In January, Kildare bade farewell to a true gentleman and great cyclist, Eamon “Ned” Flanagan.
Ned was born in Kildangan around 1940 and was reared in Kilbeg where he lived all his life. He attended Kildangan National School and in the mid 1950s he came to Monasterevin CBS, where he played football with the Monasterevin CBS School team. He was the first Kildangan pupil to do so, as he liked to point out himself. Ned showed promise as a footballer, but by this time his brother Paddy was already cycling competitively. It was natural that Ned would follow him and Jack Crowe into the Midlands Cycling Club, and football was quickly forgotten.
The Flanagan brothers soon made a name for themselves all over Ireland, on grass track, at mass start road races, time trialling and stage racing, and in all of these they formed a formidable team. Ned, known among his oldest friends as “The Butt” was not only strong but as tough as nails.
In the 1960s Rás Tailteann, on the 3rd stage from Castlebar to Tuam, Ned put in a magnificent chase in pursuit of Séamus O’Hanlon who had broken away. Near the end Ned closed a 500 metre gap on his own and finished second to O’Hanlon with Paddy retaining the overall lead.
The 7th Stage of that same race ended in disaster for Ned. On the descent from Moll’s Gap, again in hot pursuit of O’Hanlon, Ned overshot the notorious “Round of Beef” bend, left the road and the mountain careering down 20 feet of cliff face. He had to be taken to hospital with severe injuries but insisted on getting out next day to follow the final Kilkenny to Dublin stage by car. Paddy won that year, his first Rás win.
In the 1966 Rás, Ned won the 3rd Stage, Dundalk to Ballyjamesduff, covering 123km in a time of 2.59:10. Shay O’Hanlon won the Rás that year. In the 1967 Rás Ned won Stage 2B on the Monaghan Circuit, 44km in a time of 1.01:15. Again O’Hanlon was the Rás winner. Paddy finished in third place and Ned finished 12th in the overall placing.
A brief experiment with the newly formed Irish Cycling Federation in 1968 and 1969 did not work out and Ned returned to the “National Cycling Association” in 1970. He was probably at the peak of his performance in that year.
He won Rás na Deise, finishing in Waterford to beat six time winner Batty O’Flynn of Kerry. He was second in the Tour of Limerick, third in the Rás Corcaighe, second in the Miloko Cup and fourth in the All Ireland Championship. It was expected by many that this would be Ned’s year to win his own Rás Tailteann, but it was not to be. Alexander Gysiatnikon of the USSR dominated the race from the beginning and was the eventual winner.
Cyclists still talk of the great rivalry between Paddy Flanagan and Shay O’Hanlon and argue as to which was the better man - 4 Rás wins against 3 etc. What is often overlooked is the relative strength of the Dublin teams supporting O’Hanlon, and the numerically weaker Kildare team. Ned was often the main support pillar in that team, a point acknowledged by Paddy when he told a reporter “I have the head, but Ned has the legs”.
Ned went on to win many races. In 1975 he was the overall winner of the three day Rás Leighlin. Later that same year he won the three day Rás Connachta. In 1977 he entered the 100 mile All Ireland “NCA” Championship. Sixty-seven riders started in this gruelling race. After 80 miles Ned made a determined break from the main field, riding the remaining 20 miles on his own. He crossed the finishing line in Carrick-on-Suir three and a half minutes ahead of the next man home.
From school Ned went to work with CIE, doing maintenance work on the permanent way. Off peak hours and weekend working clashed with cycling. Around 1961 he left and went to work with Bord na Móna in Kilberry works. Earlier evenings and seasonal works fitted better with his busy training schedule. On the February 26 1974 he went back to work on the permanent way with Irish Rail. In 1975 he was appointed to the full time staff working in division nine usually between Kilberry and Cherryville, although at busy times he might be found on other sections of the line, working under Inspectors Paddy Mahon or Mick Kane and his mobile ganger Peter Cassidy. He retired on December 11 1991. He went on to work on several Fás schemes around Monasterevin and Kildangan.
Ned never lost his love of the bike and continued to cycle regularly. He was greatly affected by the sudden death of Paddy in November 2000. Ned died suddenly at his own home in Kilbeg on the 10th January. He was interred in St. Evin’s Cemetery, Monasterevin beside his father, mother and his brother Frank. He is survived by his brother Willie, and sisters Bernie and Myra, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Written by Seamus Walsh for Monasterevin Historical Society