Back in 1896 two Irishmen were creating sporting history in the world of Lawn Tennis. One, a Dublin man by the name of John Mary Pius Boland, and another, a Kerryman Harold Segerson Mahony. Both came from very wealthy backgrounds and were about the same age. and they both had indirect association with Glenbeigh.
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We will first focus on Harold Segerson Mahony’s background, sporting achievements and his untimely death in Glenbeigh. He was born on 13 February 1867, son of Richard John Mahony, a barrister, prominent land owner and an aristocrat. They lived the majority of their time in elegant tranquility at Dromore Castle, overlooking the Kenmare River near Templenoe. Harold’s father had another home and business interests in Edinburgh Scotland, where Harold was born in 1867. Harold wanted to be a tennis player from a very young age and trained on his own private tennis court at Dromore Castle. He made his Wimbledon debut unsuccessfully in 1890 but improved his ratings over the next number of years.
The 1896 Wimbledon tournament was to be the Kerryman’s greatest achievement by winning the Wimbledon singles, the third – and most recent – Irishman to win this coveted prize. While he was raised in Kerry, he was born in Scotland and was the last Scottish- born player to win the Wimbledon singles until Andy Murray did so in 2013. In the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris, Harold enjoyed further success when winning a silver medal in the singles event, a bronze in the doubles, and a silver in the mixed doubles, while representing Great Britan and Ireland. He also won many other major tournaments in different countries and was very popular player with his fans wherever he played.
Harold inherited the family homestead at Dromore Castle when he retired from the tennis circuit in 1904. But tragedy struck in the following year while he was on a visit to Glenbeigh. While negotiating a steep hill near Caragh Lake, Harold was killed in a cycling accident. It’s not known exactly where but it may be near St Finnan’s Well coming down from Treanmanagh. He was killed on 25 June 1905 at the young age of thirty eight.
The next world champion lawn tennis player with connections to Glenbeigh was John Pius Boland. Before looking at his sporting achievements, there were many other facets to his life. Born in Dublin in 1870, he attained a BA in 1892 and a law degree in 1896. He was called to the Bar in 1897.
He became an Irish Nationalist Politician and a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, MP for South Kerry from 1900 to 1918. He was succeeded by Cahirsiveen born Fionán Lynch, whose brother had been priest in Glenbeigh around 1905. As a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Pius was a staunch advocate of Home Rule.
While his tennis career was short lived, it was most impressive as he won a gold medal in the inaugural modern Olympic Games in Athens 1896. The story goes that it was only while he was visiting a friend in Athens during the games that he decided to enter the tournament. In those days there was no process of qualification only turn up on the day, and he was therefore able to enter the men’s singles tournament. To his surprise he won the tournament and became the first Olympic champion in Lawn Tennis for Great Britain and Ireland. For good measure, he also won a gold medal in the doubles event partnering a German player! As he was being presented with his gold medals, he insisted that the Irish flag be raised so the organisers had to quickly prepare an Irish flag which he held with pride.
As an MP for South Kerry he was very concerned with the lack of literacy among the Irish population and had a keen interest in the promotion of Irish language and Irish culture. He visited Glenbeigh in the early 1900s and with the enthusiastic help from local priest Fr. Scollard they organised an Irish college and were instrumental in the building of the old hall now derelict at the rear of the church. This hall was used for many years afterwards for educational and recreational purposes relating to Irish culture. John Pius Boland, Fr. Scollard and the previously mentioned Fr. Lynch had great confidence in establishing Glenbeigh as an educational centre.
This great Irishman died on St. Patrick’s Day 1958, and the article below is an extract from a letter that John Pius wrote in 1944 about his foundation of an Irish Summer School in Glenbeigh.
Footnote 1. Boland’s daughter Honor Crowley was the first Kerry-born female TD to be elected to Dáil Éireann, in a by-election held on the death of the sitting TD, her husband Fred Crowley. She served as Fianna Fáil TD for South Kerry from 1945 to 1966. Only five Kerry women have been elected to Dáil Èireann since the formation of the state. The other four are Kathleen O’Connnor (C na P 1956-57), Kit Ahern an aunt of Eoin “Bomber” Liston (FF 1977-81), Breda Moynihan Cronin (Labour) and present incumbent Norma Foley (FF) elected in 2020 and recently appointed Minister of Education.
Footnote 2. Ireland has had a total of four winners at Wimbledon. The only Irish lady was Tipperary born Lena Rice in 1890 followed by three men: the first was Kildare born Willough Hamilton also in 1890, followed by Wicklow native Joshua Pim in 1893, and finally three years later our own Kerryman Harold Segerson Mahony.
Between them, Mahony and Boland won two gold, two silver, one bronze in the Olympic Games of 1896 and 1900, in addition to Mahony’s 1896 Wimbledon title.