Remembering Jim Hogan – the passing of a true running legend
Irish running legend Jim Hogan passed away today at the age of 81. Jim had quite the career and life story. He wrote a book with PJ Browne who kindly gave us this unpublished piece which gives us a great insight into the man. He was a trail blazer, European marathon champion and gentleman.
I have 7 sisters and 1 brother. Two live in the United States, Nora and Francis; there are two in England, Margaret and Josie. Mary lives in Ardpatrick, and Tess is back in Boherard Cross, Athlacca. Betty is living in Mayo now after living in England for years.
When I started out running, Betty used to come out and time my runs with an old wind up clock. I was doing something like 400 yards, 800 yards and she helped me quite a bit actually. My brother, Mickey Joe, never did any running at all. I’m pleased to note that they are all in good health and they are all keeping well. Mary is the eldest and I am the second eldest. My father died in 1976 and my mother died in 1984. They both lived into their 80s and may the Lord have mercy on their souls.
They had hard lives, and that’s putting it mildly. Like all small farmers, they worked hard all their lives but it was very difficult to make a living in the 40s and 50s. My father and I used to cut a lot of hay for other people. We had three horses – there was no machinery then – and we cut for all the local farmers. We’d often be out at three in the morning with the three horses.
At lunch time we’d change horses to keep them somewhat rested and up to the work. T’was hard work, I’m telling you, but sure we were all in the same situation; the whole area had to work just as hard. A small farm might be all right in the summer with 15 or so cows, but in winter there was no money coming in. The main thing was to try and make enough money in the summer in order to see you through the winter. There would be winters where it was tight enough.
You can well imagine how my mother and father felt about my running. It just wasn’t done; you’d be considered an oddity by neighbours and they’d be talking about you. I can’t say I blame them for that. If the situation was different I’d have been laughing with them at the clown tearing around the place.
Of course all that changed dramatically when I won a national title. That must have given me some credibility and might have justified the madness. All I can say now, is thereafter, I wasn’t as self-conscious about the training. I suppose winning a title made the running acceptable.
I began at cross-country in January of February of 1952. I was 4th in the County Limerick Novices Championship, then I was 2nd in the Junior and second again the Senior, so I was improving all the time. I didn’t go beyond county championship class until the track season. I started on the track in July, and I’m talking now about a track pegged out on grass, not the high tech jobs you see today.
In Tralee, I won an Irish championship: the 5 mile miles in 26 minutes dead. That was actually an Irish record then. I was 19 years of age. You could say that was my first significant breakthrough in Ireland. It was a very special day for me because my father made the journey specially to see me run. He enjoyed my win, and it was one of the proudest days for him to watch me win that title.
That title was more meaningful for him than my winning the Gold medal in the European Championships. You see that was something that could be talked about locally, An All-Ireland Championship. That would have impressed the local boys and there was great pride in being a national champion.
My father didn’t see me compete a whole lot which is understandable. First of all, getting to a track event or championships wasn’t easy. Then there was the work on the farm to consider. There was always work and more work and taking a day off had to be planned well in advance.
I was delighted that my mother and father were able to come up to Santry to see me run the Irish 6 mile championship. My brother Joe accompanied them. I’m glad to say that I ran well again even though conditions were very windy and cold. I lapped a very good field of Irish athletes including Bertie Messitt, so it was good occasion for all of us. By this time I was working and training in England. If I had stayed in Ireland (as an athlete) I would have wound up with nothing. I’d have achieved nothing, reaching a certain level of competence and probably packing it in as many lads did.
Pa McAuliffe is one athlete who comes to mind. He was a talented runner ovewr the 400 and 800 distances, but he retired young. He was 23 when he gave it up, a bit early thought, but it does prove the point I just made about
the benefits of leaving the country. When I started running in 1952, there was nobody doing it. We had a good club in Croom and there was also some very good runners in the Cappamore area – Paddy Carmody, Willie Daly.
We wasted a lot of time running in Ireland under the NACA. The officials were no help because you couldn’t run outside the country. The one good thing about the NAIA was you had athletics every Sunday from may to September.. You could go somewhere almost every Sunday and race, whereas under the AAU you didn’t get as much competition except maybe in Dublin.
I still find it remarkable that we were able to run the distances we ran. I never ran more than 4 miles in any night’s training, and that would include four or five fast quarter miles. I never actually trained for the distances I had been running. There was no distance work at all and I still won 10 and 15 mile championship races. I look back now and I think – Jesus how did we run it.
I should clear up one area of confusion here. I went to England in Febraury 1960 to get work, nothing else. Actually I had given up athletics at the time. I hadn’t run since August of 1959 and didn’t start again until the April. And there’s another reason which made it easy for me to leave the country. You had no jobs and the country was riddled with class distinction. I saw more class distinction in Ireland in the 1950s than any other country I’ve ever been to. And I traveled more than most
I’d say, something in the region of 25 different countries.
When you came out of Church of a Sunday morning, the big farmers would stand around inside the wall. The small farmers and labourers would gather and stand across the street – they never, ever mixed. If you went to a social event and you were nicely dressed, they’d look at you as if to say why are you here. I experienced the full brunt of that snobbery in my time but I always had the last laugh especially at horse dos and the like. You see I knew the owners, the trainers and the jockeys and there was always a warm greeting.
You don’t have that snobbery among genuine horse people no matter what their background. They accept you on your merits and never turn their back on you. Thanks be to God with more money in the country the days of looking down on a fella are long gone. Class distinction as we knew it is gone now which is a very good thing.