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                         RUN FOR FUN WITH THE HOUNDS OF FIONN

                                                     Mario Corrigan


Sunday 15th May offers runners, joggers, wheelchair users and walkers an excellent opportunity to test their stamina and participate in 3 different athletic events collectively entitled the Kildare Marathon. Whether it is for personal fitness or to break a personal barrier – to win or to participate, will be a day of pride and exhilaration for the thousands who take part. Last years half marathon was won by Lorcan Cronin of Clonliffe Harriers in 1 hour, 10 mins and 23 seconds. This year the main event has been extended to become a full marathon of some 42km. It however may surprise people to know that it is not the first full marathon to be run in Kildare.  

The race has its origins with Pheidippides (or Philippides) a Greek soldier who carried a message from the Battle of Marathon to Athens and died after telling the assembly that the Greeks had beaten the Persians. Some accounts say he had run from Athens to Sparta previous to the Battle some 300 miles, had fought in the battle and then ran the final journey from Marathon to Athens – no wonder he expired! The marathon race which commemorates his journey has been an Olympic event since the first modern games in 1896. The winner of the first Olympic Marathon, on April 10, 1896, was the Greek, Spiridon Louis, who ran the race in 2 hrs 58 mins and 50 secs. Originally a 40km race it was changed in 1908 and standardised in May 1921 for the Paris Olympics in 1924 to 42km or around 26.22miles.  

Marathon races became popular worldwide and in Ireland they became part of local sports events organised around the country covering anything from 1-12 miles, such as the Marathon Race from Newbridge to Kildare in 1909 in aid of the White Abbey Church which was started by ‘Boss’ Croker. A large silver cup was presented by horse trainer, J.J. Parkinson and the race won by Patrick Brady, Kilteel, with Edward D’Arcy, Kildare, second out of a field of 26 runners. Other sports days advertised Marathons from Blessington to Valleymount, Newbridge to Naas, Kildare to Kilcullen and Sallins to Two-Mile House.  

But they were also organised on a larger scale. In 1904 a ‘Go-As-You-Please,’ Race was organised from Inchicore to Naas – you could run or walk. A distance of 20¾ miles, it was won in 1 hr and 54½ mins by James Steele of Moate in Westmeath; there were 70 competitors and the day was a scorcher.  

In 1906 The Evening Herald sponsored a Marathon Race from Inchicore Bridge to Naas Courthouse on Sunday 20 May, a distance of 16¾ miles (apparently 4 miles less than 1904?). The previous year ‘The Herald’ Race was run from Dublin to Balbriggan and was won by Pat White from Donabate. Of the 100 entered some 50 faced the starter who fired the gun at exactly 6 mins past one and despite the rain and slippy roads, conditions were generally good. Huge crowds attended the race through Rathcoole, Blackchurch, Kill and Johnstown and cyclists thronged the competitors. On the outskirts of Naas the Dublin youngster P. Fagan was caught by Pat White who raced into the town to great cheers and applause from the dense crowd. He ran the race in 1 hour and 40mins. The Town Hall served as the dressing room and the scene for a magnificent luncheon at 4 p.m. A large R.I.C. contingent had been drafted in but all went well. A special train from Kingsbridge to Naas, designed to get spectators to the town ahead of the runners, arrived after the winners had crossed the line much to the disgust of the passengers.

In 1926 Charles Farrell, himself a former athlete who had discovered the legendary Tommy Conneff, presented the first ‘Ballinagappa Cup’ for a Marathon Race from Dublin to Naas. It was organised by the Naas Amalgamated Games Society on Sunday 28 November. The race was run from Nelson’s Pillar, via Westmoreland St., College Green and Dame St. to Inchicore and on to the Town Hall in Naas. The 9 competitor field included Irish Marathon Champion J. O’Reilly from Galway. It was won by Martin O’Brien from Naas in 2 hrs 20 mins followed by W. O’Brien from Maynooth.

 In Naas of the Kings, at a quarter to four

 The hum of the multitude swell’d to a roar

 As a runner appear’d on the distant skyline

 And the vantage-post scouts announc’d Martin O’Brien   

On Sunday 4 Dec. 1927 the race ran from Nelson’s Pillar to the football field on Naas Racecourse and there were 20 entries. It was won by D. McKeown/McKeon (Blackrock A.C.) in 2 hours 27 mins with Naas men Tim Coyle and Martin O’Brien second and third. McKeown had taken part in 1926 but failed to finish.  D. McKeown won the Cup again in 1928 but the Race seems to have been suspended in 1929 and he actually claimed a ‘walk-over’ and ownership of the trophy. The race was revived for the Naas Feis on Sunday 1 May 1932 and McKeown won the cup outright, winning it for the third time in succession.

         In the centre of the 2011 Full Marathon Course stands the statue of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his two Irish Wolfhounds, Bran and Sceolan. When the artists came to the Library for an idea for a sculpture it wasn’t difficult to suggest one, for the association of Fionn and the Fianna with the Curragh and their legendary home on the Hill of Allen is well-known. When Kildare Village were looking for ideas some years before they picked up on the idea of the two wolfhounds and they are beautifully commemorated there also. It is said that the Fianna raced their chariots across the Curragh Plains and on Sunday 15 May races will once more be held on this most historic site. There will always be a competitive element but for most people it is about completing the course and taking part in which ever event they choose – it is an accomplishment to be proud of.


















Stories of Kildare Marathons from yester-year by Mario Corrigan

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