Vera McWeeney (nee Mahony)

Veronica Mary Elizabeth (‘Vera’) McWeeney (1909–81), sportswoman and sports journalist, was born 21 July 1909 in Blarney, Co. Cork, third among three children of Francis Walter Mahony, managing director of the family business Martin Mahony & Bros Ltd, from Blarney, Co. Cork, and his second wife, Mary (‘May’) (née Ashlin), originally from Castle Richmond, Midleton, Co. Cork. She moved to Dublin as a young girl, and played hockey with Dublin club Maids of the Mountain, winning the Irish Senior Cup in 1930 and 1935. In 1927 she won her first interprovincial cap for Leinster and followed that with her first international cap in 1932. The highlight of her playing career was captaining Ireland on a tour of the USA (1936), where they initially attended a world hockey conference and tournament in Philadelphia, winning two out of their five exhibition matches, and continued on a two-week tour, where they easily won their five games. She also travelled on Ireland’s tour to Denmark in 1933. An active and versatile sportswoman, she was also widely regarded as a tennis player of international standard, although there is no clear evidence that she ever played at international level for Ireland, as there were few international opportunities for women in the 1930s. A member of the Carrickmines club, she won the prestigious East of Ireland tennis championship in 1934 and the County Dublin Championships twice (1936, 1937), and she was listed as no. 4 in the Irish tennis rankings in 1937. Her only national tennis title was the 1940 Irish Close ladies’ doubles championship, in which she partnered Norma Stoker (qv). A keen badminton player as well as an active skier and skater, she is also reputed to have won international caps at squash. In 1951 she was elected as president of the Irish Ladies Hockey Union (ILHU) and also served for some years as both a senior umpire and as an international selector.

Vera McWeeney is chiefly remembered, however, as a pioneer in what was at the time the all-male world of Irish sports journalism, and she carved a niche for herself as a forthright and intelligent writer on women’s hockey, as well as on tennis, badminton, and squash. The death of her husband, Arthur, in 1958 launched her on her career as a journalist, as she turned to what she knew most about to make a living. Initially working as a freelance reporter for the Irish Independent, in the early 1960s she moved to the Irish Times, where she wrote a column on women’s hockey for almost two decades. She also covered domestic tennis and all the major tennis events held at Fitzwilliam, as well as badminton and squash. She was always extremely well informed and never afraid to voice an opinion; a hallmark of her writing was her ability to pen pictures of any event with accuracy and imagination. Her writing reflected her no-nonsense personality; when reporting at the Fitzwilliam club she was not averse to taking a shortcut through the locker room in what was then an all-male bastion.

A son, Myles McWeeney (b. 1942) was a prominent television executive at RTÉ. She died suddenly 9 January 1981 and is buried in Glasnevin cemetery. The ILHU under-21 provincial tournament, inaugurated in 1982, is called the Vera McWeeney Cup in her memory, and in croquet the Vera McWeeney Trophy is competed for annually between teams representing the Croquet Association of Ireland and their English counterparts.

Credit: Dictionary of Irish Biography