seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Bob Tisdall, Olympic Gold Medalist

bob-tisdallRobert (“Bob”) Morton Newburgh Tisdall, gold medalist in the 400 metres hurdles at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, is born on May 16, 1907 in Nuwara Eliya, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Born to a family of Irish landed gentry, he lives on his father’s plantation in Ceylon until the age of five, when they return to the family home in Nenagh, County Tipperary. Following prep school at Mourne Grange, he goes on to Shrewsbury School, where he wins the Public Schools 402 metres, and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he wins a record four events – 402 metres and 110 metres hurdles, long jump and shot put – in the annual match against Oxford. This record is only equaled nearly 60 years later.

Tisdall sets South African and Canadian records in the 201 metres low hurdles in 1929, a year later setting Greek records in the same event. While at Cambridge in March 1932, he decides to try for a place on the Irish Olympic squad and, after he runs a record 54.2 seconds for the Irish Championship 402 metres hurdles in June that year, the authorities agree to let him run in his new event at the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Tisdall had run only six 400 metres hurdles when he wins the gold medal at the 1932 Olympic Games in a world record time of 51.7 seconds, which is not recognised under the rules of the time because he had a hit a hurdle. Later, because of the notoriety of this incident, the rules are changed and the President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, presents Tisdall with a Waterford Crystal rose bowl with the image of him knocking over the last hurdle etched into the glass. Though the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) did not recognise the record at the time, they now recognise the mark, giving Tisdall credit for setting the milestone of being the first man under 52 seconds.

Following his victory, Tisdall is invited to a dinner in Los Angeles where he is seated next to Amelia Earhart on one side and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on the other.

Later in life, Tisdall lives in South Africa, where he runs a gymnasium during the day, which he converts to a night club after dark. He grows coffee in Tanzania, but moves to Nambour, Queensland in 1969 with his wife Peggy, where he farms fruit crops and cattle. He admits to running his last race at the age of 80, though he runs in the Sydney Olympics torch relay at age 93. At that point he is the oldest living recipient of an individual track and field Olympic medal。

At the age of 96 Tisdall falls down a steep set of rock stairs and breaks his shoulder, ribs and ruptures his spleen. He never completely recovers and dies on July 27, 2004. At that time, he is the world’s oldest track and field Olympic Gold medalist. He does not want a funeral because “they are altogether too sad.” His wake is attended by family and a few friends.

In 2002, three statues honouring Olympic champions with links to Nenagh, Matt McGrath, Johnny Hayes and Bob Tisdall, are unveiled in front of the Nenagh Courthouse.


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Mikhail Gorbachev Receives Freedom of the City of Dublin

mulcahy-and-gorbachevMikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union, becomes the 71st person to receive the Freedom of the City of Dublin at a special meeting in the City Hall on January 9, 2002, following in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, and members of U2.

“You helped change and enhance the lives of hundreds of millions of people,” the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Michael Mulcahy says as he presents the award. “There are few people in the history of the world of whom that can be stated.”

City councillors in their robes assemble for the occasion and the guests include Cardinal Desmond Connell, the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, and other members of the diplomatic corps. Gorbachev is also presented with a dove of peace in Waterford Crystal.

In his acceptance speech, the former Communist leader says there have been many events in his life, big and small, joyful and sad. “The event that is happening today in this wonderful hall is very special.”

He says Ireland has taken the right road in emphasising knowledge, education and high technology. He quips that President Mary McAleese had said to him over lunch, “We don’t have any natural resources other than the rain.”

Gorbachev notes that as a Freeman of the City of Dublin he is entitled to graze sheep anywhere in Dublin. He assures his audience he will “buy a flock” to exercise that right. “I have seen some very, very nice places in the Park, near the President’s palace.”

At a news conference in the Mansion House earlier in the day, Gorbachev comes in for sharp questioning from Eoin Ó Murchú, a journalist, who asks “ex-Comrade Gorbachev” if he felt any sense of remorse or guilt when he “stood passively aside” while the Soviet Union was destroyed and ordinary people were reduced to poverty and prostitution. He also queries Gorbachev about his decision to take part in a television commercial for a chain of pizza restaurants.

Ignoring the suggestion that he has demeaned himself by appearing in the television advertisement, Gorbachev replies equally sharply, “My advice to you as a comrade – you used the word ‘comrade’ – is that you too should probably get rid of this kind of ideological straitjacket.”

Gorbachev denies having stood idly by while the USSR was dismantled. Commenting on the Northern Ireland situation he says, “This is one of those processes where people have to make difficult choices. You will see politicians who have a ready-made recipe for everything, in many cases to use force and bombs.”

It was good that, instead of bombing, there was a peace process. Bombing was not a solution and he welcomes the peace efforts being made and the fact that parties are acting “both prudently and responsibly.”

(From The Irish Times, January 10, 2002 | Pictured: Lord Mayor Michael Mulcahy and Mikhail Gorbachev, Doheny & Nesbitt’s Public House, January 8, 2002)