Irvine YMCA: Part One

From the Irvine Running Club website  ( )

1938 Ayrshire Cross-Country Championship at Benwhat

When I came into the sport in 1957 Irvine YMCA was a strong club that competed in Scottish athletics at every tier of competition – County, District and National and their athletes were to be seen at almost all events around the country.   The Edinburgh to Glasgow eight man relay was the top club road event in the calendar from its inception in 1934, and it was an invitation only event: in the very first race they were fourth. one place ahead of Motherwell YMCA, but their next appearance was not until 1950 when they were 14th.   That year there were four YMCA teams in the race –  Irvine 14th, Kirkcaldy 15th, Glasgow 18th and Motherwell did not finish the race.   The club record in this prestigious event was a notable one, indeed  their contribution to the sport in general was a notable one.   

Irvine YMCA harriers was founded in 1924 when the Irvine branch of the Y.M.C.A. movement was established in a building  in the High Street.   It was a very good time for cross-country running in Ayrshire with many more clubs than the county could just now: Mauchline AC was a very good club indeed, Kilmarnock had a good tradition even in the 1920’s Beith Harriers was also a very good club, Saltcoats had its own club with talented athletes, Ardeer was asuccessful club until well into the 1950’s, Barleith was considerably good, West Cumnock had its own club and so on.  Indeed, shortly after the formation of the Irvine YMCA Harriers the Ayrshire Harrier Clubs Association was founded and its first championship was on 17th January 1925.   More than 60 runners took part on a 7 mile circular course starting and finishing in Rugby Park.   The race was won by Satcoats Harriers.   The AHCA  is still in the twenty first century a major harrier and athletic force in Scottish athletics.   But we can give the new club a chance to find its feet and start our look at it from season 1927-28.

1927-28:   The West District Relay Championships were held on 21st November but the Irvine YMCA team was not in the first six teams although of the Ayrshire teams, Beith was third and Barleith was fifth, one place ahead of Shettleston.   Closer to home, the Ayrshire Clubs Relay was held on 10th December but Irvine was not in the first three, these being Doon, Beith and Barleith Harriers.   The first signs of the talent lurking in Irvine came in the Scottish YMCA Championships on 17th December, 1927, when the Irvine team was sjust out of the medals in fourth place, with CP Wilson fifth individual.   This was a bit of a drop from the previous year when the team had won their race with Wilson the individual champion.   We should have a look at this result since the club was just over a year old when it happened and to have both titles (individual and team) come its way was quite a feat.   The Scotsman report for 16th December 1926 read as follows:

“The fifth annual team and individual championship held under the auspices of the Department for Physical Education of the Scottish National Council of the YMCA’s were held at Motherwell on Saturday.   For the team event, which carries with it the JOM Clarke Trophy, there was an entry of eight clubs, all of whom were forward, while there were also seven individual entrants.   Teams comprised eight runners, the placing of the first four counting.   Altogether 64 runners set out on the 6 mile trail.   Mr H Lightbody, general secretary, Scottish National Council, acting as starter, while Mr John Craig, CBE, vice-president of the same body, was referee.   Results:-

Team Championship (JOM Clarke Trophy – 1.  Irvine YMCA Harriers (CP Wilson 1, R Wilson 2, W McMaster 4, J Hamilton 11 ) 18 points; 2.   Motherwell YMCA (holders) (JM Aitken 3, W McEwan 5, J McCulloch 7, JNH Gardiner 8) 23 pts;  3.  Paisley YMCA Harriers (A team) (C Hamilton 6,  D Cadenhead 16, JL Ritchie 17, A McGlashan 22) 62 pts; 4. Glasgow YMCA  63 pts; 5. Paisley YMCA B  127;  6. Renfrew YMCA 140; 7. Kirkcaldy YMCA 156; 8. Irvine YMCA Harriers B Team) 176.

Individual Championships (T Birrell Medal)   1.  CP Wilson, Irvine YMCA Harriers, 37 min 10 sec;  2. AD Brooke, Glasgow, 37 min 27 sec; 3. PS Findlay, Motherwell YMCA, 37 min 35 sec. “

They not only had the two champions but also had enough runners to enter two teams of eight men.  Against that fifth team and fourth individual were a bit of a come-down.   It also showed that CP Wilson had a bit of a pedigree.   

However, if we go back to 1927/28, there was no team from Irvine in the Western District Championships on 4th February, 1928, at Hamilton Racecourse.   It was not a long way to travel and again Beith (fourth) and Doon (sixth) carried the Ayrshire banner.   In the National Championship, again at Hamilton, there was no complete team from Irvine although we know that CP Wilson was 10th in the Junior National: this was a very good run as the winner was RR Sutherland of Garscube Harriers and the Scots Guards, from JF Wood of Heriot’s CCC.    

1928-29 The third annual West District Relay was held at Thornliebank on 17th November, 1928, and with 32 teams from 25 clubs, Irvine was almost certainly taking part but did not feature among the prize winners.   The Ayrshire Relay Championship took place at Beith on 8th December but there was no Irvine team competing.   Beith won from Barleith and Doon Harriers were the first three, other participating clubs were (in order) Kilmarnock Harriers, Eglinton Harriers A, Eglinton Harriers B, Doon Harriers B and Barleith Harriers B.   As in the previous year, the club turned out their runners in the Scottish YMCA Championships, held at Paisley, home of the previous year’s event on 15th December and performed slightly better than the previous year – fourth team behind Motherwell, Glasgow and Kirkcaldy YMCA’s, and in front of teams from Dundee, Paisley, Renfrew, Glasgow B, Motherwell B and East Kilbride.   CP Wilson in third was their best placed runner behind Suttie Smith and Frank Stevenson.   Their counting runners were A Aldie 8, D Kerr 15, J Watson 16, D Aldie 17.     

The next big championship was the Western District Championships, where CP Wilson finished first to win the first major championship for the club.   The Glasgow Herald report by Ggroe (George Dallas) read: “CP Wilson, Irvine YMCA, exhibited excellent judgment and fine pace in winning the thirtieth annual seven miles Western District Cross-Country Championships by 60 yards at Hamilton. He never showed any anxiety to be with the leaders until the five miles turning point, and the way he set about his rivals over the last two miles was a revelation.   This was undoubtedly Wilson’s best race of his career.”   Wilson won by 10 seconds (42:43 to 42:53 by J Gardner of Motherwell.   The club only had five runners when the team required six and there was no team position.    Came the National Championship on 2nd March and there wasno team from Irvine in the results column but CP Wilson started and was running with the leaders when he fell and suffered a knee injury that forced him to drop out.   Fortunately his form up to that point in the season had been good and he was selected for the Scottish team for the International (to be held that year in Paris) where he finished 30th and was a counting member of the Scottish team which finished fifth.

On March 9th 1929 the second annual Renfrewshire  v  Ayrshire Inter-County Cross-Country meeting took place and the result was a win for Renfrewshire by 14 points despite having only 14 runners to Ayrshire’s 16 following a number of call-offs.   CP Wilson was the Ayrshire captain and he finished second behind R Henderson who had been his predecessor as Western District champion.   

1929-30 The season started with the cross-country relays as usual but there was a change in the organisation of the Districts and the Western District was split into the Midlands District and the South West District.   The South West was made up of teams from Renfrewshire, Ayrshire and all points south.   It was a tough competition – Greenock Glenpark and Wellpark clubs were both in there along with all the Ayrshire teams that they had come to know so well.   The District Relay was held for the first time in 1929 at Largs – and was won by Irvine YMCA from Greenock Wellpark Harriers by a margin of 27 seconds.   The winning team was made up of R Wilson, J Watson, D Kerr and CP Wilson.   Quickest was D Kerr who was second overall, followed by CP Wilson fifth overall.   The race was exceptionally well organised and tea and the medals were presented at McKay’s Restaurant in the town.   

The Ayrshire Relay was next Irvine won comfortable with their second team 5th.   Teams and runners were A Team: R Wilson (14:21), J Watson (15:18), D Kerr (14:55), CP Wilson (14:51).  R Wilson was fastest on the day, CP Wilson 9th and D Kerr 12th.     B Team:  R Campbell (15:27), D Aldie (14:39), A Aldie (15:42), J Fletcher (14:58)  D Aldie was 4th fastest overall.    The press report read: “Irvine YMCA accomplished just what was expected of them in the Ayrshire relay except that their win was more striking than anyone believed possible.   The hero of the team was young R Wilson, borther of CP, also a member of the winning team.   He not only gave his side a winning lead but accomplished the fastest effort of the 40 competitors engaged.”   

The new District’s championship was held on 1st February 1930, ‘within the policies of Eglinton Castle’, and to no one’s great surprise, Irvine YMCA ran out the winners.   The team was R Wilson (2nd),  D Kerr (8th), D Fry (9th), J Watson (12th), D McGowan (15th), R Campbell (16th).   The race was over a distance of 7 miles, com posed of two laps with two stretches of plough in each and there were 130 runners.     

In the National at Hamilton where there were 18 teams and 29 individuals entered the team was ninth.  R Wilson was the top man in 4th, big brother CP Wilson was 41st, D Fry 55th, D McGowan 71st,  and the team was completed by another pair of brothers, A Aldie 76th, D Aldie).   There was however another big event to come: 26th April 1930 was the date when the first Edinburgh to Glasgow relay was run.   This was to become, along with the National, one of the highspots of the winter season.   It was an eight stage relay, entry by invitation only, and it would eventually settle for a date in November.   It started out in April 1930 and Irvine YMCA was one of the clubs competing in it.   The stages were of different lengths with the second (6 miles) and the sixth (7 miles) being the longest.   The irvine team on the day was R Wilson, D McGowan, D Aldie, A Aldie, D Kerr, CP Wilson, D Fry and D Watson.   It finished fourth of the 17 taking part behind Plebeian, Dundee Thistle and Maryhill Harriers and three minutes ahead of the fourth team, Motherwell YMCA.   

1930-31   The following winter, 1930-31, began earlier than usual.  On 4th Oct 1930, the new Springburn clubhouse in Auchinairn Road was opened with all the dignitaries present and the opening event was a  4 x 2+ miles relay.   The race was won by Plebeian Harriers with Irvine finishing 5th.  Runners that day were D Fry, D McGowan, D Kerr and R Wilson.   It was a good run in top company and two weeks later they held their own Club Novice Championship and Ballot Team race as a preparation for the National Novice Championship on 1st November in which they were a disappointing 31st team of 37.   It has to be remembered of course that it was a novice championship and men like the Wilson brothers would not be eligible.   They were now entering the championship season proper and on 15th November the South Western District Championships were held at Largs.  The race was run but declared void with a re-run to be held the following week.   The reason?  The leading three runners – D McGowan of Irvine, J Millar of Beith and W Ballock of Greenock Glenpark –  all went off the trail on the third leg, cutting a slice off the scheduled course.   They were well clear of the field at that point and the rest of the runners followed the correct trail.   At the end the first across the line were Beith, Glenpark and Irvine but a protest went in, the committee met and the race was declared void.   There had been ‘plenty paper’ laid but the strong wind had scattered it leading to the confusion.   The next championship was the Ayrshire Championship Relays at Benwhat where Doon Harriers won from Irvine YMCA by one minute.    The YMCA Championships were held on 19th December at Renfrew and Suttie Smith from Dundee won his fourth title.   First Irvine man to finish was D Fry in 5th place.   Because of the rules for this championship, which were a bit different from every other championship, he could not count for the team race in which Irvine, represented by AS Aldie, J Fletcher, D Duncan and McKinnon, were fifth.   Irvine were the reigning champions but the rules for the championship stated that members of a winning team could not count for the club the following year.   

The South Western Championships were held at Irvine on 7th February, 1931 and it would be thought that Irvine, reigning champions, would have won again.   Unfortunately not – there were not runners from the club in the first ten and the team finished tenth of eleven with only Barleith behind Whatever the club’s failings in the District Championship they performed well enough to be ninth team in the National at Hamilton.   Individually they were better than they had ever been with two runners in the first eleven – CP Wilson was 10th and D Fry was eleventh and both  were selected for the international to be held at Baldoyle Racecourse in Ireland.   The Thirties was a good decade for the Scottish international teams and in 1931 they finished equal second with France.   That meant that the two men from Irvine came home with medals from the international.   Fry had finished 22nd and Wilson 28th.  In the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay held in 1931, 25th April and there were twenty two clubs entered.   Unfortunately the Irvine team dropped out and failed to finish.


Came the autumn season and in the National Novice Championships at the start of November the Irvine team was 18th of 42 clubs.   The South Western District relay saw the Irvine club finish third but, as the Glasgow Herald report said, “Irvine YMCA club, winners two years ago, were under strength owing to the absence of R Wilson who had to call off at the last minute.   Unexpected difficulty in getting a good reserve to fill the vacancy caused the club to lose the race which they might well have won.”   The club’s runners and times were D Fry  15:39, D Kerr 15:55, CP Wilson 16:00, J Dunlop 17:10.   The report might have bee a bit harsh in its tone as far as the replacement runner was concerned but nevertheless they finished just 32 seconds behind the winning Beith team and 23 seconds behind second placed Glenpark Harriers.   “Benwhat, a small mining village high in the hills to the north of Dalmellington”  was the venue for the Ayrshire Championships and this time the club had their top four men out – Fry, Kerr, CP Wilson and R Wilson – but could only finish second to the Doon Harriers team who defeated them by exactly one minute.   On the 19th December at Kirkcaldy in the YMCA championships their luck was no better when D Aldie was their first finisher in sixth place with the team down in sixth place of the seven competing.   Consolation was in the form of D Aldie being a member of the winning ballot team with Suttie Smith (winner for the fifth time) and George Pickering of Cambuslang YMCA.   

In the District Championships on 6th February the team could do no better than seventh of the eleven teams present and there was no runner in the top ten finishers.   Would the pattern of the previous year – poor District, good National – be repeated?   The answer is in the negative – there were only five finishers for the club so there was no team position and no runner was in the top twelve.   There was one man from Irvine YMCA selected to go to Brussels with the Scottish team – Trainer T Rae.    He did his job well – the team was third and  again brought home international medals.

The club was mainly a Harrier club but it did send some athletes to the Scottish YMCA Track and Field Championships on 21st May, 1932.   They were up against a situation where many ‘YMCA’ clubs included members of other athletic clubs – eg T Blakely, an international class member of Mryhill Harriers turned out for Glasgow North West.   The Irvine won none of the medals up for competition but there were some events labelled ‘First Claim Members’ and they picked up a second place in the 100 yards.   It should be noted that there were four events for first claim members while the ‘all who will may enter’ events numbered sixteen.


In preparation for the National Novice Championship in November, Irvine, like many a club, held their own club novice championships and ballot team race on 15th October, and on the 29th of the month held their relay trial which was won by D Kerr from the two Aldie brothers.   In the actual Novice Championships on 5th November they could do no better than 19th of 36 teams, and there were no club men in the top ten.   There was a junior road race held at Mauchline on the 12th in which Irvine YMCA was equal third team with Beith Harriers.   In the South West District Relays on 19th November, they were without CP Wilson, R Wilson and D Fry and were never serious contenders, finishing ninth of 15 teams.  The YMCA Championships were held as usual on the third Saturday in December and D Kerr in fourth was the first Irvine YMCA man home; he could not count for the team however and the squad of A Aldie, GS Pringle, W Duncan and J Fernie was sixth of ten teams.   

The first of the two big championships of the cross-country season was the District Championship on 4th February when the team was sixth, A Aldie 13, D Aldie 20, S Pringle 29, J Finnie 54, J Storrar 56, and T Grier 63 were the men in action.   In the National Championships on 4th March, the team was 19th but that year a race for Youths was held in conjunction with the Senior event and in this one Irvine YMCA was eleventh of 24 teams.   There was an Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay on 8th April but the field was small and did not include Irvine.   

In the Track and Field Championships on 20th May, some events were labelled open and if that meant that the others were all for first claim members only, then that would seem to be an improvement.   Irvine won second place medals in the Mile Relay with a team of D Fry, R McCormick, J Lennox and J Dunlop and in the Two Mile Relay they were again second.      If it helped their morale, it should be noted that Irvine Meadow won the five-a-side football match.

1933-34   1933-34 started with the Diistrict Championships and Irvine finished third behind Greenock Glenpark and Eglinton Harriers with their team of Pringle, Kerr Aldie and Fry with Fry turning in the fastest time of the day by 15 seconds from Millar of Beith.   The Ayrshire County Championships took place on 2nd December and Irvine won from Eglinton by only ten yards.   Their top man was D Fry who had fastest time on the day  with R Pringle, D Kerr and D Aldie making up the team.   The last championship of 1933 was the Scottish YMCA Championship on 16th December where Irvine was fifth behind Kirkcaldy, Motherwell,Paisley amd Glasgow YMCA’s.   (Pringle, Aldie, McCulloch and Storrar were the men responsible.   Into the new year and in the District Championships and the club was eighth with D Aldie the top man in 101th place.   There was no team from Irvine in the National Senior Championship but D Fry ran as an individual and crossed the line in 26th place.   Nor were there any team or individual in the Youth event.   

The championship results from 1934-35 to the start of the War in 1939 can be looked at in tabular form.

Date Event Team Position Comments
24/11/1934 South West Relay 6th D Fry 5th fastest
8/12/34 Ayrshire Relay 3rd McCulloch/Aldie/Ferguson/Fry
15/12/34 YMCA Championships 5th
2/2/1935 South West Championship 8th
2/3/35 National cross-country No Team
31/11/35 Ayrshire Relay 3rd Ferguson/ Pringle/ Bell/ D Aldie
14/12/35 YMCA Championship 2nd Ferguson/Pringle/McCulloch/Bell
8/2/1936 South West Championship 2nd Ferguson/ Aldie/Pringle/ McCulloch Ferguson/Bell
7/3/36 National cross-country No Team
21/11/36 South West Relay 6th Pringle/McCulloch/Bell/Ferguson
5/12/36 Ayrshire Relay 4th Ferguson/McCulloch/D Aldie/Pringle
6/2/1937 South West Championship 1st Waldie/M Ferguson/Pringle/McCulloch/Fulton/J Ferguson
6/3/37 National cross-country No Team
20/11/37 South West Relay 7th Pringle/Aldie/Nairn/J Ferguson
4/11/37 Ayrshire Relay 4th
18/11/37 YMCA Championship 5th Kilpatrick/Nairn/Dyer/Bell
5/2/1938 South West Championship No Team
12/3/38 National cross-country No Team 3 Youths entered:Stewart/Clark/Hall
5/12/38 Ayrshire Relay 5th B Team 5th/A 10th
17/12/38 YMCA Championships 5th Sproul/Kilpatrick/M Ferguson/Main
6/2/1939 South West Championship No Team
4/3/39 National cross-country No Team

This brings us up to the end of the last complete cross-country season before the 1939 – 45 War.   There was some athletics held in those years but athletics proper did not restart in Scotland until after the War.   We will pick up the story again in 1947.

The club picked up slowly after the War and there was no team from the club in the South West District Championship in Fenruary 1947, nor in either Novice Championships or District Relay in November and December 1947, and no team in the Senior National in March 1948 although there were three Youths in that race.   They were Hollas, McLeod and Raeside.   There had been a team in the District Championships on 7th February 1948 which finished sixth with runners placed 16th, 24th, 25th, 31st, 51st, and 54th.   These places are noted because the change that took place over the 1948-49 season was so dramatic.   It was called Tom McNeish.

The first championship of the winter was always the National Novice Championship in November and on the twentieth November 1948, Irvine was third = (with HMS Caledonia) of 35 teams in the event.   More to the point, Tom McNeish won the race and there were eight men racing.   He was described as ‘the well-built Tom McNeish’ by Emmet Farrell in the ‘Scots Athlete’ magazine and he went from strenth to strength that winter.   The others in the team that day in the Novice Championships were E Allan 21st, J Lawson 28th and D Lawson 51st.   The South West Relay was held on 4th December that year and the team was down in sixth place despite McNeish running second fastest time of the day.   How so?   J Lawson gave the club a lead on the first leg and D Lawson dropped one place on the second but they were still in contentio before the third leg runner, J Jackso, had a fall and as the report said, ‘put them out of the running’ despite a sterling effort by their top man.   The Ayrshire Harriers Clubs Association had their championships at Dalmellington on 18th December and Irvine YMCA won firly comfortably with a team of E Allan, D Lawson, J Lawson and T McNeish who had the fastest time of the day.   It was into 1949 and the first championship was the District Championships at Kilmarnock where McNeish won by 500 yards from internationalist Tom Stevenson of Wellpark Harriers..    The team took their cue from him and won the team race – J Lawson 8th, D Lawson 12th, E Allan 13th, H Diamond 18th and D Clotworthy 24th.   It was all good stuff with very good team performances and an outstanding runner in McNeish.   The club could have been expected to have a good turn out in the National Championships at Hamilton on 5th March.   But unfortunately not.  There was no team in either the Senior or Youth races, McNeish ran exceptionally well to be fourth in the Senior race and gain selection for the International, and there were two runners in the Youth race entered as individuals – A Diamond 26th and D Clotworthy 51st.   Emmet Farrell in the @Scots Athlete’ was most impressed with McNeish’s run and said as much in the April 1949 issue of the magazine:

“Tom McNeish was with the leaders right from the start and at one stage of the last lap looked as if he might pull off a surprise victory That he tired somewhat in the latter stages is no shame to him after such a hard season.   Discreetly handled, and with an easier programme, Mc Neish might prove a phenomenon.   He is a deceptive runner of amazing speed and stamina, and when he acquires more experience may reach even higher heights in long dtsitance running.”

McNeish in the National, 1949:  On the left in both pictures

In the left hand picture, McNeish is running with George Craig and Jim Flockhart in front of Andy Forbes, Jim Fleming, Jimmy Reid and Tom Stevenson; on the right, he is seen on the last lap with Reid and Fleming.   The caption writer draws our attention to the ‘long but powerful limbs’ of McNeish.    He ran in the international at Baldoyle Racecourse in Dublin and finished 44th to be a scorer for the team which finished ssixth.

It had been a very good season for McNeish and his club had run well, backing him up in all sorts of races with the exception of the National.   

Winter of the 1949-50 season started early for Irvine YMCA (1st October) when they entered the McAndrew Relay race at Scotstoun for the first time: the club finished 17th of the 49 teams who completed the course with McNeish their fastest man – but only 5 seconds quicker than J Lawson, the other runners being F Muir and S Cuthbert.   One month later (5th November) they ran in the South West District Relays at West Kilbride where they were third and McNeish had the fourth fastest time of the day.   Then, for the first time in a long time, the club was invited to run in the Edinburgh to Glasgow eight man relay when it was held on 21st November 1949.   They finished 17th with the team, in running order being T Garry (19th of the 22 starters), S Cuthbert (17th), H Kennedy (17th), J Malcolm (16th), H Clotworthy (17th), T McNeish (15th), A McLeod (16th) and D Andrew (17th).   The eleventh Scottis Youths Cross-Country Championship was held at King’s Park in Stirling on 3rd December and the Irvine team of D Andrew (23), H Kennedy (29), F English (79) and H Gibson (108) was 17th of the 20 teams.  There was no team entered for the South West Championships on 4th February but McNeish was out and finished fourth behnd Reid, McLean and Williamson. The National was held on the 4th March and again the Irvine team was absent although McNeish was there, ran well enough to be 16th but not well enough to make the team for the international.   

Irvine YMCA  Part Two