The Struggle of Rural Clubs in Ireland

November 28, 2023

When I spoke to Michael of Ballycastle AC back in September, there was an underlying sadness to the whole conversation as the race we were speaking about was being run for the very last time.

The Céide Coast Half Marathon and 10k events had been a staple of athletics in the west of Ireland and the end of the event really highlighted the difficulties rural clubs face to just simply stay open.

‘The club has taken a hit since COVID. It's really stagnated, and I think a lot of clubs have experienced the same especially in remote areas.’

‘It’s a typical west of Ireland Athletic Club. We want to be something, funding is very little. We don't get funding from anywhere. We don't have full-time staff, we don't have a part-time staff.’

Michael describes that due to young people heading away for college and many people commuting elsewhere for work, weekdays can be ‘a pretty sad, desolate place’ in these rural clubs. ‘It’s a hard battle’ for these clubs to gain new blood.

‘These (clubs) are important to the areas of keeping community alive. We need new people year in year out to join us’ Michael sent out a rallying cry to Athletics Ireland, which a lot of rural clubs would get behind, saying ‘Athletics Ireland as an organisation, they need to look at this and support these remote areas a lot more than they actually have. We are really struggling to finance these events.

‘Look at smaller clubs and give them assistance and help them because, for example, we don't have a running track. We’re on the roads and the local fields. When you're trying to run 20 or 30 kids on the road in the winter and you're making them buy headlights to keep them safe and you're shuffling them along the way and you're out in front trying to slow traffic down. That’s the support you need, just a track for these clubs is a privilege.’

When I spoke to Michael, the emotion that was in his voice and the passion that he has for his local club was unquantifiable. This is a man that wants his club, and other’s in the same position, to have the same chance as everyone else.

Getting through COVID was just the start for these rural clubs, picking up the pieces after is still, to this day, an ongoing process.

By joining your local Athletics Club, you are keeping local communities alive. Many clubs in rural Ireland are struggling, so the best thing you can do to support them is to get active and get involved with your local club and keep the heartbeat of rural Ireland pumping!

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