Multi-talented sportsman became the first Irishman to win the Wimbledon Singles title, writes Sheila O’Kelly
WILLOUGHBY James HAMILTON was already an international footballer, cricketer and the number one tennis player in the world when, in 1890, after three failed attempts, he became the first Irishman to win the Wimbledon men’s singles title.
Then, at 25 and with the world seemingly at his feet, he virtually disappeared, destined to become little more than a footnote in Ireland’s rich sporting history
Willoughby James Hamilton, tennis, soccer and badminton player, was born on the 9th December, 1864, in Monastervin, County Kildare, to Church of Ireland rector, William Alfred Hamilton and his wife, Henrietta (nee Cole). Alfred and Henrietta had nine children.
Willoughby was three years old when his family moved to the parish of Taney in Dundrum in Dublin. His father was Rector of Taney Parish from 1867 to 1895. Willoughby was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and attended Haileybury College, in Hertford and Oxford University.
Willoughby commenced playing competitive tennis in his teenage years. In 1884, he made his debut in the Irish Lawn Tennis Championships, held in those days in Fitzwilliam Tennis Club near Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin. Willoughby and his brother, William Drummond Hamilton, played soccer for Dublin Association Football Club.
It was the first soccer club to be formed in Dublin, and the first club outside Ulster to be affiliated with the Irish Football Association. The Hamilton brothers excelled at soccer and both of them were capped for Ireland in an 8-2 defeat against Wales in 1885.
However, it was in tennis Willoughby Hamilton made his name. In summer 1886, he entered the Wimbledon tennis tournament for the first time and reached the quarter-finals in the men’s singles event. He lost in straight sets to Scottish tennis champion Herbert Lawford.