The five Kirwan brothers achieved remarkable success in a wide variety of sports. Among the sports they participated in were football, hurling, rowing, pole vaulting, jumping, walking and running. They were from Clonea where they had a farm. The first ever hurleys made in Waterford were made from ash which grew on Kirwan land. A carpenter from Kilmacthomas made the hurleys.
James was the eldest of the brothers. He was a noted footballer in the county in the latter 1890's. However he had an accident to his knee which kept him out of the game for some time. When he became fit again he took up hurling rather than football. In 1902 he founded the Clonea Hurling Club, which brought the first county hurling title to Kilmacthomas. James was the captain of that team. A year later he captained the Waterford senior hurling team. He led the Clonea Club to three successive county championships. He was also a noted pole-vaulter and half miler.
James's brother Rody, was an excellent footballer. In the course of his career he togged out for three different counties in senior inter-county competition matches. His first important success was a county championship medal won with Lismore Blackwater Ramblers football club. He was on the Waterford team that lost to Dublin in the All-Ireland final of 1898. In 1901 Rody moved to New Ross because of business commitments. He played with that county while there, and was on the Camblin Rovers team that won the Senior County Championship. The following year he was on the Wexford county football team. Rody again moved due to business commitments. This time he went to Castleisland, Co. Kerry. He played successfully with the Kerry football team between 1902 and 1907.By the time of his retirement from the game he had won two All-Ireland and three Munster titles with Kerry. As well as football Rody was also an excellent oarsman. In 1902 he represented New Ross at the International Rowing Regatta in Cork. He was also an outstanding athlete and won a total 150 Munster high jump and hurdles competitions.
The third of the Kirwan brothers died in a fever epidemic in 1898 aged 18 years. However, even by that stage he was recognised for his pole vaulting ability and his all round athleticism.
The fourth Kirwan brother was Percy. He was a stylish hurler and footballer, and represented Waterford in both games on numerous occasions. However it was at athletics that he achieved his greatest success. Among his successes were gold medal wins in the 100m, 200m and long jump competitions during the 1908 Papal Sports Festivals in Rome. In 1910 he went to Britain and won the long jump competition. He again won this title in 1911 and 1912. In Ireland Percy won eight GAA championships and won three I.A.A.A. Irish championship medals in the long jump, the hop, step and jump, the 120 yards hurdles, the 100 yards and 120 yards. In total Percy won nearly 300 trophies over a 20-year period.
Pat was the last of the five Kirwan brothers. He was a capable Gaelic footballer and excelled as a half-miler and took part in walking contests. In 1909, he emigrated to America and later settled in Alaska where he died in 1946.
Author: William Fraher