Today’s Bank Holiday (remember when we use to look forward to those!) was to be a day of celebration with the return of the Clonliffe 2 to the ‘traditional’ 2 Mile venue finishing at Kavanaghs ‘The Gravediggers’ in Prospect Square, Glasnevin.
The Kavanagh family have been loyal continuous sponsors and supporters of this historic race and today would have marked the 35th time the Kavanagh family have sponsored the Clonliffe 2 going right back to the Clonliffe Harriers centenary year of 1986. Unfortunately with the Covid-19 restrictions currently in place it has been necessary to defer the race to an alternative date once racing resumes later in the year.
This morning we thought it might be fitting to do what can’t be done in a race and have a look back!
The Clonliffe 2, now in it’s third century, is acknowledged to be one of the world’s longest continuous road races and is with certainty Ireland’s most historic road race. Details surrounding the opening versions of the race are a little ‘sketchy’. The first actual recording of the race dates back to 1898. The race was a point to point, as was the tradition at the time, running from the Halfway House, the public house in Ashtown, to Phibsborough finishing at Charleville Road, a race distance of a little over two miles. The winner of that first recorded ‘Clonliffe 2’ was P.J. Lonergan of Clonliffe Harriers.
The race route changed the following year following a route from Santry (which of course would become the Clonliffe Harriers home in 1956) down to Millmount Avenue in Drumcondra, a race distance of 1.5 miles and then in 1901 the two mile distance was established with the race starting from Flood Public House in Finglas Village finishing at the 4 o’clock Gate at Glasnevin Cemetery beside Kavanagh’s ‘The Gravediggers’ public house (eagle-eyed readers will note the prevalence of public houses here. Whatever that was all about!). The winner of that first proper Clonliffe 2 mile distance was none other than Joe Deakin who in 1908 at the London Olympic Games, this of course being a time before the establishment of the Irish free state, competed for Great Britain winning Olympic gold in the 3 mile team race. To date he is Clonliffe’s only Olympic gold medalist.
That same Olympic year saw Frank Ryder begin his dominance of the Clonliffe 2 winning the race that year and setting an extraordinary twelve year winning streak from 1908 to 1919. Frank Ryder is another historic figure in the history of Clonliffe Harriers. He was a member of the first Clonliffe team to win the National Cross Country in 1910, a feat repeated with Ryder finishing 2nd behind clubmate the one and only Bertie Irwin (Bertie Irwin is Carmichael Irwin, the famed airman after whom the club’s Irwin Cup is in commemoration of).
Those early races in Glasnevin attracted great crowds of supporters to follow the race. Dominic Branigan in his “History of Clonliffe Harriers” quotes a newspaper report of the 1909 Clonliffe 2 from Floods in Finglas to Kavanaghs in Glasnevin: “The muster of 103 runners is the largest that has ever been assembled for an invitational race in Dublin, Clonliffe Harriers turning out 53, Donore, 15, City and Suburban, 20, Leinster Harriers, 5 and Vegetarians, 10. There was a large muster of followers of the game and many old enthusiasts were noted amongst the crowd. As the pack wended its way from headquarters the runners were accompanied by sporting enthusiasts on outside cars and tandem bikes for a portion of the outward journey on the road…”
There follows a newspaper report on the 1920 Clonliffe 2, note the number of fast times recorded (one wonders if there was a 1920s Peter McDermott out with the wheel if the times would have been so fast!)
CLONLIFFE HARIERS 2 MILE INVITATION RACE 1920. THE WALKERS PROMINENT.
They lined up for the run in at Floods and soon after being despatched by Mr P Lonergan, the President of the club, CC Walker, the winner of last years race, went to the head of affairs, with Nalty and J Timmons of Dublin City Harriers in attendance. The trio cut out the running until crossing the bridge in the village of Glasnevin with AP Walker and GN Walker having in the meantime come up to the leaders. When they commenced the run up the hill to the cemetery it was seen that “CC” had shot his bolt. He was displaced in the lead by “GN” and “AP” with Nalty hanging on resolutely to the pair. Passing the cemetery gate “AP” dropped back and D O’Brien, who had been running strongly throughout, went into second place. George Walkers win was now assumed, and running strongly to the finish, he registered a 20 yard victory from O’Brien, with AP Walker a good third. George Walkers time for the mile and three quarters beat that of his brother in last years race by 9 seconds. The prize for the first runner who had never won a prize in a flat or cross country event was secured by T Hennessy of the City and Suburban Harriers who finished in 15th place and the similar award for the first member of the promoting club was won by V Kelly. The times and placings for the first 20 finishers were as under : 1 GN Walker Clonliffe Harriers 8 min 44 sec 2 D O’Brien Clonliffe Harriers 8 min 48 sec 3 AP Walker Clonliffe Harriers 8 min 50 sec 4 J Nalty D.C.H. 8 min 51 sec 5 J Timmons D. C. H. 8 min 57 sec 6 CC Walker Clonliffe Harriers 8 min 58 sec 7 J Cullen City and Suburban 8 min 59 sec 8 MW O’Brien Harps AC 9 min 07 sec 9 W Ryan City and Suburban 9 min 08 sec 10 J Peelo Clonliffe Harriers 9 min 11 sec 11 GR Wisdom Clonliffe Harriers 9 min 12 sec 12 DJ Galavan Clonliffe Harriers 9 min 13 sec 13 J Bew Army AC 9 min 17 sec 14 JT Mc Cabe Clonliffe Harriers 9 min 20 sec 15 T Hennessy City and Suburban 9 min 21 sec 16 J Farrell James Gate Harriers 9 min 30 sec 17 TJ Galavan Clonliffe Harriers 9 min 32 sec 18 H Ryan City and Suburban 9 min 35 sec 19 WM Steele D.U.H. 9 min 36 sec 20 J Flood D.C.H. 9 min 38 sec
The Clonliffe 2 invariably remained at this Glasnevin venue for the following decades, there being a very close affinity between the club and Kavanagah’s, indeed the club famously availed of rooms above the public house as the club’s HQ and dressing rooms (there we go again Clonliffe and pubs?). The record books show some extraordinary times being recorded including Frank Ryder’s 1912 course record of 8.34, a time not bettered until 1948 when J. McGuigan won in a time of 8.24, McGuigan took three Clonliffe 2’s in a row 1947, 1948 & 1949.
Clonliffe stalwart Johnny O’Leary recalls spectating at the Clonliffe 2 in 1956, cycling to the race, having been encouraged to come along by a work mate Joe Dempsey, a Clonliffe member. In Johnny’s own words “I was instantly hooked and joined the club the following Tuesday!”
The late 1950s right through to the end of the following decade saw the Clonliffe 2 dominated by the all conquering Donore Harriers team with Donore taking a total of twelve successive victories which included wins by Bertie Messitt, Tom O’Riordan and Jim McNamara right up to the end of the sixties.
The Donore stranglehold was broken by young Clonliffe athlete Tom Cregan who won in 1970 and thereafter the race has been largely dominated by Clonliffe athletes invariably winning the race throughout the 1970s, 80s and beyond, there have of course been athletes from other clubs winning but it has mainly been dominated by Clonliffe athletes. Clonliffe winners from 1970 onwards have included Jerry Kiernan, Des McCormack, Frank Murphy Junior, Noel Harvey, Noel Cullen, Eugene Curran, Richard Mulligan, Killian Lonergan, Sergiu Ciobanu, Aidan Bailey, Dave Fitzmaurice and the most recent Clonliffe winner in 2014 Ian Guiden.
The Clonliffe 2 and its relationship with Glasnevin was ‘broken’ in the late 1970s when the race went to a new route at the back of the airport where it remained until the club’s centenary year in 1986. The club’s committee at that stage brought the race back to Glasnevin where the race was sponsored by Eugene Kavanagh, the proprietor of ‘The Gravediggers’ thus renewing the link and a link which has remained right up to the present day. Regrettably the huge increase in traffic volumes meant that on health and safety grounds the last race held in Glasnevin was in 2012 won by Donore Harriers John Travers in a time of 8.56, the race then relocated back up to Santry on a safer route starting in the Morton Stadium, completing a loop around Northwood, into Santry Demesne Park and finishing back on the track in Morton Stadium. Last year’s winner was, sub 4 minute miler, Andrew Coscoran (Star of the Sea) in 2019 in a time of 9.13 with Clonliffe’s Colm Rooney a fraction behind in second place.
The Clonliffe 2 is a race which is viewed with great affection by all members of Clonliffe Harriers and although a 2 mile race is seen nowadays as a bit of an ‘oddity’ it is a race with great historical significance. Whilst there is sadness that today’s race is deferred rest assured the Clonliffe 2 will be back.