by mohara on September 15, 2010

Yellow jersey for Lilywhite cycling hero

The sport of cycling has a relatively low profile in modern Ireland. The glory days of the 1980s when Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche in the Tour de France and other prestige races on the European cycling circuit marked a high point in the Irish public’s interest in cycling. However fifty years ago, Kildare had its own cycling hero, a Nurney man whose exploits on the bicycle made him a household name. The success of Paddy Flanagan in the 1960 Rás Tailteann marked one of the rare occasions when a sports story was given lead position on the front page of an issue of the Leinster Leader.  The intro paragraph sizzled with excitement as it described how Flanagan had powered to victory in the premier cycling event in the Irish sports calendar: ‘Paddy Flanagan reached the highest pinnacle of his successful cycling career last week when he won the blue riband of Irish cycling and most coveted race of all – the eight day 900 mile Rás Tailteann.’

The writer quickly went on to draw Flanagan’s colleagues from the Kildare team into the limelight: ‘This however was not Paddy Flanagan’s victory alone. When the laurel wreath was placed over his shoulders those who followed the race felt that it should have been big enough to encompass five other Kildare men – Murt Logan, Eamonn Ryan, Liam Baxter, Michael Wright, and Eamonn Flanagan, brother of the winner.’

Praise was also due to the Kildare team manager, Hal Conway, who was described as being both ‘master and servant’ to his team during the week’s gruelling circuit through the country’s most challenging terrain. Conway’s assistant, Seamus Dowling also came in for commendation – he was said to have combined perfectly with Dowling and the pair worked in perfect harmony watching from the team car, or at the daily manager’s meetings, or working out tactics for the riders.

And it is clear that the Kildare management pair had its work cut out over the eight day duration of the race judging from the mishaps that befell the team’s cyclists. The first blow to Kildare came before the start of the Rás when Paddy McCormack had to cry off. Then on the morning of the start the team’s support motor-cycle failed to turn up. The motorcycle was meant to accompany the race passing on messages to the riders from Conway and Dowling in the team car following the race. The absence of the motorcycle proved to be a big loss especially on the second stage when two Kildare men, Ryan and Baxter crashed. Word could not be passed back to the team manager’s car and valuable time was lost before the pair was on the road again. Worse was to follow for Kildare  as the race progressed: the Leader report described Conn Carr’s accident on the first day as ‘tragic’. More tragic still was Michael Wright’s smash-up on stage five and then on stage six Noel Flanagan went over the top of his handlebars.

The loss of such key riders from the Kildare team might have spelled the end of its competitive chances were it not for the outstanding leadership of team captain Murt Logan who, according to the Leader writer, ‘played a real team captain’s part – right from the off he set an example to his team-mates and his clever riding and never say die efforts will be spoken for many a day.’ Crucial too in rallying the morale of the remaining team members were the stalwats of the team’s support crew. Paddy Nugent of Kilcullen put his van at the disposal of the team. No doubt the van was used to transport the supply of cooked chickens which Joe McTernan sent to the Kildare cyclists to sustain them on each stage of the race. Joe, described as a great sportsman, was also waiting for the Kildare cyclists at the Rás finish in the Phoenix Park. From there he brought them to his premises in Newbridge where Councillor Michael St. Ledger congratulated the Kildare team on behalf of the people of the county. However the twin powerhouses behind Kildare’s great performance were the Flanagan brothers. Twice during the week Eamonn Flanagan had saved the day when all seemed lost and the manner in which he tackled the stages over the Kerry mountains was, according to the Leader, equal to any cycling feat seen on the mountain stages of the Tour de France.

And as for his brother, Paddy, the Leader writer struggled for superlatives to mark his stunning achievement in one of Ireland’s blue riband sporting events. Flanagan had taken the yellow jersey on stage two and held on to it for the following six days despite the efforts of cyclists from fifteen other counties to take it from him. He stormed through the last stage into the Phoenix Park with three minutes to spare on his nearest rival, Dan Ahearne of Kerry. Perhaps the most eloquent summing up of Kildare’s pride in their cycling champion is through the photograph which accompanied the story and which shows the leading bunch racing past the Moore Abbey gate on the Dublin road out of Monasterevin. The roadside is lined with spectators cheering on their local hero, Paddy Flanagan, who conspicuous in the yellow jersey which he wore with such style as the champion of Irish cycling’s premier event, fifty years ago. Series no: 189.


Liam Kenny in his column ‘Nothing New Under the Sun’ from the Leinster Leader of 12th August 2010 reflects on Kildare’s cycling hero, Paddy Flanagan. Our thanks to Liam. 

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