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An Olympian in the family

As the 2020 Tokyo Olympics ends, I wanted to look back at an early Irish Olympian, who just happens to be a distant cousin.

This story starts with two Welsh sisters who married two (unrelated) Irish soldiers. My great-great-grandmother, Margaret Morgan, and her sister Alice, came from a farming family in Tenby, Pembrokeshire. Though we’ll never know the exact details of how they met, the sisters married Irish men, who were stationed in Pembrokeshire with the Royal Munster Fusiliers. I’ve written about my great-great grandfather, James Guerins, here.


Today’s story concerns the other sister & her grandson. Alice Morgan married Michael Hickey in the Pembrokeshire Registry Office on 1st July 1885. Like many Welsh people, she was raised in a Non-Conformist household, while Michael was a Catholic, hence the Registry Office marriage.

A woman with two children
Alice Morgan with 2 of her children

According to the 1911 Census, the couple had 8 children, but I’ve only been able to identify 6. As was common for the period, three of the children did not live to adulthood. Part of the challenge in identifying these children was that they were born in different locations, because of Michael’s army career. Alice and the children were with him, so they must have been ’on the strength’. Ultimately, the family settled in Limerick city. Many of their descendants still live there today. Daughter Selina was born in Dover, UK. Violet, Dora, Constance & Lewis were born in Tralee, Co. Kerry and Vivian was born in Limerick.


Selina Hickey also married an army man, Sgt. Patrick Mulvihill of the Royal Munster Fusiliers in 1908. You can see their marriage record below. Both of them lived in the Strand Barracks in Limerick.

Source: www.irishgenealogy.ie

The Mulvihills had 10 children. My early research on this family is indebted to my lovely late second cousin twice removed, Mrs Marjorie Thompson née Mulvhill, who talked to me both by phone & in person in 2009.

Their eldest son was Francis Patrick Dominic Mulvihill, born 8th August 1909. So his birthday was the day the Olympics ended this year.

Source: www.irishgenealogy.ie

Last year I tested one of my aunts on 23andMe. A daughter of Frank’s was a high match and we got in touch. We soon discovered our link –  we’re third cousins once removed.

When he was 14, Frank went to live with his Aunt Connie and her family in Coventry in the UK. While living there, Frank became involved with the Godiva Harriers, an athletics club, which still exists today. I found him on the 1939 Register still in Coventry, lodging with the Fear family and working as a turner and turret operator.

In 1948, London hosted the Olympics for the second time, the first Games in nearly 20 years. Ireland sent its biggest contingent yet, with 80 sportspeople, but politics got in the way and some Northern Irish people were forced to represent Great Britain. Frank Mulvihill captained the Irish track team for the 1948 Olympics. The Coventry Evening Telegraph reported that the Irish team met the British Royal family & members of the Godiva Harriers used their holidays to travel down to London and watch the race.

Frank Mulvihill is in the front row, centre. Photo courtesy of Tricia Franklin.

The day before his 40th birthday, Frank represented Ireland in the marathon, the first time we had ever competed in the event. It was also a Saturday, as the 7th was this year. He placed 26th out of 41 participants, running the gruelling 26 miles in 2hrs 57 mins and 35 seconds. The race was won by Delfo Cabrera of Argentina. The Irish Independent reported Frank was in a minority of those who finished the race.

Frank is second from left at the start of the race

A few years after the Olympics, Frank emigrated to the USA, where he married Louise Pace in 1952. He became a naturalised US citizen in 1956. The couple had four daughters: Kathleen, Patricia, Selina and Maureen. Frank ran his own machine shop in California. He died young in 1965 but is remembered with great pride.


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