Olympic gold medal rower from Donegal?

By Cronan Scanlon

A FRANTIC search is underway this week to confirm whether or not a Castlefin man won a gold medal at the greatest sporting event on earth.

Officially at least, only nine Irish athletes have ever won gold for their endeavours at an Olympic games.


Last week, however, the author of a yet to be published book stumbled across the name of William John Carr, a member of the USA 8’s rowing team that took gold at the 1900 Paris Olympics.

According to research carried out by Mr Tom Hunt, the rower in question was born in Gortnagrace, near Castlefin, on June 17, 1876 and died on March 25, 1942 in Philadelphia.

Mr Hunt is the author of a book on the history of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI).

The book was to be published earlier this year, however, the author has come across significant new information.

“I was reading through a British reference book on the Olympics last week when the name ‘Donegal’ jumped out at me,” Mr Hunt told the Donegal News.

“The book was supposed to be about the history of the OCI, however, I have come across information which shows that a number of Irish athletes also competed and won medals while representing other countries at the Olympics.”

Carr’s birthplace is also listed as Gortnagrace on the respected


Carr was a member of the illustrious Vespers Rowing Club in Philadelphia, one of the most celebrated rowing clubs in the United States and the world.

It is also famous as being the club of John Kelly, father of Princess Grace Kelly.

Historians at the club put Mr Hunt in touch with a nephew of Mr Carr, with whom he had a telephone conversation with on Monday.

“His nephew said he remembers him but he did not know a great deal about his career or about where he was born.

“He did tell me that his uncle was a carpenter by trade and, later in life, worked as a building inspector in Philadelphia.”

However, further details of Carr’s Donegal background were published on in 2000, the centenary of his Olympic success.

One post by a Brian McIlcar, a grandson of Carr, stated that the Olympian’s parents were Robert Edmund McIlcar of Gortnagrace, Castlefin and Jane Doran of Alt, also near Castlefin.

They married when they were 20 and 21 years-old respectively at Melmount Catholic Church, Strabane on February 11, 1873.

Their fathers were listed as John McIlcar and Peter Doran.

“My grandfather’s (William John Carr) birth was registered in August 1876 and his parents were listed as residents of Gortnagrace. William’s brother visited the Doran Bakery in Strabane around 1960,” Mr McIlcar wrote.

Maybe Carr still has relatives living in either Castlefin or Strabane?

If anyone has any information whatsoever, they should get in touch with Mr Hunt by email at or on 0863842702.

Alternatively, you can email or contact the Donegal News on 074 91 21014.

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