Ballyshannon athlete competed in two controversial Olympic Games

Paul Dolan (21) was the youngest athlete to compete for Ireland at the London Olympics in 1948. He also competed at the Helsinki Olympic Games in 1952

Ballyshannon athlete competed in two controversial Olympic Games
Anthony Begley @dgldemocrat

The name of Paul Dolan may not be known to younger generations of Ballyshannon people, but a few of the older generation will recall a young boy whom they went to school with in the town, later representing Ireland in two Olympic Games.

Paul Dolan was born in Ballyshannon on 29th June 1927, resided on the Mall and his father was a member of An Garda Síochána.

As a young boy attending St. Joseph’s National School in Ballyshannon in 1935-36 Paul Dolan collected the following folklore from Mrs. Dolan, The Mall, for the national survey which was conducted at that time:

“Years ago a man named Gillespie was famous for making ropes, twines, fishing lines etc.

What is now known as the Back Mall was known then as the Rope walk. It was there that most of the ropes were made.

He also made them in the Market Yard where he lived and where some of his family recently resided.”

The Kelly (Gillespie) home still stands in the Market Yard Ballyshannon. and was for years the venue for The Gillespie school of Dancing.

Paul Dolan remembered as ‘Cosa’

John Ward the last editor of “The Donegal Vindicator” published on East Port in Ballyshannon was a friend and school mate of Paul Dolan and remembered his great talent as a young athlete in the 1930s.

“Paul Dolan was our other great achiever, although his best years came after leaving town for Dublin. From the time he was only a slip of a lad, slender, and all legs, Paul Dolan could run. Whether in the school field up around the Brothers' school on the Rock, or later at St. Eunan's College annual sports days in Letterkenny, Paul could out-run us all. A racehorse at full gallop is poetry in motion; Paul Dolan in full stride was like a bird in flight, his feet barely touching the ground. That speed and that grace earned him his name, "Cosa", which in Irish means "feet", flying feet that were later to represent Ireland at international competitions. By then he was living in Dublin, and was one of the first Irish runners encouraged by Morton, the Dublin optician who laid the groundwork for putting Ireland on the international track and field map. Ron Delaney and Eamon Coughlan won greater acclaim, although Penn State claimed the former, but Cosa's feet, in Cosa's time could, in this Donegal man's view, leave them both standing”.

Paul Dolan’s athletic career was as a member of the Clonliffe Harriers Athletics club in Dublin.

London Olympics 1948

Paul Dolan aged 21 was the youngest athlete to compete for Ireland at the London Olympics in 1948.

In the London Olympics from the 29th July-14th August 1948, Paul Dolan represented Ireland in the 4x 100 metres. Unfortunately his Olympic debut was marred by a dispute between different sporting organisations in Ireland.

The National Athletic and Cycling Association of Ireland (NACAI) had claimed the right to represent athletes from the 32 counties and as a result their members were barred from the 1936 Games in Berlin.

By 1948 when the Olympics were held in London a rival body called the Amateur Athletic Union of Éire (AAUE) recognised the border in Ireland and were recognised by the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF).

There were now two teams selected to represent Ireland in the London Olympics and an embarrassing situation developed, with the NACAI team being barred and the AAUE team being recognised as the official team.

Paul Dolan was an AAUE athlete and did run in the relay where the team of Paul Dolan, Charles Denroche, Reggie Myles and Jimmy Reardon were unlucky to drop the baton having reached the semi-final.

Helsinki Olympics 1952

The amazing dispute in Irish athletics continued at the Helsinki Olympic Games in 1952 and once again, Paul Dolan, through no fault of his own was involved.

The Irish Olympic Council refused to accept the nominations of Joe West and Paul Dolan of the AAUE to represent Ireland in Helsinki but the AAUE decided to send the athletes.

On arrival they were forced to leave the Irish camp and once again Ireland had two teams representing the country.

Dolan, West and a fencing team who were representing the AAUE, a 26 county federation, were not allowed to take part in the parade but did compete in the Helsinki Olympics.

Paul Dolan competed in, the 100, 200 and 400 yards events in Helsinki but was unsuccessful.

In his heat in the 100 yards he finished third; he was second in his heat in the 200 yards and was 3rd in his heat in the 400 yards.

The Dolan family were connected to the Wood’s family who had a public house on the Mall which is presently owned by Terry and Betty McIntyre.

Paul Dolan’s sister married John Giles, the Irish international soccer player, manager and media broadcaster.

Paul Dolan was the first and only athlete from Ballyshannon to compete in two successive Olympic Games and one wonders will his achievement ever be equalled?

Pictured: Paul Dolan (2nd right) the Ballyshannon-born Olympic athlete running for Clonliffe Harriers in Landsdowne Road, Dublin in 1949.