St Mary’s opened in 1912 with 60 boarders and 17 day boys. The first school sports there took place in 1928, and since then the college has produced many fine athletes in track and field. The first mention of All-Ireland sports in the annals of the school concerns Tom Fahy, who in 1938 set a new Irish record for the 12lb shot. In 1939 the school won its first Connacht Schools title; in 1943, it won three titles, four in 1946, and five in 1947. In that last year, one athlete, Martin Kilmartin, won three golds, and set records in both the triple jump and the long jump. In 1948 the college again won five titles, and in 1950 John Linnane set a new Irish record in the pole vault.
In those days in Mary’s, ‘sports’ as they were known were confined to the third school term. Fr Gus Kelly ploughed a lonely furrow in promoting athletics in the school... they were not treated as seriously as team sports, nevertheless his protégés managed some very significant achievements in the 1950s. Johnny Joyce set a Connacht record in the pole vault and won gold in the All Ireland; Peter O’Malley set a Connacht record in the high jump and came second in the All Ireland; Séamus Brogan performed remarkable feats in the triple jump; Seán Begley took home the All Ireland discus title in 1955; and Joe Gillane soared to new heights when he improved on Johnny Joyce’s Connacht pole vault record.
Eamonn Quinn from Merlin Park was a gifted natural athlete who won five Connacht sprint titles between 1958 and 1960, setting a new record in the ‘220’. In 1960 he won both All Ireland sprint titles and went on to have a distinguished athletics career, winning several All-Army and Inter-varsity titles.
Three brothers of the aforementioned Peter O’Malley, all from Béaladangan, followed in his footsteps by winning Connacht and All Ireland titles in the 1960s — Pat in the pole vault in 1963, John in the high jump in 1964, and Conor in the pole vault in 1965. On the track, Ralph O’Gorman from Lower Salthill brought home Connacht and All Ireland titles in 1963 and 1964. Later in that decade Ray McBride from the Claddagh won All Ireland titles as a middle distance runner, and in 1971 he represented Ireland at the European Catholic Student Games where he won the steeplechase and set a record that was to last for 12 years.
In recent years there have been many memorable triumphs, too numerous to mention here, and so, this Saturday, St Mary’s College has been singularly honoured, in this its centenary year, by being asked to host the All Ireland Schools Cross Country Championships. There will be a full programme of races, four for boys and four for girls, starting at 12 noon. Each race will have more than 100 competitors taking part. This is an exciting spectator sport and the public are invited along. There is no admission fee, but be warned, the sheer number of competitors taking part will put huge pressure on parking so it is advisable to park outside the college grounds.
Today we have two photographs of St Mary’s athletes. The first was a relay squad who were Connacht champions and competed in the All Irelands in 1960. They are Tom Gilmore, Nicholas King, and Pádraic O’Brien, with Eamonn Quinn in front. Our second image is of a team that took part in the All Ireland Cross Country championships in Waterford in 1988. They are, back row: Gerard Lennon, Barry Coll, and Ryan Coyne. In front are Phelim Coffey, Colin Fleming, and Irial Conroy.
This evening at 8.30pm in the Mercy School, Newtownsmyth, the Old Galway’s annual John Monahan memorial lecture takes place. It will be given by Dr Barbara Walsh on ‘Woolworths and the Irish main street’. All are welcome.
On Monday next the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society will host a lecture by Prof Michael Herity on the subject of ‘John O’Donovan of Slieverue’. The venue is the Harbour Hotel starting at 8pm. Again, all are welcome.