Monthly Feature: North Belfast Harriers…
North Belfast Harriers are one of Northern Ireland’s most respected athletic clubs – they are also one of the country’s most successful clubs.
Over the last few years, their teams have dominated at prestigious events, most recently securing the male and female team titles at the Seeley Cup. Their success has been featured in Athletics Weekly and Inside Track this month and they have very kindly allowed us to publish the featured article as our own ‘Monthly Feature’.
How it began:
The club was formed in 1896 making it one of the first athletics clubs to be created in Ireland.
The early days:
The club was disbanded during WWII, during which period Eddie Boyce represented Great Britain at the 1936 Olympics in the long jump. It reformed shortly after the war and enjoyed a “purple patch” of domestic success winning numerous Irish titles over road and cross country. During the early 80’s, the club was struggling to survive but was boosted by the arrival of a host top class club runners from Belfast Olympic AC and Cavehill & Duncairn Harriers, who having disbanded, left funds in trust for the benefit of the “north belfast running community”. It was this trust fund plus other funds which allowed the Harriers to rebuild their tin shack in the North Belfast interface area (where Catholics and Protestants are separated by “peace lines”) upon which their members and friends built their clubhouse on Oldpark Terrace, their current base.
The Harriers have a dedicated team of coaches who are formally accredited. They work closely together developing children in a range of activities from the age of 7. The club does not encourage athletes to be coached by particular people. It’s not about the coach. It’s about the athlete and structured 12 week training blocks focus on periodization and peaking for targeted races. The club is also keen on ensuring strong squads toe the line for national championships – an approach which has reaped rewards, with the club sweeping numerous national team titles during the last 5 years.
– 2015: National Champions at 5km, 10km, Half Marathon, Masters XC, Intermediate XC (male) and National Champions at 5km, 10km, Senior XC (female).
– 2014: National Champions at 10km, Half Marathon, Road Relays (Senior and Master) and National Champions at 10km, Half Marathon, Senior XC (female).
– 2013: National Champions at 10km, Half Marathon, Masters Relays, Masters XC (male) and National Champions at 10km, Half Marathon, Senior XC (female).
– 2011: Northern Ireland Athletics Club of the Year.
The club – which is now registered as a charity – has transformed itself in recent years. Viewed by some quarters as an elitist club for many years (probably as a result of their success), the club has embraced change, particularly during the last 5 years. While they are still regarded as perhaps the strongest elite running (road and cross country) club in Northern Ireland, they have also attracted hundreds of new recreational runners as members.
This is thanks in part to a dedicated strategy which has maximised the mass participation in running created by parkrun & JogBelfast (a free, twice weekly couch to 5km scheme delivered by Harriers coaches).
By helping to deliver these two events, the club has raised its profile in local communities, demystifying the perception that running clubs are simply for “athletes”. The harriers are now widely viewed as a highly competitive but yet friendly and welcoming, all inclusive community club and resource. To make this point, club members frequently visit and attend training nights hosted by other running clubs, sharing their approaches to sustainable development. This has helped the amateur running scene blossom around Northern Ireland, with clubs and races benefitting from greater numbers of “paid up” members and race participants. The harriers believe there are enough runners out there to fill every club and then some so they operate an open door policy. Runners from other clubs frequently training with the harriers and all abilities are catered for. True runners, the harriers have set their eyes on even bigger plans for improvement and development.
– Current treasurer Matt Shields introduced parkrun to Ireland 5 years ago at the Waterworks Park, which celebrated its 5th birthday at Halloween. Matt is the parkrun Ireland Director and has been instrumental in establishing the 61 parkruns that are currently in existence around Ireland. He was also given the Belfast City Council Services to Coaching Award and Coach of the Year Awards in 2011.
– Eddie Boyce competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and was a bronze medallist at the 1934 Empire Games (now Commonwealth Games).
– Current athletes Gladys Ganiel O’Neil and Breege Connolly are both aiming for Rio Olympic Qualification in 2016 with Breege having already obtained the marathon qualifying time following her 2.37.29 in the London Marathon earlier this year.
– Laganside 10km (www.laganside10k.com) which has incorporated the Northern Ireland 10km Championships for the last 2 years.
– The Belfast Hills Trail Race
– North Belfast Harriers “Night of 5000m PB’s”
Need to know:
– They were one off the first athletics club in Northern Ireland to be ClubMark Accredited. This club has been rigorously audited and their coaches formally trained in child protection, first aid, and have been vetted and cleared for safeguarding purposes.
– They are also an Athletics Northern Ireland/McCain Network Host Club which means that their coaches, volunteers and athletes assist other local clubs in areas such as fundamentals and good practice. This includes sharing resources, venues, and training sessions several times per month, as well as sharing coaching and development information.
– The Harriers share their clubhouse with other local groups, such as a senior citizens table tennis team and Irish dancers.
– They maintain a trophy display cabinet about Eddie Boyce (above) in their clubhouse donated by Arthur Briggs (California, USA) a life-long member of the club since 1951. It takes pride of place and includes a full panoramic picture from the 1936 Berlin Olympics opened by Hitler and the jacket which Eddie Boyce earned for competing in those Olympics.
– The club currently has 190 senior and 160 junior members.
– It has been host to numerous Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth Games representatives during their 120 year history.
North Belfast Harriers are based out of Oldpark Terrace, North Belfast, Northern Ireland. They enjoy year round access to a private 8 lane running track set into the Cavehill Mountain and access to Sports Halls provided by the Girls Model School, next to their clubhouse.
Club Colours: Black, Yellow and Chocolate Brown