For as long as I can remember I have always been awe of the athlete. My childhood experience throughout the 1940’s was greatly enriched by the athletic endeavour of various men in the neighbourhood, but before I elaborate on their feats and exploits, I feel compelled to recount to you a story that my brother Paddy once told me, about an athlete of great renown back in the 1870’s. Paddy heard the story from Ned Frank Fitz and the athlete in question was none other than Sonny Anthony Heanue.
Blake, the local landlord was well aware of Sonny’s great all round ability because he was an employee of his on the big estate. One particular summer, a friend of Blake’s, who happened to be a Decathlon man in England, came to stay for a short holiday. He was anxious to get in some training throughout the duration of his stay and he asked Blake if he knew of anybody locally who might serve as a suitable training partner. “Is there anyone here at all that can do a bit of running”, he asked. “Well”, replied Blake, “There’s a young man out there in the field. I don’t know anything about him but he’s a great athlete.” “Bring him in”, said the Englishman, “we’ll have a look at him”. Sonny was duly called in from the meadow field and introduced to the visitor. “Can you run?” he was asked. “I can run a bit,” he answered. The Englishman seemed happy enough with the reply. “Well” he continued, “Before we do any running, I’m going to set up something here out in front of the hotel and we’ll see if you can manage it”.
He duly proceeded to set up no less than seven empty sixty gallon mark barrels, in a straight line about one foot apart. Each barrel stood about one metre in height of the ground. Then he took a short run up and jumped in and out of the barrels one after the other only stopping after he had exited the last one. “Now”, he said to Heanue, “can you match that”. Without hesitation the Cashleen man took up the challenge. A few moments later he exited the seventh barrel but instead of stopping he immediately jumped backwards into the seventh barrel and continued in uninterrupted fashion until he eventually exited the first barrel and landed in the exact same spot that he had started off from.
The decathlon man was astonished because he had never witnessed athleticism like it before. In fact, he had never even contemplated doing the jumps in reverse backwards fashion. He then invited Heanue to take him on in a run from the hotel to Tullycross so they set off together at a fast pace. When they reached the stepping stones over the stream at Tully, Heanue pulled away with a mighty spurt and by the time the Englishman arrived in the village, Heanue was sitting on a fence waiting for him.
Remembered by Johnny Fitzpatrick and Written by Paul Gannon.
Johnny Fitzpatrick is a native of the townland of Cashleen, on the Renvyle Peninsula, in the Parish of Letterfrack-Ballinakill
Full Version available in “Pride and the Parish: Volume 1”