Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Guest Post : SILVER JUBILEE MEMORIES FOR MICHELLE AND JOHN... by John Walshe

Sunday, August 04, 2019


(By John Walshe, Midleton & District News, July 21, 2019)

Twenty-eight years after they first met in Ballycotton, a Liverpool running couple recently returned to the seaside village to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary.

John Kelly and Michelle McGrath travelled over for the Ballycotton ‘10’ road race in 1991, both as members of two different Liverpool running clubs. Staying in Seaspray Guesthouse in the village, love blossomed and three years later they married – and even spent part of their honeymoon back where their romance began. 

Although born in the UK, with a name like Kelly there is no doubt that Irish ancestry figures greatly in John’s background. “My grandfather was from Pontoon in County Mayo, my dad was born in England but was back in Ireland within five days. I started running at school aged 11 and then I joined Liverpool Harriers where we had some very good runners such as John Woods [Irish Olympian] and Geoff Smith [twice winner of the Boston Marathon],” he recalls.

John and Michelle Kelly pictured on Ballycotton’s main street
In a stellar running career which includes a personal best of 48:22 for 10 miles, on that occasion in Ballycotton back in 1991 John finished fourth in a time of 49:59, just three seconds behind Liam O’Brien in third place. A twice-winner of another famous race, the Hollymount event in Mayo, John returned to Ballycotton on several more occasions and one in particular has special memories: “My favourite was in 1997 when I ran 51 minutes and finished just behind John Ngugi, the 1988 Olympic 5000m gold medallist and five-time World Cross-Country champion.”

Michelle started running as a member of Mick and Emily Dowling’s Sportsworld club in Dublin, regular visitors to the Ballycotton race in the 1980s. “My older sister Mary lived in Liverpool and I used to go over on holidays so I decided to go for a year and I stayed and never looked back. I joined the South Liverpool club and when they were coming over to Ballycotton they teamed up with Liverpool Harriers so that’s where I met John Kelly. I remember coming over on the ferry that John actually gave me his coat to lie down on, so that was the start of it!”

Michelle’s best time in Ballycotton was 66 minutes and one of her proudest moments came when she made the prize list. “I remember coming up to the corner before nine miles and there was one Irish lady in front of me who I recognised and I got a second wind and passed her. I didn’t realise until the prizes came out that I had just made the top 15, and a prize.

After getting married in Tuam in July of 1994, such was their fondness for Ballycotton that they included the village on their honeymoon travels. “We even stayed in the Seaspray and Mrs Whelan presented us with a lovely pottery jug which we still have,” Michelle recalls.

This year, to celebrate, their silver jubilee, they also travelled to Bere Island where they ran the Midsummer Run 10km after a parkrun in the morning. Now happy to run together, they’re not too concerned about times. “We did around 62 minutes for the 10km, maybe once a year I do around 22 minutes for a parkrun 5km,” says John, although, like all runners, he still admits it’s hard not be able to do the times he was once capable of.

Having such affection for Ballycotton, how has the village changed in their eyes over the past 25 or so years? “It has changed a lot; it’s a lot more built-up and there’s an awful lot of cars. What you also notice is that there are no shops any more,” admits John.

“It’s nice in some ways, but not in other ways,” adds Michelle. “We love the place and love the scenery but have never seen traffic like this. I suppose it’s a sign of the times, even in Bere Island at the weekend there was a lot of traffic there when you consider the population is so small.” 

They say old habits die hard and before breakfast at the Schooner Bar B&B whey they stayed, John and Michelle headed out on a five-mile run on the Bog Road to Ballinamona and back, finishing with a nostalgic trip up the main street where it all began for them 28 years ago.
“Ballycotton has special memories for us and of course we’ll be back again. It was nice today to just go for a run and relive it all,” they say in unison.

Michelle and John finishing the Bere Island 10km

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