Flashback: Jerry Kiernan reigned in the rain at 1983 Cork City Marathon

Flashback: Jerry Kiernan reigned in the rain at 1983 Cork City Marathon
Rain-soaked action from the Cork City Marathon on April 4 1983. 

THE year of 1982, following the inaugural Cork City Marathon, saw road running taking off throughout country.

That autumn, over 8,700 finishers were recorded at the Dublin Marathon. 

New races sprang up everywhere and Cork was no exception. June, July and August saw 10-mile races in Crosshaven, Belgooly, Charleville, Ballincollig, Bandon, Rathcormac and Castlelyons.

The standards were also at an all-time high. 

The BLE marathon at Limerick in June was won by Dick Hooper in 2:12:56 and of the 394 finishers, 138 were inside three hours.

Finishing 20th in 2:26:23 was Willie Hayes, then with Reenavanna Harriers and now a member of St Finbarr’s AC.

He had been to the fore at the Cork City Marathon the previous Easter, eventually finishing sixth in 1982. 

He recalled the type of training he was doing back then.

“I used to average around 120 miles a week, and even on one occasion reached 150.

“I was living in Doon [Co Limerick] and along with a few others like Mike Thompson and John O’Brien would do five or six miles in the morning and go out again in the evening. 

"We would do a long run on a Sunday and also trained on the track. But most runners were doing that kind of mileage back then.” 

With the running boom in full swing, it needed a star, a cult hero that the public and media could relate to. 

It found one in Jerry Kiernan. 

Born in Listowel, Kiernan was already an accomplished track and cross-country performer before turning to the roads.

Marathon runner Jerry Kiernan (Clonliffe Harriers) pictured in 1983. 
Marathon runner Jerry Kiernan (Clonliffe Harriers) pictured in 1983. 

He was National 1500m champion in 1975 and the following year broke four minutes for the mile at the Crystal Palace, recording 3:59.1. 

After finishing 26th at the 1982 World C-C, he made his long distance debut in sensational style in May, defeating Neil Cusack by over four minutes in a 25km race in Limerick.

Further super-fast times over 10 miles in Belgooly and Bandon followed but it was October’s Dublin City Marathon that made Jerry Kiernan a household name. 

A live television audience saw the Kerry native set a tremendous pace, leading by nearly four minutes at 20 miles where a time close to 2 hours 10 minutes seemed on the cards.

But the wheels came off and he was forced to stop a number of times over the last six miles. 

Although in an exhausted state, Kiernan held on to cross the line in the sixth-fastest time by an Irish athlete of 2:13:45.

As he was now supported by adidas - also the Cork City Marathon sponsors - Kiernan’s appearance in the southern showpiece on Easter Monday was virtually assured. 

Before that, however, he made another trip to Cork when setting a course record of 47:04 for the Ballycotton ‘10’.

Easter was early in 1983 and conditions on Monday April 4 were described as “rain soaked and sun splashed.” 

Entries, at almost 1,000, showed a significant increase on 1982.

There were some changes to the route with the race starting as well as finishing on the South Mall.

Along Anglesea Street, South Terrace, Clarke’s Bridge, Washington Street and Grand Parade brought the runners back to the South Mall and the two-mile mark.

They then headed out towards the Kinsale Road, through Togher and five miles at Deanrock Estate before coming in Hartland’s Avenue, Glasheen Road and out to Wilton. 

The 10-mile mark was on Inchiggan Lane before a return to the city and along MacCurtain Street to 15 miles at St Patrick’s Church. 

Back around Horgan’s Quay and down Centre Park Road and the Marina took the runners to 20 miles on Skehard Road.

Then followed the tough final six miles back by Bellair, past St Finbarr’s Hospital, Boreenamanna Road, Victoria Road, and the City Hall and around by George’s Quay to the welcome finish on the Mall.

Wearing number 699, Kiernan lined up in the miserable conditions amongst what was a much higher standard field. 

A group of 10 quickly slipped clear, including Ray Treacy (who had run 47:42 behind Kiernan in Ballycotton), Neil Cusack, Michael Walsh, Paddy Murphy from Kildare, John Griffin, US-based Dessie O’Connor and Cork-born Eddie Twohig from Leamington.

“I honestly was not feeling good over those first ten miles,” admitted Kiernan afterwards. 

"The rain was pouring down and there was a strong headwind. We were just sitting in and taking as much shelter as we could.” 

Michael Walsh and Ray Treacy lead the field through eight miles in 41:46. 

The weather was now improving and passing the County Hall, Treacy surged, taking Kiernan with him. Walsh was off the back and coming into Patrick Street, Kiernan took control. 

“The adrenalin was flowing. The crowd was great and I was feeling real good,” he would relate later.

He reached 18 miles in 91:02 and passing St Finbarr’s Hospital and the 22-mile mark, the clocked showed 1:51:31. 

A really fast time was now on the cards and so it proved, with the 29-year-old crossing the line looking remarkably fresh, in contrast to his debut in Dublin five months before.

His time of 2:13:20 was the third-fastest ever run in the country and well clear of Treacy who ran a lifetime best of 2:16:54. Paddy Murphy, 39, also recorded a personal best of 2:17:31.

“I love running in Cork, the atmosphere is different to anywhere else and the people seem to appreciate athletes more down here,” stated Kiernan afterwards. 

“I will be back for some 10-milers this summer. I still have never been beaten in Cork.” 

 With all the attention focussed on the men, there was also a remarkable conclusion to the women’s equivalent. 

Lucy O’Donoghue, a native of Tallow and a receptionist with Royal Insurance on the South Mall, had only taken up jogging the previous year when she completed the marathon in 4:11:44.

Now, with 12 months training behind her and a number of quality race performances, she improved on that inaugural run by almost an hour to take the title in 3:13:33, with Maura Curtin from North Cork second in 3:17:04.

“I did not realise I had a chance of winning it until I saw the paper on Saturday morning,” said the delighted O’Donoghue, who no doubt acted as a role model for women as that year only around 40 females took part out of a total of 818 finishers.


1 Jerry Kiernan 2:13:20 2 Ray Treacy 2:16:54 3 Paddy Murphy 2:17:31 4 Michael Walsh 2:20:23 5 John Griffin 2:21:03 6 Dessie O’Connor 2:22:19 7 Michael Treacy 2:22:32 8 Edward Twohig 2:24:07 9 Patrick O’Donoghue 2:25:07 10 Willie Fitzgerald 2:26:57


1 Lucy O’Donoghue 3:13:33 2 Maura Curtin 3:17:04 3 Corinne Reidy 3:23:28 4 Carmel Lynch 3:26:48 5 Mary Murphy 3:35:12 6 Sheila Murphy 3:36:16


Derry O’Driscoll from Cobh, aged 46, knocked over a minute off of his best time to win the veterans award, finishing 19th overall in 2.35.08.

Three places ahead was John Buckley of St Finbarr’s (2.33.43) and in 20th (2.35.12) was Seamus Cawley, Rathkeale, one of just 13 runners who has finished all 40 Dublin Marathons.

Sean Cotter from Bishopstown, well known in orienteering and hill-walking circles, finished 34th in 2.43.19.

Former European 1500m silver-medallist Frank Murphy - running for the St Peter & Paul’s Building Fund which raised in the region of 4,000 pounds – easily broke three hours with his 2.51.34.

Also under the magical barrier was Noel Curtin, now of Youghal AC and father of US scholarship athlete Fearghal, who completed his second marathon in 2.59.10.

The late Luke Philpott, again running in aid of the St Peter & Paul’s fund, finished in 3.06.21 with George Spicer not too far behind in 3.09.07.

Bernard Sisk, still a regular prize-winner in Cork BHAA races, finished in 3.44.27.

Frank Greally, editor of Irish Runner, ran 3.29.26 and wrote of his tussle with another athletics scribe. 

“With over a half-mile to go I saw Fr Liam Kelleher up ahead and he looked like he was in trouble. ‘The leg is gone,’ he said. ‘I’m bunched too’, I replied, but let us run in together.’ We began to run the final five or six hundred yards and suddenly Fr Liam took off again. However, he had only gained about forty yards when he began to buckle again and I passed him and kept the head down and ran with great determination to the finish.”

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