He runs for the money

— Tom Mc­Grath's latest char­ity run is from New York City to An­na­pol­is, with a stop in North­east Philly on Sunday night. He's rais­ing money for a me­mori­al to be built for Com­modore Barry.

Ul­tra-mara­thon­er and New York pub own­er Tom Mc­Grath is run­ning 250 miles from New York to An­na­pol­is, Md., to raise money for a me­mori­al to Com­modore John Barry at the U.S. Nav­al Academy. Barry was an Ir­ish-born Phil­adelphi­an, Re­volu­tion­ary War hero and ÒFath­er of the Amer­ic­an Navy.Ó Mc­Grath will run through North­east Phil­adelphia on Ju­ly 22 and stop for a re­cep­tion that even­ing at An­cient Or­der of Hi­ber­ni­ans Di­vi­sion 39, 7229 Tulip St.


In the Big Apple, folks don’t meas­ure dis­tances in miles. Rather, it’s all about time in the city that nev­er sleeps.

So, by Man­hat­tan pub own­er Tom Mc­Grath’s reck­on­ing, start­ing on Fri­day, it’ll take him some­where around 60 hours over nine days to get from New York to An­na­pol­is, Md., by way of North­east Philly.

At 61 years old, the nat­ive Ir­ish­man will cov­er that route com­pletely on foot to raise money for a new me­mori­al to one of Phil­adelphia’s and the na­tion’s most dis­tin­guished Ir­ish-Amer­ic­ans, Com­modore John Barry, the “Fath­er of the Amer­ic­an Navy.”

The stone and bronze me­mori­al and a sur­round­ing plaza will be in­stalled at the U.S. Nav­al Academy. The na­tion­al board of the An­cient Or­der of Hi­ber­ni­ans, an Ir­ish-Cath­ol­ic fraternal and char­it­able or­gan­iz­a­tion, has led a years-long cam­paign to plan and fund the in­stall­a­tion.

For the re­cord, Mc­Grath’s planned route will cov­er about 250 miles and in­clude a stop at AOH Di­vi­sion 39 headquar­ters, 7229 Tulip St., on Sunday even­ing, Ju­ly 22, for a cas­u­al re­cep­tion. The Ir­ish-Amer­ic­an com­munity and pub­lic at-large are wel­come to at­tend. The event is planned from 5 to 8 p.m., and tick­ets are $20 at the door. Pro­ceeds will be­ne­fit the Barry Me­mori­al fund.

Mc­Grath plans to cov­er about 30 miles a day un­til he reaches the Nav­al Academy. That’s farther than a con­ven­tion­al mara­thon.

Fit­tingly, very little seems con­ven­tion­al about the former Gael­ic foot­baller and Ir­ish pro­vin­cial box­ing cham­pi­on.

“I went to the Olympics in Montreal in 1976 and I saw Ea­monn Cogh­lan run for Ire­land and I star­ted run­ning every day,” Mc­Grath said, ex­plain­ing his in­doc­trin­a­tion in­to the phys­ic­ally and men­tally tax­ing realm of ul­tra-mara­thons.

A nat­ive of County Fer­man­agh in the his­tor­ic­al province of Ul­ster, he had already im­mig­rated to New York City by then.

“I found that run­ning long dis­tances was no prob­lem for me,” he said. “Then one day the guys didn’t show up to play a game of (Gael­ic) foot­ball, so I went out to run. I ran for four hours and it was no prob­lem.”

He’s barely stopped since.

In 1977, he won a footrace from New York to San Fran­cisco, cov­er­ing 3,046 miles in just over 53 days to stamp his name in the Guin­ness Book of World Re­cords.

In 1988, he placed third in the In­ter­na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Ul­trar­unners World Cham­pi­on­ship 1,000-mile race, cov­er­ing that dis­tance in 15 days, 18 hours.

One time, he even ran an “ul­tra” in­side the former Shea Sta­di­um in Flush­ing, N.Y. It was the 100-mile “world cham­pi­on­ship,” he said, and Cogh­lan — by then a per­son­al friend —showed up to cheer him.

Cogh­lan, a former NCAA cham­pi­on for Vil­lan­ova Uni­versity, is now a mem­ber of Ir­ish par­lia­ment. He was best known in his com­pet­it­ive hey­day as a world-re­cord hold­er in the mile. So a 100-mile race wasn’t ex­actly in his com­fort zone, even as a spec­tat­or.

“The first thing he said to me was, ‘Slow down!’” Mc­Grath re­called. “So I speeded up.”

He doesn’t do com­pet­it­ive races very of­ten any­more.

“I’ve done a lot of them. I’ve done my share,” he said.

In­stead, he fo­cuses on char­ity events where he can so­li­cit pledges for the miles he runs.

In 1994, he gal­loped, trot­ted and shuffled 500 miles and raised $100,000 to re­build the run­ning track in New York’s Cent­ral Park. And just last year, he com­pleted the Six Counties 300-mile Char­ity Run in the north of Ire­land in 10 days.

Mc­Grath is no stranger to Phil­adelphia, either. He used to hear about the city quite a lot from his moth­er, who claimed she was born here.

“They came over on the boat and my grand­moth­er was preg­nant. (My moth­er) was born in Phil­adelphia and then they went right back,” he said.

“They couldn’t find work and were home­sick.”

Mc­Grath grew up in a fam­ily of 11 on a farm near the vil­lage of Eder­ney, pop­u­la­tion 200.

“I’d wake up in the morn­ing and I’d think about sports im­me­di­ately — bas­ket­ball, foot­ball, box­ing, ath­let­ics,” he said.

He first vis­ited Philly as a teen­ager with a Gael­ic foot­ball team from Tyr­one. They stayed in the area for about two months in the sum­mer of 1969 for a tour­na­ment.

Rather than re­turn to the farm, Mc­Grath chose to stay in Amer­ica and en­roll in col­lege. Even then, however, his life re­volved around sports.

“With the box­ing, I star­ted my own club at col­lege,” he said. “(But) with Gael­ic foot­ball, the games got scarce in New York. I couldn’t get enough. It wasn’t enough to sat­is­fy me.”

It only fueled his ded­ic­a­tion to run­ning, even after he landed in the bar busi­ness and bought a place of his own, the Black Sheep at 38th Street and Third Av­en­ue. Now, ex­treme run­ning is his way of main­tain­ing equi­lib­ri­um in the rest of his life.

“Be­ing in the bar busi­ness, you see a lot of stuff hap­pen­ing. And if you try to keep up with (the cus­tom­ers), a lot can hap­pen to you real quick if you get too in­volved,” he said. “You can lose your busi­ness real quick.”

That doesn’t stop his cus­tom­ers from try­ing to keep up with him.

“They’ll say, ‘I’ll race you around the block.’ I’ve heard that a mil­lion times,” Mc­Grath said.

In real­ity, his runs can last four hours or more on the hard and muggy city streets. In pre­par­a­tion for the Barry Run, he’s been train­ing dur­ing the heat of the af­ter­noon, just to pre­pare for the 90-de­gree-plus con­di­tions.

“I have to be smart and drink plenty of wa­ter. And if I have to walk a bit, I walk a bit,” he said. “You al­ways listen to your body and a little mu­sic. I put in the hours. And if you put in the hours, you put in the dis­tance.”

Al­though sep­ar­ated in time by more than two cen­tur­ies, Mc­Grath and Barry have shared many of the same steps.

“He left the shores of Ire­land and made it to the top. He was born and raised in poverty in Wex­ford and made it to the top of the United States Navy. That’s one great achieve­ment,” Mc­Grath said.

Barry served as a cap­tain in the Con­tin­ent­al Navy dur­ing the Re­volu­tion­ary War and com­manded the vic­tori­ous Al­li­ance in the fi­nal nav­al battle of the war off of Cape Canaver­al in March 1783.

In Feb­ru­ary 1797, Pres­id­ent George Wash­ing­ton is­sued Barry the first of­ficer’s com­mis­sion of the newly es­tab­lished U.S. Navy. He re­mained head of the Navy un­til his death in 1803.

There’s a statue of Barry out­side In­de­pend­ence Hall and a bridge named after him span­ning the Delaware River between Chester, Pa., and Bridge­port, N.J.

Un­til re­cently, however, there was no per­man­ent me­mori­al at the U.S. Nav­al Academy.

“Our in­volve­ment is where he came from and be­cause he nev­er got the cred­it he de­served,” said Seamus Boyle, the AOH na­tion­al pres­id­ent and a mem­ber of Di­vi­sion 39 in the North­east. “No (out­side group) has ever put up a monu­ment in the Nav­al Academy be­fore. The AOH is the first to do it.”

Early this year, the AOH erec­ted a me­mori­al arch over a foot en­trance to the Academy grounds. It’s known as the Barry Gate.

The nearby monu­ment is a big­ger ef­fort, however. It will take about $200,000 to erect the stone and bronze mark­er and de­vel­op a plaza to sur­round it. The AOH has raised more than $150,000 to­ward the cause. The group hopes to sur­pass the goal with Mc­Grath’s long-dis­tance run.

“When we ap­proached Tom, he said, ‘I’ll do it,’” Boyle re­called. “He said, ‘What if I do a run from New York to An­na­pol­is?’ We laughed and he said, ‘I’m ser­i­ous.’”

“When this came up, I said it would be a priv­ilege and an hon­or,” Mc­Grath said. ••


You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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