Hammer hero and Cork GAA star Con Walsh is the toast of Canada

At a sold-out event in the Chelsea Hotel, Toronto last Saturday, the remarkable athletic feats of a young Irishman over a century ago were recalled and honoured.

Hammer hero and Cork GAA star Con Walsh is the toast of Canada

By Kevin McCarthy

At a sold-out event in the Chelsea Hotel, Toronto last Saturday, the remarkable athletic feats of a young Irishman over a century ago were recalled and honoured.

Con Walsh from Carriganima, Co. Cork was inducted into the Athletics Ontario Hall of Fame, with his nephew Edward along with Edward’s daughter Anne and son Michael attending as honoured guests.

The citation for Con (Cornelius) Walsh on the night focused on him winning a bronze medal in the 1908 Olympic hammer event.

Walsh was also Canadian champion in the hammer and 56lb weight throw in 1907, set a number of Canadian records in these events and, in 1910, set a world record of 4.93 metres for throwing the 56lb weight.

The latter measure, incidentally, is for height, not distance, and required the athlete to throw the weight over a crossbar.

Even this citation cannot tell the full story of the sportsman Walsh was. He had only left Ireland in 1907 and before he emigrated, Con played on one and possibly two Cork Gaelic football teams in All-Ireland ‘home’ finals.

Walsh’s speciality in football was kicking for distance. He won All-Ireland long-kick championship three times, in 1901, 1905, and 1906.

His record kick, of 64.72 metres, still stands, because the event was discontinued some years later. Bear in mind that the ball Con Walsh’s generation used was of the laced-up, ‘solid’ leather variety which really bears no comparison to modern footballs.

Walsh won several Irish championships in weight throwing prior to emigrating.

He competed in athletic events across the USA and Canada, and would eventually settle in Seattle after his time in Canada.

The hammer event at the 1908 London Olympics was unique. With Walsh taking bronze for Canada, the gold and silver were won by two other Munster men, John Flanagan (Limerick) and Matt McGrath (Tipperary). Flanagan and McGrath represented the USA as members of the Irish American Athletic Club in New York. All three knew each other very well.

July 14, 1908, remains the only time that Irish athletes won all three medals at any Olympic event, all the more remarkable in that the three medallists came originally from the same province.

In many respects, focusing too much on Walsh’s bronze medal in 1908 does him less than justice. He had not been funded as part of the Canadian team, and made his own way to London — diverting to represent Ireland in the annual athletics contest against Scotland in Edinburgh just three days before the Olympic hammer event.

It bears remembering too that Walsh was a 56lb specialist, and that event had been discontinued as an Olympic event since 1904. There is a well-worn story of how Con once even took up Irish dancing in order to improve his footwork in the tightness of the hammer circle.

Walsh moved to Seattle and won the US 56lb title in 1910, and the US hammer title in 1911. Then, as sports historian Tom Hunt puts it, “having finally established himself as the world’s best hammer thrower, Con Walsh retired”.

Accepting the ‘Hall of Fame’ award, Con Walsh’s grandnephew Michael told the gathering in Toronto: “We are extremely grateful and honoured to accept this award on behalf of Con and all of the Walshs back home in Cork.

“We are very proud of Con’s achievements and we look forward to sharing this experience with our family and friends and neighbours when we return to Con’s birthplace of Carriganima.”

In many ways, last Saturday night was a chance for Toronto to say thanks to Carriganima too.

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