Wednesday 21 March 2018

Mabel not alone in missing out on public recognition

Saturday View

Sean Diffley

In 1976, in their wisdom, the powers-that-be in the United States Tennis Federation inducted Mabel Cahill, originally from Ballyragget, Co Kilkenny, into the International Hall of Fame.

In the olden days a few distinguished Irish got the ball over the net successfully and notably.

There was John Pius Boland, originally from Dublin's Capel Street, who won the gold medal at the first Olympics in 1896.

J Cecil Parke from Clones, who captained Ireland at rugby, won the Australian Open back in 1912.

And two Wimbledon victories came courtesy of the Kerryman Harold Mahony in 1896 and Lena Rice from Tipperary in 1890.

All were suitably noted in the appropriate publications.

But how about Mabel Cahill? How in all the multifarious delving into our sporting history have we missed Ms Cahill?

All we know, nowadays, is that she was born in 1863 and reared in Ballyragget, she went to live briefly in New York, won the US women's singles title in 1891 and again in 1892. She also won the women's doubles and the mixed doubles in those seasons.

Obviously, the 28-year-old from the banks of the Nore was, by a considerable stretch, the outstanding women's player in the land of the 'Star-Spangled Banner.'

So, why were her accomplish- ments ignored in Ireland all down the years. And why did it take 84 years before the United States Federation enrolled her in the prestigious Hall of Fame?

The extraordinary fact is that Mabel Esmonde Cahill -- to give her full name -- was the first foreign player in tennis history to win a major tournament in one of the so-called Grand Slam countries.

After her triumphs in the US, Mabel, to local surprise, didn't bother defending her titles in 1893, but decided to return to Ireland.

Clearly, somebody in America realised the unique contribution she had made to the world game and in 1976, when the International Lawn Tennis Association adopted the Hall of Fame distinction, Cahill's name was included.

The sad element to the story is that Mabel died in 1905 at the early age of 42.

One wonders if her omission was a reflection of the sporting gender discrimination?

In these pages recently there was a picture of three noted female athletes. The trio, smiling happily, were Katie Taylor, Derval O'Rourke and Deirdre Ryan.

On the international sports radar all three rank very highly, indeed, but some of us doubt that the 'Plain Sporting People of Ireland' -- as Myles might have put it -- are sufficiently aware of their stature.

Taylor, of that educated right hook is known to most, as is the hurdling athlete, O'Rourke, but Ryan?

Her performances -- especially in the World Championships in Daegu where she cleared a remarkable 1.95 -- or 6ft 5 ins -- was reminiscent of the great days of Irish high-jumping back a century ago and she is much superior even to our famous men.

And nowadays, facilities for such a technical event are virtually non-existant.

Mabel Cahill is not alone behind the closed curtains.

Irish Independent

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