Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland & Ulster Championships
This is an ongoing project to attempt to produce a comprehensive record of Northern Ireland Championships and the subsequent combined Northern Ireland and Ulster Championships. It is also hoped to add Ulster Championships in the near future.
The partition of Ireland in 1921, which brought about the Northern Ireland State, posed considerable difficulties for sport which had hitherto been governed on an All Ireland basis. Some sports retained their All Ireland entity while others, like athletics, decided to split.
The history of athletics in Ireland is an extremely complicated one full of intrigue, splits, bans and even violence and those seeking clarification should seek out "The Politics of Irish Athletics 1850-1992 by Paudraig Griffin. In so far as events in these pages are concerned they are governed by the formation in 1925 of the Northern Ireland Amateur Athletic, Cross Country and Cycling Association which proceeded to hold Championships.
Within nine days of its formation the new Northern Ireland Association crowned its first track Champion J P Clarke of Co Antrim Harriers in a meeting held at Ballydrain. For the first decade the "Championships" were a hotch potch of individual events farmed out to local meets across the Six Counties in unlikely venues like Shrigley, Celtic Park, the beautiful grass track at Cherryvale and the Oval, the home of Glentoran Football Club. It was only in 1935 that the first single day Championships, incorporating all events, including the marathon, were held at Dunmore Stadium.
Cinder tracks of various quality followed in the 1950's and 60's like Paisley Park, Aircraft Park and Ormeau Park before in the 1970's the move to synthetic surfaces at Upper Malone, Antrim Forum and Mary Peters Track (the same venue as Upper Malone). In 1970, in line with currency, Track and Field went Metric with the saddest change being the Mile replaced by the bizarre 3 and three quarter laps 1500 metres.
Women's Championships under the auspices of the Northern Ireland Women's AAA began in 1950 on grass at Ravenhill although for a number of years before World War II the men had accorded the women the opportunity to win titles over 100 and 220 yards. The first attempt at a joint Championship took place in 1964 and again in 1977 with the current President of ANI Gerry Carson acting in the capacity of Championship Secretary and Announcer and the Mary Peters Track Manager Wendy Phillips won the High Jump.
While the Women’s Championships regularly welcomed entries from athletes from Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal the Men’s remained primarily domestic. It was not until the 1980’s that the Championships went ‘Open’ but the number of athletes from outside the Province remained very small. The improving relationship between Athletics NI and the Ulster Athletic Council eventually saw the combined Northern Ireland and Ulster Championships take place in 1997.
In the intervening almost 100 years there have been many developments and changes, not least of which was an amalgamation with the NIWAAA, the body governing women's athletics, with corresponding name changes resulting in the present incarnation called Athletics NI. Other major changes have taken place in relation to the use of electronic timing and the presentation of results. The first use of the photo finish and electronic timing took place in 1986. Before that the timing was in the hands of extremely competent hand timekeepers including the ubiquitous Roy 'Stevie' Stevenson MBE. A quick look at the results before 1970 will show not only hand times but the fact that only the winner's time was recorded with the minor places being shown as the perceived distance between 1st and 2nd and between 2nd and 3rd. In modern events missing the time of the 18th finisher in the 5000 metres would be met with an outcry!
In its almost 100 year history the Championships have seen many local clubs disappear from the scene including the likes of 9th Old Boys, Duncairn Nomads, Albert Foundry, Short and Harland, Belfast Olympic, Achilles, Ulsterville, Abbey and others all of whom produced great Champions.