Monday Memories with Colm Brennan

1957 SOME MEMORIES OF THE YEAR I JOINED CLONLIFFE HARRIERS World War 2 ended in September 1945 leaving Europe in ruins.and the population in despair and shock. For the duration of the war all sporting activity ceased, facilities were destroyed, and most young men and women directed their energies in support of the war effort. Of course, Ireland was not directly involved in hostilities as a neutral state but nevertheless the country was greatly disadvantaged as a result of the conflict. Poverty and unemployment was the norm right across Europe including Ireland.

When the War ended many people turned to sport to establish a new normality and to brighten the awful memories of the war years Ireland was no exception in finding a new enthusiasm for sporting activity and it is against this backdrop that I write about my joining Clonliffe Harriers.

I had played rugby in school and while I enjoyed it very much I had been greatly attracted to track and field as a result of the great exploits of Britons Gordon Pirie, Chris Chataway and Brian Hewson, the Russian Vladamir Kuts, the Czeck Emil Zatopek. When our own Ronnie Delany appeared on the scene my brother Michael joined me at every athletics meeting both in College Park and Lansdowne Road. When Ronnie won the 1500 meters at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne my enthusiasm was complete.

I joined Clonliffe Harriers on the 10th July 1957 i arrived at the entrance gate feeling somewhat embarrassed and indeed frightened at the prospect of actually joining the great club. I need not have worried, as I stood outside the gate under a large sign which read CLONLIFFE HARRIERS STADIUM I was hailed by two men on bicycles, Larry O’Reilly and Frank Whelan who had arrived for training. The grounds in Santry at that time was being prepared for the building of Ireland’s very first international standard cinder track which was being laid by the world renowned En Tout Cas company. Stakes were in the ground marking the perimeter and lane structure of the track. Delivery of the construction materials consisting of underlay and bright red top dressing were due for delivery from Britain by charter ship and transported to Santry by road. I remember there was a trial of red top soil on the road from the port to the ground which was reported in the Dublin evening newspapers.

Joining the Club was a formal process.The officers were usually present on training nights and new applicants for membership were introduced to those present. I recall being given an application for membership form by the honorary treasurer Arthur Wisdom , a man who maintained the highest standards and the most complete set of club records I have ever seen. He advised me that the subscription for junior membership was 10 shillings which he said I should bring with me to the next training night with my completed application form which, I was advised, required a proposer and seconder. I recall meeting the honorary secretary Billy Morton that evening, he was a national figure at that time and it certainly was a memorable event for a school boy to meet the great man. The Club captain was Harry Cooney. He was a man I have remembered all my life, a kind, enthusiastic and most pleasant person who gave so much to the club and its members. Others I recall meeting on that evening were Charlie Rothwell, Tommy Taylor, Laurie Reed Frank and Johnny Whelan, Johnny O’Leary and of course my life long friend Larry O’Reilly.

Preparations for the cross country season began in August and all the talk in the dressing room was about the club handicaps which, at the time, enjoyed great popularity: the O’Connor Cup, the Grand National the Irwin Cup, the Club championships all enjoyed great support. I remember with pleasure coming third in the Club championship off a 12 minute handicap behind Larry O’Byrne and Noel Henry in my first cross country season.

One event that stands out in my memory is the Cake Race that was held in Christmas 1957 . The race took place on my 16th birthday on what was a very quiet country road, Coolock Lane. It was an out and back course from Santry to Coolock turning at the Sheaf of Wheat pub. I was the limit man and really believed I could do the job that evening. There was a big field of at least thirty runners., It was a beautiful moonlit evening with no wind, I recall the air was crisp and clear. I set off with great hope, Harry Cooney fired the starting pistol and I ran as fast as I dared into the night. There was no traffic, no street lights, a truly rural experience. I reached the half way mark in Coolock to be greeted by Billy Morton, Sam Gray and some others , Billy waving his freshly laundered handkerchief shouting encouragement , I turned and headed back to Santry. I was brimming with confidence and it was some minutes before the rest of the field came towards me. I was still ahead with 300 yards to go when I heard the dreaded footfall behind me. I speeded up and hoped I would make it home. With 150 yards to go an unknown runner , the late Sean O’Neiil, swept past me, he had joined the Club from an NACA club Dublin City Harriers some days before the race. He ran well and used his handicap well. I remember this as the final event of 1957 the year I joined Clonliffe Harriers.

I look back on the year of 1957 with a great feeling of satisfaction, joining the club was such an important component in my life that I could never value it sufficiently.

Colm Brennan, former Club President and Hon. Treasurer.

Clonliffe National XC winning team with F. White (Secretary), C. Brennan (President) p. Marley (Captain) 1984