The Irish Triathlete: the first publication of Ireland’s Triathlon scene

June 3, 2019

By Diarmúid Pepper

 TONY Bagnall didn’t take part in this year’s Crooked Lake Triathlon in Camlough, but he was there in his capacity of a journalist and photographer.

Indeed he has used these aforementioned skills to put together a new book celebrating triathlons in Ireland called ‘The Irish Triathlete: A history of Triathlons in Ireland’.

Tony revealed what led him to publish his debut book: “I’ve been a journalist and a photographer, and after every major event I did, I did an article on it. So I just decided that I would do a book.  I thought I would do a book for my own benefit, perhaps of my family history. But then I thought, no, I’ll talk to different people.  So I spent about a year talking to people, I did the layout on it and got it printed, and that’s how it came together.”

Tony says that there is a wonderful sense of camaraderie amongst triathletes and he relied upon this when compiling his book.

“I would have known all the top competitors in the 80’s. I made a lot of friends and since I’ve written the book I’ve been getting reacquainted with a lot of people and I really enjoy all the craic from getting in touch with them.”

According to Tony, triathlons are unique in the sporting world. Whereas other sports can be very cut-throat, he says there is a great sense of comradeship amongst competitors and their support.

“I find that triathlons are a great sport for making friends. Everybody wants everybody to do well,” Tony said.

“I remember my son who played football telling me: ‘When you’re playing, everybody is shouting at you. Your own team mates, the opposition team, people shouting on the line that you’re making mistakes.’ Everybody is shouting and giving you stick.  Whereas at triathlons, no one ever says a bad word to you. No matter if you’re the slowest person in the world, everybody says, “well done” and “keep going”. Everybody is trying to help you and trying to encourage you, unlike football where everybody is shouting at you and criticising you.”

Tony has been competing in triathlons for the past 30 years, but he didn’t begin until his late 30’s. As he says in his book: “I wasn’t an athlete of any description. I was a 36-year-old couch-potato.”

But after watching the London Marathon one afternoon on TV, Tony decided to make a huge change to his life. Soon, he was breaking the three-hour barrier in marathons.

For anyone in a similar position, who for whatever reason is out of exercise, Tony says triathlons are a perfect route into health and fitness:

“There is a guy from Silverbridge called Patrick Muckian, and three or four years ago he was out watching the Crooked Lake Triathlon. And he says: ‘I could never do that. That would be too hard, I could never do that.’

“And since then, Patrick has done the biggest Triathlon in the world, the Ironman Triathlon. So from thinking that Crooked Lake, which is only a sprint triathlon, is too tough, he has done some of the biggest triathlons in the world and performed well in them.”

And for someone looking to get into triathlons, Tony says that you can do no better than the Crooked Lake Triathlon, which took place on Saturday. 

Tony said: “Coming from Newry and being very familiar with all the people who run Camlough, I think it is the best triathlon in Ireland.  It is a cracking race; great crowd support, great scenery, it is a well organised race. Despite the fact that it is a short course, it is a tough course. Up around the back of that lake there are a lot of very steep hills.

“It has a great following and people love it. It has great crowd support from the local Gaelic clubs also – the likes of Carrickcruppen and Shane O’Neill’s, they all go out and marshal it and it is a great event.”

This year’s event was fully booked up, and there were around 80 people at the Crooked Lake Triathlon this year who competed in their first ever triathlon.

Tony had some invaluable advice to any potential novices: “The hardest part of the Camlough triathlon for people who haven’t done it before is the swim start. They’re all afraid of the swim start. They might not be great swimmers, and it’s like a washing machine at the start, with people trying to create their own space in the water.  But it’s just a matter of trying to relax and trying to breathe normally. Everybody starts off quick, but the whole thing is to try to relax – breathe out more than you breathe in.”

Camlough was a hive of activity leading up to the big event and people from all over Ireland took part. And Tony revealed that there was great representation within the over 70’s category.

“Desi McHenry, he’s over 70, he was there. And Sam Gordon, who is 76, he was the oldest,” said Tony.

As for himself, he’s not running as much these days, but he’s been excelling in swimming. Recently, he broke the Ulster record for the 1500m in swimming in his age category by six minutes.

And although he wasn’t competing at the Crooked Lake Triathlon this year, he said: “I’ll always be there, writing on it and taking pictures for the Newry Democrat and supporting all the athletes taking part.  I’m really excited because it is a fabulous triathlon, with a fabulous atmosphere, and fabulous people.”

The Irish Triathlete 

The Irish Triathlete, by Tony Bagnall is the first book written about the Triathlon scene in Ireland. This book takes the reader through 36-year history of the sport – right from the early eighties to the present day.

Tony is a semi-retired sports journalist and photographer, who has participated in triathlons from 1983 until 2018.

The book tells how and when the first Irish Triathlon Association and indeed he was actually a committee member of that initial Irish Triathlon Association. Also he highlights the first triathlon races in Ireland (including the initial Newry Triathlon in June 1983). 

The author, who has a comprehensive history of Irish triathlons, results, programmes and pictures, wrote the book, originally have a record of his races. But then he decided to expand that original idea and speak about the many people he met over his career. 

He has spent the last year writing, interviewing and doing the lay-out on the book.

The Irish Triathlete is vividly illustrated with lots of photographs, many from the early days of the sport in Ireland – old black and white photographs of Irish triathlon legends such as Ger Hartmann, Desi McHenry and Tom Heaney. 

He has also interviewed World Cup triathlete Conor Murphy (from Portadown), and Silverbridge athlete Owen Martin, who has qualified ten times for Kona. Plus he included a full feature on Bessbrook’s Mallon family. Incidentally the front cover features his hero Colleen Mallon. 

Tony is one of the few (or perhaps the only one), to have completed an Ironman race in each of the last four decades. He was 70 when he finished the Maastricht Ironman in 2015.

Tony also has written chapters on the World Cup races at Portaferry in the early nineties when some of the best triathletes in the globe strutted their stuff on these shores and the Irish Half Ironman races in Sligo during the eighties. Also he has featured the Newry and Setanta Triathlon clubs.

And there’s humour too with the Adventures (or mis-adventures) of Pete The Nearly Elite Triathlete.  

The Irish Triathlete is a unique history of triathlon in Ireland, informative and intriguing and a must-read for anyone with an interest in the sport. 

The book, comprising 80 A4 pages, costs £13 and is currently on sale at Ventoux Cycling studios and Infinity Swim Academy on the Newry/Camlough Road or by contacting him directly on 07815787874 or at