Pat O'Callaghan

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Pat O'Callaghan
File:Pat O'Callaghan 1928.jpg
Pat O'Callaghan at the 1928 Olympics
Personal information
Born 15 September 1905
Kanturk, Ireland
Died 1 December 1991 (aged 86)
Clonmel, Ireland
Height 1.80 m (5 ft 11 in)
Weight 98 kg (216 lb)
Sport Hammer throw

Dr. Patrick "Pat" O'Callaghan (15 September 1905 – 1 December 1991), was an Irish athlete and Olympic gold medallist. He was the first athlete from an independent Ireland to win an Olympic medal in sport and is regarded as one of Ireland's greatest-ever athletes.

Early and private life

Pat O'Callaghan was born in Knockanroe just outside Kanturk, County Cork in 1905.[1][2] The second son of three sons born to Paddy O'Callaghan and Jane Healy, he began his education at the age of two at Derrygallon national school. O'Callaghan progressed to secondary school in Kanturk and at the age of fifteen he won a scholarship to the Patrician Academy in Mallow. During his year in the Patrician Academy he cycled the 32-mile round trip from Derrygallon every day and he never missed a class. O'Callaghan subsequently studied medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. Following his graduation in 1926 he joined the Royal Air Force Medical Service. He returned to Ireland in 1928 and set up his own medical practice in Clonmel, County Tipperary. Dr. Pat, as he was known to all, worked in Clonmel until his retirement in 1984.[2] A special treat for small boys who attended his surgery was to view his gold medals. O'Callaghan was also a renowned field sports practitioner, greyhound trainer and storyteller.

Sporting career

Early sporting life

O’Callaghan was born into a family that had a huge interest in a variety of different sports. His uncle, Tim Vaughan, was a national sprint champion and played Gaelic football with Cork in 1893. O’Callaghan’s eldest brother, Seán, also enjoyed football as well as winning a national 440 yards hurdles title, while his other brother, Con, was also regarded as a gifted runner, jumper and thrower. O’Callaghan’s early sporting passions included hunting, poaching and Gaelic football. He was regarded as an excellent midfielder on the Dromtarriffe football team, while he also lined out with the Castlemagner hurling team.

At university in Dublin O’Callaghan broadened his sporting experiences by joining the local senior rugby club. This was at a time when the infamous Gaelic Athletic Association ‘ban’ forbade players of Gaelic games from playing so-called "foreign sports". In spite of this O’Callaghan enjoyed some success with the oval ball. It was also in Dublin that O’Callaghan first developed an interest in hammer-throwing. In 1926 he returned to his native Duhallow where he set up a training regime in hammer-throwing. Here he fashioned his own hammer by boring a one inch hole through a 16 lb shot and filling it with the ball-bearing core of a bicycle pedal. He also set up a throwing circle in a nearby field where he trained constantly and developed his own unique technique. In 1927 O’Callaghan returned to Dublin where he won that year’s hammer championship with a throw of 142’ 3”. In 1928 he retained his national title with a throw of 162’ 6”, a win which allowed him to represent Ireland at the upcoming Olympic Games in Amsterdam. On the same day O’Callaghan’s brother, Con, won the shot putt and the decathlon and also qualified for the Olympic Games. Between winning his national title and competing in the Olympic Games O’Callaghan improved his throwing distance by recording a distance of 166’ 11” at the Royal Ulster Constabulary Sports in Belfast.

1928 Olympic Games

In the summer of 1928 the three O’Callaghan brothers paid their own fares when travelling to the Olympic Games in Amsterdam. Even though Con O’Callaghan was taking part in the decathlon it was his older brother who became the hero. O’Callaghan was still regarded as a novice when he represented his country in the Olympic Games and it was expected that he wouldn’t do much. In spite of this he finished in sixth place in the preliminary round and started the final with a throw of 155’ 9”. This put him in third place. He was behind Ossian Skiöld of Sweden but ahead of Malcolm Nokes, the favourite from Great Britain. For his second throw O’Callaghan, a master of the psychological element of competition, used the Swede’s own hammer and recorded a throw of 168’ 7”. It was 4’ more than what Skoeld could manage and it resulted in a first gold medal for O’Callaghan and for Ireland. The podium presentation was particularly emotional as it was the first time that the Irish tricolour was raised and it was the first time that Amhrán na bhFiann was played.

Success in Ireland

After returning from the Olympic Games O’Callaghan cemented his reputation as a great athlete by having much more success on the field between 1929 and 1932. In the national championships of 1930 he won the hammer, shot-putt, 56 lbs without follow, 56 lbs over-the-bar, discus and high jump. These were only a handful of titles that O’Callaghan won during this era.

In the summer of 1930 O’Callaghan took part in a two-day invitation event in Stockholm where Oissian Skoeld was confidently expected to gain revenge on the Irishman for the defeat in Amsterdam. On the first day of the competition Skoeld broke his own European record with his very first throw. O’Callaghan followed immediately and overtook him with his own first throw and breaking the new record. On the second day of the event both O’Callaghan and Skoeld were neck-and-neck, when the former, with his last throw, set a new European record of 178’ 8” to win. O’Callaghan had confirmed that his Olympic success was not a flash in the pan.

1932 Summer Olympics

By the time the 1932 Summer Olympics came around O’Callaghan was regularly throwing the hammer over 170 feet. The Irish team were much better organised on that occasion and the whole journey to Los Angeles was funded by a church-gate collection. Shortly before departing on the 6,000-mile boat and train journey across the Atlantic O’Callaghan collected a fifth hammer title at the national championships.

On arrival in Los Angeles O’Callaghan’s preparations of the defence of his title came unstuck. The surface of the hammer circle had always been of grass or clay and throwers wore field shoes with steel spikes set into the heel and sole for grip. In Los Angeles, however, a cinder surface was to be provided. For some unexplained reason the Olympic Committee of Ireland had failed to notify O’Callaghan of this change. Consequently he came to the arena with three pairs of spiked shoes for a grass or clay surface and time did not permit a change of shoe. He wore his shortest spikes but found that the spikes caught in the hard gritty slab and impeded his crucial third turn. In spite of being severely impeded he managed to qualify for the final stage of the competition with a spectacular all-or-nothing third throw of 171’ 3”. While the final of the 400m hurdles was delayed O’Callaghan hunted down a hacksaw and a file in the groundskeeper's shack and he cut off the spikes. The result was less than ideal but it promised a much surer footing. O’Callaghan’s first throw was short of his earlier mark but he was satisfied with his footwear. His second throw reached a distance of 176’ 11”, a result which allowed him to retain his Olympic title. It was Ireland’s second gold medal of the day as Bob Tisdall had earlier won a gold medal in the 400m hurdles.


Due to the celebrations after the Olympic Games O’Callaghan didn’t take part in the national athletic championships in Ireland in 1933. In spite of that he still worked hard on his training and he experimented with a fourth turn to set a new European record at 178’ 9”. By this stage O’Callaghan was rated as the top thrower in the world by the leading international sports journalists.

In the early 1930s controversy raged between the British AAA and the National Athletic and Cycling Association of Ireland (NACAI). The British AAA claimed jurisdiction in Northern Ireland while the NACAI claimed jurisdiction over the entire island of Ireland regardless of political division. The controversy came to a head in the lead-up to the 1936 Summer Olympics when the IAAF finally disqualified the NACAI. O’Callaghan remained loyal to the NACAI, a decision which effectively brought an end to his international athletic career. No Irish team travelled to the 1936 Olympic Games, however O’Callaghan travelled to Berlin as a private spectator. After Berlin, O’Callaghan’s international career was over. He declined to join the new 26-county AAUE and continued to compete under NACAI rules. At Fermoy in 1937 he threw 195’ 4” – more than seven feet ahead of the world record set by his old friend Paddy 'Chicken' Ryan in 1913. The AAUE and the British-dominated IAAF saw to it that this new world record did not receive official recognition.

In retirement O’Callaghan remained interested in athletics. He travelled to every Olympic Games up until 1988 and enjoyed fishing and poaching in Clonmel. He died on 1 December 1991.


O'Callaghan was the flag bearer for Ireland at the 1932 Olympics. In 1960, he became the first person to receive the Texaco Hall of Fame Award. He was made a Freeman of Clonmel in 1984, and was honorary president of Commercials Gaelic Football Club. The Dr. Pat O'Callaghan Sports Complex at Cashel Rd, Clonmel is named after him, and in January 2007 his statue was raised in Banteer, County Cork.[2]


  1. Quercetani, Roberto (1964). A world history of track and field athletics, 1864–1964. Oxford University Press. p. 294.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Pat O'Callaghan". Olympics at Sports Retrieved 19 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Preceded by
Newly created award
Texaco Hall of Fame Award
Succeeded by
Mick Mackey