The now famous Kilkenny City Harriers Club was formed in 1953.The founding members were Pat Smyth (sen.), Mick Smyth, John Kirwan, Sean Byrne, Pascal Coyne, Paddy Ryan, Jonnie Moore, Mick Lanigan, Pat Phelan and the Hennessy brothers, Jim and Billie from Killamery. The young KCH were allowed to train in Nowlan Park courtesy of GAA county sec., the late Paddy Grace, while the late Dick Green allowed them the use of James’Park. The long distance runners used the roads for their training.
Success came early for the new club when Mick Smyth won the All-Ireland Youths Cross Country title and Billie Hennessy took the silver medal in the Leinster Cross-Country Championships over four miles. Mick Lanigan, the future Dail Senator, was successful in the 100 metre hurdles at the Catholic International Student Games, before going on to win further national and international honours on the track.
Development of athletics
Back in the fifties, athletics was very much a minority sport in Ireland. Official competitions were confined to men and youths, so there were no events for ladies or juvenile boys and girls. However in the sixties things began to change. Athletics for juveniles became more widespread in schools and clubs and under-age competitions began to flourish. In KCH Sean Byrne and his great friend Lorcan Bergin began to organise and train the young boys and girls who were coming into the club. The St John’s Park Committee – now O’Loughlin Gaels – gave permission to the ‘Harriers’ to train there. This venue was a used by the club for many years afterwards. By kind permission of Tom Vaughan the grounds of the farm at St Canice’s Hospital were used for cross-country training. For many years the grounds where the Hebron Estate is now situated were also used for training.
Many hands make light work
As the workload increased Sean and Lorcan were lucky to gather around them some wonderful workers of the calibre of Mrs Vera Larkin, Mrs Lil Costelloe, Seamus Keane and Jim Kavanagh. With such a committee the future of the club was in safe hands and it developed into one of the outstanding juvenile clubs in the country. Towards the end of 1971 in recognition of his tremendous work for athletics, Sean Byrne was bestowed with the Man of the Year award by Kilkenny Chamber of Commerce. In the late sixties KCH became affiliated to the new Athletic Association, BLE. Being recognised internationally BLE afforded the opportunity to many Irish athletes, previously ineligible, to compete at international level and to qualify for the Olympic Games.
Many KCH athletes, both ladies and men, have since displayed their great talents in the international arena. BLOE, the relatively independent juvenile section of BLE, gave similar opportunities to younger athletes. A member of KCH, Art Anglin, was elected national chairman of the BLOE in 1980. These two bodies were later replaced by AAl, the new Athletic Association of Ireland. A number of KCH athletes won scholarships to USA and/ or competed at international level, including participation in the Olympic Games. Included in this role of honour were Marita Walton-Lanigan, Sinead Delahunty, Geraldine Nolan, Fiona Norwood, Emily Maher, Joanne Cuddihy, Seamus Murphy, lan Wilkinson, Phil Brennan, Eamon and Seamus Costelloe, Adrian O’Dwyer, Eileen O’Keeffe, Ciara Everard, Brian Maher, Aoife Hickey and Brendan Nugent.
Grass running track
In 1975 the Kilkenny County Council designated a seven acre site at Loughboy for recreational and amenity purposes. The KCH club asked Vincent Millett and Art Anglin to enter into discussions with Mr Paddy Donnelly and Mr Dick McGrath in regard to the provision of a grass athletic track near the site of the proposed new Loughboy housing estate. Crystal Palace advised us that a mixture of three types of grass would be necessary to withstand the extra wear on the running track itself. Tom Vaughan was entrusted with the procuring and sowing of these seeds. Many of the former athletes will remember gathering to pick stones at the new site before Loughboy was ready to be called a ‘running track’.
Tartan running track
In 1989 Kilkenny was designated as a Local Sports centre and a grant of £300,000 from the National Lottery was provisionally allocated for the development of further facilities at the Loughboy track. The County Council decided to provide an all-weather running track and ancillary facilities designed to IAAF standards. In 1992 the new track was officially opened by the Minister for Sport, Liam Aylward and renamed Scanlon Park after Patrick ‘Rusty’ Scanlon, who had been associated with the old complex both as an athlete and as a soccer player. The cost of this development was £520,000. In 1994 phase two of the new complex which included the provision of an astro-turf multi-purpose pitch with dressing-rooms, showers, toilets, floodlighting etc., was officially opened by the Minister of the Environment, Brendan Howlin, in January 1996. To date a total of £1,270 million has been spent on this site and its amenities.