The Gene Mangan Story
Mar 17, 2006, 20:20
Had any one of the thousands of cycling enthusiasts who crowded O'Connell Street, Dublin, prior to the commencement of Rás Tailteann, been told that Gene Mangan would finish well down the field, he would surely have doubted not alone the wisdom but also the sanity of his informant, for it is doubtful if there ever was a more clear-cut favourite to win a major Irish cycling road-race than was Killorglin born Mangan on the morning of August 3, 1958, when seventy of Ireland's leading cyclists massed for the start of the fifth Annual Rás Tailteann.
Eight days later when the weary riders filed back into Dublin, having completed the exhausting 1,000 mile course, Mangan had more than
justified the confidence of cycling followers. Not alone had he by his performance established himself to be the most amazing of all great Irish bikemen, but he had also proven himself as one of the greatest cycling prospects in the world, and the most unusual part of the whole event was that the Kerry man did actually finish well down the field, in twelfth place to be precise. Yet he was unquestionably the greatest cyclist in the race.
|Gene Mangan 1964|
To understand fully the greatness of Mangan's performance and to pay tribute to the wonderfully courageous riding of individual winner, Mick Murphy, it is best that we try and recapture briefly the main events which led to making the fifth Rás Tailteann undoubtedly the greatest to date
Eight county teams, together with a five-man Connacht selection and a number of individual entries formed a colourful field as the race moved from Dublin on the first of its eight stages. Ninety miles lay ahead, as the bunch moved gracefully towards the Wicklow coast. To Bray the field remained compact, and as they rode further south, with the cool sea breeze gently fanning them, Mangan led a break from.
The bunch, and as he went through Ashford, the Kerryman had a minute of a lead on the main body. Through Wicklow, Arklow and Gorey, there seemed little in it, and by 3 p.m., when the riders swept through Camolin, the field had contracted again.
At Ferns, young Dan Ahern of Kerry led a break and, followed by Steve Abbott of Dublin and seven others, they moved from the rest and held their lead through Enniscorthy and on to the finish of the first stage in Wexford Town.
It was a day of triumph for Kerry. Eighteen year old Ahern of Farranfore had won the day. Mick Murphy of Cahirciveen came in eighth, with Mangan tenth, to give the Kerry team an overall lead of fifteen seconds. The Kingdom team manager, Liam Brick, had every reason to be proud that evening in Wexford, for with the exception of Mangan, the rest of the Kerry team were riding in their first Rás Tailteann.
Second man into Wexford was Steve Abbott, and when one realises that the popular Clann Brugha man had only finally decided to compete three days before the race, the greatness of his performance can be fully appreciated. In preparing for the event, Steve had a dual task. Not alone had he to train extensively to reach that keen pitch of physical fitness necessary to finish the 1,000 mile course, but he had also as Race Director the colossal task of planning the whole affairs of the Rás. How well he did it can best be assessed by the success of the event.
The Dublin team, mainly due to Abbott's brilliant riding, were second in the team placings with a young and very promising Tipperary side in a well timed third position.
The only disappointing note of the first stage was the hard luck encountered by that great veteran of the road, Con Carr, who almost from the start was dogged by gear difficulties and as a result finished well down the field.
All of the riders who began the race in Dublin came to the starting line in Wexford for the start of the second stage.
The first major break of this 120 mile stage came outside Dungarvan, when Kerrymen Mick Murphy and Mangan led a bunch of ten away from the main pack. As this group came near Carrick-on-Suir, Murphy went ahead, closely followed by Tipperary's Pat O'Meara, who was loudly cheered by his home supporters as he chased the Kerryman through the town.
At Glenbower, Murphy had shaken off the challenge of the Tipperary man and now commanded a clear lead which he held all the way to Kilkenny. It was another Kerry win and the race leader's yellow jersey was now passed to the steel muscled man from Cahirciveen.
|Gene Mangan After His Rás Win 1955|
Almost a minute behind Murphy and in second place came the pride of Royal Meath, Ben McKenna, with Gene Mangan a close third and a comfortable fourth in general classification.
Mangan will always remember the 125 miles from Kilkenny to Clonakilty as probably the most frustrating he has ever ridden. Outside Fermoy, he lost valuable time with a puncture. He had an almost head-on collision with a car in Cork city and a further puncture as he left Cork. To add to these he became ill during the final miles and eventually reached Clonakilty well behind the field and almost half an hour in over-all time behind race leader, Mick Murphy. From a comfortable fourth in general classification, he slipped back to thirtieth place.
Winner of this stage was Dublin's 21 year old Cathal O'Reilly. The brilliant young Tipperary trio of Ryan, Kiely and Williams took over the team leadership from Dublin.
Hero of the day though was rugged Mick Murphy, who, when punctured near Glanmire, rode a rather ancient common bike, borrowed from a generous onlooker, until he got a replacement nearing Cork city. From there onwards Mick made a wonderful solo effort to catch the leaders and finish in the same time as winner Cathal O'Reilly.
Every second of the stop-watch was of vital importance to Gene Mangan as Rás Tailteann entered its fourth stage. Well down the field in general classification and half an hour behind race leader Murphy, Mangan appeared fully recovered from the mishaps of the previous day as he rode well to the fore from Clonakilty to Bantry. Nearing Glengariff, Gene moved well up with the leaders, and to an onlooker it appeared as if he was set on making a bid for stage honours over his native Kerry mountains.
Then it happened, coming into Glengariff, Mick Murphy crashed and damaged his bike. Without one moment's hesitation, Mangan jumped from his machine and handed it to his team-mate and with it he handed over whatever chance remained of winning Rás Tailteann. It was a truly magnificent gesture of sportsmanship and one typical of Gene Mangan.
Six long minutes elapsed before a replacement could be had and when he was once again in the saddle, Mangan found himself well behind. It took some wonderful riding to catch the bunch, and nearing Killarney he came abreast. By then there was no hope of catching Tyrone's Sean Devlin, who had forged well ahead, followed by Jack Courtney in the Meath colours. These two were a minute apart and almost two minutes clear of the field. Nearing Tralee, Mangan moved from the bunch and into third place, and held on to win from Steve Abbott and Tipperary's Tom Ryan.
That night as I spoke to Gene in Tralee, he told me he felt a hundred per cent fit once more, and hoped to ride well from there on. Although I fully realised the capabilities of the Kerry ace, I never for one moment foresaw what was to come.
The last four stages of the Rás saw the Killorglin man perform probably the greatest cycling feat Ireland has ever known. From Tralee to Nenagh, from Nenagh to Castlebar, from Castlebar to Sligo, and from there to Dublin, it was the fabulous Gene Mangan all the way; a clear-cut winner at every stage, and there is little doubt but had there been another four stages he would have won them as well.
When the Kerryman sprinted into Dublin on the final day, coinciding with his twenty-second birthday, he had established a record which will stand for many a day.
Second only to Mangan's amazing 'four in a row' was the achievement of overall winner, Mick Murphy, who rode for all of the second half of the event with a dislocated left shoulder. Shortly before leaving Tralee, the Cahirciveen man's injury was realised, and it was with courage and determination, typical of the Kingdom, that Murphy decided to continue.
With his shoulder heavily strapped, Mick showed no evident ill-effects at first. However, nearing Drumcollogher, in County Limerick, he became ill, and as the bunch climbed the steep hill into the town, Murphy began to slip back and for a while it appeared as if the end was near. Once again it was the sportsmanship of Mangan which saved the day. Discovering that his team-mate was faltering, Gene dropped back from his position in front and eventually succeeded in bringing Murphy with him and together they caught the bunch.
From there on Mangan and Murphy rode together, and when Gene sprinted to win each of the remaining stages, Mick was never far behind.
At the end the Cahirciveen man was well ahead in overall timing, almost five minutes in front of his nearest rival, Ben McKenna of Meath, with Dublin's Cathal O'Reilly filling third place.
In the team placings, Dublin had only one minute to spare over the young Tipperary team of Ryan, Kiely and O'Meara.
The 1958 Rás Tailteann was a triumph in many ways; for founders of the event, Joe Christie and Kerry Sloane, it meant that their dream was now something concrete and undoubtedly permanent. For the dauntless and lion-hearted Mick Murphy it meant a place among the cycling greats, and for Killorglin's Gene Mangan it meant that the time had come for him to move to other fields and other roads to tackle the cream of world competition. That he does so as an uncompromising Irishman is something of which we can all feel justly proud.
All great cyclists must have initiative; they must be capable of spotting an opportunity and of availing of it for an immediate break-away. Gene Mangan clearly displayed this trait at the early age of fourteen, when one day he was entrusted with the purchase and payment of a new suit of clothes, and instead returned home with a racing bike.
It was some time afterwards, when fully recovered from his father's disapproval and capable of sitting astride a bike once more, that Gene began competitive cycling.
At the time racing bikes were almost as uncommon in Kerry as rugby balls, and with the exception of the odd sports meeting, cycling races were a rarity. However, an interest was growing in the sport and the flames were soon fanned by cycling enthusiasts Jimmy Caball, Liam Brick, Jimmy Leahy and the late Jack O'Connor of Tralee, Mick Gleeson of Farranfore and Tim Crowley of Kenmare. These men realised that in teenagers Mangan, Fitzgerald, Carmody, Switzer and Co., there were champions in the making, and how right indeed they were.
The formation of the Kingdom Cycling Club marked the beginning of road racing in Kerry, and in March 1952, the first County Championship was staged in Kenmare. It was over a ten mile stretch with nine contending for the title. The event was keenly contested, and the winner and first Kerry road champion was fifteen year old Gene Mangan. Second was Gene Moriarty of Ballylongford, with Paddy O'Donoghue of Listowel third.
A beginning had been made, and for Gene it meant the first and undoubtedly the most memorable of a long and ever growing list of triumphs.
A few months later, Mangan again made local newspaper headlines when he dived fully clothed into the River Laune to save a sixteen year old youth from drowning. Headlines were now becoming an almost every day event for the Killorglin youth, who added all of Kerry's track titles to his road triumph before the end of the 1952 season.
In 1953, Mangan retained his road title, this time over a twenty mile course at Ballymacelligott, and during the season he collected almost all of the county's track trophies. That same year Gene had his first crack at provincial and national titles. At Kenmare, he finished a close second to Freddie O'Sullivan in the half-mile and third in the mile. Two weeks later he was again in third place, this time to Mick Cahill in the National 2,000 metres event.
It was a creditable season's performance for a youth who had just reached his seventeenth birthday.
There were many eyebrows raised when, in the Spring of 1954, it was announced that the N.C.A. were to hold an 8-day stage race and without the backing of any commercial firm. Not alone did the N.C.A. succeed in holding the event, but they also succeeded in making it a permanent annual affair of major national importance. The credit for this achievement rests entirely with Joe Christie of Dublin and army lieutenant Kerry Sloane, for it was these two men who planned and organised Rás Tailteann, imbuing other officials with the confidence and spirit necessary to carry the event through.
By August everything was in order for Ireland's first Rás Tailteann, and to Dublin, from almost every county, came cyclists eager to capture major honours. From Kerry came Gene Mangan, Paud Fitzgerald, Paddy Callaghan, Terry Carmody, John Switzer and Jackie O'Connor. It was a young and inexperienced team with little idea of the magnitude of the task which lay before them.
The Kerry team had but one spare bicycle and this was called for before the race had even started when John Switzer fell and damaged his machine while riding to the starting line. The Kerry lads were now left facing the 1,000 miles' journey dependent entirely on the bikes which they were riding. The impracticality of this position was quickly brought home, when, as the race moved from O'Connell Street and down Ormond Quay, a tram-track caused Paud Fitzgerald to crash and damage his front wheel. Mangan dismounted and went to his team-mate's aid and it was twenty-two minutes later before they succeeded in putting the bike in riding order again.
It was indeed a rude introduction to Rás Tailteann.
Considering the inexperience of the Kingdom team, their overall performance was commendable. In the early stages, Terry Carmody rode well to the fore and won the stage from Cork to Tralee.
However, by the time the race reached Galway, the strain was too great for a number of the Kerry team, and Mangan, Carmody and O'Connor retired. Paud Fitzgerald continued and rode well throughout, finishing in sixth place in overall timing. Four places behind Fitzgerald came Paddy Callaghan. The overall winner of the event was Joe O'Brien of the National Cycling Club, Dublin.
The first Rás Tailteann may not have been a great success from the Kerry team's point of view, but it taught many lessons.
Gene Mangan completed the 1954 cycling season by winning the 50 mile Limerick City Wheelers Cup; the B.S.A. 50 mile event, and two twenty-five mile time trials. It was in the second of these that he recorded the time of 61 minutes 11 seconds, a time which has yet to be beaten in Kerry.
In the spring of 1955 Gene Mangan emigrated temporarily to England, where he began his career as a draughtsman. Three days before Rás Tailteann he returned to Dublin in peak condition and determined to help Kerry establish itself as a cycling power equal to the best.
Except for the absence of Terry Carmody, the Kerry team was the same as that which competed in the previous Rás. The only major difference between the 1955 team and that of the previous year was that this time they had a supply of spare machines, a top mechanic in Maurice Cantillon of Tralee and capable mentors in Liam Brick, Jimmy Leahy and Walter Doyle.
Thousands lined O'Connell Street, Dublin, as Padraig O Caoimh, General Secretary of the G.A.A., set the race in motion, and this time there were no slips by the Kingdom lads. Mangan and Fitzgerald were well away and stayed to the front until the finish of the stage. From the beginning the pace was intense, the first 52 miles being covered in two hours five minutes even.
Leading the break across the Border was eighteen year old Denis O'Connor of Dublin, and he held on to win at Newry by five seconds from another Dubliner, Malachy Denney, with Mayo's Mick Palmer third. Fourth came Mangan and fifth, Paud Fitzgerald.
On the second day the race moved from Newry to Dungannon and on to Omagh, and then down to Sligo. Near Omagh a break was made with Fitzgerald and Tommy Flanagan, the pride of Royal Meath, leading the way.
A few miles further on, Mangan moved from the main bunch and rode a brilliant seventy mile solo to finish in twelfth position in Sligo. Tommy Flanagan won the stage with Kerry's Fitzgerald second.
The third stage, with Westport as its destination, produced some of the finest cycling in the whole Rás. A cracking pace was set from the beginning, and the first twenty-four miles were covered in eight minutes short of the hour.
At Tubbercurry, Mick Palmer moved ahead and was first to cross the line into his native Mayo. For over thirty miles the gallant Westport man held the lead, and for a while it looked as if he might make it, but the exhausting strain of leading the field began to tell, and his pursuers, Mick Christie, Christie Dunne, Tom Gerrard and Cork's Pat Hickey were touching thirty-five miles an hour in an effort to close the gap. At this stage only fifty seconds separated the leaders from the main bunch.
At Tourlough, twenty miles from home, Mangan broke an axle which caused him a brief delay, but he rode magnificently to reach the bunch again, and together they closed the gap between themselves and the leaders.
|The Great Gene Mangan|
At Castlebar, misfortune hit at Mangan again, when he sustained a bad fall. Despite this he doggedly strove on, and with an almost inhuman effort, he left the bunch and joined the leaders with only three miles to go. As Westport drew in sight, Gene, head down and legs moving piston-like, moved to the front and crossed the line a length ahead of Steve Abbott and Pat Hickey, with the dauntless Mick Palmer fourth.
Mangan had won his first Rás Tailteann stage. His time was two hours, fifty-nine minutes, nine seconds, an equivalent of twenty-seven miles an hour for the 76 mile course.
The overall leader at Westport was still Dublin's Denis O'Connor, and his minute's bonus at each stage had him 3 minutes 39 seconds ahead of Paud Fitzgerald, with Brian Monaghan of Down third, Joe McIvor of Tyrone fourth, Steve Abbott fifth, and Mangan sixth, and seven minutes behind O'Connor.
In the team placings, Kerry were third to Dublin and Kildare.
Brilliant sunshine saw the riders speed from Westport to Headford, and from there on the field was led by Con Carr of Kildare, Gerry Keogh and Frank Ward of Dublin, and Kerry's Pat O'Callaghan.
The rugged and ever-winding Corkscrew Hill and the towering Burren Mountains proved a stiff introduction to Clare. However, the leaders held on, and Frank Ward was first to cross the line in Ennis, with Paddy O'Callaghan second, and Meath's Basil O'Reilly third. Mick Mooney of Down, Con Carr and Gerry Keogh came together, and were clocked on equal time with the winner.
A fall near Inagh deprived Paud Fitzgerald of better time, while Mangan led the bunch to finish two minutes behind the leaders.
The overall position still saw Denis O'Connor ahead, with Brian Monaghan changing places with Paud Fitzgerald. Paddy O'Callaghan's fine effort moved Kerry to number one in the team placings, with Kildare one minute behind. Mangan had slipped from sixth position to eighth.
Three miles from Ennis on the fifth day, Joe Mclvor retired, and nearing Limerick, Con Carr crashed and broke his collar-bone. The retiral of the veteran champion was a severe blow to Kildare, for on the form he had been showing, Con looked like being well up at the end.
With Abbeyfeale in sight and only twenty-seven miles remaining in the race to Tralee, it appeared anybody's stage. Denis O'Connor, Pat O'Meara and Paud Fitzgerald were leading, but as the riders descended into Castleisland, the gap narrowed, and coming into Tralee, a bunch finish was certain. At the outskirts of the town, Mangan moved out on a brilliant sprint, and it appeared a great day for Kerry as he streaked ahead, but then from nowhere shot Steve Abbott to pip the Killorglinman by little more than the width of a tyre.
The listing now read O'Connor, Monaghan, Fitzgerald, Abbott, and Mangan fifth and a clear fifteen minutes behind the Dublin leader. Only three stages remained.
Ahead lay the Kerry mountains .... the terror of Rás Tailteann and the true test of cycling power. The sun shone as the riders raced from Tralee on the sixth day, and began to climb. One of the first to feel the gradient of the ever-rising hills was race-leader Denis O'Connor.
Mangan was with the leaders from the word go, and it was evident that the young Kerryman was now making his bid for fame. Two minutes ahead of the bunch beyond Killarney, Mangan was again hit by ill luck when he broke a wheel, and were it not for the comradeship of Paddy O'Callaghan, who came to his immediate aid, much time might have been lost. On his own, Mangan was soon tailing the leaders again and nearing Kenmare he looked all set to move ahead. Once again lady luck smiled scornfully at him and he was forced to stop and change a wheel. As a result another minute was lost. Undaunted, Mangan again rode solo and at Bantry he was once more up to the front.
The Kerry mountains had left their mark on the main bunch, and by now they were nine minutes behind the leaders. Nearing Cork the leaders cut loose, and in a lightning-like sprint, Gerry Keogh crossed the line fifteen seconds ahead of Mangan, with Frank Ward, Steve Abbott and an ever-pursuing Mick Palmer close behind.
Abbott now took possession of the race-leader's jersey, with Mangan a mere eight seconds behind him in overall time.
Except for the magnificent riding of the Killorglin star, there was nothing spectacular in the seventh stage from Cork to Wexford. At Carrick-on-Suir the large local crowd went wild with joy when two of the home team, Healy and Curran, led the field through the town. However, the Tipperarymen's glory was short-lived, and from there on Mangan, Mick Christie, Pat Hickey and Frank Ward took over. At the finish it was Mangan all the way to take the race-leader's jersey for the first time and leave a clear sixty seconds between himself and his nearest rival.
The eighth and final stage saw Dublin make a desperate effort to capture the team prize. However, the gallant Kerry bunch held together and picking their men, they rode with the keenness and determination of true sons of the mighty Kingdom and the roar of the crowd at the Esplanade,
Dublin, meant only one thing .... Kerry had swept the board .... the individual prize and the team honours. They had done the impossible, they had beaten the big cycling powers and so 19-year-old Gene Mangan of Killorglin had won a place with the John Joe Sheehys and the Joe Keohanes as a giant among giants in the roll of honour of Kerry sporting greats.
For many days following Rás Tailteann, 1955, Kerry rejoiced. Civic receptions, parades, speech-making and presentations followed in almost confusing profundity, as Tralee, Killarney and Killorglin spontaneously acclaimed their heroes.
Hardly had the tumult died away when Mangan was notified that he had been chosen for the Irish team to compete in the World Road Championship race in Rome.
As I have pointed out in the foreword, the N.C.A. is not recognised by the Union Cycliste Internationale, the world cycling body, because it refuses to confine itself to twenty-six counties. From the time of its suspension in 1947 until 1955, the N.C.A. remained cut off from international competition. During those years there were many Irish cyclists equal to the best amateurs in the world, and because they remained true Irishmen, they were deprived the chance of winning many honours abroad.
In 1955 the Executive Council of the N.C.A. decided that the time had come to take definite and constructive action. Letter-writing, pleading and diplomacy had been of no avail and now a firm stand had to be made. It was agreed that an Irish team should be sent to the world championship event, to be held in Rome on Saturday, August 27.
The team chosen was Gene Mangan, Bernie O'Brien of Maynooth, Seamus McGreevy of Newry and Mick Christie of Dublin. It was a strong and very experienced team, ideally suited for the 115 mile championship distance. Harry O'Toole-King of Dublin was chosen as team manager.
Meanwhile C.R.E. (26 counties) decided that they would also send a team to Rome, and to give it a semblance of nationhood, they invited two northern cyclists to join them.
Both these riders were affiliated to the N,I. Cycling Federation and seeing that Mother England did not consider them good enough for her team, they were only too glad to join the C.R.E. cavalcade.
Two weeks before the race, the five man Irish team flew to Paris and travelled from there by train to Geneva.
From there they decided to cycle, so as to become accustomed to local climatic conditions. On the Tuesday prior to the race, they reached Rome.
The situation which faced them was a difficult one, for they had no official tickets or numbers, all of which were necessary to gain admittance to the arena. Yet admittance had to be gained, as everything depended on it. Once inside, there was always the possibility of getting away undetected.
On the morning of the race a huge throng packed the Frascati Circuit and outside many more thousands waited to gain entry. Suddenly a voice rose above that of the jibbering Italians: 'Move back there, please . . . Irlande . . . Irlande . . . make way . . . faites place . . . platz bitte . . . Irlande.' A passage opened among the crowd and four green and white clad cyclists moved quickly through. The white-coated officials at the competitors' gate smiled and nodded as they opened the gate, and the riders went by them, followed by an equally benevolent looking Harry O'Toole-King.
Half the battle had been won and a moment later the Irish team were in the pits. Nearby the English team busied themselves with last minute arrangements and their manager, looking up from his start-sheet, saw the Irish boys and thinking they were C.R.E. cyclists, he crossed over to bid them 'Good cheer, old chaps.'
Time ticked away and eventually the teams moved to the start. It was then that the C.R.E. side saw that not alone had the Irish team reached Rome, but they were actually at the starting line. Immediately words were exchanged and the game was up. Now followed further and more heated words and as a score of uniformed carabinieri rushed to the scene, blows were struck. The Irish team were detained and taken to police headquarters, where they were held until late that evening.
The incident made front page headlines in not alone Italian, but also Swiss, French and German newspapers. Almost all of the editorials were sympathetic and understanding, with some even going so far as to decry the position whereby a team representing a sporting and friendly nation had been refused the right to compete.
What had appeared at first glance to be merely an unruly incident was in fact a major step towards recognition of Irish cyclists abroad and for probably the first time since the suspension of the N.A.C.A. in 1934, the issue of Ireland's suspension was understood by many, many sportsmen on the Continent.
Back from Rome, Gene Mangan spent the following weeks winning almost all of Minister's major road events, including the B.S.A. Perpetual Trophy, the 85 Mile Rás Glanmire, and the Limerick City Wheelers Cup. At the close of the 1955 season, he came to Dublin to continue his career as a draughtsman and joined the National Cycling Club, a club to which he has brought many honours in recent times and of which he himself was for a period honorary secretary.
Thus 1955 was a memorable year for the young Killorglin lad and one of its proudest moments was when he was chosen as the outstanding Kerry sportsman of the year and presented with the Bishop Moynihan Cup. This magnificent trophy, valued at Ł400, had been presented to Most Rev. Dr. Moynihan, Bishop of Kerry, by the Kerry-men's Association in New York, a few months previously and His Lordship arranged to have it awarded annually to Kerry's sportsman of the year. And so the name of Gene Mangan of Killorglin became the first to grace the splendid cup.
The 1956 Rás Tailteann will be long remembered not so much for its brilliant cycling, but for the continuous interference of the R.U.C., as the cyclists passed through Occupied Ireland on the second day of the race and for the pitched battles which took place at Lurgan and Cookstown.
Cecil O'Donoghue of Dublin had ridden magnificently to snatch the honours in the first stage from Wicklow's Pat O'Meara. Gene Mangan had been keenly battling with O'Donoghue until they crossed the 'Border', when Cecil jumped the leaders and as Mangan gave chase, his gear cable snapped. This resulted in a delay, as the Kerry repair van had been held up at the customs and by the time Mangan was in the saddle again, his hopes of taking an early lead in defence of his crown had vanished.
On the second day, as the race moved from Newry on to Banbridge, the leading official car, driven by Mick Christie, and carrying the Tricolour, was stopped by members of the R.U.C., near Banbridge. They requested that the flag be removed. This
was refused, and for reasons best known to themselves at the time, the police did not interfere any further and the car continued leading the race on to Lurgan. Here it was again stopped, this time by a larger and more aggressive group of R.U.C., who immediately attempted to remove the flag. In the struggle which followed the flag-pole was broken. By this time, however, the cyclists and further N.C.A. officials began to reach the scene and in the melee which followed, the flag was recaptured and entrusted to burly race director Joe Christie who, towering over all the opposition, held the flag firmly and defied all further attempts to have it taken.
By now almost all of the cyclists had arrived, as also had a tender of police reinforcements. Plain clothes policemen demanded that Bernie O'Brien remove a green, white and gold sash from his jersey and when the hardy Kildare-man suggested that they remove it for him, it looked as if the seventy unarmed young Irishmen would have to match their bare hands against the armed force of their assailants in defence of the National Flag and the national rights of Irishmen.
Eventually calm was restored and after a brief conference between the race authorities and the senior R.U.C. officers present, Joe Christie, still holding the flag, announced that they were not going to be allowed continue. Alternatively they would finish the stage, but times or placings would not be recorded.
The cavalcade of cyclists and cars continued on to Randalstown and along the banks of Lough Neagh, through Magherafelt and then down to Cookstown. As they were nearing the town, twelve tenders of B Specials and R.U.C. joined them and on entering the town they were met by a massed force of R.U.C. and B-men, backed by an organised force of approximately 150 Orangemen, armed with sticks, bottles, etc. Both groups stood for a moment. Then suddenly a bottle was thrown from behind the R.U.C. cordon. The fight was on.
The mob seemed to have decided to pay special attention to the green and gold clad Kerry riders and probably due to a one-sided reading of Irish history, they completely under-rated the fighting instincts and capabilities of sons of the Kingdom. It was not until John Switzer had felled four by crashing his bicycle on their heads, and an R.U.C. man had been floored from a blow of a bottle that the Orangemen realised that winning the Battle of the Boyne was one thing, but beating up a group, even a small group, of Kerry-men was indeed a horse of a much different colour.
Car spanners, bottles, tyre levers, sticks and even bicycles all saw usage for which they were never intended. John Landers, a member of that famous Kingdom football family, who had been competing with the Cork team, was seen to advantage as he expertly k.o.'d his nearest attackers, while Donal O'Shea saw to it that three R.U.C. vehicles would never again patrol roads in Occupied Ireland.
For ten minutes the battle raged and eventually both the police and their abettors were forced to scatter. Both Jimmy Leahy and Paddy Moriarty of the Kerry bunch received injuries.
The way was now clear and victoriously singing national songs, the cyclists continued on their way to Armagh, where they were met by a cheering throng who greeted them with A Nation Once Again.
Hundreds of R.U.C., fully armed, followed the race to the 'border', but no further attempts were made to interfere and with the Tricolour proudly flying, the young men of the N.C.A. passed out of Occupied Ireland and continued on to Monaghan.
Hero of the third stage of Rás Tailteann, 1956, was Con Carr, the 38 year old Kildare veteran, who completely outshone the leaders, and was a clear winner into Ballina. Although he broke an axle at Tuam, Gene Mangan was a good winner in the fourth stage, with fellow Kerryman Paud Fitzgerald second. Mangan was now listed second in the overall time and he appeared well set to take his second Rás Tailteann.
However, events did not turn out as expected and it was Paud Fitzgerald who crossed the line at Tralee to appear as the new Kingdom hope for major honours.
From Tralee to Kenmare, it was again Fitzgerald. Paud now took second place in overall time behind John Keane of the Exiles team. Keane had returned from Birmingham to compote and surprised all with his great fighting heart and staying power.
Mangan came to the fore again in the seventh stage, winning the sprint into Clonmel, to leave Kerry in a happy position for the team prize. To clinch matters, Pat Moriarty won the final stage to leave Kerry clear winners and 28 minutes ahead of the Dublin team in overall time.
And so al the finish of the third Rás Tailteann, it was Lispolc, home of Kingdom's captain, Paud Fitzgerald, that celebrated with bon-fires and torch light processions, and Kerrymen rejoiced in the deeds of their cycling sons. Gene Mangan completed the 1956 season by winning the 107 mile Tour of Donegal, both stages of Rás Laighean (Dublin to Athlone and back), the go-mile Tour of Louth, the 5o-mile Tour of Meath, and the 100 National title. In all he won twenty-four major road races that year.
Kerry did not compete in the 1957 Rás Tailteann but Gene Mangan made full amends by winning many of the other major road events of that year and when his entry was received for the National track Championships, many wondered if the Kerry ace was overstepping his mark somewhat. None doubted but that the Killorglin man was one of Ireland's greatest-ever roadmen, but track championship competition was a completely different thing. Here, speed, skill, bike control and above all else, experience were necessary. How could a road-man possess all these qualities?
When at the Iveagh Grounds, Crumlin, Mangan lined up for his heat in the 1957 National 440 yards event, even his keenest fans were not optimistic about his chances of qualifying. Once again Gene produced the unexpected, for not alone did he win his heat, but he defeated top trackmen Mick Cahill and Seamus O'Reilly in the semi-final, and went ahead to beat champion Frank O'Sullivan by a length in the final.
To prove it was all no 'flash in the pan,' Mangan added the five mile title to his list.
It was an amazing feat, unprecedented in the annals of Irish cycling and rarely seen in world events. Mangan, the road-man, the former 1,000 mile and too mile champion, had now proven himself to be the fastest man on grass.
By his performances in 1957, Mangan proved himself to be the most versatile cyclist Ireland has ever produced, and it was with pride that Kerrymen acclaimed him the outstanding athlete of the year and for the second time the Killorglin man was presented with the Dr. Moynihan Trophy.
Gene performances during 1958 are still fresh in our memory. He retained his quarter and five mile track titles, and was narrowly beaten into second place in the mile event. To these he added many of the major road events and became the first man in the world to win four consecutive stages of a national or international 8-day or more stage race. At the close of the season, Gene was a unanimous choice for the Caltex Award.
In five years of competition in major Irish cycling, Mangan has won all that there was to be won. He has served his apprenticeship and qualified as a true craftsman. He has proven himself to be a cyclist with all the attributes of greatness.
For two months prior to his departure to Spain, Mangan trained at home among his native Kerry mountains. He prepared himself diligently for the task which lay ahead, for he realised that not alone must he make the grade for his own sake, but he must also succeed for Ireland's sake.
There will be many obstacles, pit falls and hardships for Gene Mangan in the year which lies ahead. He faces a new world and his task is a difficult one, for not alone must he match the cream of the world's cycling giants, but he must also fight the case of Ireland's unnatural suspension from world competition.
Whether he succeeds or not, only time will tell, but at least we can be sure of one thing .... Ireland has no more capable or truer son than lie whom she sends to represent her on the tracks and roads of Europe.
sean o'neill, may, 1959.
|Gene Mangan 2008|