He was the son of Patrick Boland (1840–1877), businessman, and his wife, Mary Donnelly, and was born at 135 Capel Street, Dublin, on 16 September 1870.
His father, the wealthy proprietor of the largest bakery in Ireland, locally known as ‘Boland’s Biscuits’, died in 1877, and his mother in 1882, leaving their seven children under the guardianship of Mrs Boland’s half-brother Nicholas Donnelly, auxiliary bishop of Dublin.
John Pius Mary Boland owed his second name, which caused him some embarrassment as boy, to the fact that his baptism followed shortly after Pope Pius IX’s loss of temporal power upon the capture of Rome by King Victor Emmanuel.
He was educated by the Marist Fathers at the Catholic University School in Dublin, and then from 1881 to 1890 at the Oratory School, Birmingham, where he was an orphan.
He was a contemporary of ‘man of letters’ and poet Hilaire Belloc and came under the influence of noted sportsman Father Pereira at The Birmingham Oratory.
Pereira Road, Harborne is named after Father Pereira who played County Cricket for Warwickshire and was an excellent Lawn Tennis player, a game invented in Birmingham by Major Harry Gem and his friend (not to be confused with Father Pereira) Augurio Perera, a Spanish Merchant at 8 Ampton Road, Edgbaston in 1859. Father Pereira coached Boland at the Oratory Sports Ground in Knightlow Road, Harborne creating a formidable tennis player.
In 1890, after a semester at the University of Bonn, he proceeded to London University, where he graduated BA in 1892. In January 1893 he matriculated at the University of Oxford from Christ Church, where he read jurisprudence, and graduated BA with fourth-class honours in 1896. At Oxford, Boland was a prominent sportsman and debater. He debated the ‘Modern Olympics’ with his soon-to-be Greek friend Constantine Manos at The Oxford Union in 1895 and was invited in the spring of 1896 to Athens at the invitation of Manos (1869–1913), a Greek undergraduate at Balliol during 1894–5, who was involved in the organization of the first Olympic games of the modern era as a member of the Organising Committee of the First Modern Olympiad: Athens 1896.
On the spur of the moment Boland entered the singles and doubles in lawn tennis; he was paired in the doubles by Fritz Traun of Germany, and despite having to play in leather-soled shoes and with ‘a tennis bat of sorts, bought at the Panhellenic Bazaar he emerged victorious in the finals (11 April 1896) of both events. Boland is Ireland’s, and Britain’s, first Olympic Lawn Tennis champion.
Though called to the bar from the Inner Temple in 1897, he never practised law. He was elected MP for South Kerry in 1900 and held the seat for the next eighteen years. In 1902 he married Eileen (1876–1937), daughter of Dr Patrick Moloney, a wealthy Australian, and with her had one son and five daughters.
As an Irish Nationalist politician his main speciality was education, the cause for which he had entered politics. In 1918 Boland became acting chief whip of the Irish party, but later that year lost his seat in the general election which brought Sinn Féin a majority of Irish seats.
In recognition of his work for education he received a papal knighthood. Disillusioned by the turn of events in Ireland, he retired from political life and settled in London, where from 1926 to 1947 he served as secretary of the Catholic Truth Society.
Boland, Britain’s first Olympic Lawn Tennis Champion and Birmingham orphan died at his London home, 40 St George’s Square, Westminster, on 17 March (St Patrick’s Day) 1958.
Keith Bracey, Writer and Brummie