THE first few weeks of January would normally see the Cork road races kicking off with a huge turnout at the FMC four-mile at Little Island setting the scene for a hectic season ahead.
But, giving the present situation, it now looks like it will be many months before any sort of a regular race can take place.
Over half-a-century ago, road races were few and far between. One iconic event that still stands out from that era is the Youghal Round-the-Houses held at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
This took place for the first time on the night of December 31, 1966. It would go on for another 10 years before moving to New Year’s Day up to 1985 with a further two races taking place at an earlier hour on New Year’s Eve in both 1986 and 1987.
Maybe the idea of a race at midnight came from the famous Brazilian San Silvestre race in Sao Paulo which had started in 1925, or from a similar event called Nos Galan first held in 1958 in a small town in the Welsh valleys by the name of Mountain Ash.
The Echo also reported that a ‘large crowd’ of 30 runners had set off from Youghal Post Office over three laps which totalled almost four miles.
The clear winner was 18-year-old local man Stephen Hennessy with John O’Brien of Ballymore just beating Jack O’Callaghan from Hilltown into second. The Grange club easily won the team prize from Youghal.
Although of tender years, winning races was nothing new to Stephen Hennessy. Just 12 months before, at the age of 17, he had led his club home with an emphatic victory in the Cork County junior cross-country title at Blarney. Unlike today, the junior grade then was based on standard rather than age and Hennessy won from Paud Murphy of Kildinan and also led his Youghal clubmates to the team award.
The numbers in that first Youghal Round-the-House would probably have been bigger but for the fact that the 1966 County junior was taking place the following day at Cobh. That race saw two more of Cork’s rising stars fight out a thrilling contest with victory going to another 18-year-old, Richard Crowley from Blarney, ahead of Donal Walsh of the Fr Mathew club.
Amongst many triumphs, Richard Crowley would go on to win the New Year’s Eve race at Youghal on a number of occasions. In the 1974 encounter, he had to contend with a young man who had already gained a junior bronze medal at the World Cross-Country in Italy the previous March. John Treacy, still only 17, would win another junior bronze in Morocco the following year before going on of course to win the senior world title in 1978 and 1979.
That night in Youghal, Treacy, Crowley and Denis Noonan (Clonliffe) were together for four of the five miles before the Villierstown youngster broke and simply sprinted away for victory, his winning time recorded as 23:12. Liam O’Brien took the individual novice prize and led his Midleton club to the team title.
Marion Staunton (now Lyons), won the women’s race from Joan Fleming (UCC) and Rose O’Brien (St Finbarr’s). Martin Drake was the winner of the boys U13 race and along with club-mates Charlie O’Sullivan, John Dempsey and Ger Flanagan took the team prize for Youghal.
When the Round-the-Houses moved to New Year’s Day in the early 1980s, the main race was for novice athletes only. On the first day of that decade, Derek Grant from Waterford and Pat Whyte of the Midleton club ran shoulder to shoulder until the final 600 metes of the five miles when Grant pulled away to win impressively.
First junior was Tony Gilbert (St Finbarr’s) who finished ahead of the Youghal duo of Ger Flanagan and Denis McCarthy. Bridie Hartnett of Midleton won the women’s race from Sandra Curley (Youghal).
A feature of those early races – which would be unheard of nowadays – is that no times were recorded, apart from, on rare occasions, the winner. It was only at the start of the eighties that the digital wristwatches where people could time themselves became easily available.
It was certainly a very different era to that of the measured courses and chip timing we are so used to today.