I’m always fascinated by the many connections between Ireland and Australia and, in particular, between Clare and the Land Downunder. Here’s one that took me by surprise.
The walls of Hillery’s Bar in Miltown Malbay are covered with photos recording the musical and sporting heritage of the town. One photo grabbed my attention.
It was headed ‘A Great Clare Athlete’. There was a photo of a distinguished looking gentleman, seated, and in 19th century athlete’s garb. Underneath it said ‘Tom Malone, born Miltown Malbay 1857 Died Sydney NSW February 1920’. And underneath that, a listing of his records and achievements.
So, I did a little research. Nothing is straight forward though. First his birthdate recorded on the photo doesn’t tally. A contemporary Australian newspaper report (in a sporting paper called ‘The Referee’) gave his birth year as 1859 while it is also said that that Tom, himself, gave the year as 1853. He was one of four brothers and was a born athlete, excelling at pretty much everything including running, jumping, hurdling and field sports. He played games, such as football, cricket and hurling and was a first-class shot with rifle and gun. And to top that off apparently he was highly skilled at quoits.
His career commenced in 1877 when athletics was huge in Ireland. He quickly became a scratch runner in handicaps and first won the Irish Championships in 100 yds and 440 yds in 1879. His greatest deeds however came when he turned professional and headed to Australia in 1882. Between 1882 and 1885 he achieved many remarkable feats, which are spelled out on the portrait in Hillery’s.
His best time in the100 yards of 9 3/5 sec came in a handicap match race in Melbourne in 1884 when he was pitted against a walker who had a 40 yard start. He won by half a yard. Big money was up for grabs in those days. In 1885 he won £300 in a 149 yard race in 14½ sec at Bourke in outback NSW and won the Championship of Australia and £200 running 175 yards in 17 ½ sec. Let’s put that in perspective. By my calculations, based on the relative price of gold, that’s a prize of over $200,000 in today’s money!
He was equally adept at longer distances winning the 1,000 yards in Sydney in 1885 in 2min 14 2/5sec. He could hurdle, he could high jump (best 6ft 0½ inch), long jump (23ft 4½in) and he cleared 48ft 6in at the hop, step and jump.
I have not managed to find anything of him after his running career ended, which must have been about 1886, to his death. Even his death year is shrouded in mystery with the photo in Hillery’s giving it as February1920 but the newspaper report above, giving it as December 1919. Since that article was published in December 1919. I’ll go with that. Even in death he was faster than people gave him credit.
Tom Malone was reported to be a proud, dignified man of great skill and drive and sportsmanship. He went by the name ‘Peerless’ and by all accounts he lived up to that name.