There’s less than a fortnight until the 50th Hollymount Road Races on November 15. The women’s race has seen an incredible array of famous names take part down through the years, including Irish and British Internationals, National and European medalists, and Olympians. All those who have won the race (men since 1966 and women since 1970) will have their names appear on a plaque to be unveiled on race day later this month.
That first women’s race held in 1970 was over two miles on an out-and-back course, a mile out over the hill towards Roundfort, starting and finishing on Hollymount’s Main Street. This course was used until 1982 when the Kilrush Loop was introduced and later it was adjusted to an accurately measured 3k. Local girl Yvonne Fallon from Gardenfield has the honour of being the first winner. Claire Walshe (Clonliffe Harriers) was one of the biggest names in Irish running at the time won the 1971 race before she became one of Ireland’s earliest women Olympians when competing in the 800 metres at the 1972 Munich Games.
Looking back now it seems incredible that the longest distance women were racing then was around 2 miles. At the 1972 Olympics the longest women’s race was 1500m. Hollymount’S 1972 winner was UCG student Jean Folan who would go on to pioneer women’s distance running and was one of the first women to run a marathon race on Irish soil in 1979. Sheila Morrissey (Kildare AC) won the race three times 1975,’76,’78, her run being interrupted by Geraldine Neary-Whelan who at the recent 50th Hollymount Race launch, recalled wonderful memories of being the surprise winner of the 1977 race in the Claremorris AC colours during a downpour. 1979 saw the first of 4 wins in nine years for Patricia Griffin (Ballinamore AC). She won again in 1980, ‘87,88, and over the years Patricia represented Ireland many times including World Cross Country Championships. Patricia and her husband Padraig have been tremendous promoters of athletics in the West of Ireland for many years. Rosaleen Campbell won in 1982. She was one of the famous sisters to represent Castlebar AC at that time.
1983 saw the first of three wins (’85, ’86) for Christine Kennedy of Galway City Harriers who was one of the trailblazers for Irish women athletes in the 1980s. .As a young mother in her twenties she took up running, inspired by TV pictures of the first Dublin Marathon. She went on to achieve great national success and represented Ireland many times including World Cross Country 1987, ’89, ’90. She won the Dublin City marathon in 1990 and 1991 (2:35.56) and later moved to the USA where she became a sensation on the masters running circuit. In 2014 at the age of 59, Christine clocked 2:57.44 in the Boston Marathon.
Jill Rothwell (Liverpool Poly) became the first overseas winner of the Hollymount road race when she took the 1984 title, and in 1989, Ursula McKee (Annadale Striders) took the title up North for the first time. Niamh Murphy (Westport AC) was a new winner in 1990, repeated her success the following year. Niamh won numerous National medals and represented Ireland at World Cross-Country. She now lives in Kilkenny and continues to compete.
There was great celebrations in the village in 1994 and 1995 when local girl Josephine Macken from Roundfort won. Josephine was an incredible athlete who achieved success at the highest level. She representing Ireland on a number of occasions. Josephine was the driving force in administration and event organisation in Co Mayo athletics for over 25 year. Josephine now lives in South Galway but will be back in Hollymount to assist on Race weekend.
In 1996 Pam Morgan (John Moore University) took the title overseas for the second time while Annette Kealy (Raheny Shamrock AC) was a popular winner in 1997. She went on to win the AAI National marathon title twice in 2003, ’09
Over the past 15 years, women athletes of Mayo AC have made it one leading road running clubs in the country. They have been blessed by having inspirational team leaders to drive to them on in their quest for success. Four of them were winners in Hollymount – Ann Lennon four consecutive times 1998-2001, Breege Blehein-McHale 2005, Catherine Conway 2008, and Mary Gleeson 2010 and ’11. Remarkably, they have all been awarded the prestigious Mayo Sports Star Award for Athletics in various years.
Regina Casey who runs for Galway City Harriers was another double winner in 2006 and 2013. Kathryn Casserly of Castlegar AC on the outskirts of Galway is one of three women who have won the race 4 times with wins in 2002,’03, ’04 and ’09.
In 2012, Lizzie Lee of Leevale AC in Cork won and weeks later she was on the podium with the Irish women’s team who won gold in European Cross Country Championships in Hungary. She also won the West of Ireland Women’s mini marathon twice. Lizzie looks set to compete in the marathon in Rio 2016 after her 2:32.51 finish a few weeks ago in Berlin.
Last year’s winner was Norah Newcombe-Pieterse, then with Ballina AC. Norah had returned to Ireland in 2014 having worked overseas for a number of years and made an immediate impact on the running scene capping it all off with a fine Hollymount victory.
This years Hollymount women’s race will be held over 6k instead of the usual 3k. Will it be a previous winner that fills the final place on the winner’s plaque or a new name? We’ll find out on November 15.