Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Guest Post: WHEN A HALF-MARATHON TOOK PLACE AT KILLEAGH... by John Walshe

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


In this guest post, John Walshe of Ballycotton tells the story of a half-marathon that took place in East Cork way back in 1979, just before the running boom took off.


The course for the recent Killeagh four-mile road race brought back memories when that circuit was covered three times in what was one of the first half-marathons to take place in Cork.

It was nearly 41 years ago - on Sunday night May 6th, 1979 - when this race was just one of the many events held on the day of the famous Glenbower May Sunday Festival. It was organised by two local athletes, Peter Lee and Willie O’Mahony, both members of the Youghal club at the time.

Willie O’Mahony’s contribution to the sport of athletics in the East Cork region has been immense, both as a competitor, administration (treasurer of the East Cork Board/Division since 1971) and event organiser. Peter Lee – who used to live beside the start line of the current four-miler – was one of the few from the Cork area to run the inaugural Dublin Marathon in 1980, which he completed in 3:02:53 before going on to run 2:53:29 the following year.

The Glenbower Half-Marathon, as it was called, was somewhat of a step into the unknown as road racing in 1979 was just getting established. The running boom that would follow from that Dublin Marathon was still almost two years away. As an example, the Cork to Cobh 15-mile race which took place a week before Killeagh had just 41 finishers – all men.

The half-marathon started at 6.45pm and took in the three laps of today’s course and it had been measured by the calibrated bicycle method, one of the first races in the country outside of Ballycotton to be so measured. Prizes were on offer for the first four finishers, first two teams of three and the first three novices confined to Cork. There was also a signed time certificate presented to each finisher.

Entry fee was probably in the region of 30 pence - it’s worth noting that the entry for the Dublin Open Marathon later that summer was advertised as 50p - and while half-marathons nowadays attract numbers in the thousands (with corresponding astronomical entry fees), the result of that Glenbower Half-Marathon of 1979 lists just 14 finishers.

There were one or two non-finishers on the three-lap course, these included a man for whom such a decision to drop-out nowadays would be unthinkable. However, it should be noted that 16-year-old Denis McCarthy (then of the Youghal club) had already taken part in the Cork County U17 3000m track championship earlier in the day, finishing fifth in 9:57.5 behind Finbarr McGrath (Leevale) and future international Richard O’Flynn (Bandon).

After the first of the three laps on that May Sunday evening, four runners had broken away. There were Liam O’Brien and Paul Mulholland from Midleton and the Leevale pair of Jerry Murphy and the late Dick Hodgins, winner of the National Marathon four years before. On the second time round, Hodgins had been dropped and with about a half-mile to go O’Brien finally edged ahead of Murphy but the margin on the line was just two seconds, 70:34 to 70:36. Mulholland finished strongly to take third in 71:03, over three minutes clear of Hodgins.

In the team race, Leevale suffered a rare defeat as Midleton came out on top by three points, the team consisting of O’Brien (first), Mulholland (third) and Albert De Cogan (fifth). For the first two, the race was more a means to an end as it served two contrasting purposes. To Liam O’Brien, it was probably no more than what would be referred to nowadays as a tempo-run as he was preparing for the track season. A couple of months later he would win the second of his eight national steeplechase titles, his time of 8:52.6 a big improvement on the 9:07.5 he had recorded the year before.

Jerry Murphy was no doubt using the 13 miles as a ‘bleed-out’ for the carbohydrate-loading diet prevalent at the time. The following Sunday, on his 29th birthday, he would win the Munster Marathon in a time of 2:28:47 ahead of Leevale clubmate Liam Horgan (2:31:44) and Michael Joyce of St Finbarr’s (2:39:16).

In honour of Peter Lee and Willie O’Mahony who were ahead of their time in the promotion of what was probably Cork’s first half-marathon, and to remember those inaugural runners, these were the 14 finishers on that May Sunday evening over four decades ago:

Add caption
1 Liam O’Brien (Midleton) 70:34
2 Jerry Murphy (Leevale) 70:36
3 Paul Mulholland (Midleton) 71:03
4 Dick Hodgins (Leevale) 74:14
5 Albert De Coagan (Midleton) 76:15
6 Willie Cronin (Leevale) 76:35
7 John Walshe (Midleton) 78:35
8 Donal Burke (St Finbarr’s) 83:13
9 Tim Mulcahy (Midleton) 84:33
10 Pat Arnott (Youghal) 84:35
11 Peter Lee (Youghal) 89:24
12 Jerry Mohally (St Finbarr’s) 90:36
13 Willie O’Mahony (Youghal) 91:47
14 Tom Houlihan (Midleton) 101:00.

A list of John Walshe's guest articles on the site can be found HERE


Unknown said...

A 10 mile road race was held on 2/06/1983,it was a single loop course, starting on the N25 east of the village, moving west through the village and then on the N25 for a mile or so,then turning left and left again running parallel to the N25 towards Gortaroe, left to the main road and on through the village to the hall by the old cemetary.
The certs issued were a variation of the 1/2 Marathon onex and were signed by Willie and Peter.
I do not recall the race being run in subsequent years, a pity as it was a fine course.
Those were the days......

weerunaz1 said...

A lovely article John as always.

78:35 ! Exactly a 6 minute mile- you couldn't write it.

A great way to burn off a load of 'biscuits' apparently.


Take care everyone,

Ed Fitz.

Anonymous said...

Great article - not too much fuss, no fancy shoes and I'd say the goody bag was non existence.
Hard to believe only 30p to run, 14 finishers & just look at the times !!

Andrew O'Farrell said...

The 3 loops are a great idea for spectator viewing but with the big numbers running nowadays probably would be difficult!