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40 Years Ago - Killeagh Half-Marathon 1979


Guest Article by John Walshe

 This article, by John Walshe appeared in the Midleton & Dist News/Youghal News, on March 6th 2019


glenbower half marathon certificate 1979s
Race Certificate from Killeagh Half-Marathon 1979

Webmasters Note: Many people of 'a certain age' will remember these certificates which were given to finishers, at a time long before the internet, when results were, if you were lucky enough to get them at all, might be available, several weeks after the event, in handwritten and photocopied format.  A big race might have 80 to 120 participants.

Next Sunday sees the fourth Killeagh GAA Club Four-Mile Road Race, taking place at 11am, with the walkers heading off an hour earlier.


Killeagh GAA Club 4 Mile Route & Course Details

The start for next Sunday's race is on Cork Road, and the route takes the competitors up towards Mogeely, before turning left after two miles, towards Garranjames and Clashdermot, finishing at the GAA complex. No doubt, one almost-full lap of this circuit will be enough for most people, but it is no harm recalling when a half-marathon (13.1 miles) took place around the same roads, consisting of three full circuits.


The occasion was Sunday night May 6th, 1979, and the race was just one of the many events that took place on the day of the famous Glenbower May Sunday Festival. The race 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, administrator (Treasurer of the East Cork Board/Division since 1971), and event organiser. Peter Lee – who used to live beside the start line of Sunday’s race – was one of the few from the Cork area to run the inaugural Dublin Marathon in 1980, which he completed in 3:02:53, 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, in 1979, road racing in Cork was just getting established. The running boom that would follow from that Dublin Marathon was still almost two years in the future. As an example, the Cork to Cobh 15-mile race which took place a week before Killeagh had just 41 finishers – all of them 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 in the country, outside of the Ballycotton races 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 = 30 Pence!

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). Denis had also taken part in the high jump where the records show, unfortunately, that he failed to register a height.


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 being 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, as 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 almost four decades ago:

Results of Glenbower Half-Marathon


Sunday May 6th 1979

1 Liam O'Brien Midleton 01:10:34
2 Jerry Murphy Leevale 01:10:36
3 Paul Mulholland Midleton 01:11:03
4 Dick Hodgins (RIP) Leevale 01:14:14
5 Albert De Coagan Midleton 01:16:15
6 Willie Cronin (RIP) Leevale 01:16:35
7 John Walshe Midleton 01:18:35
8 Donal Burke St Finbarr's 01:23:13
9 Tim Mulcahy Midleton 01:24:33
10 Pat Arnott Youghal 01:24:35
11 Peter Lee Youghal 01:29:24
12 Jerry Mohally (RIP) St Finbarr's 01:30:36
13 Willie O'Mahony Youghal 01:31:47
14 Tom Houlihan Midleton 01:41:00




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