BY JOHN WALSHE
IT has been a long wait – all of 56 years – but the delighted look on Batty O’Neill’s face told its own story.
At the recent Cork Athletics Awards Night at the Kingsley Hotel, the Beara native finally received his medal from the 1967 NACAI All-Ireland Youths Cross-Country Championship where he was a member of the winning Cork team.
That year, Cork dominated the cross-country scene at national and Munster level. Not only did the county provide individual winners in John Buckley (senior) and Stephen Hennessy (youths) but also easily took both team titles as well.
Unfortunately, Batty never got his medal at the time but this was rectified at the recent awards night when, in the company of his family, he received his due reward from Skibbereen man Pat Walsh, chairman of the Cork Athletics Board.
Speaking afterwards, Batty – now 73 – said he really appreciated being honoured and thought of after all those years.
‘It’s great to be here tonight, it has been a long time waiting but well worth the wait, it’s been my dream all my life.’
It was with a club called St Mary’s that he first got involved with the sport of athletics in the Beara region.
‘We started around 1965 and for training we used to run from Eyeries to the Boundary Bridge one night, and then the second night we’d run from Eyeries to Castletownbere,’ Batty explained.
‘The main runner from the area at the time was Eileen Kelly, who ran for Ireland but who sadly passed away a few years ago.
There was also Jackie O’Neill, a cousin of mine; Paddy Harrington, a neighbour of mine; and John Sullivan.’
With very few cars at the time, getting to races was a major ordeal, as Batty tells of a trip to Dungarvan in that year of 1967: ‘I left home one morning in Harrington’s bus and arrived in Cork. I was 17 years of age, it was my first time ever in Cork and I couldn’t believe how big it was.
‘Matt Murphy from the Rising Sun club picked me up and I stayed in his house that night. He brought me back to the Cork bus the next morning and he gave me some massive advice on what to do. He said that the man you intend to pass out is as tired as you, keep going and always remember the next man is only as good as you.’
It’s worth noting that Matt Murphy from near Ballinhassig was one of the country’s top athletes of that era and would go on to represent Ireland on a number of occasions. That year of 1967 was probably his greatest at cross-country. He captained Cork to All-Ireland victory, taking the bronze individual medal himself, to add to his silver at Munster and gold in the Cork championship.
After that successful season, Batty O’Neill continued to run at local level as he was learning his trade as a carpenter with Paddy Hanley. He moved to Dublin for a while before, as was the experience of many, he had to emigrate.
‘There was no work at home at the time, so I headed to England where I remained for six years. Then, as my father died young, I came home and took over the farm, and I've been a farmer since,’ he explained.
Batty is thrilled to see the renewed athletics interest in his native Eyeries. He pays a special tribute to Mark Gallagher, the man behind the popular local road race series and who sourced a lot of Batty’s history, along with the attached 1967 team photograph.
‘When I went to England, the St Mary’s club fell apart so I’m really delighted that Mark started a club here again, so Eyeries and Beara owe a lot to Mark and I owe everything to him myself as well.’