Jim 'Jumbo' Ryan
Jim, mostly known as Jumbo, Ryan is big, not only in stature but in the greyhound world as well. He believes he must have been a big baby because he’s been called Jumbo as long as he can remember. In fact, so used is he to the name that when he was in the U.S. and was occasionally called Jim, he wouldn’t answer to the name.
A native of the Commons, Cashel he was actually born in Hill House, Cashel which was a nursing home at the time, run by Nurse Rouse. Significantly, he is now living in Bohermore, virtually in the shadow of the house where he first saw the light of day in May 1934.
The family nickname was ‘Jilly’, to differentiate them from all the other Ryans and his father’s people came from Cloneyross, Drombane. The father’s name was Mattie, a farmer, with an interest in dogs. According to Jumbo he made good money out of them ‘when a £ was worth a £.’ He won the Irish Plate at Clounanna about 1943 with Cloneyross Lass.
Jumbo was the third of four boys. Tommy was the eldest and continues to farm the home place. Mickey also lives in the Commons. The fourth boy, Mattie, lives in Lagganstown. The boys played hurling with the Cashel King Cormac’s. Jumbo won west minor medals in 1949 and 1952 and was on the junior hurling team which won the 1953 county final. Mickey was also on the team and Mattie was on the panel. He also played senior football with Rockwell Rovers.
Jumbo grew up with greyhounds. He recalls a daily chore after school of walking the dogs three miles daily. Life was tough and he learned to work hard, which stood him good stead later. But there were relaxations. Pheasant and duck shooting and helping out the local coursing club for their two-day annual meet were enjoyed. ‘I found the hare drives very exciting. To be among sixty or more beaters was great. It was all good, healthy outdoor exercise and great fun.’
He remembers begging his parents for permission to see his first film in 1949 at the Rock Cinema in Cashel. Part of the show was a screen account of the Tipperary-Laois All-Ireland, which Tipperary won by 3-11 to 0-3. Prominent on the Tipperary panel was local hero and super star, Jim Devitt.
He decided to emigrate in 1959 and the place he chose was St. Paul, the twin city of Minneapolis in Minnesota. There was reason for his choice of destination. A shooting buddy, Joe Gould of Rosegreen, was going there and he went along. They later sponsored two friends to follow them.
His first job was in the Northland Ski Company that manufactured snow skis, toboggans, ice-hockey sticks, snow shoes, etc. He worked as a dispatcher. The skis from this place went all over the U.S. Most of the brand names in skis and toboggans originated here. People who bought expensive brands believed they were getting specially made skis whereas all they were getting was a conveyor-belt production with the brand name stuck on. Some of the skis he despatched were used in the winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, California in 1960 by the United States Olympic team.
His next job was also far-removed from farming and greyhounds. He got a job in a factory which made parts for aircraft and worked in this from 1960 to 1972. He made impellers for planes and the only greyhound he saw during this time was one being shipped through Minneapolis airport.
It wasn’t all work. While in Minnesota he started a hurling team. The Cashel King Cormac’s club presented him with a set of jerseys and socks, supplied by E.D. Ryan of Friar Street. When he was returning to Ireland he brought back the jerseys and presented them to Cashel C.B.S. He recalled a game he played in Chicago: ‘Can you imagine driving a 900 miles round trip, play a game in ninety degree heat and be back for a 6 am start at work on Monday morning.’
He also looked after other important matters. He had met Aggie Grant from Bank Place, Cashel, who worked as a nurse in the Miller Hospital, St. Paul, and they got married on Independence Day, 1964. The ‘Miller’ name was to have further significance.
The married couple retired back to Ireland in 1972 and it was to be the first of three retirements! Jumbo had done well in Minnesota but the cold was severe in the winter.
They bought Pine Lodge from Pat Dalton, a house with fifteen acres on the Old Road. It was called Pine Lodge after a horse which won money for Jumbo at 11/1. Here he went into breeding and training in what came to be known as the Minnesota Kennels.
His first bitch was Letesia, which he bought in Scotland for £40. He knew this bitch for some time as it had been owned by his brother, Mickey. It had made the top price of £525 at the Shelbourne sales. Jumbo had been on the lookout for her after he decided to come back to Ireland and go into breeding. She cost £40 as a brood bitch.
The first litter of pups he ever produced was from Letesia and the sire was Bright Lad, which was owned by Mickey. One of the litter was called Minnesota Miller and it was to make Jumbo famous. Born in August 1973 the dog started racing during 1975 and coursing early in 1976. He won a few races on the track at Thurles but really made his name coursing. Between January 4 and February 13, 1976 Minnesota Miller won eighteen successive flags, including the Clarke Cup, the Blue Riband of Irish open coursing in Old Carton, Co. Meath, and the Waterloo Cup, the Blue Riband of English coursing.
He came back to win a 575 on the track at Thurles and then he featured in a triple dead heat for second place in a big stake at the same venue. Only three dogs could go forward and a draw was made for two of the three. Minnesota Miller was last out and Jumbo decided to retire him to stud. He was a good stud dog and produced, among others, an Irish Derby winner, Suir Miller, for his owners, Willie and Betty Flood of Laganstown.
A repeat mating of Letesia and Bright Lad produced, among others the equally famous, Minnesota Yank. It won the Waterloo Cup in 1977, the year after Minnesota Miller. It was the first Irish double to be registered in the event since Master McGrath achieved the feat in 1869. It was also the first time in the history of the classic that two full brothers had triumphed. Minnesota Yank was the first Waterloo winner to return and win a thirty-two all-age stake. In fact, he won two in succession.
Jumbo raced Minnesota Yank once after Waterloo and won at Mullingar. He then sold him to an English owner. At this time he was very busy, had too many dogs and was finding it difficult to carry on a training and a breeding program.
Jumbo hoped to win the Waterloo Cup for a third time in 1978. The dog he had in mind to achieve the treble was a litter brother of Yank, Minnesota Swank, who had been racing in the U.S. and was shipped back to Ireland for the cup. There was a great attraction in winning a treble in the classic. The cup was a very valuable gold trophy and would be won outright with the third victory. However, the Waterloo Cup wasn’t run in 1978 so he never got a chance. However, as he said ‘Two for two wasn’t too bad for a Rookie!’
He continued training and breeding in Pine Lodge for thirteen years. He was a very busy man, in great demand for breeding and training. He recalls having dogs racing at three different tracks on the same night. He had some faithful travelling companions to many meets, especially to Altcar for the Waterloo Cup. These were his brother, Mickey, Dick Walsh of Newinn and John Morrissey of Cashel. Older brother, Tommy, was a great help at local weekend meets. Life was good but he was on the go all the time and decided to retire for the second time, this time to Florida.
He sold out and went to Florida but he didn’t quite give up the dogs. He became an assistant to Pat Dalton, who kept two places with about seventy dogs in each. He prepared the dogs for races and continued to have a good eye for the right dog. One such was Spartan Sun, which he spotted in Pat Dalton’s kennel in Boston in 1985 and bought for $4,000 as a wedding anniversary present for his wife. Within two months he had won the $150,000 Wonderland Derby. Prior to that he had reached the final of the Wonderland Sprint Classic and, only for an error in the final, could have won that as well. It was a wonderful anniversary present even though Aggie had been a bit sceptical when he told her about it.
After thirteen years in Florida Jumbo and Aggie decided to retire again, this time to Ireland. Earlier they had bought a residence in Bohermore and came back there in 1997. It was about their fifteenth change of residence but he believes they are home to stay. As Jumbo reminisces on his years he can look back to major achievements, which include classic victories in three countries, and to a life full of incident and excitement. He can also be sure that wherever dogs are spoken of the names of Minnesota Miller and Minnesota Yank, as well as the bitch Letesia and the sire Bright Lad, not forgetting Spartan Sun, will be remembered.
Program for Cashel King Cormac's Benefit Night at Thurles Greyhound Track, August 8, 2000.