A meeting of nine young men held under a street light in the main street in Tullamore resulted in the founding of Tullamore Harriers. The nine young men then adjourned to Clarke’s Barber Shop where the first committee was elected. But even the most far-sighted of the nine men who came together on that night of 13th November, 1953 as founder members of the club could scarcely be credited with foresight sufficient to envisage the growth that was to ensue over the following four decades. The first Chairman was John Dowling who later went on to become President of the G.A.A. The other founding members were Paddy Larkin (RIP), Noel Gowran, Brendan O’ Shea, Mick McDermott (RIP), Brendan McDermott, Noel Houlihan (RIP), Andrew Lowbridge, Billy Dowling and Larry Fox.
The club’s first headquarters was a dilapidated building which was leased in 1955. The move towards the present site came some years later with the purchase of 8 acres of land considered suitable for development. There followed several years of disappointment and frustration before planning permission to develop this site was eventually obtained in 1969. This immediately boosted the confidence of the committee, and the following year an additional 9 acres of land adjacent to their original holding was purchased.
Wisely, in view of the need to generate finance for their ultimate objective, the Harriers then concentrated their efforts on building and equiping a modern Social Centre and this was officially opened in 1972. Now assured of a regular source of income, the committee enbarked on their long term objective and had plans drawn up for the laying of a running track of full international standard, and this was duly developed and commissioned in 1978.
(When the English company were contacted about laying the tartan track and they found out that the venture was being undertaken by a private athletic club in Ireland, they took some persuading that this was not an Irish joke.
1979 was a proud year for Tullamore Harriers, as it marked the completion of our new sports stadium complete with all the necessary equipment. The following year saw the car park surfaced and developed to accomodate in excess of 700 cars. Then in 1981 a pancake-flat grass surface was laid and this was surrounded by an illuminated tarmacadam surface track around the perimeter of the grass area.
Up to this point all the expenditure for the Harriers stadium and grounds had been funded by the Tullamore Harriers club itself with the only “outside” assistance received being grants of 25,000 each from Government and local authority sources. Generally speaking progress was maintained by the physical efforts of members, with all manual work and stewarding being carried out on a voluntary basis without which the ambitious target could not have been reached. In 1995 the track had to be resurfaced for the first time and a new concrete stand was erected. Further developments are envisaged for the future. It is estimated that the Tullamore Harriers complex is now worth in the region of 10 million.
So what have Tullamore Harriers achieved over the years? It would be no exaggeration to describe the club as the only privately owned, amateur club of its kind in the world. A lofty description, perhaps, but one which stands up to scrutiny. Consider the facts: The club has an active membership in excess of 200, as well as 3,000 social club members; it provides sporting and social amenities not alone for Tullamore and its immediate surrounds, but for the midland region in general. The stadium has hosted International competitions as well as National, provincial and local championships for BLE, NACA, Schools and various other organisations. It is a firm favourite with athletes throughout the country because of the excellence of the facilities available and also due to its ideal geographical location. Up to 61 sports meetings are held in the stadium each year. Tullamore’s annual ‘FESTIVAL OF ROAD RACES’, centred around the Quinlan Cup, has come to be generally regarded as the blue ribband event of the road racing season.
But let’s not forget the marvellous achievements of our athletes. The club won its first ever World Championship medal in March this year when Pauline Curley was part of the Irish Senior Ladies team which finished third in the World Cross-Country Championships in Turin. Three further athletes from the club have also competed in the World Cross-Country Championships. John O’ Toole competed three times in the 1980 (New York, Lisbon and Rome) and had the honour of captaining the Irish team twice. Tommy McCormack was a member of the club in the early 70’s he was second in The irish Junior Cross Country Championship and went on to run for Ireland in The World Junior Cross Country Championships in Ghent Belgium in 1973 and was first Irishman home. Louis Kenny (who later competed for Mullingar A. C.) finished ninth in the 1975 junior mens race in Rabat where the Irish team finished second but did not receive medals because only the winning team were awarded medals at that time. Ann Carroll also represented Ireland in the World Hill Running Championships in 1994. There have been many successes for our juveniles also but special mention must go to Ann-Marie Larkin who became the first Irish girl in twenty years to win the International Schools Intermediate (U. 17) Cross-Country event in Dungarvan in 1995.
John Thompson’s gold medal-winning performance at the 1996 British AAA’s in the Junior Mens (U.20) Hammer event was also a major highlight in the clubs history. These are oniy some of the achievements of our athletes who have won over 50 National Championships in all forms of athletics, more than 28 of whom have gained International status, and seven of whom have gained athletic scholarships to colleges and universities in the U.S.A. But Tullamore Harriers not only caters for the elite athletes but for all its members by providing excellent indoor and outdoor training facilities as well as many club races and events ranging from the Peter English ‘625’ (meters) race around the tarmacadam track to the Neville 10 Mile Road Race. Club races such as the ‘Midnight Run’ and the ‘Grand National’ are run on a handicap basis to give everyone a chance to win a prize. The ‘Midnight Run’ which takes place each New Year’s Eve has been held continuously for the past 52 years.
The club also organises track and field and cross-country competitions for it’s members. It also organised the Midland League until it’s demise a few years ago thereby giving vital competition to up and coming athletes, some of whom went on to represent Ireland at Olympic and World Championship level
Other Significant Performances
Pauline Curley competed in the 2008 Olympic Marathon and several more World CC’s as well as European CC’s.