Monday Memories with Gladys Cooper

This Monday morning I would like to share memories with you of an athlete who although not a member of Clonliffe Harriers has a relationship with the club through me. The athlete in question is my great granduncle who was an Olympian called John Joe Daly.

Club members will, I am sure, recall my dad, Arthur Daly who for many years, right up until his death, kept an eye on the Clonliffe clubhouse and dressing rooms on Tuesday and Thursday nights always being asked by Mick Fogarty to make sure he had ‘clocked in’! When we were young my dad used to tell us about his granduncle who he told us had been a great athlete from Galway who had competed in the Olympic Games. We always took this with a pinch of salt but lo and behold in carrying out research I found that only was John Joe Daly an Olympian but believe it or believe it not was an Olympic silver medallist! He took silver in the steeplechase in the St. Louis Olympic Games in the USA in 1904.

John Joe Daly was born in 1880, six years before Clonliffe Harriers was founded in Dowriss, Kilmoylan, Co. Galway. He had a great interest in sport and in athletics in particular and he joined Galway Harriers A.C. In his early career he competed in the high jump but it was in the middle distance events that he excelled. He was Irish champion over both one mile and four miles. He competed for Ireland in International Cross Country Championships, then largely confined to the ‘home nations’ winning individual bronze in 1903.

In 1904 he was selected to represent Great Britain, younger readers bear in mind that the Irish State did not exist at this time, for the Olympic Games taking place in far off St. Louis. Despite running for Great Britain, my great granduncle was very much an Irish nationalist and he viewed himself as representative Ireland even though he would be wearing the vest of Great Britain. He travelled all the way to the United States for those 1904 Olympic Games where he was running in the steeplechase. He was in fact favoured to win the steeplechase and although he led going into the last lap he was overtaken by a US athlete James Lightbody who took gold with John Joe taking silver.

Two years later he again competed in the Olympic Games in Athens in 1906. Straight away I can hear you all saying that there was no Olympic Games in 1906 as they are every four years, however, at the time these Games were considered to be Olympic Games, they were also referred to as the 1906 intercalated Games. We have all got used to sports people making political statements but these 1906 Games were the first Games where athletes made a political protest or political statement. You guessed it, John Joe was very much involved!

He had competed in the marathon but dropped out at eighteen miles with severe blistering which removed most of the skin off his feet. Earlier in these Games he had finished 3rd in the 5 mile race but was judged to have impeded the 4th place athlete and the positions were reversed. In any event John Joe along with his fellow Irishmen Peter O’Connor and Con Leahy made what was then acknowledged as being the first political protest in modern Olympic history. Peter O’Connor had finished 2nd in the long jump, the Union Jack flag of course had been raised, however, with Leahy and John Joe acting as security O’Connor climbed up the flagpole and removed the Union Jack flag replacing it with the Irish flag. Not of course the tricolour but the Erin Go Bragh flag! History, the first political protest at an “Olympic” Games!

In 1908 despite this political protest he was again selected to compete for Great Britain in the London Olympic Games, however, he declined to accept the invitation to compete. After this he went to the United States, settling in New York, where be continued to compete running for the Irish American Athletic Club over a variety of distances right up to the marathon. He won US titles and also Canadian titles and after retiring from the sport he remained in the United States owning and running a bar on Sixth Avenue in New York City. He remained in the United States except for returning home to Galway in the late 1950s and mid 1960s and he eventually passed away in New York city in March of 1969.

So there you have it. An Irish Olympian winning an Olympic medal with a Clonliffe Harriers connection! It is indeed a small world in which we live.

John Joe Daly