Salute to the great Ringsend Eagles

By Eoin Meegan

Some thirty years ago, a group of Ringsend youths made history by being part of a unique and very special athletic club. Even if they are not recorded in the official sporting records, one man recalls their true heroism and grit.

Way back in 1988, when Dublin was celebrating its millennium, the idea was mooted to hold a triathlon at the Ringsend Community Games. To pull off this feat, the man they turned to was Derek Murphy.

Not only was Derek Lord Mayor of Ringsend at the time, but he had been involved in triathlon clubs since the sport’s inception in Ireland. The triathlon consisted of a 200-metre swim, an 8-mile cycle, and a 2.8-mile run for the under-16s, while the seniors faced a 2.5-mile swim, a 112-mile cycle, and a marathon distance run.

Initially, some thirty young people aged between 10 and 15 turned up and Derek anticipated the event would be a one-off. However, the kids had a different idea. So enthusiastic were they, that after the event they went on Radio Snowflake (Ringsend station of yesteryear that prided itself on being a community, not a pirate radio), and appealed to Derek to continue with the project.

Derek was only too happy to oblige, and the Eagle Youth Triathlon Club was born. After three months, 35-40 youngsters, both girls and boys, with an average age of 10-16 had signed up. Such was the demand that Derek had to create a second team, the ‘Mascots’, to accommodate under-10s, who desperately wanted to be with the older group.

The training was tough. They trained four nights a week for nearly two hours each night. At weekends they would set out from Ringsend to the Dublin / Wicklow Mountains, a 15-20 mile round trip, and once there, run another 3-4 miles in the mountains.

That was tough going, but the kids never faltered. Derek pushed them to their limit, taking them up Ticknock Hill, which is extremely steep and tortuous, and they rose to the challenge.

It’s clear that Derek Murphy feels they were very special individuals. “These kids didn’t know how good they were at the time,” he reminisces.  

Ger Mooney was one of the original Eagles and at 16 was an outstanding athlete, whom Derek describes as the guiding light behind the club, and an inspiration to the younger kids. Unfortunately, around this time Ger developed cancer, which he fought bravely. After a period of remission the cancer returned and sadly, in 1993 Ger passed away at only 21 years of age.

Because of his inspiration to the others, his outstanding athleticism, and the wonderful bravery he showed, Derek instigated the Ger Mooney Trophy in his honour. Only weeks before he died, Ger completed a cycle for rehab on a tandem along with Derek.

Music was another great passion of Ger’s. For a time he played drums in a local band. One time, at a Bon Jovi concert Derek approached drummer Tico Torres and told him Ger’s story, and asked could he have his drum sticks. Tico didn’t hesitate and graciously gave them to the youth.

The Eagle Youth Triathlon Club never received official recognition, as in order to be recognised by the triathlon association members need to be over 16, so the Ger Mooney Cup is their official prize.

The trophy has been awarded only to the most outstanding athletes in the Eagles, and will be posthumously awarded this August to another original member who also sadly passed away, James Byrne, or ‘Jay’ as he was affectionately called.  Jay died in June of last year in a tragic accident at Dublin Port where he worked. Originally from Ringsend, he was loved and held in very high esteem by everyone who knew him.

He was barely ten in the first triathlon and holds the record for being the fastest to run around the Nature Park, including the hill which Derek says he did in 2 minutes and 53 seconds. Derek speaks of those youngsters with deep respect. The word he uses to describe them is ‘indomitable’.  

members of the Ringsend Eagles Triathlon Club.

Photograph: Derek Murphy

The Club lasted for about twelve years. Then, as members began to grow up they naturally went their individual ways. Among the former members were Collis Moran, Mark Saunders, Ruth Berry, David Doyle who is now a coach at Stella Maris, and Colm Reynolds who trains the hurlers in Clanna Gael Fontenoy.

Another outstanding member was Mark Doyle. Mark went on to win the prestigious Waterhouse Byrne Baird Shield trophy two years in succession, in 1996 and 1997. The Waterhouse Byrne Baird Shield is a ten-mile, cross-country, handicap which takes place every year on St Stephen’s Day. It is so tough it’s been described as a two-legged version of the Grand National.

Former winners were Eamonn Coghlan and Frank Cahill. Started by the Donore Harriers in 1896, the race has taken place every year since, with the exception of 1916 when it was postponed due to the war. It is the oldest continually run race in Ireland, and some say the world.

An interesting thing happened during the 1994 World Cup. Through contacts of Derek’s in Holland, the Ringsend Eagles were invited to go to one of Ireland’s games. Derek rounded up over 250 kids in total, plus minders, and brought them all to the US.

He recalls chaotic scenes in Dublin airport at the time, trying to get them all boarded and through security, with so many excited youngsters everyone who worked in Dublin airport earned their money that day! But eventually they got on the plane and arrived in Orlando, Florida, where more chaos ensued in getting them all checked into the hotel.

However, all went well and the Ringsend contingent got to see Ireland play Mexico at the Citrus Bowl. Derek followed this success by hiring eight stretch limos to take them on a trip to see the city after the game. A lot of memories there.

Originally, Derek worked on the coal docks in his late teens and early twenties, which was really hard work. All his life he has been involved in sporting activities of one kind or another. During those years he has raised thousands for good causes, one particularly dear to his heart being the Irish Hospice Foundation.

Now, in his 70s, Derek is still very active. He recently did a skydive, and he has acquired a new kayak, which he intends to paddle from Cahir Point in Wexford to the Mendicity Institute on the Liffey. He claims his youth and vigour is down to a secret recipe he has that involves ginger and turmeric, although no amount of inducements could compel him to share its exact ingredients! Let’s hope it continues to work its magic.

His parting words are: “I want people to know that these were the greatest kids ever.” Derek gave up a lot of his time to help the kids of Ringsend thirty years ago. They all hold him in high regard too.