Sunday, July 22, 2012

Beatrice Hill Lowe - Ireland's First Female Olympian

Inspired by Sean Diffley's column in the Irish Independent, 21 July 2012
Beatrice Geraldine Hill-Lowe from Ardee, Co Louth,  Ireland's first female Olympian, took a bronze medal for archery at the 1908 London Olympic. 
At the time, archery was the only sporting event open to women because women were only allowed to compete in a sport while fully clothed. Hill-Lowe finished third  with 618 points, 70 points behind  the gold medal winner, Queenie Newall, from Bolton in England and the great all-rounder Lottie Dod, who was second. All 25 competitors in the "Double National Round" - 48 arrows shot at 60 yards, followed by 24 arrows shot at 50 yards on each of the two days - were from Britain or Ireland.   

Lottie Dod took the lead on the first day (Friday 17 July 1908) with a score of 348 points and 66 hits, with Queenie Newall ten points behind on 338 despite hitting the same number of targets. Nobody else was close. The next day, Newall performed well, scoring 350 points, while Hill-Lowe had climbed into second place with 343 points. Dod's challenge for gold  collapsed when she could only manage a score of  294.
Sybil Fenton "Queenie" Newall's victory makes her the oldest woman to win an Olympic medal - she was four months short of her 54th birthday during the competition.  Newall won the British championship in archery in both 1911 and 1912 but she was far from the top female shooter of the era. That honor falls to Alice Legh, the greatest British archer ever, who won 23 national championships between 1886 and 1922. Legh elected not to compete at the Olympic event, which she would almost certainly have won. The following week at Oxford, she defeated Newall by 151 points.
The runner-up, Lottie Dod,  sister of the men's 1908 Olympic champion William Dod, never won a British title in archery, but is probably the greatest all-around British sportswoman ever. She remains the youngest ever champion at Wimbledon, having won the ladies' singles in 1887 aged only 15.  
That was the first of five Wimbledon singles' titles before she retired from tennis and turned to other sports in 1893. She played hockey for England in 1899-1900 and, in golf, won the British Ladies' Amateur Championship in 1904, after reaching the semi-finals in 1898 and 1899.

Beatrice Hill-Lowe (nee Ruxton),  the middle child in a family of eight, was born in Ardee House on 1 January 1868.  Her father,  named as a 'gentleman and justice of the peace' was involved in administration for the county of Cavan.
"It is not clear how or why Beatrice Ruxton got involved in archery, but she was aged 40 and married when she won her bronze at the White City Stadium in 1908," says Sean Diffley.
"Her husband was the magnificently-named Commander Arthur Hill Ommanney Peter Hill-Lowe and served in the Royal Navy. He died in Shropshire just two years after Beatrice had competed in the Olympics." It had been a second marriage for Hill-Lowe, who died on 17 April 1910; the couple had married on 15 July 1891 when Beatrice was 23. 
"Some time later Beatrice got married again. Her new husband was named Thompson and they lived in Pembrokeshire, where our bronze medallist died in 1951 aged 83."

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