‘Mike the Man of the Rás ’73’ (May – October 2013)

‘Mike the Man of the Rás ‘73’ exhibition was developed by Carlow County Museum to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Carlovian Mike O’Donaghue winning Ireland’s great international bike race the Rás Tailteann in 1973. This temporary exhibition has concluded but parts of the exhibition have been incorporated into the main museum exhibitions.

Mike O’Donaghue pictured during the 1967 Rás Tailteann wearing the Carlow jersey sponsored by Corcoran & Co. Ltd. Photo courtesy of Mike O’Donaghue

Mike is the only Carlow man to have won the Rás and he was the first cyclist from the South East to do so. With his distinctive Carlow tri-colour jersey Mike was one of the most recognisable cyclists of his era. Mike was amongst the first Irish cyclist to have a sponsor, Carlow’s famous mineral water company, Corcoran & Co. Ltd.

In 1964 aged just 19 Mike took on the challenge of the Rás Tailteann for the first time. The first stage of that Rás was from Dublin to Carlow. Mike finished an impressive sixth that day and eventually sixth overall. Most of the Rás Tailteann races were then over ten days and many stages near or over 200kms in length. During his time competing in the Rás Mike won it in 1973, was second in 1972, was fourth twice. He won a total of nine stages, his first stage in 1965, in 1969 he won three stages, a stage in 1971 and in both 1972 & 1973 he won two stages. In both 1965 and 1969 he won stages into his hometown of Carlow.

Mike pictured in 2013 in previewing the exhibition with one of his 1973 winning yellow jersey’s sponsored by Tayto.

The Rás Tailteann’s nationalist, indeed republican undertones, in its early political outlook helped shape its name. The ancient Irish Tailteann Games (pre-dating the ancient Olympics) had a revival from 1924 to 1932 during the early years of Irish independence. Through its toughness and required endurance it quickly became a legendary race among the Irish people, making heroes of its competitors and household names of its winners. Many cyclists considered it an honour and indeed their career highlight to have simply completed the race in full.

In the early decades the starting point of the race was the GPO, O’Connell Street, Dublin, with the finish always on a Sunday afternoon in the Phoenix Park. 1973 was no different and on Sunday July 8th thousands gathered on a sunny afternoon in the Phoenix Park to witness the conclusion of the twenty first edition of the Rás. This ten-day grueling race had visited each of the four provinces and after twenty laps of the Phoenix Park’s Polo Ground circuit Mike crossed the line in the coveted yellow jersey of race leader.

Mike had enlisted Ballon native and experienced cyclist Eddie Dawson as his manager for the race. Eddie had ridden the Rás in 1969 and every year since then until 2015 he was involved in the race as a cyclist, team manager or eventually the Assistant Race Director, a position he held for many years.

Above and below – a view of the Mike the Man of the Rás ‘73 Exhibition
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From his teenage years Mike developed his cycling skills. As well as racing on the roads Mike enjoyed the thrills & indeed spills of fast paced track racing. It was on these tracks he set many Irish records. From the track circuit he emerged as a sprinter of some note. During those early years like many of his compatriots Mike cycled to the race location, cycled the race and cycled home. His track bike, like all track bikes, has no gears or breaks and must be continually pedaled. Mike recalls cycling this bike over the Wicklow mountains to a race, winning the race and making the return journey on the same day! In 2011 Mike was inducted into the ‘Hall of Fame’ of the County Carlow Sports Stars Awards.

The exhibition was officially launched on Friday May 24th 2013, by Mel Christle, son of Joe Christle, the founder of the Rás. A Dubliner, Joe’s father Jim was from Offaly while his mother Johanna O’Keeffe was from Seskin, Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow. During the 1950s and 1960s the Old Leighlin area was used regularly as a base for cycling training camps.

Rico Rogers of the Azerbaijan Synergy Baku Cycling Team winning the big bunch
sprint for Stage 6 on Barrack Street, Carlow Town on Friday May 24th 2013

The exhibition launch coincided with Stage 6 of the 2013 An Post Rás stage finish in Carlow Town. The cyclists had travelled 155km from the stage start in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork. Carlow County Museum were the Stage End Coordinators, working with the Rás team, Carlow Gardai, Carlow County Council, Carlow Civil Defence and Carlow Road Cycling Club amongst others to facilitate the race finish on Barrack Street. The big bunch sprint finish was won by Rico Rogers of the Azerbaijan Synergy Baku Cycling Team. The race was eventually won by Polish native, Marcin Bialoblocki of the Britain UK Youth Pro Cycling Team.  

‘Mike the man of the Rás ’73’ by Carlow County Museum
The official Rás video of the 2013 race into Carlow

Tayto An Rás Tailteann 1973 – Mike’s Statistics

General Classification:

1st        Mike O’Donaghue, Carlow                41 hours, 4 minutes, 16 seconds

2nd       Bernard Dupin, France                                   @ 1 minute and 28 seconds

3rd        Mick Cahill, Cork                                           @ 1 minute and 58 seconds

Total Distance Cycled: 1474.16 Km or 916 Miles over ten stages

Mike won two stages in the race:

Saturday June 30th Stage 2 Carlow – Waterford (140 Km/87 Miles)

Stage Winner:             Mike O’Donaghue, Carlow

Race Leader:   Shay O’Hanlon, Dublin

Monday July 2nd         Stage 4 Macroom, Co. Cork – Tralee, Co. Kerry

                                    (170.6 Km/106 Miles)

Stage Winner:             Mike O’Donaghue, Carlow

Race Leader:   Paddy Flanagan, Kildare

Mike first became Race Leader in Belmullet, Co. Mayo and retained the Yellow Jersey to the race finish in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.

Unless otherwise stated, all images are © copyright of Carlow County Museum.

Download the Exhibition brochures below:

Rás Tailteann Exhibition Brochure – English
Rás Tailteann Exhibition Brochure – Irish