Two Cootehill born Olympians: Arthur McMahon and John Foy
Jonathan Smyth's latest Times Past column recalls two Cootehill people who took part in the Olympic Games...
Following the capture of Greece by the Romans in 146 BC there was a growth in Greek cultural influence over the conquerors and very soon Roman rulers like Augustus, Nero and then Domitian began adopting their sporting activities.
In 86 AD, Domitian established the Capitolian Games, which became the first Greek-based games to receive a permanent home in the Roman Capital. The first modern day Olympic Games were staged in Athens in April 1896 and saw the participation of more than 200 athletes from 14 countries. This week’s column recalls two past Olympic contenders who had a Cavan connection.
In 1996, the Washington Post published an article recalling the history of the Olympic Torch based on information received from the Atlanta Olympics Committee who stated that this type of torch first made its appearance inside an ancient temple, honouring the Greek goddess Hera.
The modern-day torch became a feature of the 1928 Games in Amsterdam, with the Washington Post noting: ‘The lighting of the flame captured the public’s imagination and has remained a traditional ceremony for the Opening Ceremony of the Games.’
In 1936, the Greek runner Konstantin Kondylis became the first modern-day torch relay carrier who carried the flame aloft from Olympia to Berlin. In a metaphorical sense, all who take part in the contests, are each still carrying the torch for their country.
Arthur Eamonn McMahon from Cootehill was born on May 7, 1921. His area of expertise lay in the field of ‘Sports Shooting’ which tests a contender’s skill in the handling of rifles, pistols and shotguns. According to the official Olympics website it is a sport that requires ‘precision and focus’ and was one of the nine events featured in the 1896 0lympics.
In 1984 the Los Angeles Games inaugurated separate shooting categories for women. McMahon was a part of the clay pigeon shooting and ‘skeet section’.
Arthur was the son of ‘Mr and Mrs A. E. McMahon of Hibernian House, Cootehill’ and worked for four years as an apprentice under the solicitor Peter Fitzpatrick. He became a solicitor himself in 1944 on buying Matthew Purcell’s practice in Naas, Co Kildare, which he built up into a major firm. In 1990, The Anglo-Celt noted in his obituary that he continued his connections with the Breifne county and among his legal staff were two Cavan people - ‘addy and Dessie Farrell both of Military Row, Cavan Town.
McMahon first entered the world of shooting when he joined the Local Defence Force in Cootehill in the 1940s. His early training in gun handling came from a local army instructor named Charlie Evenden, who by all accounts was a famous man in boxing circles having once managed a boxing team in the USA called the Golden Gloves. It seems that Evenden’s pugilistic influence rubbed off on Arthur who attained success as the ‘Universities of Ireland’ lightweight boxing champion title holder while attending UCD.
Sport was definitely in Arthur’s blood and, as a student, it was noted that he made forays into a variety of competitive endeavours, winning a senior hurling medal with Blackrock College and another on the college rugby team.
So impressive were McMahon’s shooting skills that he was selected to stand for Ireland on the international stage, going on to compete in ‘four Olympic Games’ including the Summer Mexico Olympics in 1968, and the Munich (München) Olympics in the Summer of 1972.
At the Munich Games, this newspaper quoted a comment from McMahon in reply to a question about his age; although by then fifty he shrugged it off by remarking that ‘the oldest man to win a gold medal in shooting at the Games was aged 72’.
In 1967, McMahon was on the Irish International Clay Bird Shooting Team and, one year later, he served as captain of the Irish International Clay Shoot team.
Fishing was a pastime loved by him and he spent many an hour on the Black Lake near Cootehill. For example, in 1982, he completed three and a half hours using a roach spoon to land ‘a total of 152lb of pike’ of which five of the fish each weighed ‘5lb’.
In the same year he was appointed the Manager of Ireland’s Clay Shooting Team.
‘Marathon Man’ John Foy
Another Cootehill man who got into the Olympics was John Joseph Foy who became a well-known athlete during the earlier years of the 20th century after taken part in the Summer Olympics of 1904 at St Louis, Missouri.
Foy was born in Cootehill on March 26, 1882, and emigrated to the U.S. where he became a track and field athlete with the American Olympic team. John was affiliated to the Star Athletic Club, New York, with which he ran as a long-distance runner.
For over 40 years he lived in Long City, New York, and earned his living as an engineer in the employ of the long Island Railroad. He died in Elmhurst, Queens, New York City in 1960. Information on the athlete John Foy can be found at www.olympedia.org
1996 Special Olympics
In 1996, the Special Olympics Torch Run came through Cootehill giving the town a nice continuation to its link with the Games. The Torch Run was organised by An Garda Síochána to raise funds for Special Olympics Ireland, which gives an opportunity for many people with special needs and disabilities to compete on the world stage.
The Garda representatives who oversaw the leg of the Cootehill Torch Run were Sergeant Chris McCormack and Garda Siobhan McLoughlin. Drumlin House and the Holy Family School were both involved in the Special Olympics event. Firstly, the torch arrived in Dublin, and was afterwards carried in relays by Garda runners who, when entering the town, were greeted with loud cheers from the Cootehill people. Later that day, the runners reached the Border and the flame was handed over to the RUC.
The oath of the Special Olympics is a good one and worth remembering: ‘Let me win but if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt.’
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