Ireland’s 10 greatest Olympians of all time

Discovering ten of the greatest athletes to represent Ireland at the Olympic Games.

Ireland’s 10 greatest Olympians of all time.
Credits: Facebook/ Team Ireland; Instagram/ @katie_t86

Since entering the Olympics independently in 1924, Ireland has smashed records and taken home 11 gold medals.

Ireland has performed outstandingly in the Olympic games; the legendary Irish Olympians have won the hearts of the nation and taken home hefty titles.

We’ve compiled a list of ten of Ireland’s greatest Olympians of all time.

Interesting facts about Ireland at the Olympics:

  • Until 1924, Ireland’s Olympians were recognised as British before the country gained independence.
  • Irish Olympians have performed best in boxing, with over half of Ireland’s wins coming in the sport.
  • Ireland has won a total of 11 gold medals at the Olympics along with multiple silver and bronze too.
  • Four of Ireland’s gold medal wins were in athletics.
  • Ireland has competed at the Winter Olympics since 1922 but has yet to win a medal.

Ireland’s greatest Olympians:

10. Bob Tisdall – athletics

Tisdall won gold for Ireland in the 400 metres hurdles in the Los Angeles 1932 Summer Olympics.

Tisdall broke records by remarkably completing the race in under 52 seconds, yet due to complications with a trip over the final hurdle, his record wasn’t officially recognised by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

9. Paul O’ Donovan and Fintan McCarthy – rowing

O’ Donovan and McCarthy took gold home for Ireland in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics for lightweight double sculls. The reigning champions made history by bringing home Ireland’s first gold medal for rowing.

8. Pat O’ Callaghan – athletics

This Cork native is one of Ireland’s greatest Olympians of all time because of his double gold medal status. The first winner for Ireland post-independence won gold for the hammer throw in 1928 and 1932.

7. Kellie Harrington – boxing

A beloved female boxer from Dublin, Harrington won the hearts of her nation when she claimed gold for Ireland in lightweight boxing against Brazil’s Beatriz Ferreira.

6. Ronnie Delany – athletics

An Arklow native, Delany pulled off the unthinkable by defeating Australia’s John Landry on his home soil during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, winning gold for Ireland in the 1500 metres race.

5. Michelle Smith – swimming

A retired Olympic swimmer from Rathcoole, Smith is Ireland’s most successful Olympian, holding three gold medals. Despite speculation of doping and other career complications, she remains one of Ireland’s greatest Olympians of all time.

4. Michael Carruth – boxing

Legendary Dublin boxer Carruth won gold for boxing in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics ending a barren spell of 36 years for gold medals for the Irish.

3. Katie Taylor – boxing

36-year-old pioneer of women’s boxing, Taylor, made Ireland proud at the 2012 London Olympics when she won the gold medal for lightweight boxing. Now a professional boxer, Taylor holds multiple boxing championship titles.

2. Sonia O’Sullivan – athletics

54-year-old track and field star O’Sullivan competed in four Olympic games for Ireland from 1992 to 2004, taking home silver and gold medals and making her hometown of Cobh and the nation proud.

1. Tom Kiely – athletics

Kiely was an established Gaelic footballer, hurler, and Irish dancer who won Ireland’s first gold medal for the all-around event in the St Louis Olympics in 1904.

Kiely, although hailing from the small village of Banteer in Cork, was categorised as a British winner due to Ireland not being independent during the time of his impressive win.

Your questions answered about Ireland at the Olympics

Is Northern Ireland with Ireland in the Olympics?

As people in Northern Ireland qualify for dual citizenship, athletes can opt to compete with the Irish team or the British team.

How many Olympic golds does Ireland have?

Ireland has won 11 Olympic gold medals in total.

What is the national sport of Ireland?

Hurling and Gaelic football are considered the national sports of Ireland.

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