April 5, 2012 by Irish Peloton
The Track Less Travelled – Ireland’s first cycling world champion
Caroline Ryan has won Ireland’s first senior medal at the World Track Championships for 115 years by taking bronze at the points race in Melbourne.
She emulates her compatriot Harry Reynolds who won a bronze medal at the amateur sprint event at the World Track Championships in Glasgow in 1897.
But the year before, Harry Reynolds won gold.
In the sprint event in Copenhagen in 1896, Reynolds defeated local favourite Edwin Schraeder and the Frenchman Charles Guillaumet. Reynolds crossed the line just three inches ahead of Schraeder to become Ireland’s first ever cycling world champion.
There is a great article about Reynolds which was written by Michael Killeen and published in a journal called the Dublin Historical Record in March 1988. Unfortunately, it’s not available online in its entirety, however it was rehashed somewhat by Ger Cromwell and published on IrishCycling.com in 2000.
There is some fantastic detail provided on Ireland’s first ever cycling world champion. But there’s one story that stands out more than most. It refers to the medal ceremony in the wake of Reynolds’ victory in Copenhagen:
Harry was approaching the Royal Dais to be presented with his Gold Medal by the King of Denmark when the Union Jack was hoisted and the band began to play “God Save the Queen”. Reynolds threw down his bike, called the officials, pointing out that he was Irish and would not have his victory credited to England. At his demand, the Danes lowered the Union Jack, replacing it with a green flag and the band played an Irish tune.
A stubborn display of patriotism, but there was to be an infinitely worse encounter in store for Reynolds. In 1920, all of his notes, journals and scrap books were destroyed in a fire when his house in Balbriggan was burned down by the Black and Tans during the Irish War of Independence.
Accompanying most reports of Ryan’s success in Melbourne today have been details of the relatively paltry funding Irish cyclists receive along with the fact that Ireland does not have an indoor velodrome.
Unsurprisingly, there was little difference back in 1896. Upon Reynolds’ return to Ireland from Copenhagen there was a welcome reception at the offices of the Irish cyclists association on D’Olier Street in Dublin where the following formed part of a congratulations speech to Reynolds:
A notable performance under any circumstances, the capture of this most coveted distinction acquires special significance when the disadvantages under which you laboured in preparing for the event are taken into account.
Denied the opportunity enjoyed by your opponents of training on a suitable track, and handicapped still further through not being in a position to devote to your training the time at the command of the majority of those against whom you had to compete, your victory was indeed a notable performance, and one of which Irishmen all the world over are justly proud.
In bidding you “Céad Mile Failte”, on your return, we beg to tender you our sincerest congratulations and to convey to you the good wishes of those whose sentiments we voice, and for whom you have won a great honour by your memorable achievement.
The exact same passage could be applied today to Caroline Ryan who has made Irishmen and women proud of her achievement.
Before Michelle Smith’s success* at the Olympics in Atlanta, Ireland did not have an Olympic sized swimming pool, now we do.
And before the likes of Caroline Ryan and Martyn Irvine proved successful on the boards, Ireland also did not have an Olympic standard velodrome. But thanks to their dedication and efforts, there are now plans afoot to build a velodrome up in Tallaght so that young Irish cyclists can follow the path paved by Ryan and Irvine, the foundations of which were laid by Harry Reynolds in 1896.