Denis St. George Daly 1862

Denis St. George Daly 1862

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Going for Gold Steve Dolan
The 1900 Paris Olympics was a ground-breaking one. Running from May to October with one thou-sand competitors in 19 sports, the games were four times larger than the first modern games in Athens four years previous. Women made the breakthrough by taking part, but the headline from a Galway perspective was made by the county’s pioneering Olympian Denis St George Daly.
Born on 5 Sept1862 at Attymon, the illegitimate son of Denis St. George Daly- 2nd Baron Dunsandle and Clanconal, Daly loved hunting and shooting and excelled at equestrian sports. Crucially, he managed to continue his pursuits when stationed with the British Army (18th Hussars) in India and it was said that his experience of regimental polo later enabled him to fit into any Polo team.
Daly played the sport in Ireland and England after leaving the army in 1893, and led his side ‘The Freebooters’ to the English Champions Cup in 1894.1 It is difficult to overstate the popularity of Polo among the elite in this era and eight different Polo tournaments were held in Paris in 1900, though only the ‘Grand Prix Internationale de l'Exposition’ was considered the Olympic event.
In the games themselves, entries were from clubs rather than countries and the winning squad comprised two Irishmen (Daly and John Beresford), two Americans, and an Englishman.2 Having defeated an all-French side 10-0 in the quarter final and a French-British side 6-4 in the semi (with Beresford playing) the novel final on 2 June 1900 saw two British-American sides face each other. It was reported that Daly’s Foxhunters (Hurlingham) were best-suited to the tough conditions, and they defeated ‘Rugby’ 3-1.
Twenty years after Daly had won Co Galway’s first Olympic Gold medal, his achievements would be ‘doubled’ by Michael Kelly who would become the county’s first double champion - winning two gold medals as a member of the American shooting team at the 1920 Antwerp Games.
Born in Galway on 29 Mar 1872, Kelly emigrated to New York in 1888 and initially worked as a Labourer. Five years later he enlisted in the American Army Engineer Corps, eventually reaching the rank of Sergeant. Kelly had served during the Great War, was a crack shot, and just a month before the 1920 Antwerp Olympics he became a US citizen which allowed him compete for them.3
The shooting disciplines took place at the Beverloo military camp, 50 miles north-east of Antwerp. In the first event, on 2 Aug 1920, Kelly contributed 468 of the U.S. total of 2,372 to take gold in the 50 metre team free pistol. The next day, Kelly contributed 256 (83/86/87) of the U.S. total of 1,310 in the 30 metre team military pistol to secure his second gold. Kelly was the only non-American born member of the teams, but he had more than done his part to help the U.S. finish top of the medals table.4
It is impossible to know if the men were even aware of each other’s achievements, let alone if they ever met. They perhaps had more in common with each other than was initially apparent however. Neither men would likely have competed were it not for their respective military careers and both men proved to be key members of their respective teams. As both Olympics took place before independence, neither were afforded the option of declaring for Ireland. It is not clear that either would have chosen to have done so.
Sadly, the two men differed in terms of their longevity. Following his triumph Kelly immediately retired from the Army, settling in Koblenz in Germany before he passed away prematurely on 3 May 1923 aged 51. It is not known if he returned home to Galway after his triumph. Meanwhile, within a couple of months of his victory Daly was back leading the coursing meetings at home in Dunsandle.5 Daly passed away in England on 16 Apr 1942 at the ripe age of 79.
1. Thomas F Dale, Polo Past and Present (London, 1905).
2. John Nauright and Charles Parrish, Sports Around the World: History, Culture, and Practice (California, 2012).
3. Online Sports Reference:
4. John Nauright and Charles Parrish, Sports Around the World: History, Culture, and Practice (California, 2012).
5. The Irish Times, 7 Nov 1900.

This Chronicle was created using information originally published in the South East Galway Archaeological and Historical Society Newsletter No. 23

Additional Information
Date of Birth 5th Sep 1862  

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