Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Guest Article...LADYSBRIDGE RACE RECALLED - By John Walshe

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Guest Article...LADYSBRIDGE RACE RECALLED - By John Walshe


On this Friday night, the Kilcredan 5km road race takes place for the fifth year with all proceeds going to the local national school.

The school caters for both the Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge villages and it might come as a surprise to many of those running on Friday night that Ladysbridge itself played host to a fondly remembered race which was held for the first time all of 25 years ago.

During the 1990s, very few races took place in the East Cork region, apart from the Ballycotton Series and the Castlemartyr and Midleton events. In January of 1992, a group got together in Ladysbridge with a view to organising a road race in the village.

The main driving force behind it was local man Neilus Aherne. Neilus may be better know nowadays for his own athletic achievements, such as winning national medals on the track, cross-country and road in the M60 category in 2016, but back then he wore the mantle of race organiser with distinction over the five-year history of the event.

Neilus Aherne with one of the Ladysbridge 5m t-shirts

The interest shown in that inaugural meeting far exceeded expectations and as the weeks rolled on the organising committee set about raising funds. A number of Karaoke nights were sponsored by Jim Fitzgerald in Youghal along with Kay Healy in The Thatch Inn and a cake sale was also held. A BLE permit was applied for, a course was selected and accurately measured, and YES, there was a Jones Counter in those days!

The race stated about three hundred metres outside the village, on the Garryvoe side. The opening two miles were fast and mainly downhill but after a left at Mullins’ Cross came the dreaded ‘Hill 16’. This lasted until near the three mile mark where a gradual downhill led to Carroll’s Cross with the final stretch of around three-quarters-of-a-mile back to the finish near the hall.

The committee also decided to try a few new ideas, one of which was a T-shirt for every finisher. A logo with a local theme of the four bridges over the river was decided on, designed by Annie O’Reilly and Rita Burke. Race day was a frenzy of excitement, with the ICA providing the refreshments and getting the hall ready. The first person to enter was the late Jerry Horgan from Mallow, a great supporter of races throughout the county and who wrote an informative and entertaining column for the Vale Star newspaper each week which had a big following.

As the 8pm starting time drew near, entries numbered over 230 – as big (or bigger) than most races in the area at the time. A top class line-up was also evident with the promise of fast times, and so it proved. Liam O’Brien at the time had won a total of 44 Ballycotton five-milers (and would go on to win another 15) but he faced stern opposition in the form of James Sullivan.  The Waterford man was also a regular winner on the Munster circuit where some of his course records still stand to this day.

The pace was fast and furious from the gun with Sullivan to the forefront. It may have been eight years since Liam had represented Ireland at the Los Angeles Olympics, but the Midleton CBS teacher still had what it takes and coming into the finish he forged ahead to cross the line in 24:09 with Sulllivan just 11 seconds back in 24:20. Over the five editions of the race, these times were never approached and indeed 25 minutes was never bettered in Ladysbridge again.

Finishing third in 25:04 was a young John Kearney (East Cork) while in fourth position was a man who needs no introduction – Martin Drake (25:08). Other regular category winners nowadays in the top 15 included Eamonn McEvoy (ninth, 26:20) and the East Cork duo of Eric Meade and Denis McCarthy (11th and 12th in 26:26 and 26:29). The late Tom Ryan of Eagle, whom the Carrigaline race in February is called after, was 18th in 27:06. First junior was Ian O’Sullivan, then of Midleton now of Leevale, who was 28th in 27:52.

Winner of the women’s race in 29:26 was Catherine Hennessy who travelled from New Ross with second going to Mary Sheehan (East Cork) in 29:51, closely followed by Brid Murphy (Leevale), 29:51. Neilus Aherne himself ran 32:08 (a time he would no doubt be capable of bettering today) while also amongst the local finishers were four members of the Hallihan family - Jim, Jimmy, Phil and Michelle. As the attached results show, there are many familiar names amongst the finishers – sadly, some no longer with us.

The success of that inaugural event saw the race firmly established on the fixture list for the next four years, usually on the first Thursday in July.  The second year of 1993 saw the biggest turnout with 260 finishers, the winners being Ricky Burke of Leevale in 25:11 and Mary Sheehan in 29:11. The remaining three races were all won by Liam O’Brien (25:09, 26:07 and 25:39) with the female honours going to Anna Collins (29:23), Mary Sheehan (29:47) and Anna Collins again (28:52).

Another feature of the Ladysbridge event was a race booklet titled ‘Experience the Ladysbridge ‘5’. The 1994 edition had articles by local man John-Joe Cahill on ‘Memories of Our Beloved Village’, an appreciation of Jack Colbert, and a feature on 16-year-old local athlete Terri Hennessy who had already amassed a total of 26 All-Ireland medals.

There was also a poem by Eleanor Herlihy, the first and last verses which went as follows:

The Ladysbridge ‘5’ is alive once more
When all our fitness is brought to the fore
The banner is up, the flags are flapping
As the crowds in the village send us all off clapping… 

… A right-turn now and the home stretch is nigh
We see family and friends – our feelings are high
Then we sprint like mad to the finish line
And as we’re given our tee-shirts we feel just fine

Sadly, as the numbers had declined to just over 150 in 1996, the race came to an end. It would be another 17 years before a race would again take place in the area with the inauguration of the Kilcredan 5km in 2013.

Dry-fit tops and technical tees may be all the fashion nowadays, but for those who have in their possession a cotton Ladysbridge ‘5’ T-shirt from the early 1990s it is a reminder of an era when such a rare finishing item was received with gratitude, and worn with pride.

Results of the 1992 Ladysbridge 5 mile road race

A certain blogger has three of them :o)


Anonymous said...

Them times are just mindblowing. Why are they so much better than today? Denis McCarthy still going strong top 50 finisher in Ballycotton last year. As far as I know he has done every Ballycotton summer series.

Anonymous said...

Great article. Any more results from early/mid 90,s?

Anonymous said...

Some good runners back in that era, you had Ricky Burke,Bryan Meade,Mark Bickerdike,Martin Drake,Sean Harte,John Collins and more who regulary ran sub 20 mins 4 mile and sub 25 mins 5 milers. Still being done today but by not as many

Colin O'Herlihy said...

While there are numerous theories as to the reasons behind the quality of the times back in the 90s compared to now, there is one stand out one. The top 50 in the Ladysbridge race consisted of a mere 11 masters runners, with the balance being senior (plus 4 juniors). You take any 5 mile road race these days and the top 50 is likely to consist of the complete opposite - 11 seniors and 39 masters! 'Twas "no country for old men" back then!

Steve Pre said...

I agree with Colin's Theory if you look at the AAI Registration figures the average athletic club has a large number of Juveniles but very little to no Junior Athletes and the Senior Athlete numbers are very low too in comparison to Masters there's hardly anyone running under the age of 30