An Olympic Freemason

                        (Dervock born and bred)
  An Olympic hero & proud Freemason

        Thanks to Lodge No 57, Ballymoney, for kindly     
        providing Ballymoney Museum with this photo

On Sunday, 14 July 1912, the name of K.K. McArthur was added to Olympic history when he triumphed in South African colours at Stockholm, Sweden. However, nowhere was McArthur’s marathon victory celebrated with more pride than in his birthplace, the village of Dervock, Co Antrim.

Kennedy Kane McArthur was born on 10 February 1881. He attended Dervock Upper National School and on leaving became the local postman. The figure of ‘Big Ken’ was a familiar sight in the neighbourhood, sprinting along the country roads with his postbag on his back. Although he was recognised as a promising athlete, McArthur did not pursue a career in sports and instead he set off to seek his fortune in South Africa.

McArthur joined the Transvaal police force and before long he began to take his running more seriously. At 6’3”and 170lb, he was not an obvious long distance runner, nevertheless in his first marathon he beat an Olympic silver medallist!

He never lost touch with friends and family at home and often returned to Co. Antrim, Ireland. During one visit in 1907, he was initiated into Lodge No.57, in Ballymoney, before returning to South Africa to take a leading role in the King Edward Lodge No.3004, in Potchefstroom.

“Come on Antrim!”

By 1912, McArthur had become an obvious selection for the Olympics in Sweden. The Stockholm Olympic marathon took place in sweltering heat and everyone knew the temperature would be a deciding factor. By the final stages of the race, McArthur had a commanding lead, but he was suffering from the fatigue of running in the unbearable conditions.

Without warning, as McArthur entered the Olympic Stadium, a well-intentioned Swedish spectator placed a huge garland around his shoulders and he almost collapsed under its weight. His legs giving way, it was then that McArthur heard a voice from the crowd, urging him on in a familiar Ulster accent: “Come on Antrim, come on ye boy ye!”

It was enough to give McArthur the boost he needed and he crossed the line as the Olympic Marathon Champion after 2 hours 36 minutes and 54.8 seconds - a new Olympic record and 58 seconds ahead of his silver medal winning team mate Christopher Gitsham.

Career ends with injury

The Olympic marathon was McArthur’s sixth and last marathon – remarkably, he won all six! However, his sporting career was short lived. One year later, an accident involving a skateboard, a rope and a moving vehicle literally stopped McArthur's fledgling career in its tracks. He never ran professionally again.

Following his victory, McArthur returned to live in Dervock with his South African wife. However, the Northern Irish climate did not agree with his better half, so the McArthur's returned to live in Potchefstroom, South Africa, where, in 1957 became the Worshipful Master of No.3004 before his death in 1960 aged 79 years old.

Thanks to Keith Beattie of Ballymoney Museum for submitting this article, Keith talks about the life of Kennedy Kane McArthur in the following interview for Culture NI.

We would be most interested to hear from anyone who can provide any additional information on Kennedy Kane McArthur, especially from any of our fellow Brethren in South Africa.