Joe (Sam) Hodgins, who ranked amongst the greatest athletes to come through Blackrock Athletic Club and who was an iconic figure in running circles, passed away earlier this month. Joe held the distinction of being the first athlete to bring a national title to the club when he won the under-20 one-mile championship, which was held at Enniscorthy in 1950, at the tender age of 16. He was the youngest athlete up to that point to achieve this honour and was looked upon as a bright future prospect. He did not disappoint in this regard and went on to achieve many successes at all distances up to marathon level. He also played a big part in Dublin’s successes at National Senior cross-country level.
How Joe came to join the club would make a story on its own. A group of avid soccer enthusiasts that included Joe and Freddy English saw a poster in a shop window in Monkstown Farm in 1948 which promoted a match between Blackrock A.C. and Civil Service. Thinking that it was a football match they headed to Blackrock to find out that it was an athletic inter-club league, which incidentally was won by the local club. They were obviously impressed by what they saw because they became hooked on athletics and decided to throw in their lot with the club.
Joe was a bigger-than-life character and was well known throughout the wider athletic community. He was always to the fore in trying out new training methods. He followed the lead given by Emil Zatopek, the great Czech distance runner, in wearing army boots in training and emulated Avril Malan, a famous South African Rugby captain, by carrying a loaded rucksack on his back while out on his runs. If something new was coming on stream Joe was the man to try it out. I remember one particular morning going up to the club’s training grounds at Avondale Park for a run to find that Joe was already there. Much to my surprise, he was attempting to set up a new record time for 100 laps (25 miles) of the ground. Believe it or not his timing mechanism was an old type alarm clock that was placed on the ground at the end of the lap.
Joe joined the national army and saw service with the United Nations in the Congo. He was on active duty there when nine of his army comrades tragically lost their lives in an ambush at Niemba, near Katanga in 1960. This atrocity was carried out by a local tribe.
Joe was an avid fan of Al Jolson and livened up many occasions with his renderings of such songs as “Swanee”, “You made me love you” and “Is it true what they say about Dixie”. It was fitting that he should leave the Church for his final journey to the sound of the Jolson number “Mammie”. This was his final swan song.
Ni bheidh a leitheid aris ann.
Our deepest sympathy goes to his wife, Mary, and family and also to his brother Michael, who was also a former club member.