Olympic hero says emigration sad but Irish leave their mark

Ronnie Delany
Legendary Irish sportsman Ronnie Delany attracted a very large crowd to the ‘Famine 1848 Walk’ in Ballingarry at the weekend. Delany won the gold medal for Ireland in the 1500 metres at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne and held various world records in his time.

Legendary Irish sportsman Ronnie Delany attracted a very large crowd to the ‘Famine 1848 Walk’ in Ballingarry at the weekend. Delany won the gold medal for Ireland in the 1500 metres at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne and held various world records in his time.

Now aged eighty he is still going strong. He led the mile and a half Walk from the Young Ireland and national flag monument in the village of The Commons to the national heritage site, the Famine Warhouse 1848.

He said it was fitting to commemorate the million people who died during the Great Famine, the million who emigrated and the Ballingarry 1848 Rising and its brave leaders.

He also spoke on the theme of emigration against the backdrop of his own life story. “I emigrated to America in 1954, only one hundred years on from the Famine. Emigration was rife in the late 1940s and mid 1950s as we are all aware because of the lack of opportunity in Ireland and the awfulness of post-war recession and economic stagnation.

“My circumstances were different thanks to one of your native sons, John Joe Barry, the legendary athlete known as the Ballincurry Hare. John Joe was the trail blazer who first went to Villanova University near Philadelphia opening up the opportunity for me to take up an athletic scholarship at the same University. I am indebted to him, as are those great athletes from Ireland who subsequently went there to pursue their education and athletic careers: names such as Noel Carroll, Frank Murphy, Marcus O’Sullivan, Eamon Coughlan, and Sonia O’Sullivan to name but some who went on to win World Championships and Olympic glory in the athletics arenas of the world.’

“In 1956 there were only twelve of us on the Irish Olympic team and we had no coach. Yet we won five medals. En route to Melbourne crossing the Pacific, we landed in Canton and Fiji (usually for engine repairs) and the ‘bush’ would inform the local Irish missionaries: Holy Ghost and Columban Fathers that we were at the airport. They converged on the small Irish team to wish us well. I was bestowed with so many blessings it is no wonder I won a Gold Medal.’

“This achievement was a source of great joy and pride to the Irish emigrants in America, England and Australia. At a time of great depression in Ireland, it made a statement, “We, Irish can take on the world and win”.’

“Emigration is sad and the need to emigrate is heartbreaking right to modern times but the Irish emigrants’ contribution to the modern world is immense. We can rightly take pride in the contribution of the Irish diaspora in politics, education, the arts and commerce. I had the privilege of meeting the next generation of Irish to those who had emigrated in the nineteenth century. Some of these had become phenomenally successful; John Kelly who “built Philadelphia”. Kelly’s daughter was the beautiful Grace Kelly; Bernard McDonagh who purchased Dromoland Castle from Lord Inchiquin in Clare and revitalised tourism in the West of Ireland.

“I commend the Ballingarry 1848 Society on organising this event. The community can take great pride in this annual occasion.’