On the 9th of May 2002, Sean Byrne finished his final race as he had lived his life, with dignity and with the support of his family around him. The year 2003, the Golden Jubilee year for the club, would have marked a major milestone for the man often referred to as Mr. Athletics. For it was on the 3rd February 1953 in PJ. Smyth’s (now Matt the Millers), John’s Bridge, that Sean, along with eleven others attended the inaugural meeting of the Kilkenny City Harriers Athletic Club. Sean was appointed Honorary Secretary at that meeting and as is often said, “the rest is history”.
Five decades of dedication
And what a history it has been. Over the next five decades, Sean served the club with the utmost dedication. In the 50’s and 60’s, he was a loyal athlete and club official. As an athlete he preferred long distance races and would have regarded his achievements on the road as among his favourites. Coming 3rd in the Leinster and 7th in the All-Ireland 15 mile road race or finishing 10th in the Celtic 20 mile road race would rank among his finest running achievements. It is only fitting then that the jubilee committee decided to honour his memory with a road race, “The Sean Byrne Memorial Run”. However, many Kilkenny people will remember “Mr Byrne” for the joy, entertainment, challenges and successes which he provided for the young citizens of the city and its environs.
With the development of juvenile athletics in the 60’s, he became deeply involved in coaching boys and girls and in club administration. Indeed, for a time during the 70’s and early 80’s he was coach, secretary, fundraiser, treasurer and county board representative all-in-one. In the 90’s and up to his untimely death last year, he served as President. But always he filled the role of Public Relations Officer. His weekly articles for Radio Kilkenny, or the local papers (The Journal, The Standard and The Kilkenny People) sang the praises of the successful but also gave encouragement to the less successful. He was frequently to the fore in representing the club in an official capacity at civic functions or in an unofficial capacity at any time or in any place where he felt he could encourage or support athletes and athletics.
Few of the athletes, if any, would have achieved their successes without Sean’s direct input into their coaching or indirectly through the influence of the club to which he devoted so much of his time and energy. Without the impetus that he provided in local athletics it is unlikely that we would have the facilities that Scanlon Park provides for the present generation of athletes. Over the years his achievements with the club were recognised by various organisations. The Junior Chamber of Commerce presented him with “Man of the Year” Award in 1971. He was winner of the Hotel Kilkenny / Kilkenny People Sports Personality Endeavour Award in 1990 and he received the Smithwick’s Honours Award in 1993. Sean is sadly and fondly missed by his family and his club. Ni f’bheidh a leithead ann arís. Ar Dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.