Galveston County Daily News – July 28, 1997
by Carol Christian
DICKINSON, Texas — Jim Casey is an Irish legend. Born in 1912 in the village of Sneem on the southwest Irish coast, Casey is one of seven brothers who in their younger days claimed to be “the toughest family on Earth.” No family ever disproved that claim by defeating them in their premier sports of rowing, tug of war, wrestling or boxing. In 1982, the seven brothers were inducted into the Irish Sports Hall of Fame, the only family ever to receive that honor. Jim Casey said the Casey brothers and their three sisters attributed their strength and natural athleticism to their father, Michael “Big Mick” Casey, and mother, Bridget Sullivan Casey.
Today, Casey lives with his wife, Myrtle, on a 26-acre lake in Dickinson. Their son, James J. Casey, and his wife, Keri Ann, own the family business, Casey’s Country Kennels at 401 FM 646.
The last few months have been a little rough for the elder Caseys, starting with a house flood April 18 caused by a broken washing machine hose. A week later, Jim Casey had a stroke that put him in the hospital for a week, followed by five weeks at a rehabilitation hospital. Since the stroke, he also has been treated for cancer in his left eye. Now, after a remarkable recovery, Casey is able to walk and talk and said he hopes soon to be rowing again in the backyard replica of a racing scull that he designed and built. The replica has been used by rowing students from throughout the area and by NASA astronauts in training.
Casey came to the United States in the late 1930s with two of his brothers, Steve and Tom. They all made names for themselves in rowing and wrestling or boxing. Steve, who died of cancer in 1987, was known as “Crusher” Casey when he won the NWA world wrestling championship in 1938 at Boston Garden. A song about this victory, “Steve Casey of Sneem,” is well known in Ireland. Steve Casey was one of five people whose portraits were commissioned to be placed in a hall of honor in Sneem. One of the others was George Bernard Shaw. At Steve’s funeral, a friend remarked that Steve had always said the only man he ever feared, on the water or in the ring, was his younger brother, Jim.
It was through his wrestling exploits that Jim Casey met his wife, a Galveston native. On a Monday night in early 1945, she attended a wrestling match at the Balinese Room with her boss and his wife. “We would go every Monday night and sit in the front row and tell the wrestlers what to do,” recalled Myrtle Casey, now 76. On this particular night, Casey was thrown out of the ring and landed on the laps of his future wife and her friends. “He lost the match because we held onto him too long, asking him, ‘Are you OK?’ ” Myrtle Casey said. The next week, when Myrtle was selling tickets at the Isle Theater on Market Street between 21st and 22nd streets, she looked up and saw Casey coming down the street. He asked, “Don’t I know you?’ She replied, “Yeah, you sat in my lap last week.”
They were married in January 1946 in San Francisco because Casey was based there as he traveled the country as a wrestler. In 1947, he retired from wrestling and opened a sports bar, Crusher Casey’s, in Boston with his brother Steve.
Jim and Myrtle lived from 1947 until 1962 in Dorchester, a Boston suburb where their three children were born. Their daughter, Patricia Curtin, is married to a native Irishman, Charlie Curtin, and lives in Pattison between Sealy and Katy. The Caseys’ son, Steve, is deceased. In 1962, after selling their house and business in Boston, the Caseys were on their way to California and stopped in Galveston County to say goodbye to family and friends. They rented a house in La Marque for a month, and ended up buying some property in Alta Loma, where they lived for the next 10 years before settling in Dickinson in 1973. “I’m glad we didn’t get to California,” Myrtle Casey said.
Of the Casey brothers, four are still living. Paddy, 87, lives in London and Ireland; Mick, 84, lives in Sneem; and Dan, 80, lives in Dublin. The only surviving sister is Josephine, 77, who lives in Ireland.
Until his stroke, Jim Casey was physically active. Still endowed with ramrod straight posture at age 85, he is fond of showing off the mahogany boats he has in an outside shed. One is the racing scull he and Steve and Tom used to win a championship in November 1940 on the Charles River in Boston. “We had the right size and style to make the boat fly,” Casey said, attributing the good Casey posture to his mother’s side of the family.
In 1983, Casey organized a family reunion in Sneem. All seven brothers were still alive, but two were unable to make the trip. The five who were there, all in their 70s, climbed into the four-oar boat they used to win championships in 1930, 1931 and 1932. Although they had not rowed together in 50 years, they still moved with natural unity and grace, as shown in a videotape made by Myrtle Casey and described by Dickinson freelance writer Jim Hudson in his book, “The Legend of the Caseys (The Toughest Family on Earth!).”
“Their oars broached and cleared the water in perfect unison,” Hudson wrote in his 1990 book. “Backs erect, arms outstretched, they propelled the boat through the shimmering water as smoothly as a raindrop sliding down silk. Many of those crowding the shoreline found it difficult to cheer because of the lumps that formed in their throats. They knew they were watching the final performance of the greatest oarsmen and the greatest individual athletes Ireland had ever seen.”