Michael Sonnie Murphy was a native of Ballycashen, Kilnaboy. He always showed a great interest in sport, and athletics in particular. He was a regular competitor at sports meets and competed at the Kilnaboy Parish sports which were a regular feature of the late 1920s and early 1930s. He was secretary of the Kilnaboy sports which took place in September 1931. In those days, he did most of his training in the fields and roads of his native Ballycashen and his daily schedule would have been a frequent sight for all his neighbours.
The National Championship took place at Croke Park in 1932 and Sonnie entered the 3,000 metres steeplechase. He won this event in a time of 9 minutes 51.8 seconds, a then Irish record. Considering that this was not his more favoured event it was an exceptionally good performance and on the strength of this Sonnie was selected to compete at the Los Angeles Olympic Games.
Sonnie ran in the second heat of the 3,000 metres steeplechase, with five from each heat to qualify for the final. Making things even harder for him was the fact that the heats of this race took place on one of the hottest days of the Games, temperatures that naturally would have been totally unfamiliar to him. For the first three laps everything seemed to be going well for Sonnie as he ran shoulder to shoulder with both Iso-Hollo and McCluskey and the possibility of running in an Olympic final was looming on the horizon. However just as the athletes approached the half way mark there were signs that Sonnie was in serious difficulty and he fell back somewhat in the race. Undoubtedly the intense heat was beginning to take its effect on him, as well as the fact that he only had just over two weeks to regain his fitness after the very long boat trip. Typically Sonnie refused to give up and after a short while began to give chase to the leaders. However it was this extra effort that was to be his undoing. At this stage of the race he began to sway on the track and as he approached the water jump, running in third place, he collapsed completely. His fellow Irish athlete, Dr. Pat O'Callaghan recognised that Sonnie was dangerously dehydrated.
Though Sonnie ran at various events during the following four years the effort of competing in such extreme heat had taken its toll on his health and he died on St. Patrick’s Day 1936. He is remembered with pride in his native Parish of Kilnaboy, and the annual memorial road race is indeed an appropriate way to remember a great man and a great athlete. This talk is a tribute to mark the 80th anniversary of his death.
James Neylon and Seán Roche are both natives of Kilnaboy, are active in their local community groups and have a keen interest in local history. They are also members of the Kilnaboy Athletic Club and have been actively involved with the Sonnie Murphy Memorial Race since its inception in 1984.