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Unsung Irish : John Pius Boland January 9, 2007

Posted by Rambling Man in The Unsung Irish.

Not everyone knows that at the very first modern Olympiad – held in Athens in 1896 – an Irishman won 2 gold medals ! His name was John Pius Boland and he was born in Dublin on the 16th of September 1870.

Having become interested in tennis at an early age and encouraged by his teachers at the Catholic University School, Leeson St, Dublin, he continued playing from time to time in Oxford, where he had begun studying. After befriending a Greek man called Manaos, Boland arrived in Athens before the 1896 games as a spectator but was persuaded by his friend (who happened to be on the organising committee) to enter the tennis competition.

And so it was that on the 11th of April 1896, John Boland from Dublin won the Olympic tennis title. He also went on to win the doubles event partnering a German called Traun, whom he had earlier beaten in the singles.

As with a lot of Irish achievements at the time (and even some since !) the medals were credited to Great Britain, even though Boland had arrived in Athens simply on holiday. Following the First World War some research by Olympic historians (including Ernest Bland) and thereafter entered in the official history of the Olympic Games, shows Boland as having represented Ireland at the games as he was not part of the British team.

He would go on to become a member of the British parliament for South Kerry from 1900 to 1918, representing the Irish Nationalist party.

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