Cycling Reports

Harry Reynolds the Balbriggan Flyer

This Tuesday sees the running of the Harry Reynolds Memorial race in Balbriggan, Co. Dublin. Coming from the town, this is a race I would have liked to win, not just because it’s my hometown, but because of the man in whose memory the race is promoted.

While most people know that both Stephen Roche and Mark Scanlon were world champions, not many know that Harry Reynolds was Ireland’s first, ever, cycling world champion.

Harry Reynolds was born in Balbriggan on the 14th of December 1874, the eldest son of Julia and Robert Reynolds. Both parents died when the Reynolds family were still young, and the children were raised by their relatives. At the age of 18, Harry developed an interest in cycling and joined the local Wanderers Cycling Club along with two of his younger brothers Bob and Jack.

It didn’t take long for the youngster to start winning and in 1893 a weekly sports newspaper imaginatively titled ‘Sport’ stated that “Some smart novices were unearthed in the Wanderers race on Wednesday, notably Mulheir and Reynolds. Who would ever think that Reynolds would administer a thrashing to Lord for the Time Trophy. This time, 38’50”, leaves one to fancy that great things may be expected of him in the near future.”

The young Harry rode in a number of races that summer and at the end of July won a Three Mile Handicap at Skerries Sports. He was also second in the Five  Mile Handicap. A week later he won the Three Mile Handicap at Balbriggan Sports by a couple of inches and in September went on to win both the Three and five Mile Handicaps at the GAA Championships in Jones’ Road, Dublin. “Reynolds is likely to have a brilliant future” read the pages of Sport.

A brilliant future he had. 1894 saw him win the One Mile Scratch race at Dublin Metropolitan Sports, both the Three Mile Handicap and the Scratch race at Dundalk and the 10 miles Championship of Ireland.

In 1895 Reynolds won both the 5 Mile and 50 Miles championships of Ireland and decided to try his luck in England. That summer he entered and easily won the 100 Guinea Cup at the Kennington Oval, London, against 25 selected riders over a distance of 10 miles. He was awarded the gold medal but would have to win the race two years in succession to take home the coveted Cup.

On Whit Monday of the next year, Reynolds won three events at the Waterford Sports – The One Mile Handicap, the 10 Miles Scratch for the Gold Shield and the Five Miles Open Handicap. The following Saturday, he rode in the 10 miles scratch race in the Ulster Championships in Belfast and had lapped the field after six miles!

 Reynolds was on form to defend his 100 Guinea Cup and hoped to bring the trophy home with him to Ireland, but the British Cycling Union announced that he was “ineligible”, and refused to give any explanation as to why.

The Irish Cyclists Association decided to send him to the World Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark instead.

Harry trained on the Catford track in London and arrived in Denmark in August 1896. He won two warm-up races over distances of one kilometre and 3500 metres. In the latter he defeated Rodolfsen and Kundmelson of Denmark, despite both of them having a 30-metre start on him.

In the One Mile Amateur Championships of the World, on Saturday 15th August, 1896, Harry Reynolds was drawn in the seventh and final heat of the first round. Harry won, in the third fastest heat, beating opponents Niebbing of Holland and Oslund of Norway. In the second round he beat Johnsen of Sweden and Marseth of Norway by ten yards after leading from the gun and found himself in the final.

Reynolds later became the first Irish World Cycling Champion when beating Schrader of Denmark and Guillaumet of France by the narrowest of margins, after a slow tactical start to the race.

Having become World champion, Reynolds was stepping onto the podium to be presented with his medal by the King of Denmark when the band started playing “God Save The Queen” as a Union Jack was hoisted alongside the podium. Reynolds threw down his bike in anger, called the officials, pointing out that he was Irish and would not have his victory accredited to England. At his request, The Danes lowered the Union Jack, replacing it with a green flag and the band played an Irish song.

News of Reynolds victory spread like wildfire in Ireland and his reaction on the podium, helped turn him into a national hero. The Irish Daily Independent, 25th August 1896 reported that a reception committee would be waiting in the Irish Cycling Association offices in D’Olier Street. It stated that Harry Reynolds would arrive by Mail-Steamer at Kingston Dock at five o’clock on the Sunday evening and would be escorted to the reception. The escort was to be accompanied by a number of bands and a reputed 150,000 people turned up to welcome the new world champion, only to find that he had missed the boat!

At an ICA meeting on 2nd of September, it was decided that a banquet should be held in Reynold’s honour and a track meeting to be held in either Jone’s Road or Ballsbridge. The reception secretary announced that he had received atelegram from Coventry announcing that the world champion would definitely arrive the following Thursday evening at 5.00pm.

The Irish Daily Independent reported the homecoming under the headline “Harry Reynolds Welcome Home – an unparalleled demonstration!” This is how it read.

Last evening despite the wet, which was of the most sullen Scotch mist type and generally disenchanting character, there was a very large crowd down in Kingston to welcome the Irish champion of the World.

About the pier, the assemblage was nothing like that of last Sunday when fully 150,000 people attende only to be disappointed, as was Mr. Reynolds, by the eccentric imperfections of the Mail Service. The uncertainty about a repetition of this, doubtless kept many people away. At the start last night, before the mail boat Munster arrived, there was a goodly company. This did not give the slightest indication of what was to come, as every minute brought a fresh volume of admirers. On the jetty, were members of the reception committee, Messrs. Tiernan, Hon.Secretary, L. O’Neill, Joseph Kennedy, President ICA, John Mason, Harry Connolly, Hon.Sec ICA, L.DeGroot and F.J Allen.

The Balbriggan club, in which Mr. Reynolds graduated as a cyclist, was represented by R.S Gorman, Hon. Secretary, J/Derham, Treasurer, D.Ellis and T.Healy. There were several other prominent citizens present. At about 5.15pm the mail boat Munster drew alongside. A Mr. T. Keane, a particular friend of Reynold’s who had crossed to meet him, being sighted on deck was saluted with shouts of “Have we got him this time?” Mr. Keane replied “Yes it’s allright “ and a mighty cheer went up. Reynolds was the last to appear, hoisting high his trusty Osmond, with which he won all his great triumphs. He was quickly deprived of this by a willing esquire and nearly torn asunder by congratulatory admirers. It was just as well that he did not arrive on Sunday, when there were myriads more of them!

Conducted by the reception committee, Mr. Reynolds was conveyed in a finely-horsed brake to the Royal Marine Hotel, where some supper was supplied and the Hotel string band played most pleasingly throughout. The Dublin Metroploitan Police Cycling Club made the best show of mounted cyclists, with 25, and then came the R.I.C CC with 22. Iolanthe, Wanderers and other clubs were well represented. Before leaving, Mr Reynolds was decorated with a medal from Balbriggan Cycling Club.”

“The scene on the way home was simply incredible. All along the streets of Kingston the people of all classes came out and cheered for al they were worth, the ladies waving their handkerchiefs and cheering to, being the most demonstrative. Reynolds tried to hide himself in the hold of the brake, but it was no use. The public, who had now made the traffic impassable, shouting for him to stand up and show himself.”

At Blackrock the procession had to stop because of the crush and several hundred cyclists had to dismount and walk, several bikes were damaged in the melee. At Blackrock, the people got so carried away that they wanted to take the horses out of the brake and tug Reynolds along themselves. Their efforts were in vain as they couldn’t open the straps in the throng of well-wishers.

Bands played along Baggott Street, and another halt was called outside the Shelbourne Hotel, where all the lights were on and every occupant stood out on their balconies waving handkerchiefs. It was the same the whole way to the ICA offices where Reynolds sought refuge amongst friends.

Later Reynolds was to turn professional and raced in Australia, New Zealand and Europe, winning many races. His gold, world champions medal is now lost. Having given the medal to a friend to keep safely during the Sack of Balbriggan, when the Black and Tans burned almost the whole town to the ground, Reynolds returned to find his friend dying and unable to remember where he put it.

Harry Reynolds is a legend in Balbriggan. It is common knowledge that he used to race the steam train from Balbriggan to Skerries for training. Renowned for his brutish strength, he also rode up Barnageera Hill (between Skerries and Balbriggan, under the railway tunnel on the way to Ardgillen Castle) on a fixed wheel, backwards – for a bet – which he duly won! (Don’t try that at home!)

There is a plaque dedicated to Harry Reynolds on a house in Hampton Street, just past the square on the way to Skerries, on the site where he was born. The last real connection to Harry is the Reynolds sweet shop, located in the centre of the town, beside the Milestone Inn and run by two of his nieces.

An extraordinarily talented cyclist, Harry Reynolds died on July 16th, 1940 and is buried in Balrothery graveyard, just south of Balbriggan.

Each year Balbriggan Cycling Club hold a race in his name, the Harry Reynolds Memorial, a race which any Irish cyclist should be proud to win.

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