Irish Throwers

Martin Sheridan
Pat McDonald
Phil Conway

Major Championships


Pat McDonald - Olympic Shot & 56lb Champion

THE New York Police Museum has a whole section dedicated to the Whales. These were men who dominated the throwing events in the infant years of Baron de Coubertin's movement. They were all Irish and nearly all policemen. Carrying on the tradition of Cuchulainn.

The link between mythology and the modern games wasn't so tar-fetched. The hammer and shot putt are traced back to the Tailteann Games. the oldest of all championships in the Celtic times of 1830 BC. Didn't Cuchulainn himself have a great reputation for throwing a huge stone tied to a wooden beam prodigious distances.

Now the Celts were having a second coming. Big Pat McDonnell was part of the revolution. In America McDonnell became McDonald and was nicknamed the Babe. "He was a powerful man, and a good looking man. He was 6 ft 4 ins. or over it and in the finish was over twenty stones", recalls Paddy Cotter with pride.

And according to Cotter, America made him. He joined the New York Police Force in 1905, could be found on the beat in Times Square, but also found time to be the best in the world by a long shot.

McDonnell did all his great things in America, as he went away as a young man. Everyone knew he was powerful before he ever left, but there were men in Killard at that time, especially his cousins, who were able to knock a fair turn out of him at the weights.

I knew one of his cousins, Pat O'Brien, who also went to America. He got rheumatics and came home more or less a cripple. There were a lot who could knock a fair turn out of him at that time, but, of course, they didn't travel to America where they would have made a name for themselves.

'There was another great man before McDonnell. He was Peter Foley from back near Kilkee, in Bealaha. He went to America and wouldn't have been heard only he went. He joined the police in Chicago. He was able to throw the 50 Ibs off the circle over 36 ft".

But McDonnell was the man apart. Longevity became a byword for this man-mountain. He was at the top for over thirty years - from throwing for fun with his friends in Doonbeg to athletics meetings in Ennis to the Olympic Games. He won his first American championship in 1907 - his last came 26 years later in 1933.

In between there was the Olympic glory. In 1912 the fifth Olympiad was staged in Stockholm. McDonnell celebrated his 34th birthday during Olympic week and celebrated in style. He went into the circle in the shot putt, throwing the 16-pound weight 50 feet 4 inches to win gold.

Four years later, Pat was all set to defend his title in the Berlin Games but they were cancelled because of War. McDonnell was in his forties when the Antwerp Games of 1920 came along. But he still proved himself the best in world, winning the 56-pound weight throwing title with a toss of 36 feet 11 1/2 inches.

The man from Killard had proved himself to be one of the great "Whales'' an honorary member of an exclusive club. The club started in 1900 by Limerick man John Flanagan. At the Paris Games he won the first of three .successive gold medals in the hammer. Flanagan' s third gold came in London when the Whales were all-conquering. Irish-men also filled the silver and bronze positions - Matt McGrath represented the US, while Con Walsh competed under the maple leaf of Canada.

Back to the Antwerp Games and Pat Ryan from Pallasgreen - the man who competed in Doonbeg - won gold in the hammer and was second behind McDonnell in the 56-pound throw. Four years later Matt McGrath won at second silver and at 45 became the oldest medal-holder in throwing history.

Ireland's greatest .sporting exports dominated the throwing events for a quarter of a century. And, evidence of McDonnell's special place among the "Whales" came when he was given the honour of leading the American team into Paris Olympic Stadium for the 1924 games.

He was a hero at home and abroad. Celebrated New York Times columnist Arthur Daly, once wrote of his popularity. "There could be only one backdrop for a man of Pat's proportions and humour - Times Square - and he got it. From 1905 to 1920 he was on traffic duty in the Square. His figure and County Clare brogue became as familiar as the Knickerbocker Hotel, Shanley's, the Victoria Theatre and Dowlings.

'He was a favorite of dandies, stage folk and newsboys. In 1912, just before he left for his first Olympics in Stockholm, newsboys stopped him at Broadway and 43rd Street and gave a silver cup to him. Several years later, when McDonald took a day off, famous actors like George M. Cohan halted him to inquire about his health".

It was the same in Doonbeg when home was the hero. "When he returned Killard an Olympic hero in the twenties and thirties, he was a big hit at country house dances. He was a good set dancer", reveals Joe Hurley.

That was the "Whale" from Killard, Doonbeg - Clare's Olympic champion (from Clare Champion)


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