Marathon pace runs in the Dunne family from Blarney

Marathon pace runs in the Dunne family from Blarney
Michael (junior), Michael (senior), Tadhg and Una Dunne at the Berlin Marathon.

MARATHON fever is in the air at the moment with the Dublin Marathon celebrating 40 years over the Bank Holiday Weekend.

But for one Cork family, their marathon achievement came last month when a father, two sons and a daughter all completed the 26.2 miles of the Berlin Marathon.

Michael Dunne, 73, from Blarney is no stranger to the distance. He has 27 under his belt, 18 of them inside three hours. But on this occasion he was joined by sons Michael (junior) and Tadhg, and daughter Una (Nation).

Sitting in the front room of his home at Monacappa, Waterloo, Michael explains how it all came about: “It was Tadhg’s 40th birthday and he wanted to mark it in some significant way so he decided to run Berlin. When news spread, Una said to me ‘dad, we can’t leave him over there on his own, I’m going to go – will you come as well?’ It was enough to get me thinking of running a marathon again and when I said it to Michael junior he was all for it.”

Michael Dunne with his Berlin Marathon medal, pictured with wife May. Picture: John Walshe
Michael Dunne with his Berlin Marathon medal, pictured with wife May. Picture: John Walshe

With an involvement in running going back all of 40 years, Michael Dunne has been an influential figure in the sport not only to his own family but to the St Finbarr’s club and to UCC where it all began.

“I changed jobs from shift work to a day job and having had always an interest in fitness I started running. I used to go out in the evenings and run the half-mile out to what we called The Pond and back, and that’s where it started.”

Working as a general supervisor at UCC, it was the start of the running boom and a strong running culture was developing in the college.

“You were interacting with people involved in all sports and I was part of a group that went out every day at lunchtime from the Maltings. You had people like Brendan O’Neill, Cathal O’Connell and Anthony Morrissey and then on a Thursday we would meet up with the John Buckley group which consisted of John, Ritchie Crowley, Pat Ryan, Derry O’Driscoll, along with Tim Goulding and Tim O’Donovan.”

Part of their training was up Kerry Pike and Cathal O’Connell – Cork’s most consistent marathoner of recent years – credits this as a fundamental part of his marathon development.

Michael also recalls on occasions the group was joined by Peter Maher, a two-time Canadian Olympian with a best marathon of 2:11:46: “The run was 10 miles and you learned very quickly. Peter was known as the ‘Big Dog’ and the saying was ‘if you can’t run with the Big Dog, you stay in the porch!’”

Michael ran the second Dublin Marathon in 1981 and achieved his fastest of 2:40:45 in 1989, a time which placed him 44th overall out of the 3,000 finishers. After joining St Finbarr’s AC, success followed, especially in the masters categories. “I was always competitive, whatever the category, and won the national marathon over-60 titles in both 2006 and 2007,” he recalls.

No doubt the sporting genes were always there as Michael is nephew of the late Mick Barry, the legendary bowl player. “I did a small bit of bowling myself, winning the county novice championship on one occasion,” he modestly says.

For Michael junior, along with his siblings, it was only natural to follow in his dad’s footsteps. “I suppose with me it was when the GAA finished. I played hurling and football with Blarney and it was at the Belgooly four-miler where we all used to go on St Stephen’s Day that I began.” Now a Bandon-based Garda, Michael – also a member of St Finbarr’s - has 11 marathons to his credit with a best of 2:48. “I also won the Garda 10-mile road championship along with the cross-country in the Phoenix Park.”

As well, he competed in the marathon on three occasions at the European Police Championships as part of the Irish team.Due to work and family commitments, he hadn’t run a marathon for a number of years before Berlin. “This was a total experienced-ran marathon, a total bluff,” he explains. “The longest run I did was 18 miles so I knew I’d get to 30km easy enough but that in the last 10km the pressure would be on.”

He still finished in a commendable time of 3:21 with the birthday boy, Tadhg, achieving his main objective of breaking four hours, his time of 3:58 an improvement of 10 minutes from Paris, his only other marathon.

Una, who had already run two Dublin marathons, ran with her father (who was hampered by a hamstring injury) with both crossing the line together in a chip time of 4:24. “It was an amazing marathon,” says Michael senior.

“I had the St Finbarr’s singlet on and there were a few Cork supporters around the course shouting ‘come on the ‘Barr’s’ and I’d shout back ‘up the Rebels!”

Providing moral support were his wife May (mother of Michael and Una), another daughter Ann, and Tadhg’s wife and their four children. With such an entourage, finding somewhere to celebrate afterwards posed a problem.

“We went to a couple of places and they were all full so Tadhg said to me, ‘did you ever hear of Five Guys Restaurant?’

“Well, he said it was Barack Obama favourite fast-food restaurant and around the corner was such a place, and in the Cork colours of red and white. We got the most beautiful beef burger, milkshake and chips I’ve ever had, so I must say that Barack Obama certainly knows his stuff!”

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