Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Guest Post: FORTY YEARS AGO - WHEN ‘C’MON AGHADA’ WAS HEARD ON HEARTBREAK HILL John Walshe

Tuesday, April 25, 2023



(By John Walshe, Midleton & Dist News/Youghal News, 20/04/2023)

On Monday last week, the famous Boston Marathon took place for the 127th time. Nowadays, travel to overseas marathons is commonplace and Boston is undoubtedly on most runners ‘to-do’ list.
It was all so different 40 years ago but that certainly didn’t deter two determined Aghada men, Barry Moran and John Motherway, to set out on what was the experience of a lifetime.
Both share a common love and a lifetime of service to the GAA at local level and further afield. This has ensued in a friendship that now encompasses half a century, but each followed a different route which would eventually lead to the streets of Boston in 1983.
As Barry explains, for him it all started with a bet: “I was sitting in the mess room at IFI in Marino Point and there was an article in a magazine saying that Telly Salavas [actor who played Kojak] runs six miles a day in 36 minutes. And I said, in my own inimitable style, ‘anyone could do that’, and it started from there. I had four weeks to train and they measured out a course between Lower Aghada and Whitegate and I duly broke 36 minutes, I even broke 35 minutes with a time of 34:50.”
Then, a work-mate of his, Willie ‘Batty’ Cronin, who had served in the American army and was an experienced runner, suggested they should try a marathon. Barry hadn’t even heard of a marathon at that stage so he did a few long runs with Willie before heading off to the 1981 BLE National Marathon in Cork. This started and finished at the County Hall, comprising of 13 miles out to Farnanes and back – plus an extra 385 yards which proved to be his undoing.
“That’s where I went wrong, we were going fine up to halfway but on the way back Willie got cramp and had to drop out. I carried on and got to the 26-mile mark in around 3:25 and thought I was finished. So I sat down on the road, in the pouring rain. I was there for about three-quarters-of-an hour until a fellow cycled out and said ‘come on in, we want to go home’. I had to get up then and I finished in 4:18, the only time I was ever outside the four hours.”   
John Motherway was born in Butlerstown, Barryroe, in 1943 and moved with his late wife Anne to Aghada in the early 1960s where he worked for Kosangas in nearby Whitegate. “One day, a fellow I knew came in to me and said he was running the Dublin Marathon. So I said I’d have a go myself, although I had never run on the road but I was fairly fit from refereeing. As I was friends with Barry, I started off with him, even though he nearly killed me at first.” 
The hard training certainly paid off as both crossed the line at that 1981 Dublin City Marathon a second apart, 3:35:27 and 3:35:28. The following year, John had improved to 3:10 and by now both were regulars on the local running scene. But it was a chance remark while out on a training run that provided the spark which led to Boston.
“We were out running in the middle of nowhere when Barry said he was after reading in the Irish Runner magazine that the Boston Marathon was the oldest in the world. I said we should do that sometime and he agreed, as we both had relations in Boston. When I got home, I mentioned it to Anne and she said ‘the sooner ye do that the better, because God only knows if you’ll be running this year or next year’. So the following morning I rang my cousin in Boston and that’s where it all started.”
With the marathon scheduled for April 18th, Barry and John traveled out a week before - and wouldn’t return until May 1st. The hype was already in full swing when they arrived and the Aghada duo were soon part of it with an interview on the ‘Sound of Erin’ radio show. One of the presenters, John Varian, was from Cork and they were also asked back the Saturday after the marathon when John obliged with a rendition of ‘The Banks’.
“On the morning of the marathon, we were bussed out to Hopkinton where it begins,” says John. “We were there in a big high school when a fellow came along and asked ‘where are you guys from?’ I said we’re from Ireland and he said we were the only fellows with a bit of common sense as we had our ‘street clothes’ on. It was freezing at that time but we were lucky enough with the conditions later on.”
That Boston Marathon of 1983, which had a total of 5,372 finishers, proved to be a historic occasion. Joan Benoit – who would go on to win the inaugural women’s Olympic marathon the following year at Los Angeles – ran a world’s best time of 2:22:43. Greg Meyer took first in the men’s race in 2:09:00, making it the last time the host country has provided both winners on the same day.
“The crowds were unbelievable,” recalls John. “I suppose the only thing you’d be conscious of is getting carried away and not finishing after going all the way out there, if you were in Cork or Dublin it wouldn’t be so bad.”
“There were two things that happened to me that certainly gave me a great lift,” explained Barry. “Firstly, when we came to the top of Heartbreak Hill they rang a bell to say you’ve conquered Heartbreak Hill. It’s not just one hill but a series of three hills. And just after the bell, a roar went up – ‘C’mon Aghada’! It was Joe Brice, who I had gone to school with and it gave me a tremendous lift. How he picked us out of the thousands, it was unreal.”
Joe Brice, a native of Aghada and a member of Midleton AC, was an Irish international discus thrower with five senior national titles to his credit. He had gone to the University of Lowell in Massachusetts on an athletics scholarship in 1976, the first of a number of Fr Liam Kelleher’s athletes to take the scholarship route.
However, Barry’s uplift was short lived: “I was going very well and on for a time around 2:50. When I came down from Heartbreak Hill, there was a fellow with an Irish flag and I veered over to him and said ‘keep your flag flying’, and was that a mistake. He jumped up on my back with excitement and next thing I was on the ground with one of the knees cut, and that ended my marathon, although I carried on to finish in 3:10:14.”
John crossed the line in an official 3:28:10, and he had an extra incentive over the final few yards. “I was coming down and could see the line when there was an announcement that there was two minutes left for official finishers, you’d get no medal if you didn’t break 3:30.”
With a recall that’s as clear as if it was yesterday, it’s with a mixture of nostalgia and gratitude that both look back at that eventful trip of four decades ago. “I suppose the great thing is that we stayed together over there with my cousin, it was like home from home,” says John. “And it all happened totally by accident; I didn’t even know there was a marathon in Boston.”
Leaving the last word to Barry, he admits that all the credit must go to John’s late wife, Anne. “We wouldn’t have gone only for her. She said ‘if ye want to go, go now’. And be mindful, she had four small kids at that stage and to tell her husband to go away and run the Boston Marathon was a fair thing to say.
“But off we went, and what a time we had.”

A list of previous guest posts from John Walshe can be seen HERE

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