Tribute to Seamus Kennedy

May 15th, 2012
by Weeshie Fogarty

Seamus Kennedy died after a long battle with illness last Monday week May 7th. He was buried following 11 am mass in Kilcloon Church Co Meath last Thursday. A lone Kerry jersey adorned his coffin and hosts of cycling admirers from Kerry and beyond were in attendance. While his name may not be well recognized by many sports lovers here in Kerry he and his Kerry team-mates gave a magnificent, unforgettable display of cycling when Seamus won the 1978 Ras, Ireland's grueling cycling event. It was in my opinion one of the all time greatest sporting achievements ever accomplished by a man sporting the green and gold of The Kingdom.

This is the story of Seamus Kennedy and how he and his Kerry team-mates beat the pick of riders from home and abroad during the course of one glorious week in 1978.  To His sons and daughters and other family members we extend or deepest sympathies. Seamus was pre-deceased by his wife Eileen.   

Seamus Kennedy's parents were from the Maharees in West Kerry, his mother died some years ago and his dad Jim now in his nineties is still hale and hearty. The Kennedys moved to County Meath back in the forties when offered land by the land commission. Seamus became one of the counties great cyclists but the ultimate dream of winning the Ras Ireland's unique bike race eluded him. He worked in Dublin with Gene Mangan, Kerry legendary cyclist and between the persuasive powers of Mangan and Killorglin's Paddy o Callaghan one of cycling's great activists Seamus eventually agreed to join the Kerry team for the 1978 Ras.

Stage seven of that 1987 Ras was on of the most dramatic and sensational in the history of this great event since the inaugural Ras away back in 1953. And when a day of savage, gulling riding was over one rider wearing the green and gold jersey of Kerry was poised to ride into history. Seamus Kennedy a Meath man but now riding with his Kerry team had taken over the race leaders yellow jersey. The one hundred and one mile stage from Letterkenny to Warrenpoint saw Kennedy jump from eight position and two minutes ten seconds behind in general classification to take over the race leader's legendary yellow jersey. Helmut Willer the German, who overnight had looked safe and sound in the leaders jersey came in seven minutes behind with the main bunch.

The vital move of this fascinating day of racing came near Armagh when a group of riders including the lone Kerry jersey went in pursuit of the leading bunch of four and joined them with thirty miles to go. Kennedy was one of this bunch of fourteen men and they rode strongly especially the Kerry rider and the four Tipperary men, Bobby Sheehan and the three Powers, Bobby, Paddy and Larry. They were flying and seemingly getting stronger and stronger as their lead increased.  The German team had two men in the top twelve placings and they had led the International team position as the day began. However they were caught napping by the break and later claimed they didn't receive adequate time checks and the gap was too big by the time they became aware of the danger. However if they had been defending their lead properly such a large and dangerous break should never have been allowed to get established.

At the end of this fascinating day of racing the Germans had relinquished both the team and individual first placings. It was dramatic stuff.  Seamus Kennedy who won the sprint to the line thus winning his thirteenth Ras stage of his magnificent career and also becoming race leader

There was no way the Kerrymen were going to let this glittering prize slip from their grasp and backed up all the way by Anthony o Halloran, Donal Clifford and Mick Breen Seamus maintained his position in yellow with over a minute in hand over Bobby Power. Albert Kester of Belgium won the stage from Warrenpoint into Balbriggan (88 miles), with the green and gold jersey of Kennedy finished a close fourth.

Seventy seven riders were now left to contest the final stage to the finishing line in the Phoenix Park. Seamus Kennedy and his Kerry team mates kept a close eye on proceedings during the final sixty six miles into the capitol; he remained safely in the main bunch. It was a wet and windy day and conditions were dangerous so he took no unnecessary risks, in the end it came down to a bunch sprint which went to Wolfgang von Hacht (Bavaria), Seamus finished comfortably in the main bunch and was never in danger of losing his yellow jersey. Now thirty two years of age victory had come to this brilliant rider at his thirteenth attempt, thirteen proving a lucky number for the Trim man and he also chalked up his thirteenth stage win during the week.  Year later when I spoke to Seamus on my Radio Kerry Terrace talk sports program he passed a beautiful comment as we discussed his win, "I have no doubt but the Kerry blood coursing through my veins and the kerry jersey on my back greatly inspired me to win the Ras that year, it was the high light of my career and I had won everything I could'. Inspiring words from a great sportsman.  He was also high in praise of his kery team-mates, "they rode their hearts out for me, and they would have left their bodies on the road for me".  His Kerry team-mates, Anthony o Halloran, Mick Breen, and Donal Clifford had risen to their task; the occasion of the Ras had always inspired exceptional performances from Kerrymen. Winners were, Gene Mangan (1955), Paudie Fitzgerald (1956), Mick Murphy (1958), John Mangan (1972), and Andrew Roche (1997), born in The Isle of Man, qualified to ride for Kerry as his grandparents came from Kerry. The Kerry team finished a superb third that year of '78, just under two minutes behind the winners Meath and second placed Tipperary. Paddy o Callaghan and Eamon Young were the Kerry team officials.

The bike men of Kerry are in my opinion our greatest heroes; I have been fascinated by their feats since my youth in the fifties. Men of iron, courteous, great conversationalists, generous with their time, unassuming, so helpful and dedicated to their sport. In a county captivated by football they follow their dreams often unknown and unheralded, they deserve all our support and attention. May the sod of Kilcloon graveyard rest lightly on this exemplary sportsman Seamus Kennedy who brought honour and glory to his sport and particular to his beloved Kerry.   

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