Over the last four decades, tens of thousands of Irish people have taken up the challenge offered by Emil Zatopek, arguably the greatest distance runner that ever lived, who said: ‘If you want to run, run a mile, if you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.’
The Dublin Marathon, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of its foundation at the end of October, was the catalyst that fuelled the first running boom in Ireland at the start of the 1980s.
I have spent the last six months researching and writing the remarkable story of this event. I hope the finished book – which includes photos, memorabilia and personal stories from the last 40 years – gives a flavour of how the race was transformed into an event, which is now as synonymous with the October Bank holiday weekend as the St Patrick’s Day parade is with March 17.
Way back when
It was a curious configuration of fate, circumstances and serendipity that resulted in the launch of the then Radio 2 Dublin City Marathon on the October Bank Holiday Monday in 1980. Retired RTÉ producer, Louis Hogan and the late Noel Carroll can both claim credit for conceiving the idea of running 26.2 miles through the streets of Dublin city. But the event would probably have never taken off but for the willingness of the newly established Business Houses Athletic Association to take on the mammoth task of organising the race.
This brought them into open conflict with Bord Lúthchleas na hÉireann (BLE), the governing body of athletics in Ireland at the time. The row persisted for four years with some of the country’s leading distance runners, including the race’s first winner, Dick Hooper caught in the middle.
The resolution of the row didn’t herald a new dawn in the race; like Ireland itself, the event has experienced fluctuating fortunes over the last 40 years. But for the influx of charity runners from the US and Canada prior to 9/11, the event might have folded. Curiously, its boom periods coincided almost exactly with the two economic tsunamis, which hit Ireland in the last four decades. When money and work were scarce, the marathon provided many Irish people with an outlet for their energy and ambition. Nowadays, under the guidance of current director, Jim Aughney the race has blossomed into one of the biggest people’s marathon in Europe.
A labour of love
Researching the book was a labour of love. Thankfully, the majority of those involved in the early years of the race are still alive and possess a deep reservoir of anecdotes, which they generously shared. My eureka moment arrived, however, during a conversation with Fermanagh-born, Castlederg-based, retired jeweller, Pat O’Loughlin. By chance, I discovered he was the donor of a specially commissioned Belleek pottery plate, which he presented anonymously to marathon co-founder Louis Hogan back in 1980 as a ‘thank you’ gift for coming up with the idea. Now in his eighties, Pat has competed in all but one of the Dublin Marathons. The former Fermanagh footballer – he won an All-Ireland junior medal in 1959 – and Louis Hogan (together with a new commemorative plate!) will be reunited at this year’s marathon.
This remarkable story, The Dublin Marathon Celebrating 40 Years, will be on sale in all leading book shops later this month and will be available at the KBC Dublin Marathon Expo.