Among Riverside Boat Club’s best oarsmen during the late 1930s and early 40s and certainly its most colorful were three brothers from Sneen, County Kerry, Ireland, Steve, Jim and Tom Casey. In keeping with rowing’s long association with pugilism, Steve, Tom and two other brothers had been successful professional boxers and wrestlers in Ireland, but the seven siblings’ first love was rowing. They raced victoriously in the 1930’s and it is said that five of them would have competed for Ireland in the 1936 Olympics had they not been disqualified for taking prize fight money.
In 1938, Steve “Crusher” Casey, recently arrived in Boston with Tom and Jim, won the world heavyweight wrestling championship at the Garden, a title he would hold until 1947. Looking for a place to row, the three gravitated to Riverside, the Boston club with an Irish as well as a boxing pedigree, where they were soon known as “the famous Caseys.” In 1940, they issued a challenge through the Boston Globe to any four in the country to race them on the Charles. They were to be joined by another brother once it was accepted. After watching the Caseys train, however, no one responded until Union Boat Club’s Russell Codman, Jr., a silver medalist sculler in a recent national championships but now 45 years of age, agreed to a singles race. The Boston Globe sponsored the event, offering $1,000 in prize money.
Former Harvard oar Governor Leverett Saltonstall put up a cup for the winner. The principals raised $2,000 in stakes. Arranged for November 10, the race attracted an enormous crowd, reported to have included young Jack Kennedy. Tom Casey, age 25 and famed for his blistering cadence, finished first, Jim was second, Steve third and Codman fourth. Tom is said to have gone on to win every race he entered. As for Crusher, it is testimony to his popularity on both sides of the Atlantic that his statue stands today in Sneen, while in this country his bars, Casey’s in Boston and Casey’s Too in Hull, were favorite watering holes for locals, Irish immigrants and rowers alike.