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In Loving Memory: Memories of defunct Road Races

By Terrry Eakin LVAC

Runners don’t last for ever and neither do races. This is a list of the races which have been struck off our calendar. My memory doesn’t go back as far as it used to; so your help would be appreciated in providing any corrections or additions to the list.

Some races have miraculously risen from the dead (Dervock and the Bangor Classic within the past year). Other events will probably never return due to road safety worries – would anybody like to reinvent the former race on the main Belfast to Bangor road?

Here’s what I can remember:


Ballyclare Ten – If ever there was a race which produced class performances, this was it. John McLoughlin did something like 48:30 after doing a 100 mile week including a run on the morning of the race! Other guys such as Mike Teer and the Hannon brothers (Gerry and Greg) also produced fast times which ranked well up in the annual UK listings.
The two lap course wasn’t easy either with big hills to be surmounted and town centre traffic to be avoided. Organiser Jimmy Todd was forced to abandon the event, I think due to Police pressure, but a new rural based ten has now begun to attract distance runners back to Ballyclare.

County Antrim Harriers Half Marathon – Another classic race which met a similar fate. The original route followed the winding Hillhall Road to Lisburn. I can remember heated verbal exchanges at the traffic lights on the Malone Road between disgruntled runners and car drivers. Some great times were recorded here too – did John McLoughlin once finish in 63 mins on the revised Malone Rd/Balmoral Ave course?

Duncairn Nomads Fifteen – John Henning did a lot to promote this killer race. Starting on the Crumlin Road, the course followed the Ballysillan and Antrim Roads to Mallusk. Highlight for me was always the turning point which involved running around Cecil Wilson who stood in the middle of the road, oblivious to traffic, yelling equal doses of encouragement and abuse at the knackered runners. Races may come back but there will never be another Cecil.

NBH New Year Races – Cannot remember much about these – they were held at the Oldpark clubhouse, the weather was always freezing and there was a brief revival when North Belfast opened their new clubhouse recently.

Divisview Shield – Whoever thought up this one deserves a medal. The event had a very complicated formula which involved three groups – Novices started first, followed by the Juniors and finally the Seniors. Usually this gave rise to close finishes and it would have been a brave punter who would have bet on the outcome of these races. The course involved climbing the Antrim Road and the steep back path to Belfast Castle – I can still remember reaching the top in the lead only to be passed by about 50 runners on the descent.

Portadown 10 - This was a short lived race, finishing on the Garvaghy Road, in the days before it became famous. One of the top prizes in 1984 was a copper daffodil – hardly enough to get any of today’s pot-hunters out of bed.

Ards Town Centre – Organised by Ballydrain Harriers, this 5-miler involved a multitude of laps of the town centre. This was the race in which the late Joe Seely (Willowfield Harriers) collapsed prior to his tragic illness and untimely death.

Whitehead Easter Races – Still on the fixture list but not as the Novice Championship and sadly only a shadow of its former self. County Antrim Harriers once booked three carriages on a train to bring their runners and supporters to this race.
I’ve a distant memory of running down Cable Road which was lined on both sides with masses of cheering spectators; think they were mostly Jim Newberry fans but it was a great experience anyway.

Causeway Half Marathon – What a start - uphill for half a mile from sea level to the Causeway Centre. Finished in Portstewart, I think.

Stormont Magic Mile – Not a race for anybody with dodgy knees but a great chance for a PB. The course record was something like 3:45 and nobody that brilliant ever ran in it. Coe and Ovett would probably have beaten 3:30.


Antrim – Might only have been held once, at the height of the marathon craze. The course went in and out of the town in several different directions giving runners plenty of opportunities to shout discouraging comments at their rivals.

Ards – Unforgettable for the hot weather, once temperatures were over 80 degrees with the tar on the roads sticking to runners shoes. Also gets my vote for the hardest run race ever featuring Billy Brannigan and David Seaton. The late Dessi McGonigle was also involved in a titanic struggle in this tough hilly event.

Dervock – Commemorated the success of local man Kennedy McArthur who won the Olympic marathon at Stockholm in 1912, running for South Africa. The first race in 1984 featured an exhibition on his life and two runners travelled from his adopted hometown in South Africa to compete. Good to see it back (as a half-marathon) in 2005 with an incredibly low entry fee of £2:00.

Antrim Coast - Right along the coast road. Some local club runners still talk about beating the great Ron Hill in this race – he slowed down too much to admire the view.

Lurgan to Belfast – The first Northern Ireland marathon was held on this course in 1907. A total of 456 runners started and the race was sponsored by Murray’s Tobacco Co who distributed free cigarettes along the route – can’t imagine David Seaton allowing that nowadays.

Pre-1980 Northern Ireland Marathon Championships – These were held all over the place. Some started at Celtic Park, some went up the Antrim Road, some went to Sprucefield (not along the M1). Somebody a bit older than me might be able to fill in the gaps. Winners probably included John Henning, Mike Teer and Stanley Vennard.


Lagan Valley Relay – Sponsored for many years by Guinness. The route started in Portadown and went via Gilford, Banbridge, Dromore and Lisburn to finish at the Mary Peters Track. These were strongly contested races with teams from GB entering on a regular basis. Local clubs had the advantage of knowing the way through Lisburn; I can remember at least one Scottish runner getting hopelessly lost in the town centre.

Islandmagee – More a test of organisational ability and driving skills than a running race. There were always numerous tales of relay leg runners arriving at the change-over points well ahead of the next runner (who was usually stuck in a traffic jam miles back down the road). Much cursing by out-of-breath runners. Also unique in that the changing rooms were in a pub – the Mill Bay Inn, which probably had its busiest day of the year when Cecil Wilson’s runners came to town. Jim Johnston reminded me recently of the stew served in the pub after the race. He thinks that Cecil made it himself and remembers that it had the consistency of quick drying the race. He thinks Cecil made it himself and remembers that it had the consistency of quick drying cement!

That’s about as much as I can remember; please contact Sandra Harrison with any corrections or additions to the list above.
Hopefully the current races will keep going for many years to come and will avoid being added to the list.

Terry Eakin

(With thanks to Jim Johnston, Newcastle AC)