Wednesday 25 April 2018

Let's salute Irish past at Wimbledon


Sean Diffley

It's that time of the year, isn't it? As playwright Terence Rattigan famously put it in 'French Without Tears', "Anyone for Tennis?"

Wimbledon is surely the high point of our summers, our TV summers anyway, but some do take it a bit far.

Jean Borotra, that estimable French player who won Wimbledon, the French and the Australian singles, had this to say: "Nowadays, I serve and then I rush to the net. Usually the ball beats me and just rarely I manage to hit it. Either way, the point ends there, so I can get a breather."

The apologetic Borotra was aged 87 and still playing.

The Irish and Wimbledon? Well, in the singles, only two have ever won the title. The first was Helena Rice from Clonmel and the second was Kerryman Harold Sigerson Mahony.

But we don't know very much about them, hardly surprising I suppose, considering their accomplishments were achieved more than a century ago.

Helena, or Lena as she was known, beat May Jacks in the 1890 final, 6-4 6-1.

Mahony won his 1896 final against William Baddeley, the holder, 6-2 6-8 5-7 8-6 6-3. A bit of a grueller, that.

Apart from knowing she hailed from Clonmel, we know little about Lena Rice.

Mahony was born in Dromore Castle in Kerry, then the ancestral home of the Mahonys.

Was he of that family, the famed woollen firm of Mahony's of Blarney? Possibly a distant cousin, but no closer, which disappoints me because I had hoped that Vera Mahony, later wife of a denizen of this parish, Arthur McWeeney, a noted and distinguished reporter on tennis and other sports, would prove a descendent of a Wimbledon champion.

Harold Sigerson Mahony was, apparently, a very private individual off the tennis court. He died, aged 38, in a cycling accident near Killorglin. Apart from his Wimbledon triumph, Mahony won three Olympic medals -- two silver and a bronze -- in the 1900 Olympics in Paris.

Around the time that Rice and Mahony were involved, there was the Dracula involvement, with Frank Stoker, cousin of Bram, teaming up with Joshua Pim to win the Wimbledon doubles in 1890 and then again in 1893.

The last big Irish triumph on the international circuit was James Cecil Parke, from Clones in Monaghan, winning the 1912 Australian singles and with Charles Dixon also winning the Australian doubles.

As for 'Anyone for Tennis?', have any of you ever heard of Mabel Cahill? I've just come across in a dated reference book that she won the US women's singles tennis title in Philadelphia in 1891 -- a feat that the reference book says made her "the first overseas winner of an event that is now deemed as part of the Grand Slam."

She also won the women's doubles and the singles the following season as well.

The Irish in America? They turn up everywhere, don't they. Some even want to be their next president...

Irish Independent

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