Meath has had only one Olympic medallist who competed on behalf of Ireland. Letitia Hamilton of Dunboyne won a bronze medal in art in 1948. However her win is no longer included in the official records of the Olympics. Art competitions were held as part of the 1948 Olympics in London. Medals were awarded in five categories, architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture. Works had to have a sports theme. The art exhibition was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1949 the International Olympic Committee decided to hold art exhibitions in future at the games as it was decided that it was illogical to permit professional artists compete in the art competition but only amateurs in the sporting events. A previous winner in the art section had been the Irish artist, Jack Butler Yeats who took silver in 1924. A Meath theme, The Tailteann Games, secured a bronze in the same Games for Oliver St. John Gogarty.
Letitia Marion (‘May’) Hamilton was born in Dunboyne in 1878, second daughter and fourth child of Charles Robert and Louisa Hamilton of Hamwood House. Her great-grandmother, Caroline Hamilton, was a noted artist and she was a distant cousin of the watercolourist, Rose Barton. Letitia was one of a number of female artists of the early twentieth century who were well-educated, studied art and had a private income which allowed her to choose the subjects for her paintings. Letitia spent her childhood at Hamwood. Her first subject was the gardens of Hamwood and she exhibited her watercolours at the exhibition of the Watercolour Society of Ireland in 1902. She exhibited under the name ‘May’ as this is what the family called her. Letitia was educated at Alexandra College and may have received lessons from John Butler Yeats. Her father had said that he could not provide a dowry for all six of his daughters and while Letitia had a romance in her twenties nothing came of it. Letitia only began to study at the Metropolitan School of Art in 1907 at the age of twenty-nine. Her older sister, Eva, began her studies at the same time. Leititia won a number of prizes for her enamelwork.
At the Metropolitan School Letitia she was greatly influenced by the artist and teacher, Sir William Orpen. She went to study in London and afterwards in Belgium where studied under Frank Branwyn. Together with her sister, Eva, Leititia travelled widely on the continent especially France, Italy, Spain and the Balkans and she painted scenes from these countries, particularly of Venice. Leitita was greatly influenced by the contemporary French style. She gained a down to earth approach to everyday items and was influenced by the Irish artists, Paul Henry and Roderic O’Conor. Initially influenced by the Impressionists her enamelwork displayed Art Noveau influences. She developed a very personal technique of using the palette knife. The subject of her paintings were mainly landscapes, markets and hunting scenes. Her sister Eva was also a talented artist and being particularly known for her portrait painting.
Letitia first exhibited at the RHA in 1909 and exhibited more than 200 paintings at the Academy over the years. The first painting she exhibited at the academy was a view of the village of Dunboyne. In 1920 Letitia was a founder member of the Dublin Painters Group, together with Paul Henry, Grace Henry, Mary Swanzy, Jack Butler Yeats and others. In 1925 Letitia returned to Ireland. She would paint during the summers while visiting her friends in the south and west of Ireland. During the winter she would complete the works in her studio and then exhibit in the spring. In 1926 she held her first solo exhibition in London. In 1934 Letitia was awarded first prize by the Royal Horticultural Society for her painting of the garden at Fonthill. In 1939 Letitia’s work was chosen by the noted art dealer, Victor Waddington, to be included in his collection of Irish art which he was showing in America. In 1944 she was made a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy. Letitia exhibited widely in Ireland, Britain and France. She won a bronze medal in 1948 in the Olympic Games Sport Art Mixed Paintings section at the age of 69. The title of her work was ‘Meath Hunt, Point to Point Races’. In the late 1950s Letitia became President of the Dublin Painters Society.
From 1946 she lived with her sisters at Lucan. Letitia never married, choosing to concentrate on her art. Despite failing sight she continued painting until a week before her death in 1964. She and her sister, Eva, are interred in Dunboyne churchyard.
Letitia had a love of animals and nature, was charming and had a boundless enthusiasm for all her activities.
Today her works are to be found in the National Gallery of Ireland, the Hugh Lane Municipal Galley and the Ulster Museum, Belfast.
Brigadier Bryan John Fowler of Rahinstown, Enfield, won a silver medal for polo in 1936 but competed on behalf of Great Britain. His son, John, represented Ireland at the Mexico Olympics in 1968.