Sunday, 8 March 2009

40 Years of Irish Orienteering this April

William Augustine Mulligan: The (almost forgotten) Father of Irish Orienteering, by Aonghus ÓCléirigh

When and where exactly was Ireland's first orienteering event held? A half page article discovered by Pat Healy in the Clonmel Nationalist newspaper dated 19 April 1969 describes in detail the newly found sport and reports on the first event organised in this country (recorded in print or otherwise) - a competition planned and run for members of the 3rd Motor Squadron (FCA) based in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.
The newspaper reports that on Sunday April 13th 1969 at Harney's Cross near Clonmel, 44 members of the 3rd Motor Squadron took part in the first orienteering event for FCA personnel over a 7-mile cross-country course from Boola Bridge to the Raven's Rock and back through the forest to Harney's Cross. (The current orienteering map of Kilsheelan covers some of the terrain used for that event.) The squadron was divided into district teams for the competition - Clonmel, Rathgormack, Carrick, Kilcash, Fethard, Lismolin and Mullinahone. Competitors ran in pairs; the three winning pairs in the various categories were Corporal Wm Harty and Trooper Wm Byme, Trooper Wm McGee and Trooper Devine, and Sergeant D Fahey and Trooper Dargan. Clonmel took the district team prize. The 'Clerk of the Course' was Corporal Tom Hannon, one of those whose photograph appears in the newspaper article.
Commandant William Augustine (Gus) Mulligan, commanding officer of the 3rd Motor Squadron in Clonmel, had encountered the sport while serving in Cyprus with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. He was introduced to orienteering by a Capt N Engrist of the Swedish Battalion, and on his return in 1968 he passed on the sport to his unit in December 1968.
In a separate article published in the March 1969 edition of "An Cosantóir" - the Defence Forces in-house publication - Gus Mulligan describes orienteering as 'excellent military training, combining practical use of the map, compass work, physical fitness and intelligence.' He adds that 'the fastest does not always win as one may defeat a faster runner by skilful planning'. There is 'nothing new in orienteering, as it is practised in all armies of the world with the aid of a protractor, map and compass.' He attributes the advent of the SILVA compass (which combined protractor and compass in one unit) as greatly simplifying and demystifying navigation.
The early maps used for military orienteering in Ireland were of scale 6-inches- to-one-mile. Since there were few photocopiers in those days, copies were produced by first tracing the main features of the map on to a foil and then reproducing the traced image using the Gestetner printing apparatus (a mainstay of every Defence Forces Orderly Room of that time).
Where does Gus Mulligan's event fit within the currently accepted history of Irish orienteering? The re-discovered newspaper article places the Kilsheelan event as the first organised orienteering event in this country.

(Aonghus continues “The second orienteering event held here was the competition organised by Michael Lunt in Autumn 1969 in The Devil's Glen. A following event was run in the Glen of the Downs by Paddy O'Leary”. However, Eoin Rothery’s records have the Glen of the Downs event run by Paddy O’Leary on 1st October 1969, Niall Rice’s event at Blessington on 1st November 1969, and Mike Lunt’s Devil’s Glen event on December 26th 1969 - Ed).

Irish orienteers today are indebted to these, and many other pioneers of Irish orienteering - both civilian and military.


Michael Richardson said...

I was interested to read of the FCA O-event in Apl 1969 as I had always believed that the first event was in Phoenix Park in Oct or Nov 1969. As I have been digging out old maps and results for Brian Hollinshead I have some of the relevant information readily to hand.

The Devil's Glen event mentioned was held on 27 Dec 1969 and the A course was won by Nigel Bark (and I was second !); the results mentioned that the next event would be at Knockree on 18 Jan 1970. The next event that I attended was at the Glen of Imaal on 19 Apl 1970 but I can't find results for this. I have newspaper cuttings from the Irish Times with results of some of these early events, but can't locate them just now.

Michael Richardson said...

A little more to add ! .. I have found newspaper cuttings from the Irish Times and the Evening Press (in the days when Dublin boasted 3 evening papers) both for 23 Dec 1969. They mention the forthcoming event at Ashford (Devil's Glen). They also record the formation of Irish Orienteers, the first orienteering club in Ireland, on 5 November and mention that their first event was held at Blessington on 30 November, with 60 competitors. Nigel Bark was the winner in 2 h. 34 min. and the fastest woman was Kathleen Kinsella in 5 h. 12 min. !

Ruth said...

I don't know about a Phoenix Park event, I'm fairly sure the first open orienteering event would have been Paddy O'Leary's event in Glen of the Downs on 19 Oct 1969 on a coloured map - Paddy drew over contours and water features with coloured marker. The long course was about 5 miles, won by Nigel Bark in 85 mins.
The second open event was the one near Blessington on 23(?) Nov, organised by Niall Rice, on what is now quarried land, the southern end of the map included Glending. Mike Lunt's Devil's Glen was the next on 27 Dec, won by Nigel Bark again.
Mike Lunt was the driving force behind the early events though many others were heavily involved as well.
Results from 1970 & '71 events show Nigel Bark dominating first place, with competition from Mike Lunt, Paddy O'Leary, Sean Rothery among others.

Lindie Naughton said...

Nice one, John.

Caitriona Nic Mhuiris said...

Hi John !Just met Paddy O Leary this morning in Clare's Rock Hostel in Carron in the heart of the Burren. I was there with sisters Eadaoin and Una and our brood of 10 children remembering our mothers 15th anniversary. Casual conversation about youth hosteling when we were orienteering led Paddy to fill us in on his role in introducing orienteering to Ireland. He could hardly imagine that he would bump into Irish Orienteering Champions and Irish Orienteering WC Team members on a weekend rock climbing. Had a great chat over breakfast and he gave us great tips on where to visit in the Burren. Thank you Paddy !! Caitriona Nic Mhuiris ( Morrish)