CURRENT ISSUE:  OCTOBER 2023

Pic of Jeremy Swole

Cleveland Comhrá: Indiana Stones and The Limerick Lion

By Bob Carney

For many centuries, testing the strength of men and even some women in Ireland, was done by picking up lifting stones. They varied in weight, with some reaching the four to five hundred pound range.

These displays of strength often occurred at funerals in honor of the dead or at weddings to celebrate the young couple’s union. A man could also prove his worthiness in his quest to acquire work or simply to impress others.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, under British occupation, many aspects of Irish culture suffered, the practice of stone lifting among them. The stones remained in the places they were last lifted and became forgotten by many but a few became part of the local history and were remembered by the stories associated with them.

Indiana Stones
Forty-four year old David Keohan, a man they call “Indiana Stones,” is one of Ireland’s strongmen. He holds a kettlebell lifting world record and is a rising star in stone lifting as the ancient practice makes a resurgence in Ireland and other locals across the globe.

Keohan has been traveling around Ireland searching out the resting places of these giant stones and to date has located thirty of them. He has found them in church yards and cemeteries and half buried in the sand on the coast.

He suspects that there are easily another thirty to be found. It is his desire to uncover as many as possible and record  the stories that accompany them so they are never forgotten. It is his way of recovering and preserving what he feels is an important part of Ireland’s past for future generations.

People from across Ireland have been sending him tips and information about the location of these stones. He has “uncovered” stones that have been known locally for centuries, including a beheading stone that has the impression of the axes used and a druidic offering stone that was used as late as the seventh century. Of the thirty stones located, he has managed to lift all but two of them, but plans to attempt them again.

Keohan’s journey started during the pandemic, when his gym closed. He turned to his own garden and started to work out using the stones that were there and even added weight to them. He claims since starting this course of training he has never felt stronger. Soon he was walking the beaches near his home lifting whatever stones he came across.

The practice is growing worldwide, including the United States, as strongmen are finding the benefits that our ancestors knew about cenuries ago. Stone lifting was not limited to the celts, it was practiced in many cultures throughout the world.

The Limerick Lion
I shared this story with a young friend of mine, local power-lifter and strongman Jeremy Swole, and he told me all about an Irishman known as the Limerick Lion. Pa O’Dwyer is a five-time Ireland’s Strongest Man winner, and a World’s Strongest Man competitor.

O’Dwyer grew up on a farm in Rathkeale, a small community in the southwest of Ireland. He learned hard work lessons there and in his early twenties took a job working on the roads. It was a co-worker that introduced him to weight training. He was soon hooked and started adding muscle to his 6’2’’ frame along with considerable strength. Today  he weighs in at 304lbs of solid  muscle.

His first real success came at thirty-two years of age, when he competed in the U.K.’s Strongest Man Competition in 2017, where he placed third. A year later he won the competition. That same year he qualified for the World’s Strongest Man event held in Brandenton, Florida, and finished fourth in his heat.

In 2021 he improved  to fifth overall at both Europe’s and Britain’s Strongest Man. At the 2022 Britain’s Strongest Man he placed second, delighting his growing number of fans. All of this experience improved his confidence and followers of the sport grew to love his humour as well as his physical abilities.

He is a natural entertainer, his interviews on television and social media draw people  to him. He is a practical joker and enjoys being the butt of his own jokes. Pa comes across as someone you would enjoy being around.

Pic of Jeremy Swole
Jeremy Swole

I was not able to speak to Pa O’Dwyer, but asked Jeremy Swole what it takes to compete at that level, and what made him such a fan:

“The amount of dedication, devotion and discipline that strongmen put into their daily lives is insane. They’re training five to six hours a day and every competitor I’ve spoken to or listened to has said that the hardest part is diet.

You need to consume upwards of ten thousand calories a day. That means eating every two to three hours. Waking up in the middle of the night, eat, and go back to sleep.

“What it takes is an unworldly amount of discipline to be able to get to where you want to be and maintain it. Pa, for instance weighs anywhere between 300 and 350lbs when he’s competing, so the amount of fuel he needs to stay strong and energetic is incredible.”

“When he was coming up, he was just dominating the circuits in strongman competitions. No Irishman has won Ireland’s Strongest Man five times in a row. He was the first Irishman to podium at Britain’s Strongest Man. That was a great accomplishment, those competitions have some of the best athletes in the world and without a doubt, he is one of the world’s top tier athletes.”

“He had to withdraw from the 2022 and 2023 World competition due to injuries, that was right after placing second at Britain. There was just a competition in Glasgow for the Strongman Open; that’s where you get your qualifiers to compete for the World Competition.

He pulled 880lb in the deadlift, not his best, and when he got some slack for it, he replied with his usual sense of humour. That’s another thing that sets him apart, he likes to poke fun at himself and the other competitors. I hope to meet him in person someday and it’s a dream of mine to workout with him and pick his mind to see what it’s like to be one of the strongest men in the world.”

Learning about these two strongmen and speaking to Jeremy, has inspired me. I think I’ll head into the yard and find something to lift. Then again, maybe I’ll make some popcorn and see what’s on Netflix.

Special thanks to Jeremy Swole and Sheila Ives for their generous contribution to this month’s column.

Picture of Bob Carney

Bob Carney

*Bob Carney is a student of Irish language and history and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday at PJ McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhound and Irish dogs organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, hounds Rían, Aisling and Draoi and terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be reached at [email protected]

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