only to return later with gold medals.
Aidan ended his contribution by stressing the billboard would only be present for a short period and asked those in attendance to ensure the story of the team was passed down to the next generation so that by the time its 100th anniversary comes around, the great grand children of those involved would know what their ancestors had achieved.
A group of family members and representatives of the team then stepped forward to unveil the board before KK Kenny led the crowd to Amhran na bhFiann and proceedings concluded with refreshments in the Bridge hall. 
Meanwhile, the origin of the Aonach Tailteann is one shrouded in myth and mystery, dating back to the time of the Tuatha De Danann. Legend recalls that the competition was first held at Meath in ancient times as part of an elaborate mourning ceremony by Lugh Lamhfhada in memory of his foster mother Tailte and continued until the Norman invasion in the 12th century.
Whatever the truth regarding the historic games, in 1924 an Irish government eager to replicate the success of the recently revived Olympic games and present the new Free State on the world stage decided to convene a modern Tailteann Games. Competitions as diverse as athletics, chess, literature, motorcycle racing, shooting and of course Tug-o-War were held around Dublin drawing large attendances.
The events were open to competitors of Irish birth or ancestry. However, if super star competitors like Johnny Weissmuller, who had just won three gold medals at the Paris Olympics and would later garner more fame in the movies as Tarzan, was willing to turn up and entertain the crowds by swimming in the pond at Dublin zoo, then no one was going to be too interested in checking into his Irish roots.
The games were staged every four years until 1932, after which time a combination of factors including a crowded athletics calendar, a change of government and an economic downturn meant the completion was not held again. Although a Tailteann Games for school athletes' is run under the auspices of Athletics Ireland.
Like the Tailteann Games, Tug-o-War has its own creation myths and was practiced in ancient Egypt, Greece and China. The sport is particularly popular in countries that had a strong naval fleet during the period of tall sail ships. Tug-o-War was an accredited Olympic sport from 1900 until 1920. At the 1908 Games teams from the police forces of the United Kingdom and United States dominated proceedings. However, conflict erupted when the Americans objected to the boots of the team from the Liverpool Metropolitan Police who were accused of "wearing enormous shoes so heavy in fact that it was with great effort that they could lift their feet from the ground".
Despite this distraction, the Liverpool constables went on to claim gold and 24 years later there are reports that the Ferbane team were given just 20 minutes to modify their footwear in order to compete in the Tailteann Games. The tradition of police Tug-o-War teams was particularly strong in Ireland and for a prolonged period the Dublin Metropolitan Police side were considered the best in the world, not least when they defeated the heavy footed Liverpool men three months after their Olympic victory in 1908. The DMP were amalgamated with the Gardai in 1925 but one of their last actions on the sporting field was claiming the 1924 World Championship in London.
In the early thirties a group of men from the Ferbane area decided to form a tug-o-war team to compete at sport days in the vicinity. They were lucky to retain Henry Holmes, a veteran of the DMP, to coach the new side and set to work learning the fundamentals of the sport. A large number of young men (perhaps as many as 40) from the Ferbane, Belmont, Shannon Harbour and Doon trained pulling heavy weights and in some reports tree trunks until a team emerged ready to take on all comers.
The Ferbane side valued discipline and tactics over brute force and soon gained an impressive reputation throughout the midlands. In the hot and dry July of 1932, they set out in a two tonne truck to partake in what would be the last Tailteainn Games for adults. On the hard ground of the Phoenix Park, the Ferbane team's intensive training regime paid off and the West Offaly men claimed Gold. The following are the members of the team named in Ferbane Parish and its Churches & The Green Fields: Tom Flaherty, Paddy Egan, Denny Kearns, Dan Egan, Jim Hiney, Bill Flaherty, Peter Brasil, P.J. McLoughlin, Tim Egan, Michael Doyle, Paddy King, John Joe Geoghegan, Ned Kearns. Trainer Henry Holmes. Secretary Eddie Daly. Driver Jimmy Hamill.

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