Measuring 6’5” with a commanding presence to match, Ned Tobin cast a big shadow throughout his life. Enjoying a remarkable career that included several Irish and world records in throwing events along with 37 national titles, he accomplished all of this while working full time in An Garda Síochána, writes Christopher Warner.
The summit of Galtymore, also known as Cnoc Mór na nGaibhlte (Big Hill of the Galtees), is the highest inland peak in Ireland and offers spectacular panoramic views of the fertile Golden Vale and deep, shimmering lakes. Adding to this rich tapestry, tales of mythological heroes and ancient folklore abound, and even includes one of St. Patrick himself, triumphing over a local serpent. A memorial to another legendary figure can be found nearby, honouring an extraordinary athlete who sprouted from this enchanted land. Measuring 6’5” with a commanding presence to match, Ned Tobin cast a big shadow throughout his life. Edmund ‘Ned’ Tobin was born on 23 November 1911 at Rehill, Ballylooby, County Tipperary. His parents, David Tobin and Alice Tobin (née Clifford) raised seven children on their rural farm situated about 10 km down the road from Cahir. In his youth, Ned attended Burncourt National School and developed strong muscles with his daily routine of farming chores on the property. The physically demanding work would serve him well on the playing field – especially contests that involved tossing heavy objects. Additionally, Tobin benefitted from a pool of homegrown talent from whom to learn and draw inspiration. At the turn of the 19th century, sports in Ireland had become an increasingly proud expression of national identity, adding momentum to the push for Irish Home Rule.
GOLDEN ERA OF ATHLETICS Many of the world’s best athletes, such as Peter O’Connor, Tom Kiely and the Davin brothers (whose oldest sibling Maurice co-founded the GAA) were all key figures in a period hailed as the ‘Golden Era of Irish Athletics’. It’s worth noting that Irish-born sportsmen owned the majority of throwing and jumping world records and collected the most Olympic titles during this era. The elite group also included the famous “Irish Whales” – emigrants who not only competed for America but became members of the NYPD. As the story goes, hulking men with names like Ryan, McGrath, Flanagan, and McDonald not only possessed herculean strength but could swallow restaurants whole – hence the nickname. The late 1920s would usher in the next wave of top-quality Irish throwers, headed by Dr. Pat O’Callaghan. The Cork physician won the hammer toss at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, becoming the first gold medallist to stand for the Tricolour during the Games. He then defended his crown four years later in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, a lanky newcomer from Ballylooby steadily made his name known in county and provincial circles. The young Tipperarian joined the Force in 1933, embarking on a career path ideally suited for his talents. Since its inception, An Garda Síochána routinely encouraged its members to actively participate in a wide range of sports as a means of keeping the body and mind fit. Competing in blue and white colours also helped foster discipline, sacrifice and dedication – essential values that solidified a commitment to both the Gardaí and the public they served.
NATIONAL TITLES AND WORLD RECORDS In 1934 at Fermoy, Tobin captured his first national titles by winning the discus, and the 56-pound weight throws for distance and height. This set a pattern for the next decade, winning the same trifecta while frequently re-writing the records books.
He also added Irish championships suggests that athletic tournaments occurred long before the Ancient Olympics in Greece, and it predates the arrival of the Celts to Ireland. Aonach Tailteann served to celebrate Queen Tailté, the wife of King Eochaidh Mac Erc, the last Firbolg monarch of Erinn. Traditionally held throughout the first week of August, the fair was attended by kings, chieftains, and nobles to fulfil three primary functions: honour the illustrious dead, promulgate new laws, and provide entertainment for the people. The festivals, held regularly until the Norman Invasion, featured stone-throwing challenges among a slate of activities that included singing, dancing, foot racing, wrestling, archery, and chariot racing. It’s worth noting that many of these events gradually made their way to Scotland and were adopted into the Highland Games. Although variations of the sport still exist elsewhere, such as the 35-pound toss (20 pounds for women) in North America, Ireland remains the only country to include the 56-pounder as part of its national championships. Tobin prioritised this antiquated pastime throughout his lengthy career in An Garda Síochána whilst serving at Ballina, Galway, Oughterard, Garristown and Garda Headquarters as if upholding a sacred pledge to keep the torch lit. He also happened to be damn good at it. In 1943, the elite performer established two new world records on the same day at Ballina with marks of 29’ 1” for distance and over-the-bar at 15’ 5”. They remained career bests and complemented his Irish discus record of 152’ 6 1/2”.
ILL-TIMED BAD LUCK Despite all his success, the champ experienced a deluge of ill-timed bad luck, too. A political dispute with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) involving Northern Ireland resulted in the Republic of Ireland’s team being banned from the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Although tossing the weight was no longer included in the quadrennial spectacle, Tobin certainly had the credentials to factor in either the discus or decathlon. World War Two later nullified the Games of 1940 and 1944, robbing him again of competing on a global stage during his prime. Perhaps even more cruelly, he had been a mere babe in the woods when the Tailteann Games were briefly revived at Croke Park in Dublin. In February 1950, Tobin was promoted to Sergeant in-Charge of the Recruit Training Section at Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park. He would make a lasting impression over the years on scores of young men who came under his watchful eye. One of those charges, retired Sergeant Pat Murphy, remembers his first encounter with the renowned athlete in 1955 at the Phoenix Park. Murphy said recently “He would gather all the lads down at the Depot and have us throw the 56-pound weight”. The practice served as Tobin’s unofficial selection process to see who might have the right stuff to compete on the athletics team. Murphy, a large man originally from Glenbeigh, County Kerry, is a former inter-county GAA football standout and played briefly for the Garda team. However, he quickly learned that casting the heavy metal proved much harder than it looked. “That weight was a beast” added Murphy.
RETIREMENT FROM THE SPORTING ARENA Tobin continued to excel on a national level deep into his 40s before finally retiring from the sporting arena. By this time, he and his wife Mary had become the parents of two boys, David and Eamon. He retired from An Garda Síochána in 1974 following a brief spell in the Garda Training Centre in Templemore which opened in 1964 with Recruit Training being transferred from the Garda Depot in the Phoenix Park. Having retired on 1 December 1974, following 41 years of exemplary service, Edmund ‘Ned’ Tobin [Reg. No. 8302] then developed a keen interest in golf and the tireless sportsman served as a trustee of the Newlands Golf Club. On 16 February 1987, aged 75, Tobin passed away at his home in Dublin. He is interred at St Fintan’s Cemetery, the final resting place of other notable Irish figures such as rock star Phil Lynott, former Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey, and broadcaster Gay Byrne.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Christopher Warner is an American actor and freelance writer. His articles have appeared in several magazines and websites across multiple genres, including Military History Matters, Portland Monthly, Fly Past, WWII Quarterly, Aviation History, and Irish America. He currently resides in County Kerry with his wife, Maureen, and their brood of cats.