Lenihan’s Hill – A Monument to an Inspirational Career

Monday evening’s official opening of Lenihan’s Hill was no flash-in-the-pan or Johnny-come-lately of a notion.

In fact, the seeds of the idea were sown nearly as soon as John Lenihan arrived home from Switzerland with that amazing World Mountain Running Championship title in his pocket in September 1991.

At around the same time the excavation work was beginning on the bed of the now superb track and stadium at An Riocht Athletic Club.

Huge chunks of surplus marble and limestone and mounds of earth were being stored down by the river as that rat-a-tat-tat rock-breaking work was going on.

It was decided that a little hilly terrain and test on the training ground would do only good for the athletes of the future.

In a story stranger than fiction, the same John Lenihan found himself working on the construction of the stadium by the early 2000s.  He was more that partly responsible for the final shape of the hill as we know it now.  In early 2003 it was decided to dedicate the mound in honour of  his fantastic achievements in a glittering athletics career.

Then An Riocht AC manager, Denny McSweeney explained what was going one there at the time: “In 1991 when all the excavation work was being carried out on the bed of the running track we thought that we’d put some of it aside and create a mountain or hill with it here. That was the year in which John Lenihan won the World Hill Running Championship in the Swiss Alps and it was very significant for us as he was the only Irish World Champion Athlete at the time.

“Then we thought that rather than presenting him with some piece of glass that would be forgotten we’d honour  his achievements in a more permanent way and here we are today putting the railings on it. Lenihan’s Hill will be used for training purposes or by walkers who need that extra bit of effort in their daily rounds of the River Walk. The hill will also have an inscribed stone to explain its existence and to remember the great feat in1991 by the Toureen, Ballymacelligott sporting hero,”said Denny.

As he spoketo me that evening,  the construction of the railings was going on in the background and John Lenihan himself was working away there along with Moss Jones from Cordal and John Houlihan from Currow.

Fast forward to Monday evening last and a midge infested bank of the River Maine. There John Lenihan stood, at the foot of his hill, listening to an invited list of guest speakers singing his praises and reminding us all of the achievements which led us all to being where we were.

Old friends being best, Denny McSweeney was back behind the mic and organising the speakers leading all the way around to John Lenihan himself. Then his good friends: Mike O’ Shea,  adventurer, public speaker and motivator and Clare O’ Leary an accomplished adventurer were asked to unveil the rock into which the memories of an amazing athletics career are set for generations to come.

The following information on the special guests on the night was kindly supplied by John Lenihan:

Mike O Shea’s climbing career began at the age of 13 when he started climbing in the McGillicuddy Reeks near his home-place in County Kerry, Ireland. His adventurous spirit led him to be one of the first people in Ireland to gain the Gold Gaisce Presidents Award.  From here he went on to climb extensively in the European Alps and internationally. He then went on to volunteer in Kerry Mountain Rescue for 10 years. Mike hasn’t reserved his enthusiasm for just climbing and mountaineering, he is a keen paraglider and paramotorist and was one of the first people to paramotor across the Irish Sea and fly Mizin to Malin Head.  As part of The Ice Project Mike O’ Shea has crossed Lake Baikal in Northern Russia, Chiles North Patagonian Icecap and the Southern Icecap on Kilimanjaro. The summer of 2013 also saw Mike guide seven Irish groups up Kilimanjaro. While in Africa Mike also successfully managed to raise funds for and build an orphanage for local children whose parents died of HIV. Only this week he has organised a team of volunteers to join him pushing a Bumbleance from Dingle to Dublin as part of a fund raising drive for this charity. His awards list reads as follows:  Gold Gaisce Award; Outsider Awards;  Trailblazer of the Year Award; Funded & Built Home Of Hope in Chernobyl; K2 Attempt : 1993 –  3 Cups of Tea expedition’ Mt Aconcagua; 1st Irish Paramotorist to cross the Irish Sea and fly Mizen to Malin head; Deajeon Invitational Open : Paramotoring 25 Years as Specialist Access & Safety Consultant.

Clare O’Leary is an accomplished adventurer with many seasons on the world’s great mountain ranges and polar regions. Clare manages to fit her busy training schedule and expeditions alongside a career as a consultant Gastroenterologist. She is a patron of Cork University Hospital Charity, and in December was honoured in her native Bandon, County Cork by having a walkway named after her. In 2012 Clare was named as one of Ireland’s Top 25 Most Powerful Women and awarded the Trailblazer Award by the Women’s Executive Network.

Clare is the first Irish female to: Climb Mt Everest (2004); Climb the Seven summits – the highest mountain on each Continent; Climb Ama Dablam’ in the Himalayas; Ski across the Greenland Iceland cap; Ski to the South Pole; As part of the Ice Project she has crossed the North Patagonia Ice Cap and Lake Baikal in Siberia.

That’s the kind of company us mere mortals were keeping at the unveiling of the plaque and the dedication of Lenihan’s Hill on an historic Monday evening for Castleisland and An Riocht Athletic Club. ©The Maine Valley Post 8-9-2014