New Book Highlights the History of Irish Triathlon

The Irish Triathlete1

There is a new book on release which chronicles the history of our sport for the first time. Did you know that triathlon in Ireland started in Skerries? Find out all about the origins in the excerpt below. Sincere thanks to Tony Bagnall for allowing us to publish the below introduction and excerpt from his book, 'The Irish Triathlete'. Details on how to purchase the book can be found at the bottom of this page.


Tony Bagnall’s ‘The Irish Triathlete’ is the first book written about the Irish triathlon scene. This book takes the reader through 36-year history of the sport – right from the early eighties to the present day. Tony is a semi-retired sports journalist and photographer, who has been participating in triathlons from 1983 until 2018.

The Irish Triathlete tells how and when the 'Irish Triathlon Association' was first formed and about the first races. Tony was actually a committee member of that initial 'Irish Triathlon Association', now called Triathlon Ireland. 

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The author, who has a comprehensive history of triathlons in Ireland, results, programmes and pictures, wrote the book, originally to have a record of his own races but he then decided to expand that original idea and speak about the many people he met over his career. 

The Irish Triathlete is vividly illustrated with lots of photographs, many from the early days of the sport in Ireland – old black and white photographs of Irish triathlon legends such as Ger Hartmann, Desi McHenry, Ann Kearney, Diane Sloan, Tom Heaney, Dave O’Connor etc. But he also has included more up-to-date stars on the Irish scene such as World Cup triathlete Conor Murphy, Owen Martin, Ireland’s King of Kona, and Newry’s own top-notcher Finbar McGrady. 

Tony is one of the few (or perhaps the only one), to have completed an Ironman race in each of the last four decades. He was 70 when he finished the Maastricht Ironman in 2015. 

All Ireland Triathlons

Triathlon began in the Republic of Ireland when Maurice Mullins organised a race in Skerries, during July 1983. This event comprised a 500-metre sea swim, a 13-mile bike ride and a 13-mile run. 53 finished the race that was won by Ben Brady (male) and Doina Nugent (female).

But the big event of the year was RTE and Premier Dairies combining to stage the initial All Ireland Triathlon. It was the first ever triathlon in Ireland to be televised and it had viewing figures of one and quarter million.

The race took place in September 1983 at Greystones, county Wicklow with 62 starters and astonishingly just four of these were women – mother and daughter Elfriede and Doina Nugent, Diane Sloan and Mary Hickey.

The sea at Greystones Harbour was cold with no wetsuits allowed. However, the swim was short, just 700-metres. After that the triathletes took on a 75k hilly Wicklow Mountains bike ride (that incorporated the infamous Devil’s Glen climb) and a 21k half-marathon run.

The winner was Killiney-born Michael Walsh from the Ace Cycling Club and for his efforts the 20-year-old won an all-expenses-paid trip to the World Triathlon Championship in Kona, Hawaii the following year.

Many of the best triathletes from around the nation competed in the Premier Dairies race. Just some of these were the top two in the north, Desi McHenry and Tom Heaney. There were also super cyclists such as Kilmainham’s Adrian Byrne and Dundrum’s Paul Tansey. Plus there were excellent swimmers - Olympian Kevin Williamson from Dublin, Maynooth’s Chalkie White, and Palmerstown’s Paul Emmett.

Some of the others who competed at Greystones were Dublin barristers Gerry Kelly and Ercus Stewart, Raheny’s Dave O’Connor, Alan Blackburn from Bangor, Dundonald’s Gordon Murray, the late Maurice Mullins, Declan Burns (a World Superstars silver medallist), doctor Claude Carroll and journalist Michael Stewart.

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First out of the 700-metres swim was Kevin Williamson, followed by Ards man Tom Heaney with Chalkie White third. Incidentally on exiting the swim Chalkie donned a blue bathrobe before heading to the bike park.

Diane Sloan, an international swimmer from Bangor in the North, was fourth out of the water and the first woman. She was followed by Ken Murray, Nicky O’Meara, Paul Emmett, Dermot Kelleher, Aidan Buckley and Hugh Morris.

Winner Michael Walsh was over five minutes behind Williamson after the swim but he soon reeled in the leader and at the end of the bike had six minutes to spare over the second-placed Byrne, with Tansey third.

Walsh maintained his advantage to the end and was a deserving winner with nine minutes in hand over a fast-finishing McHenry. The first woman over the line was Diane Sloan with Mary Hickey second and Doina Nugent third.

The top 10 finishers: Michael Walsh (3.51.23), Desi McHenry (4.00.42.), Adrian Byrne (4.04.27), Paul Tansey, Adrian Buckley, John D’Arcy, Tom Heaney, Stephen Martin, Alan Blackburn and Pat Whitney.

The Irish Triathlete is a unique history of triathlon in Ireland, informative and intriguing and a must-read for anyone with an interest in the sport. 

The book, comprising 80 A4 pages, is on sale at £13 or 15 euros in the ROI.

Tony can be contacted at or on his website