That it was Paddy Boland, from whose vision the club was born there is no doubt. It was he who identified the need. It was later summer 1958. Athletics was box office. Ronnie Delany was the reigning Olympic champion. Herb Elliott had led five men under the four minute barrier on his way to a new world mile record of 3:54.5 up the road in Santry in front of a packed stadium earlier that summer.
Raheny was a sleepy country village coming to terms with growing suburbia. The denizens of the area needed activity both occupational and recreational. Boland called a meeting. His recall is that it was the 8th September 1958 and that it took place at ‘The Cottage’ on Main Street where Slender Health now stands.
Somewhere between 30 and 40 people attended. They voted unanimously to from an athletic club. Boland was pushing an open door in imposing his vision on the meeting. He was a Shamrock Rovers supporter. He wanted the club to be called Shamrock A.C. He wished the colours to be green and white.
Someone else proposed the name Raheny A.C. The matter was given an airing on the floor. Democracy kicked in. Compromise reached. Raheny Shamrock Athletic Club was born. The colours would be white vest with a green hoop.
The matter of affiliation was the most important and divisive issue of the meeting. When put to a vote it was decided by a slim majority that the club would not affiliate with the international athletics body in Ireland, the AAU but rather would join the 32 county National Athletics and Cycling Association more commonly known as NACA.
At a follow up meeting In October the first official committee of the newly formed Raheny Shamrock AC was elected:
President: Monsignor WJ Fitzpatrick PP
Chairman: Frank Quinn
Treasurer: Kevin Watters
Secretary: Paddy Boland
Team Manager: Dick Doherty
Assistant Team Manager: Joe Noonan
Captain: Paul O’Connor
Committee: Tom (Tip) Murphy, Ray Kinch, Garda John Conroy.
The big coup was the appointment of a Scottish born sprints coach, Eugene O’Leary to the position of club coach. Eugene was a member of Donore Harriers at that stage but had taken up resident with his Irish wife Tina and young family in the newly built St Annes Estate. His decision to throw his lot in with the new club was a huge boost.
Matt Gahan, then a butcher’s apprentice in his father’s shop at the corner of Station Road and Howth Road was one the club’s first athletics. He recalls the first formal training run. “We stripped in the garage at the rear of Paddy Boland’s house in Avondale Park. There was Paddy himself, Paul O’Connor, Patrick Doherty, Ernie Thomas, Peter O’Reilly and I. We wore football socks, vests and pullovers and white canvas running shoes. We were scared stiff leaving the safety of the garage to run down through the village to the safety of St Annes Park. We ran to the top of the Main avenue, stopped, did what could be loosely described as some exercises and then returned back the same route. We were self-conscious for a while in the early days and felt more comfortable running in the dark of evening time when less people might see us.”
There was in fact back in 1958 already an athletic club based in Raheny. The club was called Naomh Mhuire and comprised of boys from the inner city area of Gardiner Street. As they were few in number they were only too happy to wind up their club and so the new club benefitted from the addition of such athletes as Eddie deBarra, Chris Farrelly, Tom Hackett and the Cullen’s, Dermot and Des.
On Watermill Drive, a young man called Paddy Noonan, fleet of foot and highly talented became attracted to the fledgling club. Paddy was cajoled and encouraged by Eugene O’Leary to give the new club a try and was in the field for that first club race back in 1958. “Our first club race was to be the club four mile novice and we were all up for it. The race started where Raheny United play their matches in St Annes. It was a dirt track then. We raced down the hill towards the lake and back across the fields where Naomh Barrog now hold their matches. It was to be a four lap race. I reckoned the race would finish where it started. I kicked with 250 to go and finished exhausted. Kevin O’Connor shouted there was still 200 yards to go as the finish was further up in ‘The Glads.’ I stopped as did Albert Culleton who had been running second. We watched, feeling slightly robbed as Charlie Fox sauntered up the straight. To him went the honour of winning the club’s first race,” recalled Paddy.
The first club captain Paul O’Connor, who lived on the Howth Road near the Old Post Office, now Tully’s Pharmacy, remembers the summer of 1959 and the athlete’s first taste of Track and Field. “Back then we competed in many Open Sports, as well as Dublin and Leinster championships and were particularly strong in the replays, sprints and long jump. Paddy Noonan and I were selected by Dublin for the All-Ireland inter-counties. We progressed to the final where Dublin defeated Galway and we won exact replicas of the GAA gold medals.”
Paul recalls too with fondness the club’s initiative in promoting the first ever indoor athletics meeting in Ireland. Modelled on the aura of indoor meets in the US where Delany was ‘chairman of the boards’ the meet was handicapped by the paucity of ‘international stars’ it could attract by virtue of the club’s affiliation to NACA.
Nevertheless a brave and ambitions two day event went ahead in Burton Hall, Stillorgan. Among the Raheny athletes who competed in that historic event were O’Connor himself, whose picture adorned the programme for the event, Peter O’Reilly, Matt Gahan, Tom O’Leary, Paddy Noonan, Albert Culleton, Paddy Doherty, Tommy McDonnell and Tom Philips.
To Tom Philips befell the honour of winning the club’s first National title when he won the four mile track title in 1964. Later that year the club won its first Dublin senior cross country title when a sextet of Tom Philips, Chris Farrelly, Eddie DeBarra, Mick Heery, Tom Kilty and Tony Murphy triumphed.
The same year 1964, the Committee of the club voted, by a slim majority, to allow women members join. This was controversial at the time as the then Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid was unequivocal in his disapproval of women in sport. Amongst the early female members were Therese Burke, May McGran, Margaret Carolan, Grace O’Leary and Mary McDonnell. Indeed, the women made tracks fast and by 1967 when BLE united athletics in Ireland and allowed our athletes strive for international honours, a Raheny trio of Siobhan Lynch, Ursula Kennedy and Ann Keating made up half the Irish team which competed at the International Cross country championships in Chepstow.
The club commenced two major promotions around this time, the annual Road Replays around the triangle of Howth Road/Watermill Road/James Larkin Road in March of each year. The prizes for these would be on display in the window of Gahan’s Butcher Shop and were the focus of much curiosity for the local and indeed motivation for a later generation of Raheny athletes.
In summer the Raheny Sports would take place in The Oval GAA Ground where Ashcroft housing estate is now built. The feature event was the mile handicap race sponsored by Burton’s Tailors. To the winner went the cut of a new suit.
After an unsatisfactory struggle to acquire a permanent home in the early days the club was eventually given the use of the Old School premises by the then Parish Priest of Raheny, Fr Tom O’Hara in 1969. It is from that modest base the Acorn has grown and developed in the years since.
(The article first appeared in a commemorative magazine published to mark the 50th anniversary of the club in 2008.)