HE defeated America’s finest athletes at New York’s Madison Square Garden and other venues in the USA, and now Timothy Jerome O’Mahony, aka ‘The Rosscarbery Steam Engine’, is to receive final official national recognition with a new headstone unveiling ceremony in Glasnevin cemetery at 3pm on Saturday, May 12th– 98 years after the Cork runner’s death in Smithfield, Dublin.
Nearly 124 years after O’Mahony became the 400 metres Champion of the USA on the GAA’s Gaelic Invasion tour of America, legendary sports commentator Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh will perform the unveiling ceremony at grave plot number RH272.
“The placing of this headstone on T.J. O’Mahony’s grave in Glasnevin represents the culmination of a wonderful series of recent events to mark the runner’s achievements,” said Mr Ó Muircheartaigh, “I am delighted to say there have been an exceptional number of heart-warming goodwill gestures and financial contributions coming into play to make this day happen for someone who was a proud Irish man and a remarkable champion athlete of the pre-modern Olympic era.”
The headstone unveiling will mark the final chapter in the ‘campaign’ for recognition for O’Mahony, with direct involvement from GAA headquarters, the Glasnevin Trust, the National Graves Association, Carbery Rangers GAA club and Rosscarbery Community Council. Patrick Barry, the noted Co Cork-based sculptor, has done the engraving on stone donated by McKeon Stone of Stradbally, Co Laois, from a quarry in Kilkenny.
“In the 1880s, an economically challenging time in Ireland, for ‘The Rosscarbery Steam Engine’ to achieve what he did was remarkable,” added Mr Ó Muircheartaigh. “He is an example to our young people that Irish athletes from even the smallest towns and villages can take on and beat the world’s best.”
At a time when the GAA was actively involved in track and field sports, T.J. O’Mahony was GAA Irish Champion in the quarter-mile (400 metres) in 1885, 1887 and 1888 and Irish Amateur Athletics Association (IAAA) champion in 1886, before grabbing all the positive headlines as part of the GAA’s ‘Gaelic Invasion’ tour of the USA in 1888, when some of the country’s finest hurlers and track and field athletes were dispatched to promote Gaelic sports in America.
While hurling proved of great curiosity to the Americans on the unique tour by 48 Irish sportsmen, it was O’Mahony’s feats on the track – defeating the best the US could offer – that made the newswires, with gushing headlines like “Unconquerable Steam Engine”. The American athletes were the international benchmark on the track at the time and he beat the USA Champion in some style. This was before the era of the modern Olympics and he was described at the time as the de facto World Champion.
A specially commissioned, iconic sketch of O’Mahony was drawn by Dublin-based artist and designer Peter Queally to promote the run.
In December 2011, the GAA Museum in Croke Park was presented with the only known photograph of the man himself, which had been found with fortuitously good timing in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, where O’Mahony lived for a time.
The son of a shopkeeper, Timothy Jerome O’Mahony was born at home in Rosscarbery town, West Cork, in 1864 and trained in all weathers in a local field (even after school), with no coaching, his powerful and distinctive rhythmic style of running earning him the moniker ‘The Rosscarbery Steam Engine’. He was also the first Secretary of the local Carbery Rangers GAA club in 1887.
After his feats on the US tour in 1888, over 1,000 people turned out for a celebratory torchlight procession through the small town to give him a rapturous hero’s welcome home after the long boat-trip across the Atlantic. He retired some time later, moving to Dublin where he filed stories as a sports reporter.
He died at Hendrick Lane, Smithfield, Dublin in 1914, aged 50, of cardiac failure. His death certificate cited his profession as ‘Press Man’.