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Shay O’Hanlon – Irish Rás Multi-Record Holder

"[The Rás] wasn’t the only thing to me but it was the apex of my season."


Ireland’s ‘Rás,’ a cult bike race; Marcin Bialoblocki, Tony Martin, Stephen Roche and Scotland’s own Jamie McGahan number among the GC winners. So who’s the ‘recordman’ as the French say, the man with most GC wins? That would be Dubliner Shay O’Hanlon on four overall victories; 1962, ’65, ’66 and ’67.

But who’s had the most days in yellow, an impressive 37 days – the same Mr. O’Hanlon.

And the stage wins record of 24?

Yes, that O’Hanlon fella again.

Shay O'Hanlon
Shay O’Hanlon has a bike and memorabilia in Austin Walsh’s shop in Drogheda. Photo©Austin

About time VeloVeritas caught up with Shay, one of the legends of Irish Cycling.

How many times did you ride the Rás, Shay?

“My first win appearance was in 1959 and my last in 1984.

“I missed a very few editions in between.”

Shay O'Hanlon
Shay O’Hanlon’s (l) first appearance in the Rás in 1959 with the Dublin team at (almost) 18 years of age, with the late Mick Murphy. Murphy, from Kerry, was an interesting character; he was a world class wrestler in the ‘States and in a circus, he won the Rás and followed different training techniques of the time, such as drinking bull’s blood. Photo©supplied

Which of your four wins gives you most satisfaction?

“The first one in 1962, in 1960 I thought I could win, I won a stage but Paddy Flanagan took the overall win.

“In 1961 again I believed I would win but Tom Finn, who was in my team, took the jersey and I had to ride for him, albeit I won three stages.

“So in ’62 I was really hungry for it, winning four stages along the way.”

And is there any particular stage win gives you most satisfaction?

“The last stage into Phoenix Park, Dublin in ’62.

“Because I hadn’t won the two previous editions I had this ambition to finish the race in style with a solo win whilst in yellow and I achieved that.

“The crowd at the finish was huge; TV hadn’t really taken hold yet and local events were really well supported whether that was sporting events or bands.”

Shay O'Hanlon
Shay O’Hanlon shakes hands with An Taoiseach Seán Lemass in 1961. Photo©supplied

The Russians rode the race one year, I believe?

“That was 1970, I didn’t ride that year.

“In 1968 a Czech team came over and despite the fact that there was an ‘Ireland’ team in the race the guys all rode for their county teams instead of for the Ireland team.

“The Czechs won every stage bar one, which I won, and the GC.

“The organisers only announced the 1970 Russian presence a couple of weeks prior to the race, I felt that the same would happen as when the Czechs rode and that we should have been given time to select and prepare a proper, committed Irish team so I didn’t ride.

“I didn’t make any fuss, I just didn’t ride.”

[The Russians won nine out of 10 stages in 1970, ed.]

Shay O'Hanlon
Shay O’Hanlon won the only non-Czech stage in the Rás in 1968. Photo©supplied

It strikes me that the Rás was more to you than ‘just another race.’

“It wasn’t the only thing to me but it was the apex of my season, yes.”

You broke the Irish ‘50’ record then went off to ride a grass track meeting on one occasion?

“I’d broken Shay Elliott’s Irish ‘50’ record previously by a small margin but no one had ever gone under two hours, it wasn’t the best morning but I did a 1:59:28 then went up to Drogheda to ride a grass track meeting in the afternoon.

“Unfortunately, I hadn’t prepared my bike properly and my handlebars twisted more and more to the side as the race went on – but I managed second place.