Wednesday 21 February 2018

Trying to shed light on our first Olympic medallist

Sean Diffley

In the realms of Irish sporting mysteries, it ranks high. Beatrice Hill-Lowe was the first Irishwoman to win an Olympic medal, but, until this week, none of us had ever heard of her.

Then, in an issue of a magazine from the International Olympic Committee museum in Lausanne, lo and behold, there's Beatrice in full-page revelation with the caption revealing that she won a bronze medal in the archery at the London Games of 1908.

The full caption read: "Beatrice Hill-Lowe becoming the first Irishwoman to win an Olympic medal when she finishing third in the women's double national round archery..."

So, there you have it. Can anybody out there shed some light on Beatrice's accomplishment?

The Olympic event consisted of finding the target at 60 yards and then 50 yards.

There were 25 competitors, all British, including Hill-Lowe, who appears in the records as GBR, as Ireland had no separate entry in those days.

The winner of the competition was Sybil Newell and in the silver medal position was the remarkable Lottie Dod, who when not flourishing arrows, was a champion golfer and five times winner of the women's singles at Wimbledon.

She was a mere 15-years-old when she won her first Wimbledon in 1887 and -- here's one for you -- her run of wins was interrupted in 1890, when Tipperary girl Lena Rice was triumphant.

And when Rice was winning in England in 1890, a Kilkenny girl was winning the United States women's titles. That, of course, was Mabel Cahill from Ballyragget, who had the distinction of being the first foreigner to win one of what are now termed the Grand Slam events.

It's not everybody who beats a US president's niece, which Mabel did in 1891 when she defeated EC Roosevelt, the wealthy niece of Teddy Roosevelt. But, come to think of it, wasn't Rice a foreigner too?

Cahill returned to this country after her successful defence of her titles in 1892, but there is no record of her playing tennis in Ireland either before or following her American successes. She died aged just 41 in 1904.

In 1936 the Irish Lawn Tennis Association, anxious to honour her exploits, advertised for relatives, but the response was zero. In 1970 the US tennis authorities added her name to their Hall of Fame, but could never discover any family.

A mystery, so I'm on the prowl for two women, and the unflagging Dermot Sherlock of the Olympic Council is also hot on the trail.

Will we have to utilise the services of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson or even Poirot?

After all, one who exhibits two fingers to a USA president and another who shoots arrows like one of Henry V's best men at Agincourt should not remain unknown and forgotten.

We have enough in this fair land of the inscrutable and the mysterious, as in Meath's magnificent Newgrange, which is just across the Boyne from Co Louth, where, rumour has it, Beatrice Hill-Lowe was born.

Irish Independent

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