Next Saturday will be a big day for the members of Donore Harriers when the Chapelizod club brings the curtain down on its 120th anniversary celebration year by welcoming what looks likely to be a record entry to Phoenix Park for the Jingle Bells 5k.
Donore Harriers was founded in 1893 and the club's first headquarters was at 78 South Circular Road – opposite the home of where the National Boxing Stadium now stands.
Following on from those early days, Donore Harriers was based in various pubs' premises in Dolphin's Barn and Kilmainham, before a permanent home was found in Hospital Lane, Islandbridge in 1948.
In 1990, a state-of-the-art club- house/sports centre was built on a site in Chapelizod close to the banks of the Liffey and just a few strides from Phoenix Park. The clubhouse was opened by President Mary Robinson in the club's centenary year.
The new spacious headquarters was a huge boost for Donore and even better developments were to follow in 2007 with the construction of the 300m all-weather rubber-based training track and field event facilities, located beside the clubhouse and adjacent to the newly created Liffey Valley Park build by Dublin City Council.
The club had its first big success in 1896 in a junior cross-country race. In the same year, Dublin jeweller Samuel Waterhouse presented the club with a magnificent silver shield for a 10-mile handicap cross-country race.
Now known as the Waterhouse-Byrne-Baird Shield 10-mile event, it has taken place every year – with the exception of 1916 – on St Stephen's Day. It is recognised as the oldest consecutively club-run cross-country event in the world.
From the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, Donore Harriers were widely acknowledged as the powerhouse of distance running and club coach Eddie Hogan trained a succession of brilliant athletes who had a lasting impact on Irish athletics. They included Bertie Messitt, Tom O'Riordan, Tommy and Willie Dunne, Jim McNamara, Mick Connolly, Basil Clifford, Eddie Spillane and Mick Neville. The club has also produced a number of Olympians including Jimmy Reardon, Bertie Messitt, Tom O'Riordan, Willie Dunne, Jim McNamara, Sean Egan and John Menton. Legendary 400m runner Jimmy Reardon was also the first Irish athlete to be offered a US athletic scholarship and it was he who started a great Irish tradition at Villanova University in the US.
In 1982 a women's section was formed and today Donore has flourishing and successful women's teams, trained by Jim McNamara, who competed for Ireland in the 1976 Olympic Marathon in Montreal.
Ronnie Carroll won the national senior cross-country title in 1985 and Gerry Curtis won national cross-country and track titles in the 1980s. For a 10-year period Curtis dominated road running in Ireland and in 1993 he led Donore to claim the national senior interclubs' cross-country title in the club's centenary year, backed up by Noel Richardson, Ciaran O'Flaherty, Senan O'Reilly and Albert Prendiville.
Another athlete to bring honour to Donore has been John Downes who won the national senior cross-country title in 1996 and who now coaches full-time at the club.
This weekend John Travers, the Dublin senior cross-country champion, will be competing in the European Cross-Country Championships in Belgrade.
Today, membership stands at more than 300, with ages ranging from eight up to 90 plus. Olympian Willie Dunne (Rome 1960) is still a club regular and former national marathon champion Harry Gorman (84) uses it as his training base at least three times a week.
President: William Smith
Secretary: Tom Byrne
Joint treasurers: Joan McTernan, Tom Hickey
Ladies' captain: Florence Curley
Men's captain: Keith Daly
Registrar: Judy Rudden