Thursday 25 April 2019

Great sadness as Olympian Bertie Messitt laid to rest



THE FUNERAL of Irish Olympic athlete Bertie Messitt took place yesterday in Shankill, attended by members of the sporting community as well as his many friends and neighbours.

The 1960 Olympian died on Saturday at the age of 83. He was a long-time member of Donore Harriers whose members formed a guard of honour as he was brought to St. Anne's Church yesterday.

He also knew the importance of sports for young people and founded Shankill Youth Club after he retired in 1966. He was also a vehement and lifelong supporter of Bray Wanderers.

Bertie was a Bray native who grew up at St. Caire's Villas on the Boghall Road. However for the past five decades or so he resided at Assumpta Park in Shankill.

He is survived by his wife Maureen, sons Raymond, Alan, Stephen and Nigel, daughter Lesley, brother Liam, his grandchildren, great grandchildren and other family members and friends.

The local man won numerous national individual and team titles for his club. 'He was an athlete who pushed back the barriers of Irish distance running standards with the amazing ability to break records from all distances from 3,000 metres the marathon - breaking several of the previous marks set by the legendary John Joe Barry,' said the Athletics Association of Ireland in a tribute.

Messitt competed in the marathon in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, having previously set a string of Irish records- 16 in all - most of them by running on his own with no help from any pacemakers. When he qualified for the Rome Games he did so by winning the Irish marathon title in yet another record, 2:28.40.

In Rome he demonstrated a fearless attitude by leading the early stages, but coming up to the halfway stage he began to tire before stopping with pure exhaustion at 20 miles - a disappointment that remained with Messitt for some time. In 1963 he improved his marathon time to 2:25.39.

But that one blip of failing to finish the Olympic Marathon failed to blight a great career which started in 1953 and did not end until his retirement in 1966. Messitt's big year was in 1958 when he broke a total of nine Irish records with a best of 13:44 for three miles, 14;14.8 for 5,000 m and 49:33 for 10 miles, at Santry and College Park. In 1958 he ran the 5,000 and 10,000m at the European Championships in Stockholm, all of which earned him the Texaco Award for Athletics. He also ran the marathon in the European Championships of 1962 in Belgrade.

He was a bus conductor and became well known in the number 10 route in Dublin. However, this work often made it difficult for him to put in the type of training that was necessary for breaking records and competing in international events.

But he made the best of it, often getting up early in the morning to run from his home in Shankill to the Donnybrook Garage and running home again after work. There were no grants at that time and very often took time off work at his own expense in order to compete in championship races.

He was a quiet, modest man, a gentleman and a devoted father and grandfather, according to his children, who recall that Bertie was a reluctant subject for 'From Boghall to Bethlehem and Beyond - The Bertie Messitt Story,' written by his son Raymond.

It includes details of his army years, his longtime community work and his part in setting up the Business Houses Athletics Association which was subsequently to spawn, among things, the Dublin City Marathon.

Written by his son Ray, 'From Boghall to Bethlehem' was originally intended as just a family project, but mushroomed into a story that had to be told to a larger audience. When first asked to co-operate in the writing, Bertie laugh at the idea. 'Nobody would have the slightest interest in reading my story' he remarked. The book is also punctuated with Bertie's own verse, poems and ballads that nicely complement and illustrate the narrative. After prayers at Thomas Murphy and Sons Funeral Home on the Boghall Road on Monday evening, and the funeral Mass in Shankill on Tuesday morning, he was brought to his final resting place at Shanganagh Cemetary.

A piper led the cortege, which came to a stop for a moment near Bertie's Shankill home one last time.