IT'S hard to believe that it's 50 years since the late great Ben McKenna won the gruelling cycle race of Ireland, known as the Rąs Tailteann.
|Grace McKenna Unveil A Plaque To Ben|
The young, 20 year old cyclist from Julianstown had taken part in his first Rąs Tailteann only three years earlier in 1956 and was progressing through the ranks of Irish amateur cycling in the lead up to his greatest achievement over the eight-day race, which began in Dublin on August 2nd 1959 with the first stage of the race passing through Drogheda shortly after 3.20pm on that glorious summers day.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Julianstown man's victory a small gathering of family and friends gathered at Matthews shop at Mosney Cross Julianstown on Saturday last where his wife Grace unveiled a commemorative plaque in honour of her husband's thrilling performance back in 1959.
Ben McKenna was born in 1939, the son of Henry McKenna and Christina (Chrissie) Cooney, at Rath Lane, Cottage Hill Stamullen; the area of Rath Lane actually being in the county of Fingall some 2km on the southern side of the county boundary of Meath and the Delvin River.
He had six siblings, Henry (Haddy), Oliver, Nula, Martin, Una and also another brother Patrick who died young.
After attending primary school in Stamullen village he attended secondary education in Balbriggan and, after leaving school Ben was employed at various different jobs including agriculture and delivering the post throughout the parish of Stamullen by bicycle including travelling up through the hills of Tiree and Harbourstown, more than five-hundred feet above sea level; perhaps an early indication of his cycling ability.
After leaving their home at Rath Lane in Stamullen, Henry and Chrissie McKenna and family then moved to their new home at Moorechurch Cross in Julianstown.
Ben Mckenna went on to become one of the founding members of St. Patrick's East Meath cycling club in 1955; the site of the original club house being located at the former Kelly's shop at Mosney Cross and where the commemorative plaque was placed on Saturday last; the premises now being a roadside shop and deli, but known far and wide as Paddy Matthews shop.
In 1956 Ben partook in his first Rąs Tailteann along with another local man and neighbour the late Joe Reid from nearby Lisdornan and a year later he won his first stage in the same event and also doing extremely well in the General Classification of 1958.
The first race in early March of 1959 saw Ben finishing first, a short wheel ahead of Jim Lawlor of Bohermeen Cycling Club in the Mick Beggan memorial trophy over a gruelling 30 mile race at Kentstown and in early July he was selected as Captain of a Meath team to take part in the eight-day Rąs Tailteann along with Gerry Keogh, Macklin Gaffney, Willie Heasley and two Gormanston men, Paddy Roe and Larry Dunne.
A Church-Gate collection throughout Co. Meath in, support of the team's finances, raised £51 and this was topped by the Meath G.A.A Board with a further donation of £10.
The Rąs Tailteann of 1959 began in Dublin on Sunday August 2nd covering just over 100 miles through Trim, Navan, Kells, Slane, Drogheda and finishing at Seatown Place in Dundalk.
After a thrilling week's racing, an accident and an untimely puncture, the 'Gentle Ben', as he was fondly known, won the coveted prize event at Dublin's Phoenix Park on Sunday August 9th by a mere second or two to the overall enjoyment and honour of his huge contingent of supporters with bonfires having been lit on his return to Navan with the Meath team and to joyous celebrations back in his native Julianstown, Stamullen and Gormanston.
By the end of 1959 Ben had yet another achievement under his belt; this time by becoming a member of An Garda Siochana where he went on to becoming a Sergeant based at Dublin Castle.
He finished second in the Rąs Tailteann in 1961 and in September of 1962 he married the great love of his life Grace Bosonnet from nearby Balbriggan; the young married couple went on to reside at Palmerstown in Dublin where they raised their six children, Paul, Barry, Eoin, Brian, Grainne and Maeve.
He again finished in second place in the Rąs Tailteann of 1964 and had continued success on the Irish racing circuit becoming a favourite household name throughout the whole country until he hung up his cycling shoes in 1977, however he was still very much involved in administration and training on the cycling circuit and with his native cycling club of St Patrick's in the Stamullen/Julianstown parish.
It was while Ben was in the Garda training barracks of Templemore on the 26th March 1992 with his good friend, Garda Colleague and fellow cyclist John Caulfield, that he suddenly took ill and passed away at the young age of just 52 years; the news coming as a terrific blow to his loving wife and family, friends and colleagues and to the general public at large.
He was laid to rest in Moorechurch cemetery just a few hundred meters from his former family home at Moorechurch Cross.
Today the great Gentle Ben is widely and fondly remembered with numerous cycling clubs promoting commemorative and memorial races in his honour and the unveiling of the plaque at Mosney Cross on Saturday last will undoubtedly serve as a lasting and truly fitting tribute to a dedicated, committed and brilliant cyclist.
Go ndčana Dia grąsta ar a anam.
- Brendan MATTHEWS