Discover the unsung heroes of Irish sports history! Explore three Irish sporting legends you’ve probably never heard of.
We all know who George Best, Conor McGregor, and Rory McIlroy are. Irish sporting legends of generations past and present, their names as familiar as St. Patrick, Guinness, and the Cranberries.
But mention Lena Rice or Joe Kelly, and you might not enjoy the same sense of recognition.
Rice, a former tennis player, and Kelly, a racing driver, are two Irish sporting stars who fleetingly enjoyed time competing at the top level. While not household names, their achievements remain impressive, making them legendary in their own right.
Here we find out why, in our look at those Irish sporting heroes you’ve probably never heard of.
Lena Rice – an Irish Wimbledon champion
Born Helena Bertha Grace Rice, this tennis champion from New Inn in Munster’s County Tipperary remains the only Irish player to win the singles title at Wimbledon.
Today, it’s Belarusian world number one Aryna Sabalenka who is one of those tipped to win the next Wimbledon – a bet on tennis for the 2024 event would get you odds of 9/2.
Back in 1890, Rice was the standout player and would have been similarly favoured given her performances across the year leading up to the tournament. The previous year, she’d narrowly lost to Blanche Bingley Hillyard.
However, Bingley decided not to compete 12 months later. Rice’s other main rival, Englishwoman Lottie Dodd, didn’t compete either.
It left the door open, and she took the opportunity. Rice, who many believe invented the overhead smash, beat May Jacks in the final in straight sets. She took home a prize of 20 guineas!
Joe Kelly – a cult hero of Irish motor racing
Joe Kelly turned his love of building motorcars into racing them in 1950. When we think of Irish motorsport, we think of people like Eddie Jordan, Formula E driver Adam Carroll, and the pioneering David Kennedy. But Kelly’s story is a fascinating one.
A dealer of motorcars by trade, Kelly was nevertheless an enthusiastic fan of motorsport. Perhaps better known for what he didn’t achieve than what he did, Kelly entered his own Alta GP car into the 1950 and 1951 British Grand Prix races.
He failed to finish either one. However, the car he built would go on to claim third place in 1952 at the Ulster Trophy at Dundrod. The same year he also set a speed record at the Curragh’s “Big” Circuit, but this time driving a Maserati.
Jim McFadden – born in Belfast, rained in Manitoba
One of the few Irish-born ice hockey players to play in the NHL, Jim McFadden enjoyed success in both Detroit and Chicago for the Red Wings and Black Hawks, respectively.
Born in Belfast, McFadden was raised in Manitoba, Canada, starting his professional hockey career with the Portland Buckaroos. Most significantly, he won the coveted Stanley Cup in 1950 and was selected for the NHL All-Star Game that season.
While our selection of Irish sporting greats can’t claim to have the cultural influence of George Best, the charismatic presence of Conor McGregor, or the trophy cabinet of Rory McIlroy, they are legends in their own right.
From one of the few Irish-born players to don an NHL jersey to a motor racing enthusiast who decided to build and race his own Formula 1 car, these men and women deserve the spotlight for their part in Ireland’s rich sporting heritage.
We cover articles relating to many activities. Some of our articles showcase gaming and gambling as activities. While we do not take money for bets or own any gambling venues, we feel it is important that our readers know the risks of such venues or sites that we may mention in our articles. Gambling involves risk. Please only gamble with funds that you can comfortably afford to lose. See our legal disclaimer for more info.