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Clonliffe Harriers history


Noel Guiden of Clonliffe Harriers ‘And how happy the Irish were that it happened on their track’! (Herb Elliot)

The Summer of 2008 is the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of world records being set on the old cinder track in Santry Stadium. Over the course of a four week period from the 9th of July 1958 to the 7th of August 1958 there were three world records set in Santry over one, two and three miles. In the mid 1950s Clonliffe’s Billy Morton, a master of public relations, summoned a press conference to the Gresham Hotel in central Dublin to announce his grand plans to build a stadium in Santry and produce Ireland’s first cinder track:

‘Gentlemen, grass is on the way out’ was his declaration and it made headlines in every newspaper in the country the following day.

In May of 1958 Billy Morton’s dream was realised with the opening of the Clonliffe Harriers stadium in Santry in North Dublin. The first of those three, now almost fifty year old records, is almost upon us and was set on the 9th of July 1958 by Albie Thomas of Australia. In the April ‘08 issue of ‘Run for your Life’ magazine, Albie Thomas recalls that night:

‘Merv Lincoln took me through in about an 8.52 for two miles and I thought ‘this is going pretty well’. But it was only with about two laps to go that there was a huge roar from the crowd and Dave Power was yelling ‘go you can break the world record!’ and that was the only indication I had – I definitely hadn’t gone into the race to break a world record. It was completely unplanned’.

Former Clonliffe Harriers Club President Colm Brennan was a wide eyed boy in the crowd on that historic night and recently recalled ‘it took some time before it was realised how fast the athletes were actually running, a ripple came from the press box and began to filter around the crowd after a mile to the effect that the athletes were on world record pace, this was then picked up by the stadium commentator and at around the two mile mark it was confirmed by the commentator that a world record was on the cards’.

Not only was a world record on the card but it became a reality as Albie Thomas set a new three mile world record mark of 13:10.6.

Albie Thomas was clearly delighted with his world record and enthused about the track at Santry. Herb Elliot in his autobiography ‘The Golden Mile’ regarding Thomas stated ‘on his previous visit here he’d broken the world record for three miles and since then no-one could stop him raving about the track…’

A month later both Albie Thomas and Herb Elliot were back in Dublin accompanied by a who’s who of miling for the ‘August International Sports’ at the Clonliffe Harriers Stadium Santry. This was a joint promotion between Clonliffe Harriers and Crusaders Athletic Club and was a two day event, the 6th and 7th of August 1958. Billy Morton had again been busy signing up athletes for the Meet, this time at an International Athletics Meeting at the White City in London between a Great Britain selection and a Commonwealth selection. Albie Thomas recalls:

‘the organiser was rounding up people for his two day Meet in Dublin, when he asked me if I would run the mile on the first day I said ‘hang on, I am running the Two Mile the next night’ so he said ‘well if you set the pace in the mile, Herb will come in your race and pace you’.

There was a crowd of in excess of 20,000 Dubliners in the old stadium on that famous 6th of August. There was great excitement in the air. On the way to the stadium the athletes were struck by the numbers of people making their way to the nights athletics.

Herb Elliot noted ‘we were passing a long line of parked cars and I could see groups of people alighting from other buses that had no priority and could get no closer to the stadium. The people were striding out vigorously, a few of them breaking into a trot, as sports fans do when their exited
and think a stadiums gates may be shut to them. What a mob was going to be there!…. our bus
was pulling up at the stadium gates and I could hear the crowd milling about outside. There was an
incessant murmur from those already jam packed inside. I started to realise that every single one of
them had come to see Delany, the pride of Dublin’.


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