Dirrans Sports Gala

The start of the Road Race: Jack McLean, Jimmy Irvine (both Bellahouston), Andy McDowall, Ailsa Harriers (45), Davie Wyper (West of Scotland (29), Andy Forbes, Victoria Park (42), Les Meneely, Shettleston (62), Jim Sloss, Beith (false start!), Ian McKenna, Beith (41)

The Dirrans Sports Gala was held in Kilwinning usually in the first half of July, although the first meeting was held in August.   It was one of many local Sports meetings that were as important to the sport as the spectaculars at Meadowbank and Ibrox.   These provided athletes with badly needed competition combined with a good day out and a chance to test their fitness – or prove their fitness.   They involved hard work on the part of local organising committees who had little in the way of thanks for their work, which was however appreciated by the athletes who competed.     

The original Dirrans Sports Meeting came about after after Harry Maxwell of Eglinton Harriers, Beith Harriers and Ayrshire Harrier Clubs’ Association lobbied David Savage, who managed to get an ash track built at the Dirrans on the outskirts of Kilwinning Burgh.  Alex Reid, a close friend of George Dallas and president of the SCCU was also involved in the meeting. The first open track meeting was held on 28/8/54. when Kenny Phillips of Beith Harriers recorded his competition that day:  Dirrans Medley Relay (1/4) 1st; 2 mile team 2nd individual 1st team; 1/2 mile open 30yds Unplaced.  Not a bad day’s work but it was that kind of meeting where runners often doubled up and sometimes tripled up.   It would attract many top runners – eg SAAA Marathon champions Bill StoddartGordon Eadie, Ian Harris, John Kerr, Charlie McAlinden; track champions and record holders like Alex Breckenridge, John McLaren, Hugh Barrow, Tom O’Reilly, Eddie Sinclair, Andy Brown, Bert McKay, Dick Hodelet, Mike McLean Dave Shedden, Isabel Inwood, Moira Carmichael and many more.    We should begin at the beginning however.

If anything is happening in athletics in Beith or Ayrshire, you can be sure that Kenny Phillips is involved somewhere and at this first meeting he ran in the medley relay where the team was 1st; the 2 mile team where he was 2nd individual and the club won the team race; and he also ran in the  open half mile off the low mark of  30yds and was unplaced.   It was however not an ideal day for an athletics meeting – that year it clashed with the old-established, very popular Cowal Games at Dunoon, which attracted all the track and field athletes, and also with the Perth to Dundee road race which took many of the road runners away.   For the indoor athletics fans, the European Championships were on television.   Dirrans organisers were not put off by this.   They simply changed the date and organised it for the following year.   The following appeared in the |Irvine Herald at the start of July, 1955.

On the day, everything went well and, because it was the first July meeting, the report and the results will be given in full.

It was a time when many big meetings – eg Rangers Sports, Edinburgh Highland Games – were taking place on their traditional dates and many communities had their own sports meetings.   Dirrans had found a good date in mid-July for theirs and the next task was to attract the top talent.   By 1956 the top runners were starting to appear at the event.   There was a Two Mile team race which was won by a very good Bellahouston Harriers team of Fraser Nelson, Joe Connolly, Bob Wilson Dick Penman and  Bob Wilson with 14 points from a close-up Victoria Park team on 17 points.   The individual race was won by Andy Brown (Motherwell YMCA) from Alex Breckenridge (VPAAC) and Fraser Nelson.   The Mile Medley Relay was also won by Bellahouston from Shettleston and Garscube Harriers.   There were top class athletes in most events – for instance, local woman Ann Reilly from Ardeer Recreation was the top sprinter in her events and WJ More from Kilmarnock was running in the Mile.  The organisers had even invited Gordon Pirie and Chris Chataway to the meeting but both declined – Pirie because of training commitments, and Chataway because he was broadcasting from Wales that afternoon.   The meeting was growing and the organisers had big ambitions.   

On 5th July 1957 the Irvine Herald reported “Scotland’s wonder runner, Jim Paterson (Edinburgh Univ) who ran the fastest 800m (1 min 47 sec) ever run by a British runner has promised to run at the Dirrans on the 27th July providing he is not called on for international duty on this date.   A special invitation 880 yards event has been added to the programme and among the invitations so far accepted John Boyd (Glasgow Univ) runner-up to Paterson in the Scottish half-mile championship, and A McNally (Doon H) who finished third in this race.   A new Scottish native record may be set at the Dirrans on this date.”

and on 12th of the month it said –  “Victoria Park AAC, the former holders of the English National cross-country championship, have entered two strong teams for the Two Mile Team race at the Dirrans.   Ian Binnie, Scotland’s record holder over 2, 3, 6 miles and one hour, is entered.”   

On the day, the meeting was opened by Lord Clydesmuir, and the big disappointment was the late arrival of Jim Paterson.   He had been delayed by the traffic but despite his absence the 880 yards was won by Boyd from McAlinden (Babcock & Wilcox) and W Morrison (Larkhall) a future SAAA champion.   So that the spectators would not be disappointed, Paterson agreed to run in an invitation 440 yards which he won from J Boyd.   The handicap half-mile was won by Currie of Bellahouston and the Two Mile team race by Bellahouston from Shettleston.   The mile medley relay was taken this time by Glasgow University from Kilmarnock and the One Mile Handicap by TP O’Reilly of Springburn from Tom Scott of Motherwell YMCA and Willie McBrinn of Monkland.   The spectators were also entertained by a display of baseball by teams of Americans  from the RAF base at Prestwick 


In 1958, one preview of the meeting read:   “With the Empire Games the week following Dirrans, many of Scotland’s Empire Games team have entered for the Dirrans and what a dust-up it will be when Ian Binnie (Victoria Park) and Joe Connolly (Bellahouston , both due to run for Scotland at Cardiff, meet on what promises to be a very fast track.   Andy Brown (Motherwell YMCA) is also in the race along with Bert McKay – the four fastest Scots over the Mile, and many other stars.   The invitation 880 yards scratch race should be worth watching, the runners again being in the top bracket.   …  Ladies, again Empire Games competitors, Youths, Juniors and full  programme  of Men’s Open events will give the large crowd expected a good afternoon’s sport.”   

The Sports were held on 12th July, 1958.    The results are below, you are invited to look at the names..

The invitation 880 had three Scottish Internationalists and an Empire Games runner, Runners in the Two Mile race not listed but given the clubs contesting it it was in all probability a good race, the first three teams in the medley were all very good ones, in the men’s mile Tom Cochrane was seven times winner of the South West District cross-country and a really good distance runner, Donnie MacDonald was an Empire Games half miler and frequent Scottish internationalist and Hugh Muir was consistently good over a number of years, and Donnie won the 440 invitation – two firsts and a second that afternoon.   So where were all the Empire Games runners who it was suggested would be there?      The papers all tell the same story – near torrential rain right up to starting time.   This would probably put men and women with less than a fortnight to the Empire Games to ‘err on the side of caution’ as they say, play it safe and not risk colds or chills.

Up until 1959 it had been the custom to sell programmes during the week before the Sports which would also serve as  admission tickets, or to come along on the day and buy them at the gate.   There was a suggestion at the January meeting of the council that in 1959 they sold the programme separately from charging admission.  ie there would be two separate charges for spectators who wanted a programme.   It was agreed to go ahead with this because the local laws had been altered to allow this.   

The sports were held on 18th July and attendance was not good and consideration was given to ceasing production of the event in future years.   It is difficult to see why this would be the case when you read the report from the Glasgow Herald.

WJ More was a very good athlete and a Scottish internationalist.  A miler and steeplechaser he had many fine duels with Tom O’Reilly. Results that catch the eye at this meeting, in addition to the Two Miles, include John Kerr winning the 10 miles road race, a new event, from Tom Scott and Jimmy Garvey of Vale of Leven.   The man who beat TP O’Reilly in the mile was Tommy Malone of Shettleston who was running from 115 yards to O’Reilly’s 60 in the handicap.   Ayr Seaforth beat Bellahouston in the mile medley with a team of Wilson, Holland, McCarvel and McCrindle,   J Convery of Irvine won the Junior 440 yards.   It was surely not the case that the new admission costs caused the people to stay away.   

Whatever the reason, the headline in the Irvine Herald on 22nd July, 1960, read  “DIRRANS SPORTS  –  POOR PUBLIC SUPPORT” and it went on to say “Last Saturday it was again apparent that there was only a limited public support for the sports meeting held at Dirrans, Kilwinning.   It may be that a long term plan must be expected before they become established, although even that is doubtful in view of recent experiences, but the fact is that the response on the part of the public on Saturday must have been a big disappointment to the organisers.”   There was more in the same vein although it did point out that there were 26 runners in the 12 miles road race (up two miles from the previous year) .   The results were interesting and there were several Scottish international runners taking part.   The road race was won again by John Kerr of Airdrie (a future SAAA marathon champion), from Tom Malone of Shettleston (who would go on to win the Comrades Marathon in South Africa); Tom O’Reilly was back and won the Two Miles team race in which Victoria Park won the team race with just 9 points from Springburn.   The mile was won by Mike Ryan who was a multi Scottish champion through the age groups from Bill Black who was one of the country’s top half milers.  Maybe the most interesting result for the athletics historian was the Youths 100 yards where Dave Shedden of Beith, a Scottish rugby and athletics international won from H Bryden of Ardeer and Hugh Barrow of Victoria Park who was world mile age group record holder.   In the Junior 440 yards, Jim Johnstone of Monkland defeated J Convery of Irvine – both destined for Scottish international honours.

The 1962 meeting was held on July 14th and the Scottish Marathon Club gave the distance of the road race as 13 miles.   The Irvine Herald began its report by saying “The poor attendance at the Dirrans Sports last Saturday in spite of the fine weather must have been another big disappointment to the organisers as well as to the participants.   The meeting has never achieved the measure of public patronage which the promoters had hoped for, and indeed it has been touch and go on several occasions whether to abandon the project.   Each time it was decided to give it another trial and this was the case this year.   In the light of the meagre turnout of the public this year it would seem further evidence that there is not the public for such a venture in this area, much though it is to be regretted.”   When the report actually got around to the meeting, it was actually a good event with a very good cast of performers.   Two cycle races had been added to the programme.   Moira Carmichael, the SWAAA double sprints champion won the 220 yards but was handicapped out of it in the 100, being beaten by local Isabel Bonds.   In the Two Miles team race, the duel between Andy Brown and Bert McKay of Motherwell YMCA kept the spectators excited.   The only double was that of David Shedden in the sprints.In the high jump Cosmos Julien defeated David Cairns – both international competitors – and in the 13 miles road race, John Kerr won in 1:21:05 with Pat McAtier of Paisley winning the handicap.   

1963 saw more of the same.   Local Press consistently writing the meeting down and talking of poor attendances would have done nothing to encourage larger attendances for the following year.   The report on the 1963 meeting had approximately a third of the article being about the poor numbers.   Nevertheless, there were good athletes on show as the results show.

An event missing from reports in both the Irvine Herald and Glasgow Herald was the Two Mile team race – there were 100 (Shedden), 220 (Black), 880 (McManus), Mile (I Young) and then a jump to the 13 miles road race.   

The matter was addressed again at a meeting of the council in January 1964 which read: “At a meeting of the Irvine District Council accounts of the sports meeting held at Dirrans in July were submitted and while there was a deficit of £18/6/7d the Council were nevertheless impressed with the manner in which the the organising committee had carried through their work, although at the same time they regretted the continued lack of public support to the sports.   It was noted that the committee had raised £40 from adverts in the programme and the sale of the programmes which was an indication of the amount of effort extended by the committee on this voluntary work.   The District Council guarantees the sports to the extent of a maximum subsidy but it is interesting to note that the maximum subsidy has never been called upon.”   It is a contrast to the lurid accounts of poor attendance in the Press and the statement that the maximum subsidy has never been called upon should be noted.

1964 saw the meeting held on 11th July and there was short report on the meeting followed by the results with no comments on the crowd size or the standard of athletics.   Nor should there have been any.   The 13 mile road race was won by Hugh Mitchell of Shettleston with Pat McAtier second, the mile handicap first three were Mike Bradley (Paisley), Tom Callaghan (Monkland) and Keith Lawrie (Ailsa) and Motherwell YMCA won the Two Mile team race.   The picture below is of the start of the road race at the 1964 meeting with winner Hugh Mitchell wearing 53 and handicap winner Pat McAtier 52.

In 1965 there were comments in the Irvine Herald about the poor attendance but putting it down largely to the heavy rain which fell throughout the afternoon.   The article did mention that some council members were talking of combining the meeting with the youth committees.   The quality was high this year with at least nine Scottish internationalists taking part.   Among the notable results were:

100y open: 1st W Martin  Irvine; 2,  D Shedden (Beith)  10 sec.  Women’s 100y open:  P Prentice (Bellahouston); 2. P Spence (Greenock) 

880y Open: 1.  J Johnstone;  2.  W Evans, Airdrie;  3.  R Hodelet (GGH)   1:56.0

Mile Open:  P Maclagan (VP); 2.  J Johnstone;  W Evans.  4:21.2.     

Two Miles Team:  1.  VPAAC;  2.  Motherwell YMCA.  Winner J Reilly (VPAAC);  2.  A Smith (VPAAC)

Medley Relay:  1.  Bellahouston Harriers;  2.  Beith.    Sprint Relay:   Ayr Seaforth

Road Race:  1.  G Eadie (Cambuslang); 2. C McAlinden;  3. D Simpson (Motherwell YMCA)    Handicap   J Poulton (Motherwell YMCA)   1:12:12

The inevitable review of the day’s success or otherwise was reported in the Irvine Herald of 13th August, 1965 and read:

9th July, 1966 was the next Dirrans Sports day.   Before that however the Ayrshire Harriers Clubs Association discussed the matter.   The AHCA is a long established organisation that now, in the 21st century, creates races over the country and on the track and has always been a source of good work for the sport in general as well as for the local cross-country events.   The committee had met in May 1966 and suggested that they donate £5 to the Sports Day organisers and also “suggested that the Association be asked their views on a proposal that they take over the duties of the Dirrans Sports Day Committee.”   

The meeting took place on the prescribed date and the organisers had responded to the low numbers of spectators and worry about the sports continuing by expanding the programme.   There were 4 events for Ladies, 4 events for Boys, 2 events for Juniors, 3 for Youths and 9 events for Men.   22 in all.   Some of the principal results:   

13 Mile Road Race:  1.  C McAlinden;  2. J Poulton;  3.  D Simpson.   1:18:51.

Two Mile Team Race:  1.  Victoria Park.    One Mile open:  1.  W Marshall (Motherwell YMCA)

Youths 1500m steeplechase:  1. J Ferguson, Seaforth;  2. J Brolly, Shettleston

At the end of the year the Council debated the sports again and there was a report in the Irvine Herald on 9th December.   “Although both the organising committee and the Irvine District Council were again disappointed at the lack of public response, the District Council has agreed to contribute £100 to the Dirrans Sports Day.    ….   While the disappointment was expressed at the lack of response by the public to the work being done to promote youth welfare and interest in recreational pursuits, the Council consider it their duty to give continued encouragement to the pioneering work being undertaken in this field.   They were of the opinion, too, that it was only a matter of time until sports interests would be co-ordinated. “

The council should have been congratulated on their insight and recognition of the importance of sport to the development of the entire community.

The weather on 8th July, 1967,  at The Dirrans had a fair breeze blowing but the heavy rain stayed away – unfortunately many of the public did too and the attendance was not as good as might have been expected.   The standard of the athletics was though, with decent competition in most events.   Gordon Eadie won the 13 miles road race from George Skinner from East Kilbride and Keith Lawrie of Ailsa in 62:40.   The Two Miles team race was won by Springburn Harriers from Beith Harriers and was reported as being for the McAndrew Trophy.   The 880 yards was won by J Wood (Bellahouston) with J McCubbin (Paisley) second and Dick Hodelet of Glasgow University third.   The medley relay went to Bellahouston from Springburn.   The reference to the McAndrew Cup was strange because the trophy was usually the Sir Thomas Moore Trophy which was awarded again in 1969 while the McAndrew Trophy was one awarded annually for the Victoria Park Road Relay at the start of October.

The date kept getting earlier and in 1968 the sports were held on 6th July.   The local report read as follows.

Ian Harris would go on to become Scottish marathon champion and one of the very best runners in the British Army, Alan Partridge would be a Scottish internationalist (and father of Susan) and of course Ronnie Hodelet must have been Dick.   However among the newer events was the 1500m steeplechase for Seniors, Juniors, Youths and Bous.   How did they accommodate a steeplechase on the track?   Instead of water in the water jump, they simply had the runners landing in sand.   Served the purpose and was easy to clear away afterwards.

Principal results:

Two Mile team race for the Sir Thomas Moore Trophy went to Clydesdale Harriers, the medley relay went to Greenock Glenpark Harriers, the open scratch steeplechase was won by J Inglis of Shettleston from RL Spence of Greenock Glenpark,    Interesting that the Junior steeplechase also had RL Spence as second in the 1500m steeplechase!    The Junior boys steeplechase was a real triumph for Law and District who took the first four places with Jim Thomson, Dougie Frame, R Donnelly and M Yule.

The reports were getting poorer and the one for the 1969 meeting consisted of one race – the Two Miles Team Race where first and second placers were individuals with little information about the team race other than the fact that Paisley Harriers were the winners.   The detailed results were a bit better but did not include the above race at all. For the record, it was won by Brian Morrison of Irvine who defeated Harry Gorman of Springburn by 100 yards in 9 min 38.04.    There were also no results for several events – eg the senior 880 yds was missing.     Principal results:

One Mile open scratch:  1.   H Gorman;   2.  J Ferguson (Ayr Seaforth);  3.  B Morrison (Irvine)  4  min 31.01

13 miles road race:  1.  R Lochead (Springburn;  2.  JG Sloss, Beith;  3.  PC McAtier, Paisley.   Won by 250 yards in 71:37

Junior 3000m: 1.   T Grubb, Kilmarnock;  2.  W Cairns, Dumbarton;  3.  D Lang, Shettleston.  9 min 52 sec

One Mile Medley Relay:  Bellahouston Harriers.     RT Lawrie, Victoria Park, won the 220 yards open and was second in the 100 yards.

It is not clear whether the omission of the previously regular events such as the Senior men’s sprint relay, the senior men’s 880 yards. many of the events for young athletes, was down to the poor reporting on the day, to the editor removing some results for space reasons or whether the events were not on the programme but results for 1969 are hard to come by. 

That was the head line in the Irvine Herald of July 10th 1970.   There was a good 5-a-side tournament with local MP David Lambie present, quite a few events for young athletes and there was a good turnout for the senior men’s events too.   It had not come about without a lot of preparation however.    The report below comes from the 1st May edition of the paper.


In the 3rd July issue of the paper – the day before the actual meeting – the Herald reported that it would be a real success with sponsorship from Shanks & McEwan, ICI and the Irvine District Council.   There was also the factor of the developing new town and the benefits that the council hoped would accrue from the integration of the two and the role of the sports in helping this process.   There would also be Highland Dancing, Tossing the Caber, Long Jump, and a 5-a-side featuring all the best Junior sides.   There would also be a specially presented silver rose bowl for the winners of the football tournament.   There would also be an open cafeteria and a restaurant and rest rooms and toilets would be provided.   A real big effort was being made – and as events would show, it was a success.   

The principal results on the day, Saturday 4th July, 1970, were  

100m senior: 1st J Walker (West of Scotland;  2nd G Reid (Kilmarnock);  3. A Harvey (Ailsa)  11.02 sec

200m senior:  1st J Walker (West of Scotland);  2nd G Reid ( Kilmarnock);  3rd J Travers (Irvine YMCA)  24.01 sec

800m senior:  1st P Devlin (Greenock Wellpark);  2nd J Ferguson (Ayr Seaforth);  3rd RL Spence (Greenock Wellpark)   2:01 

Road Race: 1st David Wyper (WoSH);  2nd  Les Meneely (Shettleston);   3.  Jim Irvine (Bellahouston)  

Winning time:  66:04   (Two points:  The distance was listed as 13 miles in the results column, but the time looks more like a 10 miles time; and  one of the runners tells us that Les was a late entry – there were many that day – and there were only two prizes for the race.   Poor old Jimmy Irvine missed out.)

The downside of this very successful meeting was that there were only 8 athletics events, all running and none of them for women.   The Irvine Herald said in its report that all the results were there.

There had been reports in two of the earlier meetings of runners in the road race going off the trail and it happened again in 1971 as reported in the Glasgow Herald of the race held on the second Saturday in July.   

The Scottish Marathon Club had been including the Dirrans Road Race on its fixtures list and membership card since at least 1960 but for the first time, in 1972, it did not appear.   It had been quite a popular road race and the winner in 1971 had been another SAAA marathon champion to win the event.    I believe that the time above for the 1500m might well be 4 min 14 sec rather than 14 min 14 sec!

The road race in particular had been very popular with many of the top names turning out to support it.    There had been five SAAA marathon champions among the winners to add to GB internationalists (McLean, Paterson, Barrow, etc) and Scottish record holders (Breckenridge, Spence) among the track men.   The committee had done a difficult job well despite facing the problems that other similar meetings across the country had to tackle.   Why did the meeting eventually go?   Probably because the track fell into disrepair and it became difficult for this erstwhile fast surface to be used with safety.   There were several road races later to take the place of the Dirrans 13 miler such as the Cunninghame Canter which catered for the road runners and which were and still are very successful.