Memory lane: 60 years ago a November mile on cinders.

Maurice Ahern: today November 30th brings to mind an usual  race that took place on the cinder track at Santry on this day in 1963, all of 60 years ago. Santry of course at that time had a cinder track, Billy Morton had in 1958 famously on the opening of Santry Stadium with its brand-new state-of-the-art cinder track declared “Grass is on the way out!” Those with long memories will remember that running on a cinder track mid winter was like running on porridge very quickly your shoes would be caked with soft cinder.

Be that as it may Kenya was about to celebrate it’s first Independence day on December 12th 1963 and with an up and coming young star called Kip Keino were keen to see how he might perform against other world milers. Ireland was asked to send an athlete to represent the country -probably in the hope that Ronnie Delany’s retirement was not for real- and he would be sent to Kenya to take on Keino. In those days such an invite was  a great honour and with that in mind Irish athletic officials believed that the Irish representative should  be the winner of a trial race.

The mile of course was the magical race back then and although it was in the depts of winter the trial race of a mile would take place on November 23rd in Santry on cinders. With the assassination of President Kennedy the race was deferred for a week, to this day 60 years ago, November 30. Despite the soft going Basil Clifford (Donore) won the race in a time of 4.07.9 from Derek Graham and Tom O’Riordan.

The following year Clifford became Ireland’s second ever four-minute miler, Delany being the first, clocking 3.59.8 in the Emsley Carr Mile and later that year competed in the 1500 at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Tragically in 1973 he was killed in an explosion at an ammunition factory where he worked in Birmingham. 50 years after that sub 4 his club Donore Harriers presented the Basil Clifford trophy to Athletics Ireland. Since 2014 that trophy is awarded to the winner of the men’s 1500 at the national senior track and field championships – the most recent winner of that championship is of course Clonliffe Harriers’ Cathal Doyle (indeed Cathal won the national 1500 in both 2022 and 2023).

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