With Team Ireland performing very well at this year’s Olympics, we thought we’d take a look back to the first Irish woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal.
The 116 strong Irish team at this year’s Olympics is the biggest group of Irish athletes ever sent to the Games.
The team brought home four medals in total, including two Golds. This is the best the country has ever performed at the Olympics.
So, we thought we’d take a look back almost 50 years ago. On 3rd September 1972, Mary Peters becomes the first Irish woman to win an Olympic Gold medal.
Team Ireland 2021 – an impressive performance
This year’s Team Ireland proved successful at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, bringing home a total of four medals.
Cork-born rowers Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan took home the Gold in the lightweight men’s double sculls.
Meanwhile, Dublin-born boxer Kellie Harrington achieved Gold in the women’s lightweight division. Taking home this medal made Kellie Ireland’s third Olympic boxing champion.
Boxer Aidan Walsh from Belfast in Northern Ireland won a Bronze medal for Team Ireland in the men’s welterweight competition.
Rowers Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh, and Emily Hegarty achieved the final medal for Team Ireland in the women’s lightweight fours.
An incredible half of the medals achieved by Team Ireland at this year’s games were won by women. With this, we thought we’d reflect on past Olympics.
Specifically, the 1972 summer Olympics when Mary Peters became the first Irish woman to win an Olympic Gold medal.
Who is Mary Peters? – Ireland’s first female Gold medallist
Lady Mary Elizabeth Peters is a former Olympic athlete from Northern Ireland.
Born on 6 July 1932 in Halewood, Lancashire, Peters moved to Ballymena at the age of 11 when her father’s job was relocated.
Later, the family moved to Portadown, where Peters received her education at Portadown College. It was here that she was first introduced to athletics by her headmaster and PE teacher.
Little did this schoolgirl know that she, Mary Peters, would become the first Irish woman to win an Olympic Gold medal. She is now known as one of Ireland’s top sporting heroes of all time.
The road to the Olympics – she first qualified as a teacher
As a teenager, Peters’ father encouraged her athletic career by building various home practice facilities for his daughter’s birthday and Christmas presents.
Not long after her 17th birthday, Peters broke the Northern Ireland record for shot put. It was at this point that her athletics career became more serious and competitive.
After leaving school, Peters qualified as a teacher. However, she continued her athletics training alongside her work.
Sport as a distraction – the loss of her beloved mum
Not long before turning 18, Peters’ mother died of cancer, and her father decided to remarry.
Her father, his new wife, and Mary’s brother moved to Australia while she decided to stay home in Northern Ireland.
Struggling to deal with the sudden death of her beloved mother and her father’s decision to remarry, Peters’ threw all she had into her sport as a means of distraction from her difficult personal life.
It was not long later that Peters competed in her first event, the 1958 Commonwealth Games.
The 1972 Olympics – Mary Peters becomes the first Irish woman to win an Olympic Gold medal
After winning several medals at the 1966 and 1970 Commonwealth Games for shot put and pentathlon, Peters headed to the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
Representing Northern Ireland, which, at the time, was amidst the height of the Troubles, Mary Peters became the first Irish woman to win an Olympic Gold medal.
Competing in the women’s pentathlon, Peters’ made history as she won the Gold medal after finishing fourth in 1964 and ninth in 1968.
Speaking in an interview with Sunday Life, Peters’ explained, “I wanted it more than anything ever because Northern Ireland was going through such terrible traumas.
“I just hoped that I could bring some good news back to Belfast.”
Returning home to Belfast, Peters was greeted by hundreds of fans at the airport, proud of Ireland’s first female Gold medallist. She might be part of the reason why athletics today is one of the most popular sports in Ireland.
Controversy on her return – competing for Britain and not Ireland
While Mary Peters received a warm welcome from many after becoming the first Irish woman to win an Olympic Gold medal, not everyone was so impressed.
Peters received death threats because she competed for Great Britain and Northern Ireland instead of Team Ireland.
However, she explains that she had not been given a choice to compete for Ireland as she had been born in England. Despite the threats, however, Peters was determined to return to Northern Ireland.
Speaking to Sunday Life, she explained, “I love Belfast, I love its people, I love Northern Ireland.
“I’m very proud of all the people who’ve been successful in Northern Ireland over the years.”