Ronnie Delaney’s gold medal moment 60 years ago
By Ray O’Hanlon
My first ever address in life was Number 16, Main Street, Gorey, Co. Wexford.
There should be a plaque on the front of that humble house stating: “At this address on an early winter’s night in 1956 a man was heard yelling at the top of his lungs and not a creature in the town stirred. Not even a mouse.”
That man was my father.
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He hadn’t lost his marbles, and indeed was quite within his rights in his effort to roar his lungs out trying to stir the town burghers as they slumbered away another night in an Ireland that did a lot of slumbering in those years.
Yes, Dad did precisely the right thing.
I have no memory of it at all, being merely a babe in swaddling in a cot.
Dad was from Monaghan, Mum from Dublin, but they had immigrated to Gorey when he got himself a teaching job at the local Christian Brothers.
But this tale stretches beyond the local, to a land down under, where the women roar and men thunder, as the song line goes.
That would be Australia, host that long ago year to the “summer” Olympics.
It wasn’t summer in Gorey of course.
But it certainly was in Melbourne where an Irish runner named Ronnie Delaney was about to go down in sporting lore as an Olympic gold medalist in the 1500 meters.
Apparently I had “met” Delaney some months before this winter’s eve.
A few days before I was born my parents, bravely I reckon, trooped to Santry Stadium in Dublin to see Delaney run against the great Aussie miler John Landy.
I reckon all the excitement caused me to arrive early.
The Melbourne final would be a rematch, and it would be Delaney who would triumph over the favored Landy with a decisive burst of speed down the last stretch.
For ever and ever afterwards the image of Delaney surging across the finish line, dropping to his knees and crossing himself, would be imprinted on the collective Irish imagination, proof positive that God had a soft spot for the Irish – if the mood took him.
There was nothing soft about Delaney’s win, however.
Delaney was a hard man when it came to racing.
He had steeled himself for future glory at Villanova University under the tutelage of coaching legend Jumbo Elliot.
If you check Delaney on Google you will read that the Irish people first learned of the Wicklow-born runner’s amazing Melbourne triumph at “breakfast time.”
They were dependent for the news on RTE Radio, which went to bed at a decent hour in those days, as did decent Irish folk.
Television, and a native network, was still a few years in the future.
And the morning papers were already on the road and rails when Delaney lunged for track immortality.
My parents, however, were especially keen and resourceful.
As I heard it years later, and more than once, they had a radio tuned to the BBC which was carrying reports from the far side of the world where it was not only broad daylight, but another season altogether.
So Gorey slept.
But my parents leapt when the crackling announcement of Delaney’s astonishing win came out of the radio box.
As I was later told, Dad, with a Delaney-like burst of speed, raced to a front window, pulled the frame upwards, stuck his head out and roared “Hooray Hooray for Ronnie Delaney.”
He could be a very enthusiastic man at times, and this was one of those moments.
He went on cheering and hallooing for several minutes, fully expecting to be joined by a chorus of delirious Goreyites.
Not a chance.
Not a sound.
Even the cats stayed quiet.
He would recall his cheerleading with pride, however, and even more so decades later when Delaney was a nearby neighbor in Dublin.
But then Ireland was always a small world.
And an absolutely silent one on a night sixty years ago this week in a somnolent Wexford town that these days is considered a “dormer” community for the Irish capital.
Some things don’t change.