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Kilcoole AC’s golden moment

Kilcoole AC recently celebrated a milestone birthday with a very special event that acknowledged its members, old and new, and a club that has had some amazing achievements down through the years. Here, former club chairperson, John O’Toole, shares the secrets of Kilcoole AC’s 50-year success with Irish Runner

IR: Congratulations on Kilcoole AC’s golden milestone. Tell us about the recent celebration. 

JOT: Kilcoole AC recently celebrated its 50th anniversary in style with 120 past and present members attending a very special party. We recollected 50 years of athletics successes, chairpersons 

(Dominic Byrne, Pat Diskin, John O’Toole, Susan Lawless and Ken Noonan) and reminisced about the ‘spirit and comraderies’ within the club, the socialising and annual trips. 

The evening saw the 1989 county cross country champions who were present – Shay Faulkner, Peter Savage, Danny Green – give an account of their training, diet and preparation, which were compared to those of the 2018 champions Brian Gurrin, Darragh Flynn, Justin Doyle and Damien Byrne. The 1987 Leinster 4x400m junior ladies record holders, Felicity Kerrigan, Jenny Pegman and Fiona Keeshan struggled to recollect the actual day that they set a Leinster record, because they were racing every other weekend but recalled the fun, bus journeys and craic within the club.  Darragh Page and John O’Toole, part of the 2017 masters 4x400m indoor record team, said they were proud to be part of an inclusive club and felt it was important to show the club’s juveniles that there was fun and longevity in our older years in athletics. The club acknowledged the achievement of Fionnuala McCormack and her sister Una Britton – the first sisters to stand on a national cross-country podium claiming first and third places respectively in the December 2019 championships.

One of the highlights of the evening was footage of Fionnuala McCormack’s European cross country performance in 2012, which preceded a chat with Shay Faulkner, the club’s first capped international athlete in 1986, and with Fionnuala McCormack herself. 

The evening was also an opportunity to celebrate the club’s rising stars at juvenile level with Isobel Lynch and Aoibhinn Keating jointly receiving the Fionnuala Britton award as female athletes of the year. Malachy Kenny, following his ninth-place finish in the national cross country, received the Sea Road Cup, first awarded in 1970 as the club’s male athlete of the year. In a night when the spirit of the club was celebrated, it was apt that the Colm Murphy Spirit Award was shared among four juveniles, Eilish Lauder, Ella Mackey, Beth Cullen and Rachel O’Toole. 

The evening culminated with Fionnuala McCormack, her sister Una and parents Eoin and Ellen having a lifetime membership bestowed on them for their years of service and commitment to Kilcoole AC. 

Pictured are Kilcoole AC senior club and the 2020 Couch to 5km group.

IR: Tell us a little about the history of the club?  

JOT: Kilcoole AC was founded in February 1970 by Arthur Savage, an accomplished athlete in his own right when Kilmacanogue had an athletics club. He took the initiative after encountering a group of young lads in the village who were ‘bored’ and had ‘nothing else to do but hang around’. So, on the inaugural run, names now synonymous with Kilcoole AC such as Verbruggen, Fortune and Coughlan took to the streets and remain connected to the club 

to this day. The club is forever indebted to Dan Cullen, John Fox, Kilcoole GAA and the Sisters of Charity for the use of their lands, grounds and property to train the club’s athletes over the past 50 years. The prestigious Sea Road Cup ran initially in 1970 from the Sea Road gates to the Main Street and remains an annual event.

IR: What is the club’s ethos? 

JOT: Kilcoole AC has always been a social and inclusive athletics club. From the early years, it was renowned for its annual trips to the Isle of Man, Butlins, Alton Towers, ice skating, cinema trips. In 2019, the club’s juveniles spent a weekend in Athlone Institute of Technology student campus and are heading to a similar university campus in Stirling in 2020. 

IR: Tell us about the structure/membership of the club?

JOT: Kilcoole boasts a vibrant club accommodating all ages and abilities with about 500 members annually, about 200 juveniles, 200 adults and a combination of about 100 juvenile/adults in their Couch to 5km programme.

Kilcoole AC has put in place a strategic plan for the development of senior club athletes by appointing Emmett Dunleavy as coach to this group. At juvenile level, Claire Lauder and myself have spearheaded a juvenile programme supported by club coaches and parents, reaping huge successes at cross country and track and field. The club’s annual Couch to 5km programme, the brainchild of the late Peter Gibney is supported by all the senior athletes in the club. 

Cross country champs: Shay Faulkner and Fionnuala McCormack.

IR: What events/competitions does the club organise and partake in? 

JOT: In the early years, the club organised a 24-hour run around Lott Lane and hosted discos in Pat Doyle’s to raise much-needed funds to support the club. Kilcoole AC has proudly officiated at the start line of the Women’s Mini Marathon since its inception and has also been involved in stewarding at the  DLR Bay 10km. 

Over the past 50 years, Kilcoole AC has celebrated many successes. Hosting three National Cross Country competitions, and having five members capped for Ireland are some of the club’s stand-out achievements. There are too many provincial podium finishers over 50 years to mention but names that stand out include Faulkner, Savage, Synnott, Cullen, Diskin, Waters, Gurrin, Kelly, Mantle and Britton. In 2011, the team of Fionnuala and Una Britton and Aishling Growney won the National Road Relay. In 2017, the team of Colin Wendel, Brian Gurrin and Damien Byrne had a notable success finishing third Leinster club team and eighth national team behind the greats of Donore, Raheny and Rathfarnham but ahead of county rivals Sli Cualann, a composite club from seven combined clubs within the county. 

IR: Kilcoole AC athletes have had wonderful successes, as you have already referred to. How important are these athletes to a club?  

JOT: The athletic world and sporting enthusiasts will, no doubt, recognise Fionnuala and Una for their recent achievements. Both are always available to contribute to club sessions and are giving of their time at juvenile awards and social events. They are heroes and role models to the entire club. 

But the club has been fortunate to be associated with many recognised athletes and coaches down through the years. Terry McHugh and Chris Jones come to mind as does our current senior coach, Emmett Dunleavy, as being inspirational in the development of our athletes.


Kilcoole AC has hosted three All Ireland Cross Country Championships in 1975 and 1979 both in Foxes Field Kilcoole, and in 1997 on lands now the home to Druids Heath Golf Club when Fionnuala McCormack won her first national cross-country medal, finishing ninth in the girls U14. As an athletics club, Kilcoole AC has celebrated five members wearing the national vest. Shay Faulkner was the first in 1986, followed by the javelin duo of David Kelly in 1996 and Joe Diskin in 1997, to our reigning international representatives, Fionnuala McCormack in 1999 and her sister, Una Britton in 2011. Kilcoole AC currently hold two Leinster track and field records. In 1987 the 4x400m junior girls record of 4:10 was set by Felicity Kerrigan, Jenny Pegman, Fiona Keeshan and Francine Cooke and remains in place some 33 years on. The masters men Darragh Page, Mark Walsh, John Baldwin and John O’Toole, triumphed in the Leinster 4x400m, setting a record in 2017 with a time of 4:28.

IR: How important is the club to the community?

JOT: The club has played a pivotal role in the community of Kilcoole in Co. Wicklow and the surrounding areas over the last 50 years. Longstanding friendships remain to this day from members who met for the first time in Beachdale en-route to training in Foxes Field. When foot and mouth struck in 2001, it was the local GAA that stepped up and provided training facilities for the club. From our youngest juvenile aged three to our eldest statesperson aged over 66, we thrive on the social aspect of the club. Regular Saturday trail runs led by Andrew Hanney finish with coffee and cake and sometimes pints (not milk). Our annual ‘Smell the Roses’ run to remember our past members finishes with a social coffee supported by The Happy Pear. Our annual predictor run and summer BBQ is supported by the Willow Grove Bar.

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