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The 1985 Cork 800 Marathon - Guest Article by John Walshe

Marathon in 1985 got an extra boost from the Cork 800 celebrations

Easter Monday, April 8th 1985


billy gallagher cork city marathon winner 1985


This article, by John Walshe, appeared in The Echo, on Tuesday June 23rd 2020

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This article, by John Walshe, appeared in The Echo, on Tuesday June 23rd 2020


cork 800 marathon 1985 parnell bridgeEarly stages, after starting outside AIB on South Mall, the filed makes it's way over Parnell Bridge. Note Pat Dempsey, Leevale AC, on bottom left

Thirty-five year ago, the Cork 800 celebrations proved to be a blessing for the increasing number of races then appearing on the scene as the once-off ‘Cork 800’ logo on the finishers’ plaque became a special attraction for participants.

To celebrate that 1985 occasion, a couple of new races appeared over the ‘8K’ distance, one organised by St Finbarr’s and the other by the Togher club - Togher 8k Results.

Another popular event was the Cork Half-Marathon held by the Friends of the Wheelchair Association on St Patrick’s Day. This was seen as the ideal build-up to the fourth adidas Cork City Marathon fixed for April 8.

It took place over roughly the second half of the marathon route and attracted over 1,100 runners. Two Kerry athletes, John Linehan and John Griffin, finished first and second with Tony Ryan from Dungarvan third. Catherine Hourihan of St Finbarr’s won the women’s race, but neither would figure over the full distance three weeks later.

After the excitement and controversy of the previous year, the 1985 marathon was a much quieter affair as the national governing body BLE decided to hold their championship race separately in Limerick at the end of June.

However, there was still a good incentive to attract the top athletes to Cork as the first prize was an all-expenses paid trip to the New York City Marathon the following November.

Almost 1,000 entries were received and speaking at the press conference before the race, Michael O’Connell of adidas said they were pleased with the response as the bad weather over the previous few months had not been conducive to marathon training.

The organisers were also making every effort to make it a value for money event with every participant being rewarded with a special Cork 800 T-shirt while all finishers received the marathon medallion, all for an entry fee of six pounds.

The course had been changed from the previous three versions and now went through Douglas village before doubling back through Church Street onto the main Douglas Road. It made for a faster route as the exclusion of the dreaded Temple Hill made it much easier.

The pre-race favourites were Paddy Murphy from Kildare, fourth the previous year and now the world veteran marathon champion, and Roscommon man, Billy Gallagher.

The 29-year-old Gallagher, who worked as a Department of Agriculture official in Cavan town, had completed over 20 marathons and was considered something of an ‘iron man’. Amongst his accomplishments was winning the Templemore 50-miler just three weeks after finishing third in the National Marathon.

Local hopes rested on John Buckley, then coming to the end of a senior career which saw him winning the Irish Cross-Country title at just 19 years of age.

Reaching veteran status would see him enter another hugely successful sphere, culminating in world titles six years later. Profiled before the marathon, the St Finbarr’s man said: “times have really changed now with events like the Evening Echo Mini-Marathon and the marathons and half-marathons introducing hundreds of people to running,” sentiments that no doubt could be repeated today.

With Lucy O’Donoghue unable to take part due to injury and the non-appearance of British international Sally McDiarmuid, the women’s race was seen as a battle between Shelia Curtin of North Cork (the Munster 10-mile champion) and Catherine Speight of Leevale, who had performed well in the adidas series of 10km races for women around the Tramore Road circuit.

Although the weather hadn’t been favourable in the days leading up to Easter Monday, conditions on the morning were ideal, dry with very little wind. Shortly after the opening mile (reached in 4:58), a group of six had formed at the front. The two favourites Gallagher and Murphy were there, along with Buckley, Michael Carey of Leevale, Christy Ryan (West Tipperary) and regular contender Willie Hayes of Reenavanna.

The three-mile mark came up in 15:38 and shortly afterwards it was down to five as Ryan lost contact. Coming up to eight miles, Carey and Hayes were dropped and after reaching the 10-mile checkpoint in 52:43, Buckley also had to let go.

Gallagher and Murphy passed through the half-way point in 68:22, with still no sign of hurt on either of their faces. Back through the city and down the Marina, Gallagher opened a slight five metre lead but on the climb out of Blackrock, Murphy had regained contact with the clock showing 1:45:05 at 20 miles.

It stayed that way up to 23 miles but then when the leaders hit the roundabout leading into Douglas, Gallagher made his move. Murphy failed to respond and the younger man slowly pulled away.

Approaching the finish, Gallagher realised he had a chance of breaking 2:19 for the first time and a lunge for the line saw him just getting there in 2:18:58.

A tiring Murphy finished almost a minute later in 2:19:51 and then there was a big gap before a delighted Michael Carey arrived to take third in 2:26:42 and, with it, the Munster title.

Willie Hayes, sixth three years before, had another consistent run to improve to fourth in 2:29:29, just 27 seconds ahead of a man who had arguably the performance of the day.

For Derry O’Driscoll from Cobh, running for St Finbarr’s, it was a remarkable personal best time at the age of 47. After running 2:33 in the Sea of Galilee Marathon before Christmas, O’Driscoll thought he might have an outside chance of breaking 2:30 and achieve this he did by four seconds when recording 2:29:56.

Two clubmates of Paddy Murphy from Kildare, Brendan Domican and Stephen O’Toole, took sixth and seventh positions. John Buckley suffered a lot over the final few miles but kept going to eventually finish in 2:45:21 for 26th position.

Sheila Curtin from Newtownshandrum ran an excellent race to take the women’s title in only her second marathon. The Fr Liam Kelleher-coached Curtin – whose sister Maura had finished second two years before – had to stop at 20 miles where she was passed by Catherine Speight.

Regaining her composure, she passed Speight again three miles later to finish in 3:01:23 and but for her bad patch would surely have broken the three-hour barrier.

Speight was rewarded with a credible 3:04:13 for second and Marion Lyons, in her first marathon, took third in 3:06:58.

As in every marathon, there were many tales of courage and inspiration. One such performance was that of Richard O’Mahony from the Crusaders club in Dublin. He finished 15th overall in a time of 2:41:02 despite the double handicap of being deaf and dumb.  


Full Results, Irish Runner Magazine Report and Results Booklet

1985 adidas cork 800 marathon results booklet 011


1 Billy Gallagher         2:18:58
2 Pat Murphy                2:19:51
3 Michael Carey                2:26:42
4 Willie Hayes                2:29:29
5 Derry O’Driscoll        2:29:56
6 Brendan Domican        2:31:38
7 Stephen O’Toole        2:32:06
8 Roddy Burke                2:32:37
9 Michael Roche                2:33:20
10 Christy Crowley        2:34:17



1 Sheila Curtin                3:01:23
2 Catherine Speight        3:04:13
3 Marion Lyons                3:06:58
4 Rose Crockett                3:08:32
5 Triona Kelly                3:16:39
6 Mary Sweeney                3:21:07


Amongst the 733 recorded finishers were:

* George Walsh from Youghal was over eight minutes faster than the previous year when finishing 12th in 2:37:06.

* Husband-and-wife Eric and Rose Crockett (St Finbarr’s) recorded respective times of 2:38:16 and 3:08:32.

* Under the three hours were Pat Motyer from Ballycotton (2:57:06), Joe Murphy of Eagle (2:57:13) and John O’Connell from Passage West who just made it with 2:59:02.

* Just missing a sub-3:00 by 14 seconds was John Brady from Charleville who finished 95th overall.

* Athletics historian Liam Fleming from Ballinascarthy ran 3:06:38 with Tim Geary of Leamlara close behind on 3:07:53.

* Not far away were Maurice Tobin of the Youghal club – now a member of Grange-Fermoy – who finished in 3:08:58 and Christy O’Driscoll from Dublin Hill who clocked 3:09:23.

* Peter Fenlon recorded 3:12:27 with Anthony Prendergast of St Nicholas (Castlelyons) six seconds behind in 3:12:33.

* Dan Nagle from the Mallow club finished in 3:21:59 with Anthony Donnachie from Cobh on 3:24:13.

* Two Cork BHAA stalwarts, Sean Walsh and Eddie Mullane, both of the Quigley Company, finished a second apart in times of 3:27:30 and 3:27:31.


Other Guest Articles by John Walshe

Pioneering Women of Cross-Country - Guest Article by John Walshe


Grange International Cross-Country of 1980 Recalled 40 Years On - Guest Article by John Walshe


Youghal AC's London Emer Casey 10k Exploits


30 Years Ago - Liam O'Brien Wins Cork County Senior Cross-Country Championship


50 Years Ago - When John Buckley Beat The Olympic Champion


40 Years Ago - Jerry Murphy Wins Munster Marathon Championship


Aoife Cooke Runs 55:17 in Mallow 10 2019


Munster Cross-Country of 1989


Steeplechase Legends Meet at Antrim International


Aidan Hogan - Ultra-Athlete




Cork to Cobh 40 Years Ago


Unique National Double for McGraths


Dick Hooper Speaks at St Finbarrs AC Function



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