Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Guest Post: RECALLING THE YOUGHAL ROUND-THE-HOUSES ROAD RACES... By John Walshe

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


By John Walshe, Youghal News, 08/01/2020

Running a road race from one year into the next is a popular way to spend New Year’s Eve in a lot of countries. And for many people it will bring back fond memories of a similar spectacular that took place on many occasions around the streets of Youghal over the past five and more decades.

The first Youghal Round-the-Houses race took place on the night of December 31st, 1966. It would go on for another 10 years before moving to New Year’s Day up to 1985 with a further two races taking place at an earlier hour on New Year’s Eve in both 1986 and 1987.

Where the original idea came from is hard to tell, although long-time Youghal athlete and administrator Willie O’Mahony [who provided the attached images] recalls attending meetings of Youghal AC in Paddy Maher’s Bar in Tallow Street where such an event was no doubt discussed.

Maybe someone there had heard of the famous Brazilian San Silvestre race in Sao Paulo which had started in 1925. Over the years this has featured legendary runners such as Emil Zatopek and Paul Tergat and the most recent race a week ago  – it’s now held in the afternoon over 15km – saw world marathon record holder Brigid Kosgei winning the women’s section.

That San Silverste event was the inspiration behind a similar midnight race first held in 1958 in a small town in the Welsh valleys by the name of Mountain Ash. Known as Nos Galan, the event was the brainchild of a local teacher named Bernard Baldwin who died two year ago at the age of 91. Bernard was a man ahead of his time, a feature of the midnight race being a mystery runner each year who ran down from a nearby mountain carrying a blazing torch.

It’s unlikely there were blazing torches in Youghal on that New Year’s Eve of 1966, although no doubt they would have been welcome. According to the Evening Echo of the follow Monday, the temperature in Cork on the Sunday night was 17.8 Fahrenheit (- 8 Celsius). The Echo also reported that a ‘large crowd’ of 30 runners set off from the GPO over three laps which totalled almost four miles. The clear winner was 18-year-old local man Stephen Hennessy with John O’Brien of Ballymore just beating Jack O’Callaghan from Hilltown for second. The Grange club easily won the team race from Youghal. Two schoolboy races also too place with victories going to Charlie O’Neill (U14) and Eddie Crowley (U16).

Although of tender years, winning races was nothing new to Stephen Hennessy. Just 12 months before, at the age of 17, he had led his club to the Cork County junior cross-country title at Blarney with an emphatic individual victory. Unlike today, the junior grade then was based on standard rather than age and, as the newspaper report stated: “he romped through the thick mud of a tough five mile course to win by 150 yards from Paud Murphy of Kildinan.” Youghal easily won the team prize when finishing on 67 points, 31 ahead of Blarney. The six scorers were: Stephen Hennessy (1st), Fred Walsh (5th), Mick Buckley (8th), Mick Harty (9th), George Walsh (16th) and Jerry Russell – father of jockey Davy – (28th).

The numbers in that first Youghal Round-the-House would probably have been bigger but for the fact that the 1966 County junior was taking place the following day at Cobh. That race saw two more of Cork’s rising stars fight out a thrilling contest with victory going to another 18-year-old, Richard Crowley from Blarney. Already winner of the County novice, Crowley had his work cut out to get the better of Donal Walsh of the Fr Mathew club who had already won the Cork, Munster and All-Ireland youths titles that year.

Amongst his many triumphs, Richard Crowley would go on to win the New Year’s Eve race at Youghal on a number of occasions. But in the 1974 encounter he had to contend with a young man who had already gained a bronze medal in the junior race at the World Cross-Country in Italy the previous March. John Treacy, still only 17, would win another junior bronze in Morocco the following year and of course go on to win the senior world title in 1978 and 1979.

That night in Youghal, Treacy, Crowley and Denis Noonan (Clonliffe) were together for four of the five miles before the Villierstown man broke and simply sprinted away for victory. Liam O’Brien took the individual novice prize and led his Midleton team-mates Fr Liam Kelleher, Jerry Martin and John Walshe to the team title. Marion Staunton (now Lyons), won the women’s race from Joan Fleming (UCC) and Rose O’Brien (St Finbarr’s). Martin Drake was the winner of the boys U13 race and along with club-mates Charlie O’Sullivan, John Dempsey and Ger Flanagan won the team prize for Youghal.

When the Round-the-Houses moved to New Year’s Day in the early 1980s, the main race was for novice athletes only. On the first day of that decade, Derek Grant from Waterford and Pat Whyte of the Midleton club ran shoulder to shoulder until the final 600 metes of the five miles when Grant pulled away to win impressively. Aidan Buckley of Leevale was third, Dan Power (Waterford) fourth, Billy Horgan (UCC) fifth and Pat Kerrigan of Mallow sixth.

Waterford won the team prize from the Mallow quartet of Kerrigan, Collins, Paddy Buckley and Andy Neenan. First junior was Tony Gilbert (St Finbarr’s) who finished ahead of Youghal’s Ger Flanagan and Denis McCarthy. Bridie Hartnett of Midleton won the women’s race from Sandra Curley (Youghal). In the juvenile races, Tom Walsh (Midleton) won U12 from Paul Curley (Youghal) while in the girls’ U16 the first three were Hanora Connolly (Youghal), Mary Dunne (Midleton) and Colette Dempsey (Youghal).

A feature of those early road races – which would now be incomprehensible – is that no times were taken, apart from, on rare occasions, the winner. It was only at the start of the eighties that the digital wristwatches where people could time themselves became available. It was most certainly a different era to that of measured courses, chip timing, Strava (and the Vaporflys!) of today.

But yet, runners enjoyed and embraced some unique races of which the Youghal New Year’s Eve Round-the-Houses at midnight was certainly one. And given the amount of form filling and health and safety regulations that would surely be required nowadays, it’s unlikely we’ll see the likes of it again.

1) A list of previous articles on this site can be seen HERE


Eamonn McEvoy said...

Very interesting article. My first ever road race, the Youghal New Year's Eve event, December 1973. I think I got a plaque for novice team running for UCC. Very exciting race and we were back in Youghal last summer on basically the same course, another very exciting night. Martin Drake was in the lead car last summer!

pawal2003 said...

John , ran it in the 80’s u13 I think , brilliant race loved it loads ,fantastic event