Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on our website on March 17, 2015. 

Today is St. Patrick’s Day and, beyond all the beer, Irish-Canadians have a notable history as some of Canada’s top athletes on the roads and track. To honour this Irish holiday, we looked into the pasts of some notable runners to share their stories.

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Billy Sherring and Jack Caffery

Billy Sherring

Billy Sherring, photo in public domain.

Sherring and Caffery, both born to Irish parents in Hamilton, Ont., two years apart, followed similar careers. The two trained together and competed with St. Patrick’s Athletic Club in the city. In 1900, they finished first and second in the Boston Marathon, Caffery taking the win with Sherring not far behind. The following year, Caffery returned to Boston again to race and win the prestigious race.

Sherring went on to win the 1906 Olympic marathon, but the story of how he got there is almost as interesting as his winning the race. Not having the money to make the trip to Athens, he made a $40 bet on a horse named Cicely with 12 to one odds. The bet was with Billy Carrol, race director of Around the Bay, who ran a betting service on the side. Sherring was given a tip by local horse trainer named Eddie Whyte. The horse won and he was able to make the trip to Athens with his winnings.

After returning from Athens, Sherring gave up training and quit running with his $5,000 reward from the City of Hamilton in hand.

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Robert Kerr

Hamilton seemed to produce some of the world’s best runners early in the 20th century. Kerr, like Sherring and Caffery, was from Hamilton, though he was born in Ireland. The Kerr family emigrated to Canada when Robert was five.

Kerr won the 1908 Olympic 200m and won a bronze in the 100m the same year.

James Duffy racing Around the Bay

James Duffy, photo in public domain.

James Duffy

Duffy, reportedly a heavy smoker and drinker, was born in Ireland and emigrated in Canada at a young age. Training with the YMCA in Toronto, Duffy competed in the 1912 Olympics, after which he moved to – of course – Hamilton to train. He won Around the Bay in 1912 and 1913, before going on to win the Boston Marathon in 1914.

After his Boston win, he is said to have asked for a cigarette and a beer, something the Hamilton Spectator reported but Duffy later denied. After his Boston win, at the beginning of the First World War, Duffy gave up training and joined the Canadian Army. He was killed in combat in 1915.


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