Cyclist and seafaring engineer with passion for River Boyne


Anthony Holten

Navan and Cork

Over these past weeks, Bective Bridge has seen many visitors dropping by to have a look at the set building for the movie, ‘The Last Duel’. It’s a busy location with traffic, and can be dangerous to cross the bridge as a pedestrian. However, there are a couple of refuges in the bridge wall, extending out over the river, which allow walkers to stand in as traffic passes, and also to get a view of the preparations for filming.

That these quaint features are still there today is thanks to Tony Holten, who some five years ago led an awareness campaign around the fact that the refuges were in danger of collapse, and as a result, substantial renovation work was done on the bridge over the river Boyne, a waterway so beloved of Tony that he wrote a massive tome dedicated to the history of the river, which could almost be described as the sequel to William Wilde’s ‘Beauties of the Boyne and the Blackwater’.

A Navan man who made his eventual home in Cork, it was along the banks of the very same Boyne that Tony learned to walk again 20 years ago, after suffering a stroke, when he recuperated along the canal ramparts in Navan.

And it was sitting under the chestnut trees at Babe’s Bridge there that he decided to write a book, ‘A Stroke of Luck’, published in 2007, which was to be the first of many publications from the former marine engineer who also was an accomplished cyclist.

Anthony Holten, Glanmire, Co Cork, who died in Cork University Hospital after a short illness on 11th September last, was a native of Dowdstown, Navan. After attending Scoil Mhuire on the Abbey Road, and the old Technical School on Railway Street, he took up an apprenticeship in Navan Engineering Works, emerging as a fully fledged mechanic after six years.

From the mid-1960s, he was a member of Navan Road Club, and took part in the Ras Tailteann cycle race on four occasions.

In 1966, he was on the Navan team that was the first ever club team to compete (as compared to county or national team), also the only time a Navan team competed in the event. Tony recalled that they finished in fourth place overall in the team event- "we beat the Meath team by over an hour and Mickey Creighton finished fourth in the individual classifications. .. I believe I finished in about 18th place overall of the 100 riders that started the event. I was aged 21 and this was my first Ras - it started with a time trial from Ashtown in Dublin to The Square in Navan that passed through my home patch at Garlow Cross."

Navan Road Club team for the 1966 Ras Tailteann - Liam Cannon, Tony Holten, Frank Reilly and Seamus Kennedy, with Mickey Creighton absent from photo.

It was the first year that the Ras Tailteann was run over 10 days. In 1968, he was on the Meath C team, finishing down the field in the event dominated by the visiting team from Czechoslovakia who supplied the first six in the overall classification, with Meath A rider Seamus Kennedy the first Irish rider in seventh place.

Tony did much better in the 1969 Ras which was again a 10-day test when finishing in the top 20. Riding with the Louth B team, he took 19th place overall, with victory going to Brian Connaughton of Navan RC and Meath.

He was a member of the Navan winning team in the famed Waller Cup race, promoted by the Bohermeen club over many decades, in 1968. Dermot Meehan of the host club was the individual victor with Nick Lynch, Liam Cannon, and Brian Connaughton making up the rest of the top team.

Early in 1968, Tony departed Navan to take up employment as a fitter with CIE at Broadstone in Dublin. He remained there until 1969, when he commenced a career with Shell Tankers as a seagoing engineer on their deep sea tankers. Over the next 10 years he was to cross the seven seas, and all the major oceans.

Following his marriage to Marie Bradley, Tony took up a position with Marathon Petroleum on the Kinsale Head gas field, 30 miles off the west Cork coast. In the mid-1980s, his work took him and his family to Indonesia, as a marine engineer on the company’s new Kakap oil and gas field in the south China sea. During this period, he worked in Japan, Hud Bay, Johore Baru, and Natuna Island. On his return to Ireland, he was based in head office in Cork, until a stroke in 1999 forced his retirement.

He lost the use of his right arm and leg and at 54 he had to re-learn to do the kind of things he had come to take for granted.

Sharing his experiences, he became chairman of the Cork Stroke Support Group, based in St Finbarr’s Hospital, Cork, and in 2013, was named winner of the Boehringer Ingelheim Stroke Champion Award by the Irish Heart Foundation.

Tony Holten found redemption by writing books and for his raw material he tapped into his own experiences including the stroke and growing up in the Dowdstown and Garlow Cross areas as well his years spent criss-crossing the oceans of the world. ‘A Stroke of Luck’ outlined the health problems he encountered with the stroke. He said he was lucky with his stroke; he could, at least, re-shape his life. Many others were not so fortunate.

He later went on to write a series of books including ‘On Ancient Roads: Recollections, History and Folklore of County Meath’ and ‘High Kings to Sea Kings’ consisting of snapshots of his life growing up in Meath and his life on the high seas.

Author Anthony Holten (centre) at the launch of his book 'Where Toll Roads Meet' in Navan Library with (from left) County Librarian Ciarán Mangan, Deputy Mayor of Navan Jenny Darcy, Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey, Meath Archaelogical and Historic Society President John McCullen. (Photo: Joe Fanning) Photo by Joe Fanning

He published a work on the bridges of Navan. In his research, he unearthed 40 bridges in and around the town at different stages with some of them now demolished or hidden under roadways.

His great work, however, was 'The River Boyne – Hidden legacies, history and lore explored on foot and by boat’. Remarkably, for a man who had gone through such a major health trauma, he explored the river on foot and by boat (slash hook in hand), knocked on doors, asked questions, and followed every lead – he spoke to so many people with connections to the river, from source to sea. He captured a fast disappearing local knowledge, combined it with his exhaustive and forensic research and with his own personal memories of the river and surrounds to make what is a very valuable historical document.

He also wrote on occasion for the Navan Historical Society Journal, and was a frequent contributor and letter writer to the Meath Chronicle. He was working on a memoir of the Ras Tailteann at the time of his passing.

In 2014, Tony and Marie lost their youngest son, Joe, in a motorcycle accident in Cork, aged 27. Tony is survived by Marie, their daughter, Anna Marie; son, John Anthony, son-in-law, Stuart; granddaughter, Matilda; step granddaughters, Angelica and Gemma; sisters, Kay and Margaret. He was predeceased by his siblings, Tom, Jim, Breda and Sadie.

A funeral service took place at The Island Crematorium, Cork.