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Death of Patrick O’Callaghan, Olympic Gold Medalist

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Patrick “Pat” O’Callaghan, Olympic gold medalist and world record holder, dies on December 1, 1991, in Clonmel, County Tipperary.

O’Callaghan is born on September 15, 1905, at Derrygallon, Kanturk, County Cork. He attends the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in Dublin and qualifies as a doctor at the age of 20. He joins the Royal Air Force Medical Services in 1926 on a short-service engagement, before moving to Clonmel in 1931 to work as an assistant medical officer in St. Luke’s Hospital, later setting up as a general practitioner in the town. He continues to practise there until the late 1980s.

While in university, O’Callaghan develops an interest in the hammer, having seen the country’s top hammer-throwers practise at the University College Dublin (UCD) grounds, then at Terenure College. At home in Cork for the summer, he does not have access to a hammer, so he collects an old cannon ball from Macroom Castle which he feels might approximate to the required 16 lb. (7.25 kg) weight, has it drilled at a foundry in Mallow and fitted with a handle and wire, and uses it to train at the family farm. In 1926 he wins the Munster title in the 56 lb. (25.4 kg) shot and follows that with an Irish hammer title in 1927. Victory the following year in that same championship qualifies him for the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, which he enters as a complete unknown with a previous best of 166 ft. 11 in. (50.87 m), as against three other contenders who have each thrown well over 170 ft. (51.8 m). The hammer event is staged on July 30, 1928, and, lying third after four rounds, he throws 168 ft. 7 in. (51.38 m) with his penultimate attempt, to defeat the Swedish favourite, Ossian Skiöld, by 4 inches (10 cm), with the American contenders Edmund Black and Frank Conner, still further behind. He becomes the first athlete from the Irish Free State to be crowned Olympic champion. Less than a fortnight later, he wins the Tailteann Games with an Irish record throw of 170 ft. 2 in. (51.87 m).

Over the following years O’Callaghan wins events across Ireland and Europe and continues to achieve pioneering feats, not least in 1931, when he wins six Irish titles in one afternoon: hammer, shot put, discus, high jump, 56 lbs. without follow, and 56 lbs. over-the-bar. On August 1, 1932, he defends his Olympic title at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. With just one throw left in the competition, he trails second behind the Finnish champion, Ville Pörhölä. With his last throw, he claims the event with a distance of 176 ft. 11 in. (53.92 m), becoming the only Irish person in history to win two gold medals at the Olympic games. He seems in prime condition to defend his title for a third time at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, but a dispute in the athletics world brings the suspension of the National Athletic and Cycling Association of Ireland (NACAI) by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF). The subsequent decision not to send a team to Berlin by the Irish Olympic Council denies him the opportunity to win a hat-trick of gold medals.

O’Callaghan remains a dominant force in athletic circles, however. In 1934 he sets the record for the hammer on European soil with a throw of 186 ft. 10 in. (56.95 m) at Enniscorthy, County Wexford. He later achieves an unofficial world record in the hammer in 1937 in Fermoy, County Cork, with a remarkable throw of 195 ft. 5 in. (59.55 m), breaking the old record by more than 6 ft. (1.83 m). As the IAAF still refuses to sanction the NACAI, the record is not ratified, ensuring that the then twenty-four-year-old record of his compatriot, Patrick Ryan, who competes for the United States, remains in place. In total, as well as his two Olympic gold medals, he also wins six Irish championships in the hammer, four Irish championships in the 56 lb. shot, three Irish championships throwing the 56 lb. weight over-the-bar, and one Irish championship in the discus. He also wins the American hammer championship in 1933 and the British championship in the same event the following year. Despite his size, he jumps 6 ft. 2 in. (1.88 m) in the high jump and is Irish champion on three consecutive occasions (1929–31).

After an accident in which a child is killed by a flying hammer, O’Callaghan emigrates to the United States just before World War II and takes up professional wrestling. Attempts are made to set up a match with world wrestling champion Dan O’Mahoney, but this never occurs. He has a high profile, however. Samuel Goldwyn offers him the film role of Tarzan and he plays handball with Bing Crosby before returning home to Clonmel, where he becomes a prominent member of Clonmel Commercials Gaelic football club and manages that club’s senior team to three county championships (1965–67). He is later chairman and honorary president of the club. In 1984 he is made a Freeman of Clonmel, a town where he is known as “the doc” or “Dr. Pat” and revered as a humble, charming, jovial man, with a reputation for particular kindness to his poorer patients. At 6 ft. 1 in. (1.855 m) and sixteen stone (101.6 kg), he is a larger-than-life figure and the focal point of innumerable stories confirming his status as a living legend. In 1960 he is the first person voted into the newly conceived Texaco Hall of Fame. He lives for many years at Roseville, Western Road, Clonmel, and dies there on December 1, 1991.

O’Callaghan is survived by three sons and one daughter. His younger brother Con represents Ireland in the decathlon at the 1928 Olympic games and wins that event at the third Tailteann games in 1932.

(From: “O’Callaghan, Patrick (‘Pat’)” by Paul Rouse, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)

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Author: Jim Doyle

As a descendant of Joshua Doyle (b. 1775, Dublin, Ireland), I have a strong interest in Irish culture and history, which is the primary focus of this site. I am a Network Engineer at The Computer Hut, LLC, which is my salaried job. I am a member of the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (2010-Present, President 2011-2017) and a commissioner on the City of Little Rock Arts+Culture Commission (2015-2020, 2021-Present, Chairman 2017-2018).

2 thoughts on “Death of Patrick O’Callaghan, Olympic Gold Medalist

  1. Jim you produce fab articles keep up the good work.

    Like

    • Thank you for the kind words. To be honest, most everything I post comes directly from Wikipedia or the Dictionary of Irish Biography webpage. I post them on the anniversary date of the birth, death, or event just to draw attention to them. Best wishes!

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