‘It is like a dream’: Jubilation in Skibbereen at Olympic gold medal

‘For a small club in Ireland to have a gold, a silver and an Olympic bronze is just amazing’

It was a hectic night for Trish O’Donovan McCabe, mother of Olympic gold medal winning rower Paul O’Donovan.

The excitement of watching her son and Fintan McCarthy make Irish sporting history in the double sculls event on the water in Tokyo at around 2am Irish time had left her without any inclination to sleep or eat.

While clearly still feeling the joy on Thursday morning, Mrs O’Donovan McCabe was quickly trying to eat some yoghurt at home prior to the round of media interviews about her “golden boy”.

Banners were hanging at her home in Lisheen on the outskirts of Skibbereen. McCarthy is also from the Co Cork town.


Mrs O’Donovan McCabe had a feeling the gold was heading in the direction of the duo, five years after Paul and his brother Gary won silver in Rio.

She said her boys had planned for Olympic glory as children.

“Way back when they were in primary school they wrote in their little copy books when they were learning to write. ‘I am going to the Olympics in London in 2012’,” she recalled.

Back then the boys were only learning how to row but knew where the Olympics were taking place.

“ They had it all planned in their heads that it was they wanted,” she said.

‘Never a given’

What was her assessment of Thursday morning’s race?

“I thought fair play to them. Paul was just not going to stop unless, like the poor Norwegians, they capsized the boat,” she said.

“You don’t know until they cross the line. It is never a given. You can’t be sure. They [Paul and Gary] were always golden boys. The day they were born I knew he [Paul] was special. The two of them.”

She said she probably would not see Paul for a while, but intended to tell him “fair play, you divil” when they spoke.

“I will probably cry my eyes out when I see them. Where would you get it? (An Olympic win) out in the wilds of west Cork.”

Mrs O'Donovan McCabe said that when she met her partner, now husband Mick McCabe, he told her rowing was perceived as an elitist sport. But she stressed that rowers in Ireland have never been blessed with the financial advantages that teams in other countries have.

“I don’t think of it as an elite sport as it was what Gary and Paul always did. Even if it is, they (children) should all be given the opportunity.”

Used to run away

McCarthy’s sister, Caitlin, said the rowing success should provide inspiration to young people who are not good at team sports.

“I think it shows the least likely person can do it if they put their mind to it. He used to run away from a ball if it was thrown at him as a kid,” she said.

Fintan’s twin brother Jake, also a talented rower, said the Olympian’s success shows there are other avenues for people to explore if more traditional sports do not appeal to them.

“He (Fintan) started rowing at 15 and was a bit late to the sport but he just kept at it. He wasn’t good at any other sport,” he said. “When Gary and Paul (O’Donovan) got the medal in Rio, the numbers that started rowing in Skib hugely increased. Hopefully now this will be the same and people will get involved in rowing.”

Sue McCarthy, Fintan’s mother, said she was “gutted” not have been in Tokyo to see her son’s succeed. She said he had told her his phone was “broken” from all the messages he was receiving from home, and that she expected the medal winners to be return home on Sunday.

“Everyone will do what they can. Obviously at the moment restrictions prevent us from doing anything huge but we will see what we can do, and do the best we can.”


TJ Ryan, secretary of Skibbereen Rowing Club, said the win felt like a dream that was just starting to sink in.

“We are ecstatic,” he said. “For a small club in a small corner of part of Ireland to have a gold, a silver and an Olympic bronze [from this and previous Olympics] is just amazing. I hope we can add to it. We have potential athletes here. There is loads of kids starting. The future is bright.”

Seán O’Brien, Skibbereen Rowing Club captain, said it is a special club.

“The water behind me here. You can row for 10kms straight. And one other crucial thing is the coach, Dominic Casey,” he said. “He won coach of the year after the Rio and will again, possibly. He has always been ahead of the posse and he always had ideas before other people.

“Skibbereen Rowing Club has more rowing medals than [the rowers] in Team GB. It’s astonishing. It is like a dream.”