It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Jim McNamara. Jim died peacefully last night, surrounded by his family. He joined Donore Harriers in January 1963 and was a great athlete, a great friend, a gentleman and a wonderful clubman.
A true legend of athletics, in 2013 Jim was awarded the IAAF Jubilee Gold Medal medal for his services to the sport he loved so much. To his children James, Shane and Andrea and the rest of his family we offer our deepest condolences and thanks. Jim was predeceased by his loving wife Betty who died in 1981.
May he Rest in Peace.
Removal on Monday morning, 14th March 2016, from his residence to the Church of the Most Precious Blood, Cabra West arriving at 11.15am for Mass at 11.30am. Funeral afterwards to Mount Jerome Cemetery. Family flowers only please. Donations, if desired, to Donore Harriers Running Club. House private.
Thank you to all those who have paid tribute to Jim today. Here is an article by fellow club member Frank McNally following our ’This is Your Life’ tribute night held for Jim on Saturday 18th May 2013.
The paradox of a running legend
An Irishman’s Diary: A demon to compete against, a pleasure to deal with
If doctors ever get to dissect Jim McNamara’s heart, they may discover that, like that of many great athletes, it’s unusually large. But it would be no surprise if they also find a mysterious black stripe running across it, horizontally.
Throughout his athletics career, but especially in the 1960s and 1970s, McNamara was a big part of the reason the famous black-hooped singlet of Donore Harriers inspired such fear among rivals. He and his team-mates were like the modern-day Kenyans, the mere appearance of their colours enough to intimidate.
Among many other things, they won 16 consecutive national cross-country team titles, an achievement probably unrivalled anywhere. The era passed eventually, as eras do. And the black hoop is not quite so much feared these days. But “Gentleman Jim” remains as committed to the club’s cause as ever, albeit now mainly as coach.
Founded in 1893, Donore is marking a big milestone this year. Among the celebratory events, last weekend, was a “This is Your Life” tribute to the great man. Which was doubly apt, because not only is McNamara the embodiment of all the club’s virtues, he also represents an impressively large part of its history.
The joke was that he too is celebrating 120 years, but that was an exaggeration. In fact, he’s been involved with Donore for only a little over 50. Even so, the collaboration stretches back to what now seems like another age.
It was an age when, for example, the concept of abstention from alcohol as part of a running programme had not yet caught on. McNamara recalled returning from championships on team buses stocked with crates of beer and bottles of vodka and then continuing celebrations in the Black and Amber Inn in Islandbridge, near the humble cottage Donore called home.
That they drank hard is a matter of record. That they trained even harder has been elevated partly into legend. If half of it is true, it was awe-inspiring. And even among the hard men, McNamara was known for masochism. The reputation followed him in races, where it was a given that he would never concede easily. There was no more chilling sound in running once, apparently, than McNamara’s cough, heard behind you, closing in.
Despite this, and all the club glories to which he was central, his senior career nearly ended unfulfilled. A team ethic and general unselfishness had probably cost him on occasion, as did badly-timed injuries and the natural cruelties of his defining distance: the marathon. In any case, approaching 37, he had still never been to the Olympics.
That all changed on one glorious day in 1976. The qualifier for Montreal was a simple equation: the first three would travel. Unfortunately, as McNamara recalls, he was by then “about the 12th best marathon runner” in Ireland.
It must have helped that the race was in Limerick, home of his father’s people, who turned out in great numbers to witness his entry into the last-chance saloon. Whatever the inspiration, it proved the greatest day of his running life. Although beaten in a classic by Danny McDaid (who broke the national record), the Donore man knocked eight minutes off his personal best to finish second in 2.14.57.
Montreal wasn’t one of his best, by contrast. But as the great Maeve Kyle said on his tribute night, just to be an Olympian puts you in an elite club. And few people before or since have deserved the recognition as much as the ultimate club man, Gentleman Jim.
He still had an illustrious masters career ahead then, with a plethora of European and world titles. And in fact, at 74, he continues to win gold medals, most recently from the International Association of Athletics Federations, for a lifetime’s contribution to the sport, the most recent part of which has a certain irony.
Most of McNamara’s running career happened when – Kyle apart – women were still rare in Irish athletics. There were none in Donore then (and not many in the Black and Amber Inn either). But for 20 years now, McNamara has been the coach of an ever-growing Donore women’s section. And not the least impressive thing about the tribute night was the obvious affection he has inspired among a generation of female athletes.
Their latest captain, Florrie Curley, spoke for many when she credited him with transforming her own early experience of sport, which had been mostly negative. She credited his easy-going manner and lack of ego. But she also mentioned his “understated authority” and provided a telling example. A few years ago, McNamara suffered a stroke and was thought seriously ill. In true athletics style, however, his recovery period was short. Within 48 hours, Florrie got a call from the hospital bed, reminding her gently that the Tuesday night session should be “12 x 400 repeats”.