independent

Monday 21 April 2014

The most incredible sports story never told... until now that is

I HAD heard the phrase 'The Caseys of Sneem' since I was a young lad growing up on the side of Lower New Street in my hometown of Killarney.

The name has reverberated down through the decades. Expressions such as 'the greatest', 'the strongest', 'the best in the world', 'sporting giants', 'the toughest' and much more capture the imaginations of generations of Kerry people whenever the name comes up for discussion.

As a youngster in the 1940s and 1950s in Kerry the Caseys of Sneem influenced my thinking and that of any youthful sports person with ambitions of greatness in their own right and yet, despite all the praise and adulation showered on the name not alone in Kerry but in England and America, the real, true story of this remarkable family has never been told – until now.

A multitude of stories, both fact and fiction, flourished about this incredible family, but due to unforeseen circumstances a superb book chronicling the story of the entire family, written by Jim Hudson in collaboration with Jim Casey in 1991, never reached the book shelves and it is only now with the long overdue publication of this much sought after book that we can reveal the true story of the Caseys of Sneem.

The list of Casey sporting achievements are far too many to list here: Paddy was undefeated light and heavyweight wrestling champion of Ireland. He also won many long-distance cycling races in Ireland. Dan was a contractor, champion oarsman and tug-of-war champion. Jack Casey had remained in Ireland, married and had taken up farming and fishing.

He built the finest seine boats ever seen in the area. A superb oarsman in his own right he helped win the Salter Cup with his brothers.

Jack's son Noel was chosen to coach the English Women's Olympic Rowing Team, which competed in the 1984 Olympic events in Los Angeles! Also, Jack's granddaughters (Noel's daughters), Bernie and Caroline, won the singles and pairs at the Henley Regatta in that same year of 1984 and were the All Ireland Champions. And now Jack's grandchildren, Bernie's son Jack and daughter Victoria, fifth generations, are also deeply involved in sports including of course rowing and have competed in England at a very high level. What an incredible blood line!

Tom became British heavyweight boxing champion in 1937 after only nine days' training. Jim won the Canadian and South American wrestling titles. Mick, in a career that lasted over twenty years, had 200 wrestling bouts and, of course, probably the greatest of them all, Steve retired undefeated as world wrestling champion.

Most astounding of all was their non-participation in the Berlin Olympics of 1936 when they were barred from rowing there following their victory in the English rowing championships. The brothers were also unbeatable in tug-of-war, winning many titles.

This amazing story of the Casey brothers is surely one of the most remarkable and inspiring of all. They left their native place, went forth and matched their prowess against the greatest sportsmen throughout the world. They earned undying fame and it can be said without fear of contradiction that this family of seven boys was without a doubt 'the greatest of all.

Christy Riordan lives in the town of Cahersiveen deep in the heart of the Iveragh peninsula in County Kerry. He runs his own highly successful C/R Video company together with his son Anthony.

He has been amassing the history of the family for decades but one aspect of this astonishing story had always eluded him. Christy knew that the real source of information needed to complete his account of the Casey's family lay in Houston, Texas, where Jim Casey lived and died. Luck was on his side.

When Jim's American-born wife, Myrtle, came to Sneem on holidays, she was put in touch with Christy and, to make a long story short, at her invitation Christy and I jetted out to Houston in February 2008 where we spent a wonderful week at Myrtle's home.

We were given full access to the vast amount of memorabilia about the family that Myrtle has collected through the years – huge scrapbooks packed with priceless stories and information, stunning black-and-white photographs, audio interviews and even film footage of the boys competing in rowing and wrestling.

We were introduced to Jim Hudson, the author of the book written in cooperation with Jim. Myrtle and Jim had sought out Hudson, mainly due to the fact that he had previously written Dickinson: Taller than the Pines, a superb history about their home place of Dickinson, Texas, published in 1979.

Hudson explained how he was stunned as he listened to Jim recalling the family history and he was dumfounded that their story had not received international recognition. A further fascinating insight into Jim Casey's fame as a sports personality and high standing in his community in Texas was vividly brought to us when we were introduced to and interviewed George Abbey, Director of Johnson Space Center (1996–2001).

He had served as an integral part of the NASA Shuttle-Mir Program, providing crucial oversight, management and guidance for the first phase of the International Space Station. He explained to us how Jim Casey had been approached by NASA to train many of the space astronauts as they prepared for their flights into space.

Further interviews were conducted by us with Myrtle and her daughter and the story, seemingly forgotten forever, was finally been pieced together. On our last night in Dickinson, Myrtle presented us with a copy of the original book written by Jim Hudson with Jim Casey and her written permission to have the book published in Ireland. She was determined that the story of the family would finally be told to the world.

We flew home to Kerry determined to have this book made available to sports lovers everywhere and now, thanks to The Collins Press of Cork, Myrtle Casey's dream has come true. Christy Riordan, however, has gone one step further and an marvelous DVD chronicling the life and times of this extraordinarily family from Sneem in County Kerry will also be available – now people can listen to interviews with the family, view footage of their greatest victories and look at that collection of priceless memorabilia obtained on that unforgettable trip to Texas.

This is without doubt the greatest sports story NEVER told.

The Legendary Casey Brothers by Jim Hudson with Jim Casey will be published by The Collins Press in September 2013, price €14.99. Book and DVD will be launched by Olympic legend Ronnie Delany in the Sneem Hotel on October 19.

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