Celtic Universities Cross Country - A Brief History
The 2009 Celtic Cross Country marks the 115th anniversary of the first recorded instance of an Irish University athletics team travelling abroad to race across the country. On that first occasion in 1895 a Dublin University Harriers (DUH) selection representing Trinity College Dublin travelled to Edinburgh to race against the Edinburgh University Hares and Hounds. Sadly from an Irish perspective the Dublin University athletes were well beaten on the day. However unperturbed they returned to Meadowbrooks the following December and soundly beat the same opposition, having all of their runners, scorers and non scorers, cross the finish line before the first Edinburgh athlete had completed the course. This cross country race was to become a regular event with Glasgow University later joining to make it a triangular match that continued right up to the early 1950s.
Trinity College Dublin, of course, hosted the first formal athletics meeting to be held in Ireland when in 1857 the Dublin University Football Club organised the "College Foot-Races", an event that still takes place to this day. Their Harriers club was founded in 1886 five years after cross country running was formally established in Ireland.
Curiously it would appear that University Cross Country running did not advance to full international status for quite some time after these initial forays. In fact it was Track & Field that provided Irish university athletes (unfortunately if was a men only endeavour at the time) with their first taste of university-based international competition when in 1927 University College Dublin hosted a full international match between the Irish and Scottish Universities.
Irish university cross country teams were few and far between in the following decades with the only documented success coming again to an Irish college team as opposed to an international selection. In 1958 a UCD mens team finished third behind Louvain University at the International Catholic University Cross Country Championships in France. Outside of the Irish Intervarsity Cross Country championship which began in 1962 for the men and in 1965 for women little happened on the international front until a student organised team travelled to Coleraine for the 2nd edition of the World University Cross Country Championships. The Irish womens team produced an excellent performance with Fionnuala Morrish, (UCC) taking an individual Bronze medal and leading Ireland [Greta Hickey (TCD) 8th, Mary O Brien (UCC) 17th and Michelle Morrow (UCD) 21st] to a team Bronze. At the 16th World University Cross Country Championships held in Mauquenchy, Haute-Normandie, France in April 2008, the Irish Universities women’s team equalled this trailblazer performance with the team Bronze medal where another Fionnuala, Fionnuala Britton (DCU), who took the individual Silver medal, was supported by Linda Byrne (DCU) 8th, Ciara Durkan (DCU) 23rd, Deirdre Byrne (UCD) 24th and Aileen Morrison (UU) 44th.
In 1998 as part of the celebrations for the 125th anniversary of the first Irish Intervarsity Championships in 1873 it was decided to organise a Celtic Cross Country international (a similar Celtic Track & Field event, hosted by the Northern Ireland Athletics Federation (NIAF) had been inaugurated 5 years previously). Participants from Northern Ireland, Scottish and Welsh Universities were invited and agreed to send mens and womens teams to participate. A decision was also made to use the event as a means of providing an international outlet for those IUAA (Irish University Athletics Association) Cross Country athletes that supported the annual IUAA Cross Country championships. As a consequence the IUAA team was confined to those athletes studying in the Irish third level system and was selected on the basis of the results of the 1998 IUAA Cross Country Championships. The IUAA Men and Women won the team competitions on the day, with honours in the individual competitions going to Neil Caldwell of Northern Irelands U.23s and Anne McPhail of the Scottish Universities. Unfortunately while this event was to remain an Irish hosted event and continue on a biennial basis it failed to progress past a couple of iterations due in the main to budgetary constraints.
In 2006 the Irish Schools Athletics Association as hosts to that years Schools Celtic Cross Country extended an invitation to the Irish Universities to organise and participate in a University level event that was to complement the schools international races. The IUAA eagerly accepted the invitation and invited its Scottish and Welsh counterparts to send teams over to Dublin City Universitys newly developed cross country course in North Dublin, the venue for the event.
It is with a great sense of pride that I can say the relationships with the various international schools bodies and their university equivalents has flourished since then and as a consequence we are here today to witness the 3rd anniversary of this collaboration.
The Irish university teams continue to be selected from the finishers in the IUAA championships with the scramble for places on the Celtic teams becoming an added source of competition in the championship races. This years teams represent the cream of Irish universities cross country talent with significant international experience evident in both teams. Seven Universities/ Colleges covering all four provinces are represented within the twelve selected athletes. The IUAA and the Universities Committee of the Athletics Association of Ireland have great hopes that the proud tradition of success at these Celtic Cross Country Internationals will be continued with a new group of scholar athletes taking up the mantle of their illustrious predecessors.
Eric Brady, March 2009
IUAA Historian and Archivist
Written for the Celtic Universities Cross Country and SIAB International matches in Faenol Estate, Bangor, Wales, held on 28th March 2009
IUAA Women's Team 2009, 6,000 m:
Nic Amhlaoibh, Maire DCU (Captain)
IUAA Men's Team 2009, 10,000 m:
Chesser, Rory UL (Captain)
Faulkner, Ryan UU
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