The first location of the Áenach Tailteann was at the site of modern Teltown, located between Navan and Kells in County Meath. Historically, the Áenach Tailteann gathering was a time for contests of strength and skill, and a favored time for contracting marriages and winter lodgings. A peace was declared at the festival, and religious celebrations were held.

The Olympic Games of Tailteann were celebrated by the Irish. The Gaelic Athletic Association revived the games in 1924. The Irish Olympic Council was founded in 1920. In 1952, the Council changed its own name from "Irish Olympic Council" to "Olympic Council of Ireland" to reinforce its claim to represent the whole island of Ireland rather than merely the Republic.  

Left: Ard Rí Lóegaire from a stained glass window
in the National Maritime Museum

Tags: Kells, Meath, Navan

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  • Peter O'Connor of Ireland won gold in the hop, step and jump (triple jump) and silver in the long jump. In protest at being put on the British team, O'Connor scaled the flagpole and hoisted the Irish flag, while the pole was guarded by Irish and American athletes and supporters. From Wikipedia

Here is something I put together and posted on the old Wildgeese site at the time of the 2004 Olympics. I concerns those Irish athletes who were obliged to compete under foreign flags.

Part 1

The “Wild Geese” Olympians:

 Ireland’s Olympic Heroes Who Won Glory Under Foreign Flags


At the 1924 Olympic Games held in Paris, Ireland competed for the first time as an independent nation, having been formally recognised by the International Olympic Committee earlier that year. This was not, however, the first time that Irish-born athletes had competed, as records show that Irish athletes had achieved considerable success at each of the previous games of the modern Olympic era.


Their victories, however, have not been recorded as Irish victories but have, instead, been attributed to Great Britain, Canada, South Africa and the United States. This stems from the fact that prior to 1924, Irish-born athletes residing in Ireland, or Britain, were obliged to compete under the flag of Great Britain; Ireland then being part of the British Empire, while many other Irish athletes were forced by economic and political hardships to emigrate and develop their talents abroad.


TIMOTHY AHEARNE from Direen, Athea, Co.Limerick (representing GBR)

At the 1908 London Olympics Ahearne produced a world record leap of 48ft 11¼ in to win the Triple Jump.


EDWARD THOMAS BARRETT from Rathela, Ballyduff, Co.Kerry (representing GBR)

Barrett won a Gold medal in the Tug-Of-War at the 1908 Games as part of the City of London Police team which represented Great Britain in that event. A former winner of the British wrestling championship (1906), Barrett also took Bronze medal in the Olympic Wrestling Free-Style Heavyweight (161 lb+) contest. Barrett holds the distinction of being the only person to have won Olympic Gold and an All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship medal. He was part of the London Irish team that beat Cork in the final in 1903.



These men competed as part of the mixed nationality Foxhunters Hurlingham team that took first place in the Polo competition at the 1900 Paris Olympics.


JOHN PIUS BOLAND from Capel Street, Dublin (representing GBR)

Boland was a student at Oxford University when he accepted an invitation from his friend, Thrasyvoalos Manaos, the Secretary of the 1896 Athens Oraganising Committee, to attend the first modern Olympics. Boland travelled to Athens not as a competitor but as a spectator and also to further his studies of Greek archaeology. Manaos was impress when he saw Boland play a friendly game of Tennis and persuaded the Irishman to enter the Olympic Tennis events. Although Boland competed wearing standard leather-soled walking shoes, he convincingly won the Men’s Singles, defeating the Greek player Dennis Kasdaglis 6-3 6-1 in the final. Boland this became the first Irish-born Olympic champion. Not content with this success he then partnered the German, Fritz Traun, in winning the Men’s Doubles. It is an interesting fact that Boland did not receive Gold medals for his victories as Gold medals were not awarded for first place until the St.Louis Olympics of 1904. At Athens, a combined awards ceremony was held at the close of the Games where each of the Olympic champions was presented with a crown of olive leaves, a commemorative certificate and a Silver medal !


JOHN JESUS FLANAGAN from Moortown, Kilbreedy, Co.Limerick (representing USA)

Flanagan is the undisputed father of modern Hammer throwing, who improved the world record for that event a remarkable 16 times during his career. He is also the father figure of a group of emigrant Irish champion weight throwers who dominated their events during the first quarter of the 20th Century. Due to the enormous size of their physical frames and their colossal achievements in the world of sport, they were accord the proud title of “The Irish Whales”. Between them they won 22 Gold, Silver and Bronze Olympic medals. Most of these athletes were, like Flanagan himself, American policemen. Flanagan won the Olympic Hammer competition at three different Games: 1900 Paris (163ft 1½ in); 1904 St.Louis (168ft ½ in), 1908 London (170ft 4in). He also won a Silver medal in the 56lb Weight throwing event at St.Louis.


JOHN HAYES from Nenagh, Co.Tipperary (representing USA)

Hayes won the Olympic Marathon at the 1908 London Games in controversial circumstances. The first competitor to cross the winning line was the Italian, Dorando Pietri, but officials had helped him back to his feet several times after collapsing from exhaustion during the closing stages of the race. The American team protested and Pietri was correctly disqualified leaving John Hayes, who had crossed the line in second place in a time of 2 hours 55 minutes 18 seconds, as the champion.


ROBERT KERR from Enniskillen, Co.Fermanagh (representing Canada)

At the 1908 Olympics Kerr won Gold medal in the 200m with a time of 22.6 seconds. He added a Bronze medal in the 100m with a time of 11.0 seconds. Kerr was Canadian champion in the 200m from 1906-1908 and 100m champion in 1907. He also set Canadian records in the 40, 50, 60, 75, 150, 200 and 220 yard sprints.


THOMAS FRANCIS KIELY from Ballyneale, near Carrick-on-Suir, Co.Tipperary (representing GBR)

Tom Kiely vies for the title of greatest all-round athlete of the first half of the 20th Century with American Jim Thorpe and fellow Irishman, Martin Sheridan. During his career he won at least 70 Irish, British, American and World championships and improved the world records in the Hammer and 56lb Weight throws. He won the British Amateur Athletic Association Hammer championship 5 times between 1897-1902, losing only once, in 1900, to the great John Flanagan.

Kiely was an ardent Irish nationalist and his unwillingness to compete while wearing a British vest probably explains his absence from the 1896 and 1900 Olympics. By the time of the St.Louis Games in 1904, Kiely was already 34 years old, yet he received invitations from many of the leading US athletics clubs to compete in St.Louis as part of the American team. When the British AAA became aware of this, they offered to pay Kiely’s expenses to the Games if he competed for Britain. Kiely, however, rejected the offers and thanks to donations from his supporters, and by the sale of some of his trophies, he raised sufficient funds to pay his own passage, stating that he would compete “for Tipperary and Ireland”.

Although British record books and sports almanacs attempt to claim Kiely’s achievements for Britain it is clear where his allegiances lay. When he turned out in St.Louis to perform in the All-Round event, the forerunner of the modern Decathlon, Kiely and fellow Tipperary athlete, John J. Holloway, wore green vests with a large shamrock crest. Before the Olympics Kiely had injured his legs while playing Gaelic Football and so his performances in some events were not up to the high standards of his youth. He did, however, win the Hammer, 880yd Walk, 120yd Hurdles and the 56lb Weight throw, thus becoming Olympic champion, with Holloway in a creditable 4th place. Kiely was one of only two non-Americans to win Gold at the St.Louis Olympics; the other was Canada’s Etienne Desmarteau.


CORNELIUS “CON” LEAHY from Cregane, near Charleville, Co.Cork (representing GBR)

Leahy competed at the Intercalated Olympic Games held at Athens in 1906 where he won Gold in the High Jump, with a height of 5ft 10in, and Silver in the Triple Jump. At the 1908 London Games he won Silver medal in the High Jump with a clearance of 6ft 2in. Although these heights appear small by modern standards it should be remembered that the Fosbury Flop and the Straddle jumping techniques were not permitted at earlier Olympics and the athletes were obliged to jump the bar feet first !


KENNEDY MACARTHUR from Dervock, Co.Antirm (representing South Africa)

MacArthur was born in Ireland in 1880 but emigrated to South Africa in 1905 where he became a policeman. At the 1912 Stockholm Games MacArthur was entered in the Marathon and in the company of fellow South African, Christian Gitsham, was comfortably ahead of the field. According to legend, when Gitsham briefly halted to drink some water MacArthur ignored an agreement to wait for his compatriot and ran on to take the Gold medal in a time of 2 hours 36 minutes 54.8 seconds.


PATRICK JOSEPH “BABE” MCDONALD (originally MCDONNELL) from Killard, Doonbeg, Co.Clare (representing USA)

“Babe” McDonald was a giant of a man; weighing in at 300 pounds and 6 feet 5 inches he fully lived up to the “Irish Whale” appellation. He joined the New York Police Department, eventually retiring as the city’s most famous policeman having spent many of his 41 years service directing traffic in Times Square. In the Shot Put event at the 1912 Stockholm Games McDonald produced a lifetime best distance of 50ft 4in to overcome the favourite, Ralph Rose, and win Gold. The following day he added a Silver medal to his tally in the Two-Handed Shot Put where the competitors each tossed the shot with the left hand and then the right, with the longest combined distance winning the event.

Unfortunately the Great War intervened to deny McDonald the chance to defend his title at the cancelled 1916 Olympics, but at the Antwerp Games in 1920, McDonald returned not only as a competitor but also as Captain of the American team and flag bearer at the opening ceremony. Although McDonald could only manage 4th place in the Shot Put, he took Gold medal in the 56lb Weight with a record throw of 36ft 11in. He achieved this feat at the age of 42 years, 26 days, thus becoming the oldest ever person to win an athletics Gold medal. McDonald did not compete at the 1924 Paris Olympics but was selected as an honorary member of the United States team. In this capacity he led his compatriots into the stadium at the opening ceremony alongside fellow Irish-American, Matt McGrath. McDonald’s longevity as an athlete did not end at the 1920 Olympics; he went on to win the last of his 16 American championships in 1933 at the age of 54.


MATTHEW JOHN MCGRATH from Curraghmore, Nenagh, Co.Tipperary (representing USA)

McGrath was already world record holder when he entered the Hammer competition at the 1908 London Games. He was forced to settle for Silver medal, however, following defeat by fellow Irish-American, and fellow police officer, John Flanagan. At the 1912 Olympics McGrath won Gold with a throw that was 20ft 10in beyond that of his nearest rival. His throw of 179ft 7in was to remain an Olympic Record until the Berlin Olympics 24 years later. McGrath suffered a knee injury during the Hammer event at the 1920 Olympics but despite withdrawing from the competition after only two rounds he still finished 5th. At the 1924 Paris Games McGrath was given the honour of carrying the American team’s standard during the opening ceremony. Despite being 45 years old, McGrath managed to claim his second Silver medal in the Hammer after a gap of 16 years and thus became the oldest competitor to win an athletics medal in Olympic history.


Colonel JOSHUA KEARNEY MILLNER (representing GBR)

At the London 1908 Games Kearney won Gold medal in the 1,000 yards prone Free Rifle shooting event. He was aged 61 years and 4 days when he achieved his victory – the oldest medallist at the Games !

Part 2

PETER O’CONNOR from Ashford, Co Wicklow (representing GBR)

O’Connor was undoubtedly the greatest long jumper of his era, yet his unwillingness to compete under the Union Jack meant that he was denied the multiple Olympic successes usually associated with an athlete who dominated their sport. In 1900 and 1901 O’Connor improved the Long Jump world record on three occasions. His leap of 24ft 11¾ in, which he set on 1st August 1901, lasted as world record for almost 22 years, and remained as Irish record for 89 years.

As the 10th Anniversary Intercalated Olympics at Athens approached in 1906, O’Connor and two or three other athletes, raised funds to finance their passage and entry to the Games as an independent Irish team. In support of this stance O’Connor wrote to the Olympic Committee “stating emphatically that we represented Ireland, that our expenses had been paid by Irishmen and that we objected, if any were successful, to our wins being recorded in any way as points for England”. Due to strong pressure from the British contingent the Irish claim was rejected; the official reason being that Ireland could not be considered independent because it did not have its own parliament. Despite this setback, O’Connor and his compatriot, Con Leahy, arrived at the Games dressed in “green blazers, bound with gold braid around the sides, cuffs, collar and lapels with a gold shamrock on left breast and green caps to match with shamrock on front”.

Matters finally reached a crisis during the award ceremony for the Long Jump event when officials raised a Union Jack aloft in recognition of O’Connor’s Silver medal performance. Before a crowd of 60,000 spectators and Crown prince George of Greece, who had insisted that the British flag be raised to mark any Irish success, O’Connor quickly advanced towards the flagpole to announce to the world which country he truly represented. While Con Leahy and Irish Steeplechaser, John Daly, stood as fighting guard at the base of the pole, O’Connor, who had been a fine gymnast in his youth, climbed the 20 feet to the top and unfurled a large green flag displaying a gold harp and the words “Erin go Bragh”. There he remained for several minutes waving the flag for all to see, as Leahy and Daly defied the attempts of the elite Greek Evzone soldiers to bring him down.

Although O’Connor’s political protest is hardly remembered today, in 1906 it caused a sensation that at least rivalled Tommie Smith’s and John Carlos’s “Black Power” salute at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. It also deeply embarrassed the Greek Royal family and their British royal guests. O’Connor went on to win Gold medal in the Triple Jump with a leap of 46ft 2¼ in. Unfortunately records do not appear to exist which state what colour flag was flown at the award ceremony to mark the Irishman’s victory.


GEORGE CORNELIUS “CON” O’KELLY from Gloun, Dunmanyway, Co.Cork (representing GBR)

At the 1908 Olympics O’Kelly won Gold medal in the Free-Style Heavyweight (161 lb+) wrestling competition.


NOEL MARY PURCELL (representing GBR)

Purcell was part of the British Water Polo team that won Gold at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics by defeating Belgium 3-2 in the final.


PATRICK RYAN from Bunavie, Pallasgreen, Co.Limerick (representing USA)

Paddy Ryan almost missed his moment of glory in the Hammer event at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics. According to one account he spent the night and morning before the contest “sampling” the local wines and was forced to hitch a lift to the stadium on the back of a lorry. Ryan, somewhat worse for wear, then asked a colleague to stand several yards beyond the marker flags of the previous best throws so that he could use him as a target to aim at. He then launched his hammer out to 173ft 5½ in, narrowly missing his colleague who was forced to duck, and won the Olympic Gold. Ryan also entered the 56lb Weight throw and finished in Silver medal position behind the legendary “Babe” McDonald. During his career Ryan won the American Hammer title 8 times and in 1913 broke the world record with a throw of 189ft 6½ in. This mammoth throw remained as world record for almost 26 years and as US record for 40 years.


TERENCE SANDERS (representing GBR)

At the 1924 Paris Olympics Sanders was part of the British crew which won Gold in the Coxless Fours rowing event.


MARTIN SHERIDAN from Bohola, Co.Mayo (representing USA)

Sheridan is Ireland’s greatest ever Olympian having won 1 Bronze, 3 Silver and 5 Gold medals. Between 1904 and 1911 Sheridan set 3 world records in the All-Round Championship, set 15 world bests in the Discus, and won 11 American Athletic Union titles in a variety of events.

At the St.Louis Games in 1904, Sheridan tied with Ralph Rose with a throw of 128ft 10½ in the final of the Freestyle Discus and both competitors were forced to take a deciding throw. Sheridan secured Gold with a throw of 127ft 10¼ in, some 7ft 3½ in ahead of his American rival.

At the Athens Intercalated Games in 1906, Sheridan proved to be the dominant athlete at the festival winning Gold in the Shot Put with 40ft 5¼ in , Gold in the Freestyle Discus with a throw of 136ft, and Silver medals in the Stone Throw, Standing Long Jump and Standing High Jump. Unfortunately Sheridan suffered injury and was forced to retire after the first discipline of the Pentahlon; an even in which he was firm favourite to win another Gold.

The 1908 Games, held in London, was tarnished by a damaging Anglo-American rift which was sparked by the refusal of Ralph Rose to dip the United States flag to the British King during the opening ceremony. It is believed that this move was prompted by the large Irish-American contingent within the American team and the comment that was attributed to Sheridan that, “This flag dips to no earthly king” would appear to support this claim. When the war of words gave way to competition Sheridan took his third consecutive Freestyle Discus Gold with a throw of 134ft 2in. He then ensured that he would be remembered as the greatest Discus thrower of the first half of the 20th Century by winning the Greek-Style Discus event. Sheridan then completed his tally of nine Olympic medals with a Bronze in the Standing Long Jump.

This iron man from the west of Ireland retired from competition in 1911 and followed in the path of many of his fellow “Whales” by serving in the New York Police Department. Unfortunately, he succumbed to pneumonia on 27th March, 1918; the day before his 37th Birthday.


Credit is also due to those Irish medal winners who did not manage to become Olympic Champions:


JIM CLARKE from Bohola, Co.Mayo (representing GBR)

Clarke was a cousin of Martin Sheridan and competed against him during the Tug of War event at the 1908 London Olympics. Clarke pulled for the Liverpool Police team (British No.2 Team) which won Silver medal.


 JOHN DALY from Ballyglunin, Co.Galway (representing GBR)

Daly won Silver medal in the 2590 metre Steeplechase at the 1904 St.Louis Olympics with a time of 7minutes 40.6 seconds.


PATRICK FLYNN from Bandon, Co.Cork (representing USA)

Flynn won Silver medal in the 3000 metre Steeplechase at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics with a time of 10minutes 0.4seconds.


BEATRICE GERALDINE HILL-LOWE from Co.Louth (representing GBR)

At the 1908 London Olympics Hill-Lowe won Bronze medal in the Archery “National Round” (48 arrows at 60yds, 24 arrows at 50yds) and thus became Ireland’s first female Olympic medal winner.


DENIS HORGAN from Banteer, Co.Cork (representing GBR)

Horgan won Silver medal in the Shot Put at the 1908 London Olympics with a toss of 44ft 8¼ in.


PATRICK LEAHY from Cregane, near Charleville, Co.Cork (representing GBR)

At the 1900 Paris Olympics Patrick Leahy, a brother of Con Leahy, won Silver medal in the High Jump and Silver in the Long Jump.


P. JOSEPH LYDON from Co.Mayo (representing USA)

At the 1904 St.Louis Olympics Lydon won Silver medal in the Football (Soccer) competition while playing for the Christian Brothers College team which represented the USA. He also won Bronze at Welterweight in the Boxing tournament.


HAROLD S. MAHONY from Co.Kerry (representing GBR)

At the 1900 Paris Olympics Mahony, former winner of the Wimbledon Tennis Championship in 1896, won Silver in the Men’s Singles, Silver in the Mixed Doubles and Bronze in the Men’s Doubles.


JOHN MCGOUGH from Annagleve townland, Co.Monaghan (representing GBR)

McGough won Silver medal in the 1500 metres event at the 1906 Athens Olympics.


JAMES MITCHELL from Emly, Co.Tipperary (representing USA)

Mitchell won Bronze medal in the 56lb Weight throw at the 1904 St.Louis Olympics.


JAMES PARKE from Co.Monaghan (representing GBR)

Parke won Silver medal in the Tennis Men’s Doubles event at the 1908 London Olympics.


CON WALSH from Carriganimma, Co.Cork (representing Canada)

At the 1908 London Olympics Walsh won Bronze medal in the Hammer behind John Flanagan and Matt McGrath, thus making it a clean sweep for Ireland in that event.


At the 1908 Games Irish teams were permitted to compete independently in the Hockey and Polo competitions and took Silver and Bronze medals respectively.


A final mention should go to the winner of the first event at the first modern Olympics, held in Athens in 1896. Although born in Boston, USA, JAMES BRENDAN BENNETT CONNOLLY was the son of Irish immigrants and was proud of his Irish heritage. In the Triple Jump competition (or the Hop, Skip and Jump as it was then called) Connolly displayed supreme theatrical bravado by marching up to the sand pit, where Prince George of England and Prince George of Greece were acting as judges, and tossed his cap into the sand a yard beyond the marker of the previous best jump. Then with a cry of, “Here’s one for the honour of County Galway” he proceeded to leap beyond his cap to a distance of 44ft 11¾ in and thus became the first Olympic Champion for 1527 years.

Great stuff Kieron.  A lot to be discussed about this subject  :)

Incidentally, my father was as good at the long jump as Peter O'Connor (and a fine sprinter too at the 100yd and 220yd). In the late 1940s at an athletics meeting in Newcastle West, Co. Limerick, Dad jumped 25ft, breaking O'Connor's Irish record by a quarter of an inch. Unfortunately Dad's feat was never officially recognised because he was a member of the pro-32 county National Athletic and Cycling Association (NACA), rather than the Amateur Athletic Union of Eire (AAUE) which recognised the 26 county state and so was approved of by the sport's governming body, the International Amateur Athletic Federation. For the same reason my father was also banned from competing in any international athletics events.

So when the record books state that O'Connor's record stood for 89 years and was not broken until 1990, they are wrong by more than 40 years.

The crowd at the 2003 Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremonies in Croke Park, Dublin , Ireland.  My favorite team :)  

     James Brendan Bennet "Jamie" Connolly

It should be mentioned that James Brendan Connolly's parents both came from Inis Mór, Aran Islands, Co. Galway.  James went on to be come a very successful author of seafaring novels and all things nautical.  He was a confidant and friend of Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  He visited Inis Mór and met many relations when he was traveling in Ireland in 1921 as the Commissioner for the American Committee for the Relief of Ireland.  James Brendan was a very interesting man and a review of his life and a perusal of his books is a wonderful treat you will enjoy.

Thank you Jim:)

Jesse Owens was the youngest of ten children, three girls and seven boys, born to Henry Cleveland Owens and Mary Emma Fitzgerald. I wonder if he was Irish on his Mother's side?

John FlanaganMartin Sheridan of the Irish American Athletic Club, with fellow Irishman James Mitchel of the New York Athletic Club at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis, Missouri.

Patrick Duffy (5 April 1921 – 1987) was an Irish fencer. He competed at the 1948 and 1952 Summer Olympics.  Can anyone find a picture?


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