written by Chris McNulty December 2, 2019

THE legends of Donegal Athletics gathered in the Finn Valley Centre on Sunday night to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Donegal Athletics Board.

Members enjoyed a gala dinner and presentations marking the achievements of the last fifty years. 

The four surviving members of the first County Board – Chairman John Carlin, Raphoe, Vice Chairman Eamon Giles, Cranford, Secretary Patsy Mc Gonagle, Ballybofey and Public Relations Officer Bernie O’Callaghan, Killybegs – were present while the late Ben O’Donnell, Lifford who was treasurer on the first Board was represented by his son John.

There were many distinguished guests present including from the world of politics Leas Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil Pat the Cope Gallagher TD, Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill and Councillor Michael Naughton.

The President of Athletics Ireland Mrs Georgina Drumm travelled from Dundalk to be part of the celebration, the AAI Vice President John Cronin from Glenree travelled from his home in Tullamore, former AAI Chair of Competition Paddy Marley travelled from his home in Dublin. 

Neil Sweeney, a native of Dungloe who won the Long Jump, High Jump and Discus at the first County Senior Track and Field Championships which were held in McDevitt Park Fintra, was also present. 

Neil has been a teacher in Dublin for many years and along with current County Chairman Bernie O’Callaghan is a member of the very select group of athletes who were selected for the Irish International team themselves and then have had the privilege and pleasure of seeing their sons also selected for the International team. 

Neil’s sons Nicky was an Olympian in the discus and Mark gained International selection in the shot. Bernie O’Callaghan represented Ireland at the 3,000m, 10,000m and 20Km race walking events, and his son Pierce was selected in the same events. 

This is a really select club as only fourteen fathers and son have both been selected for Ireland since the first National Championships were held in Lansdowne Road on July 5th 1876. 

The Master of Ceremonies for the night was Fintan Reilly from Dundalk who is one of the best in the World as was witnessed by the fact that he was appointed to be the English language Commentator at the Pan American Games in Lima last August.     

The evening began with the launch by the AAI President of a new book written by Bernie O’ Callaghan chronicling the last fifty years of Donegal Athletics, this book follows on from his previous study appropriately called ‘Footprints in The Sands of Time’ which covered the period from 1969 to 2009. The book was sponsored by Donegal County Council.

Mrs Drumm said that ”The contribution of Donegal Officials to National and International events and to the executive board and committees has been immense. This new publication has unearthed many interesting facts and will be a great source of information in the future. From small beginnings under the guidance of the five founding members Donegal has grown into one of the strongest athletic counties in the country. ”

Chairman of the Ulster Athletic Council, Glenfinn native Neil Martin said: “Eamon Giles, Patsy Mc Gonagle and Bernie O’ Callaghan have each been active for over fifty years as Athletes, Coaches, Administrators and Competition Officials and that their energy, efficiency and enthusiasm continues to surprise those who came after them.”

Bernie O’Callaghan thanked the sponsors who he said made the whole event possible and in particular Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, who had been instrumental in getting Donegal County Council on board as the main sponsor of the event, thanked the Council for their generosity. 

He also thanked the other sponsors Anne and Al Haughey, Killybegs, Bay View Hotel Killybegs, Holmes Service Station Donegal Town, Gal Oil Clady, North Leitrim Athletic Club, Pramerica Ltd, Letterkenny, the Four Lanterns Chain of Restaurants, Pat the Cope Gallagher TD and Clr Michael Naughton and he urged those present to support the businesses and individuals who were so generous in their support for the event. 

He said that he had become aware of a few surprising facts during his research for example that almost three thousand Donegal athletes had won medals at National Level since 1969, that over forty of our senior athletes had represented Ireland. 

Eight seniors and juniors had won medals at major International events starting with Paddy Haughey in the International Cross Country Championship in 1949, Danny Mc Daid in the World Cross-Country Championships in 1979, Bridie Lynch who won medals in the World Paralympic Games in 1992 and 1996, the World Blindsport Games in 1998 and the European Blindsport Games in 1999, Gary Murray European Junior Cross-Country Championships 1999, Bridie Trearty in the European Military Cross-Country Championships in 2001,  Helena Crossan in the World 100km in 2009, Mark English who won medals in the European 800m Championships in 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019, Annemarie Mc Glynn European Senior Cross-Country 2014, and Sommer Lecky World Junior High Jump 2018.

He also highlighted the fact that Sharon Foley Gallen and her daughter Adrienne were the first mother and daughter to both hold County Senior Records at the same time. He congratulated the four families where four members of the family had each won county senior titles. 

The Harvey Family from Donegal Town Eamon, Jackie, Michelle and Louise. The Harron Family form Castlefinn Barry, Camilla, Rosemary and Noelle, The O’Donnell family from Lifford Ben, Sean, John B and Brendan and the Gallagher family from Creevy in Carrigart Patrick, Kathleen, Rosemary and Bernadette.   

The first presentation of the evening was the presentation of five perpetual cups, sponsored by Pat the Cope and named after the five founding members, these cups will be contested and awarded annually at the County Senior Track and Field Championships. 

The next presentation was to the champions of 1970 sponsored by Al and Anne Haughey. The presentation to the Champions of 1980 was sponsored by The Bay View Hotel, Killybegs, The presentation to the Champions of 1990 was sponsored by The Four Lanterns Chain of Restaurants and the presentation to the Champions of 2000 was sponsored by North Leitrim Athletics highlighting the close bond between athletes in the two counties.

The presentation to the Champions of 2010 was sponsored by Councillor Michael Naughton, 2010 has a special significance for Michael as he trained the County Senior Ladies football team to All Ireland Glory that year. 

The presentation to the County senior Record holders was sponsored by Donegal County Council, and the presentation to the most prolific athletes in the county Senior Championships was sponsored by Pramerica.

The presentation to the medal winners at major Championships was sponsored by Gal Oil, Ltd Clady.

Donegal County Council sponsored the presentation to the four Donegal Athletes who had achieved the Triple Crown in Athletics by winning three National Senior individual events in one season these were PAUL DOLAN, Ballyshannon who won the 100m, 200m and 400m in 1952. BERNIE O’ CALLAGHAN, Killybegs who won the 3,000m 10,000m and 20km Race Walking titles in 1981 1nd 1982, SHARON FOLEY, Lifford who won the indoor and outdoor High Jump and the Pentathlon in 1993 and GARY MURRAY, Stranorlar who won the inter-club and inter-county Cross-Country championships as well as the 1,500m title in 2005.

The final Presentation of the night was the Jubilee Award For Outstanding Achievement to the late Paddy Haughey from Teelin this was sponsored by Donegal County Council.

Paddy was born in Teelin in 1918 and had a very successful athletic career firstly with the Curragh Camp where he was stationed during the War and then with Brownstown Athletic Club and Donore Harriers Athletic Club. In 1946 he became the first Donegal Athlete to be selected for Ireland and in 1949 he became the first Donegal Athlete to win an International Medal.