Ireland and the World of Sports - Vol. 3 - Joan Horan

The first instalment of the Ireland and the World of Sports Series was about the first athlete to win a gold medal for Ireland at the Olympic Games, Dr. Patrick O’Callaghan:
This month’s article is about the first athlete to win a gold medal for Ireland at the Paralympic Games, Joan Horan.

Joan was born in Dublin on February 26 1918. She attended school at Alexandra College in Milltown, Dublin, and also at St Mary’s School Ascot in Berkshire, England.

At school, Joan played hockey and acted. After completing her secondary education, Joan studied theatre at The Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art in London. Later, Joan successfully attained minor stage and film roles and went on to act with the Dublin Players Company during the 1940s.

In 1947, Joan was diagnosed with a cyst on her spine and was hospitalised for two years at the National Hospital, Queen’s Square, London. By 1953, Joan was paralysed. She received treatment at the Spinal Injuries Centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, England. Joan took up table tennis and archery whilst residing at Stoke Mandeville and later went on to compete in the Eight International Stoke Mandeville Games in 1959, where she won two gold medals. Joan was selected to represent Ireland at the Rome 1960 Paralympic Games.

Ireland sent a team of five athletes to the Rome 1960 Paralympics Games: Joan, Oliver Murphy, Fr. Leo Close, Jimmy Levins and Jack Kerrigan. Ireland won a total of two medals at these Games, both gold and both won by Joan: one of these medals was won in the women’s St. Nicolas Round of Archery and the other was won in the class C2 women’s twenty-five meter freestyle event.

After the Games, the Irish team attended an audience with Pope John XIII and spent three days in Lourdes before returning to Dublin. Joan’s teammate at the Rome 1960 Games, Fr. Leo Close, founded the Irish Wheelchair Association; Joan was active in raising funds for the Association and also for the Cheshire Foundation.