Early pioneers

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Issue 4 (July/August 2012), Volume 20

Sophie Eliott-Lynn, who was the first-ever British women’s javelin champion in the 1920s and set an unofficial world record for the high jump.

Sophie Eliott-Lynn, who was the first-ever British women’s javelin champion in the 1920s and set an unofficial world record for the high jump.

The outstanding figure from the early years of Irish women’s athletics was Ellie Mary ‘Babe’ Leahy from Charleville, Co. Limerick, a sister of Olympians Con, Patrick and Tim. Ellie, a tall, athletic woman, regularly took part in high jump exhibitions and her brother Con thought her the best jumper in the family. In a diary, Ellie recorded five jumps of over 6ft (1.829m) between 1900 and 1904. Her best publicly recorded height of 5ft 1in. (1.5m) came at a well-organised Cork vs Kerry athletics match held in Cobh, Co. Cork, on 6 April 1904, when she was aged 24. This must be one of the first recorded jumps of over 5ft by a woman in athletics history. In many instances Irish female athletes were leading the world—Eileen Hand’s time of 29 seconds for 220yds on 17 July 1915 was a world’s best. Another record was broken in 1917 at the all-Ireland schools championships in Croke Park, when a Miss Kavanagh won the 200m in 28.6 seconds. A total of 38 girls had raced in the heats that day. Nor was the record-breaking restricted to Leinster. In 1918 the 100yds at the National Athletics and Cycling Association of Ireland (NACAI) meet at the Mardyke, Cork, was won by local woman Nancy Roche. Terenure Park in Dublin was the venue for the University College Dublin championships in 1919 where Dolly Cleary outsprinted Mary Teresa Brady to win both the 80yds and 100yds races. By 1921 athletic men and women could spend the summer travelling from one meet to another. One of these was Sophie Peirce-Evans from Knockaderry, Co. Limerick. Like Ellen Leahy, Peirce-Evans, at 5ft 11in., excelled in the field events. She had married a Captain Eliott-Lynn in 1916, and after a spell as a motor dispatch driver in the First World War, and later in East Africa, split her time between Dublin and the UK.

'


Copyright © 2019 History Publications Ltd, Unit 9, 78 Furze Road, Sandyford, Dublin 18, Ireland | Tel. +353-1-293 3568