Belfast & Northern Ireland

Sporting Heroes from across the pond...

more than a year ago
From football icon George Best and boxing great Barry McGuigan to athletics supremos Mary Peters and Sonia O’Sullivan, the island of Ireland’s sporting legacy is nothing short of legendary.

But did you know that many North American sports stars - past and present - share similarly strong Irish roots?

These overseas players are celebrated in a unique collection of memorabilia, photos and newspaper clippings adorning the walls of Rockies Sports Bar at the Odyssey (now closed).

Owner Jim Graves, himself a Canadian and former European Pro ice hockey player, is on a mission to seek out players whose stories span the Atlantic… and share them with the many people who visit his bar.

PIC: Geraldine Heaney at a 2002
Belfast Giants Match with her
Olympic Gold Medal.
(c) Michael Cooper

A walk around Rockies reveals centuries of sporting successes in baseball and ice hockey, and unites locals and North American visitors with a shared sense of pride.

So, take time to track down Belfast’s only sports ‘museum’… they don’t call it the House of Sporting Legends for nothing.

To get you started, here is Jim’s pick of ten Irish sportspeople to cross the pond:

John K. Tener
Sport: Baseball
Born: Co. Tyrone, 25 July 1863
Died: Pittsburgh, 19 May 1946
Career Highlights: US Congress, Governor of Pennsylvania (1911-1915). Played for the Baltimore Orioles (1885), Chicago White Stockings (1888-89) and Pittsburgh Burghers (1890). President of the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs (1914-18).

Sam Nicholl
Born: Co. Antrim, 20 April 1869
Died: Ohio, 19 April 1937
Career Highlights: Played for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys – now Pittsburgh Pirates (1888) and Columbus Colts (1890).

Henry Cooke “Irish” McIlveen
Born: Belfast, 27 July 1880
Died: Ohio, 18 October 1960
Career Highlights: Played for Pittsburgh Pirates (1906) and New York Highlanders (1908-09). The only Belfast man to play professional baseball.

Bobby Kirk
Ice Hockey
Born: Belfast, 8 August 1910
Died: 11 July 1970
Career Highlights: Played for New York Rangers (1937-38).

Jack Riley
Ice Hockey
Born: Ireland, 29 December 1910
Died: Vancouver, l994
Career Highlights: The first Irishman to play professional Ice Hockey in the NHL. Played for the Detroit Red Wings (1932-33), Montreal Canadiens (l933-35), Boston Bruins (1935-36) and Tulsa Oilers (1936-39).

Sammy McManus
Ice Hockey
Born: Belfast, 22 October 1911
Died: 1 July 1976.
Career Highlights: Won the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Maroons (1934-35). Twice winner of the Allan Cup with the Moncton Mohawks (1932-34). Played for the Boston Bruins (1936-37) and Moncton Hawks (1936-37).

Jim McFadden
Ice Hockey
Born: Belfast, 15 April 1920
Died: 28 August 2002
Career Highlights: Played for the Detroit Red Wings (1946-51), winning the Stanley Cup in 1950. Also played for the Chicago Blackhawks (1951-54).

Sid Finney
Ice Hockey
Born: Banbridge, 1 May 1929
Career Highlights: Played for Chicago Blackhawks (l951-54), Calgary Stampeders (1949-51, 1952-62 and 1968-69), St Louis Flyers (1951-52) and Edmonton Flyers (1962-63).

Owen Nolan (check out the video below)
Ice Hockey
Born: Belfast, 12 February 1972
Career Highlights: Won Olympic Gold Medal with Canadian Ice Hockey team in 2002. Played for the Quebec Nordiques (l990-95), Colorado Avalanche (l995-96), San Jose Sharks (l995-2003), Toronto Maple Leafs (2002-04), Phoenix Coyotes (2006-07) and the Calgary Flames (2007-present).

Geraldine Heaney (pictured above)
Ice Hockey
Born: Lurgan, Co. Down, 1 October 1967
Career Highlights: Won Olympic Gold Medal for Canada Ladies Ice Hockey team in 2002 and Silver medal in 1998. Won Gold in seven World Championship final. Geraldine is considered one of the world’s greatest female Ice Hockey players and was inducted into the IIHF Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008. Currently coaches the University of Waterloo Women’s Ice Hockey team.


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