Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Guest Post: RUNNING (AND RACING) AROUND THE LEE ROAD-STRAIGHT ROAD CIRCUIT... by John Walshe

Thursday, April 02, 2020


The Lee Road / Straight Road circuit is a well known running route to runners in Cork and is home to one of the oldest road races on the calendar. In this guest post, John Walshe of Ballycotton looks back at some of the races on this route.


Last Sunday would have seen the 38th UCC Staff road race (now known as the Carmel Lynch Memorial) taking place over 10km on the Lee Road-Straight Road circuit. But, of course like all other events, it too has fallen victim to the dreaded COVID-19 virus. So maybe it’s an opportune time to have a look back to a few of the races that this popular route has hosted over the years.

Running out the Lee Road, turning left past the ‘Angler’s’ and then hitting the two-mile straight with the County Hall seeming like an never-ending oasis in the distance has always been a popular excursion for Corkonians.

Back before the first running boom, for two of the top Cork marathoners of that era it provided the staple diet of their weekly training. Both Jack O’Leary and Donal Burke worked in the County Hall and every lunchtime the duo would cover the hilly circuit which, along with the mandatory weekend long run, produced times in the 2:25-2:35 range.

As a regular race route, it has been used extensively for the past 30 to 40 years. But back in July of 1951, for the one and only time, a road race was part of the Cork City Sports which took in the circuit. This was over eight miles and started at the Grand Parade Monument. It proceeded out Washington Street and the Western Road, then out the Carrigrohane Straight before turning right onto the Lee Road, past St Josephs Hospital at six miles and the Mental Hospital to finish at the Gaelic Grounds.

On that occasion just 13 runners toed the line and it was a handicap race, with most of that small field starting off two to two-and-a-half minutes ahead of the scratch man, Joe West of the Rising Sun club. West was born and reared in Carrigaline and started off his athletics career with the local Owenabui club, winning the Cork senior cross-title on three occasions.

In 1947, he went to England and joined Coventry Godiva Harriers before going on to represent Ireland in the marathon at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. This was the race famously won by Emil Z├ítopek after the Czech had already taken gold in the 5000m and 10,000m. On that July evening almost 70 years ago, the large attendance at the Mardyke were able to witness one of their own, an Olympian marathoner, come into the Gaelic Grounds as winner of the eight-mile race. West’s time was 45 minutes and 44 seconds and in second place was Ted Geary from Ballymore near Cobh.

The first race of the modern era was probably the Our Lady’s Hospital (Cork BHAA) promotion of 1983. This was held over six-and-a-half miles, one full circuit starting and finishing near the hospital entrance. Four years later, as the attached results show, it had been shortened to 10km with the winner, Billy Horgan, recording the impressive time of 30:35.

Around the early to mid-80s a half-marathon took place here on a number of occasions. The 1982 race saw victories going to Kerry athlete John Griffin (66:38) and Leevale’s Marie Buckley (85:33) as over 400 finished the two demanding laps.

Over two winters a women’s-only series of races – following on from the first Evening Echo Mini-Marathon – were held around the city. The March 1984 10km on the Lee Road-Straight Road was won by Carmel Lyons (now Parnell) in 38:40 from Joan Hough (38:55) and Lucy O’Donohue (39:00). Although she didn’t run on that occasion, it is recalled that a 15-year-old Sonia O’Sullivan did take part in a number of those events.

A popular final ‘blow-out’ before the Dublin Marathon as it was usually held a week or two before the big day was the Rehab 10km. This took place on a Sunday afternoon for around 12 years, starting in 1984. On another occasion, the Cork BLE 10km championship saw the runners finishing with a lap of the Mardyke track, making it slightly over distance!

The first UCC Staff 10km races started just before the recently refurbished Shakey Bridge and finished near the County Hall. One of the results attached (only first page) (shown below) is from 1992 and saw victory going to Garrett Barry in a time of 30:44. This proved to be the start of a great summer for the North Cork athlete. He would go on to win the BLE Senior 1500m that July in 3:47.30 along with ending Liam O’Brien’s decade-long winning streak in the Ballycotton five-mile races at Churchtown South with a one-second victory in 24:32.

It is also worth recalling that for a few years in the mid-1990s the UCC Staff race was held over 5km, comprising of a number of laps around the Mardyke Walk and Western Road.

Again, for interest, the results of the 1994 race are attached (results HERE) where the winners were Tommy Moloney from Tipperary – a 3:54.68 miler - who got the verdict ahead of Garrett Barrett with both given the same time of 15:04.

More results in separate posts.

UCC Staff 5k (1994) Results

UCC Staff 10k (2002) Results 

There is a list of guest posts from John Walshe HERE

Results of the 1987 10k & 1992 10k below...

First page of the BHAA UCC 10k - April 1992

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