By Will Greensmyth
Richard Harris, Packet and Tripe, “Past the Point of Rescue”, Paul O’Connell, Shaw’s Sliced Ham, “Horse Outside”, Frank Ryan, Riverdance, Terry Wogan, the Limerick poem, Patrick Sarsfield, “Zombie”, JJ Bowles. Limerick City has given a lot of good things to Ireland and the world.
The Great Limerick Run is still in its relative infancy but as an occasion that brings out the absolute best of a city and makes it feel more like a big village, the GLR is improving each year and making its way into the pantheon of “Things that Limerickians are proud of”.
Yeah, it’s a “corporate” race, and yeah, it’s a bit pricey, but it’s an event that gets buy-in from so many thousands upon thousands of people and one that has become a focal point and a goal for so many people that its impact cannot be understated.
To put things into perspective, growing up in Limerick City, you never saw many people out road running on the streets – there was no running boom in Limerick in the early 90s. We were all beholden to the holy trinity of premiership football, the forever doomed Limerick hurling team, and (god be with the days) the parish passion of all ireland league rugby. I can’t recall there ever being a road race in town. Surprising when you consider both Frank O’Mara and Neil Cusack hail from Shannonside.
In 2010, the GLR organisers spotted a gap in the market and stepped into the breach and created what can be best described as a day for running – a marathon at 9am, a half marathon at 11.45am and a six mile race at 1.30pm. The entire city centre and surrounding areas from Castletroy to Raheen to Caherdavin becomes a race course, for the fast, the slow and everyone in between.
The full marathon heads out towards the University of Limerick for the first half of the race and loops around arguably the finest designed campus in Ireland before returning back towards town. The half way point in the full mirrors the start of the half marathon and covers the more interesting parts of the course.
The half starts in Pery square, one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Ireland and named after Sir Edward Sexton Pery, Speaker in the Irish House of Commons for nearly thirty years in the late 1700s.
From there, the first mile of the race passes by the main army barracks, named after Patrick Sarsfield. At this stage of the race, Peter Brandon, the Kenyan in the Athenry singlet is already clear in the distance, leaving the rest of the field in his wake.
The second mile of the race passes the grounds of both Young Munsters RFC (sometimes lovingly referred to locally as the “Killing Fields”) and Old Crescent RFC (home of the annual Pig n Porter Tag Rugby Festival). As the saying goes, this is rugby country. I’m running alongside Barbara Sanchez who goes on to be first lady home in 1.20. I make a strategic decision not to follow in her wake.
Mile three and it’s heading up through Raheen. Nothing too exciting to see here. It’s a residential area. It means “small ringfort” in Irish. I don’t think there is any ringforts around here. It’s not very exciting at this juncture. Lot of local election posters ruining the landscape. The sooner the quinquennial gombeen parade is over the better
Mile four, boom, up past Raheen Church and the first sizeable crowd support of the race. The race numbers in Limerick have the participants name in at least size 72 font. which leads to personalised cheering. “That’s it William”. How delightfully formal.
Mile five, dull, there’s making up the miles and then there’s sending a race around an industrial estate. Nevertheless, it is but a single mile and we are soon back on the main road returning into town. What breeze there is pushes against our backs. Time to take that gel I had stashed at the start. Despite all my years of running, I make a complete and utter b******s of this and manage to end up coughing like a one-lunged smoker for a couple of hundred metres. Flashbacks to the Dublin Marathon jaffacake incident come to mind.
The next landmark is Punches Cross. A fine pub back in the day. Now no more. A fellow Will, of the Crusaders AC parish breezes by, not a bother on him. We head down O’Connell Avenue where David Wallace, (ex-Garryowen, Munster, Ireland, Lion) is outside his house with his clan cheering you on.
We’re now right back into the heart of town. Think it’s around mile seven now. Legs are feeling ok. Pace is comfortable. Few local “heads” are spotted giving the support. “G’wan young fella”. G’wan indeed. Fine athletes that they are. Tracksuited. Socks tucked into the tackies (runners or trainers for the non-Limerick audience).
We swing down onto Henry Street. I’d like to be able to say I know which Henry it is named after. Alas, that is not possible. I am assuming it was either Henry Kelly (of Going for Gold) or Henry VIII (of the multitude of missus’s).
Now we’re passing Peter Clohessys pub, Mile 8, a reinvigorated part of the town and our first glimpse of the thing that defines our city the most – the Broad Majestic Shannon. There are a lot of people sitting out on the new boardwalk in the sun clapping politely. At this stage, we are still motoring along nicely. I say we. I think I was running on my own at this stage. The royal “we”.
A quick loop around Arthurs Quay Park – the Arthurs were a famed family in Limerick history – including Nicholas Arthur who was captured by Breton Pirates and Robert Arthur, who was a pal of Robespierre during the French Revolution. This friendship ended up costing Robert his head.
Across Sarsfield Bridge we go. Named after Patrick Sarsfield, of course. Hero of Ballyneety. Earl of Lucan. After the bridge, we swing right onto Clancy Strand. George Clancy was the mayor of Limerick who was executed in his home during the War of Independence in 1921. This whole strand is really interesting, and because I’m enjoying my run and not flaking myself for a p.b., I throw the eye over the houses, many of which still show the bullet holes from that period of history and the Civil War. Fascinating.
It gets better, we pass one of the finest pubs in all of Ireland, the Curragower, and cast our eyes upon the Treaty Stone. Yes, The. Treaty. Stone. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a odd sized lump of limestone upon which the treaties to end the Williamite war in Ireland were signed in 1691 and ended the Siege of Limerick. And forever after, Limerick is known as the “Treaty City”.
Now, we are heading out towards Thomondgate. A quick genuflection at the cathedral of Irish rugby that is Thomond Park. Thomond Park has seen it all, the All Blacks in 1978 and 2008, the Miracle Matches, and more recently musical superstars like Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and ahem JLS.
After winding our way through Caherdavin, we arrive at the home of Limerick Hurling and the scene of unlimited heartbreak, pairc na ngael. Think we’re around Mile 10 now and the attention span is slowly dying a death and the painkillers are wearing off. The penultimate miles around the north circular road are a drag punctuated by the fact that every single family is outside their house cheering on the procession of performers.
The last mile makes up for any lethargy. We canter along O’ Callaghan Strand (named after another murdered mayor). The crowds are starting to thicken now and it’s back across Sarsfield bridge and heading for home. The last couple of hundred metres are awesome, epic, savage, stunning, inspiring, emotional. It’s like finishing a stage of the tour de france. five or six people deep on each side. Roars of cheers, howls of support, guffaws of laughter.
We turn onto O’Connell Street. The end is in sight. Finished. Job done.
According to the organizers between the three races (and the marathon relay), over 12000 toed the line on Sunday, with over 8000 in the six mile race alone.
There was a small representation from Sportsworld in the three races.
Ed Mc Entee was the sole red and white vested runner in the full 26.2 and cranked out a 2.48 and top 10 performance with no fuss. Mr. Consistency, Ed must surely hold the record number of “sub 3″ marathons in the annals of Sportsworld history.
In the half, Stephen Willoughby and myself toed the line. Stephen’s prerace goal of sub 1’40” was comfortably bested while I managed to dope myself up to high heavens on nurofen and hot whiskeys and crease around the course in under 1’30”.
In the six mile race, Packie Enright and Sandra Bowe crossed the county borders from Cratloe and Clonmel respectively and put in two savage runs, Packie finishing 15th overall and Sandra in the top 10 ladies. That’s out of 8000 finishers. Totes amazeballs as the kids say.
Well done all.
The celebrations and festivities continued late into the night as every pub in Limerick was jammed to the rafters. No hassle, no trouble, just thousands of athletes of all abilities and their friends, families and supporters basking in the glory of their own personal achievements. You couldn’t turn in the pubs without meeting someone you knew.
A great day out.Limerick, if you’re a lady, then, on Sunday, you were the belle of the ball. Roll on next year.