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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Seamus Grant

Champion Athlete

of the 1940s and 1950s

Seamus Grant joins O’Toole's Hall of Fame

Seamus Grant (76) champion athlete of the 1940s and 1950s was selected as O’Tooles AC Hall of Fame choice at the club’s recent dinner. His first taste of competitive athletics was as a raw 17 year old when, running in the white singlet of Carlow AC, he finished a commendable fifth in the county cross country championships and helped his club win the Odlum Cup. He says of that time: ‘The word athletics meant absolutely nothing to me,’ yet he went on to a distinguished career which spanned 15 years, specialising in 880 yards and mile.

It was a career highlighted by the winning of the All-Ireland Youths mile in New Ross in ‘48.

From the Killeshin Road he went on to win three Carlow SFC medals, the first with The Shamrocks in 1949 and the others two with the O’Hanrahans in 1951 and 1954.  ‘Football and athletics just don’t mix’ he would say. ‘Athletics might help you become a very good footballer but the reverse is not the case.’   Seamus held that athletics was down to individual ability whereas in football depends on team colleagues.

While his introduction to athletics was through cross country Seamus did not at all like the hard slog of cross country, finding his niche over 880 yards and mile.  In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s Carlow could lay claim to having a number of very fine athletes in track and field athletes including J.J. Lambert, Dan Carbery, Eamon Stafford, Dinny Hyland, who was national pole vault champion for many years, Tom Power from Ballyloughan, winner of the Hall of Fame two years ago, as well as athletes like Johnny Jones, Paddy and Willie Kavanagh and Bertie Murray.

Seamus, on leaving school worked for Shevlin’s grocery and bar at Tullow Street. “It would be nothing for me to get up at 5 am, go training in St. Dympna’s, and then, after work, go back training until dark.  “We did not have any formal coaching in athletics - we simply hoped we were doing the right things in training. But we were at a disadvantage in this regard as we could see when we came up against Dublin athletes who had the benefit of coaching, there was a difference.”  When both J.J. Lambert and Seamus were at the top of their form they competed at many open sports around the country and fairly regularly captured the 880 and mile prizes.

Seamus remembers in the summer of 1950 taking part in a Leinster senior championship race over 880 yards in Portarlington. He was in top form but was up against very strong opposition. Late in the race the Carlow runner felt he had it in him to go on and take the the title. But he faced wily, experienced runners in Dublin athletes J.J. Kelly (Phoenix) and Derry McDermott. ‘At the vital stage of the race, as I was about to make my move, I heard Kelly say to McDermott ‘hold him up.’ McDermott succeeded in blocking my move for victory and I had to be content with third place.’

But Seamus has much happier memories of a race, which, he thinks, was held the same year in Gortnahoe, Co. Tipperary - a youths race over a mile for under-21 athletes and, of the huge entry of 42, Seamus was the only one from outside the Premier County entered. The big entry meant that heats had to be run off to determine the final line-up. ‘I honestly did not think I would make much of a showing’ Seamus recalls. But having won his heat Seamus went out and won the final.  The medal for that ‘Trip to Tipp’ is Seamus Grant’s most treasured memento, even above his claiming of his national youths’ title.

He also has fond memories of competing in a handicap race over 1,500 metres in Daingean, against Mick Cleary from Moneygall, who was national senior champion over the distance, and a member of the Irish senior cross country team of the day.  Cleary was giving him 10 or 20 yards, he remembers, and Seamus beat the champ on that day He joined the local FCA, not to shoulder a gun, but simply to qualify for participation in the All-Army championships on The Curragh where he won the mile event in the Eastern Command championships around 1952.

In his running days the national mile record stood at about 4.25. ‘If you ran 4.30 you were really going well. To break two minutes for the 880 yards was very good. It must be remembered that the tracks militated against good times - at some meetings. The cows would have been herded off the field where the athletics event would take place.’

Winner of five Carlow mile championships, Seamus’s impressive running record includes mile wins county championships at Crettyard, Portarlington, in the Leinster seniors, Abbeyleix, Kilkenny (2), New Ross (2), Dundalk in the All-Ireland championships and Birr.

There was also an 880 success in Portlaoise as well as mile wins at meetings in Cullahill, Ballacolla, Enniscorthy, Duncannon, Donard, Shillelagh, The Iveagh Grounds, Dublin, Tullamore, Thurles and the Phoenix Park.

Then there was also prestigious inter-provincial success for as part of the Leinster team which was won at Mosney.  Seamus, who was with Shevlin’s for nine years, spent the rest of his working life as self-employed. For 47 years he operated a travelling shop supply van from his Carlow base serving Carlow and neighbouring counties.

Source: The Carlow Nationalist - Thursday, January 15, 2004

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