The 53rd edition of the Hollymount Road Races take place on Sunday November 18. It’s a famous event held every November since 1966 making it one of the longest surviving road race fixtures. It’s hard to believe that race founder Sean Reilly has been at the helm of the organising committee every year since its establishment.
Sean and his brother Tom were prominent runners in those days. They wanted to establish a race to attract runners from around the West and further afield to their South Mayo village. Tom lived most of his adult life in the UK and returned each year to assist in the organisation of the weekend. In 1976 he also established an international dimension to the races by organising a bus load of runners from cross-channel – something that has happened every year since. Sadly, Tom Reilly passed away in 2009. A plaque in his memory is positioned on the wall beside the race finish line.
The Hollymount Races have been unique in the road race calendar in offering a huge welcome to visiting runners. Many families in the local area provide free bed-and-breakfast on the weekend. On race day local runners and joggers can rub shoulders with many leading runners from around Ireland and beyond.
PJ Leddy (Ballinamore AC) won the first race in 1966. In 1970 the first women’s race was won by local runner Yvonne Fallon. Many top international athletes competed there in the 1970s and ’80s including John Woods (Liverpool Harriers), John Tracey (Waterford), Hugh Jones (British international) and many more. The 25th Anniversary celebration of the event took place in 1990 and included the publication of a book. The race winners were Hugh Jones (Liverpool) and Niamh Murphy (Westport AC).
As the 20th century ended and the millennium arrived, Ann Lennon one of Mayo’s greatest women runners took the Hollymount title for four consecutive years 1998-2001. Following these years Mayo AC women’s team established themselves as one of the leading road running clubs nationally. Three of their stars Breege Blehein (2005) Catherine Conway (2008) and Mary Gleeson (2010 and 2011) tasted success in Hollymount, while Norah Newcombe (Ballina AC) won in 2014 and would later achieve national and international honours with Mayo AC.
John Byrne surely one of Mayo’s greatest athletes took the title in 2013, making him the first Mayo-born member of a Mayo club to do so.
The race celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2015 on what was probably the wettest weekend in the history of the event. However, this did not dampen the spirits of the organisers. A pre race function was attended by hundreds including the CEO of the then Irish Sports Council, John Tracey. A statue was erected on the outskirts of the village. A plaque containing the names of all race winners was commissioned. Sean Reilly would later be inducted into the Mayo Sports Stars Hall of Fame for his efforts.
The race logo says ‘Running since 1966’ and no doubt it will do so long into the future. Sean Reilly, his family and his local committee will be pulling out all the stops again on Sunday November 18. Many of Ireland’s leading runners as well as athletes from local clubs and a bus load from Britain will be making their way to the start line .
This year’s event will be tinged with a little sadness following the recent passing in his 99th year of a man who competed in Hollymount on many occasions – “The Great” Willie Morris as he was known made his name in the colours of Derrydonnell AC and other Galway clubs over many decades.
(this article was submitted by Michael McGrath who is assisting Sean Reilly’s Hollymount team)
The full schedule for the 53rd Hollymount Road Races including online registration link is on our events calendar.