Club History: Civil Service Harriers Athletic Club
Civil Service Harriers Athletics Club remains Ireland’s oldest athletic club. Founded in 1867 to compete in the Trinity College Races (see ‘The History of Irish Sport’ by Dr. Cyril White) and (‘Irish Marathon Legends’ by Noel Henry which puts the founding of the club in the 1850’s).
The first athletic club meeting was on Saturday 28th February 1857. Trinity College Dublin (Rugby) Football club held what was termed, ‘The Dublin University Football Club Foot Races’ at College Park. This meeting here after called ‘The College Races’. This is the third oldest athletic meeting in the world. Preceded only by ‘The Royal Military Academy’ at Woolwich London 1842 and ‘Exeter College Oxford’ 1850.
Civil Service Harriers Athletic Club confined membership solely to Civil Servants. In 1867 this club organised a meeting for ‘gentlemen’ in the grounds of the Leinster Cricket Club in Rathmines. 1872 H.W.D. Dunlop founded the ‘Irish Champion Athletic Club’ in 1872 and this club organised the first All-Ireland Athletic Championships in 1873 at College Park.
HWD Dunlop created Lansdowne Road track and the world’s first athletics match took place there in 1876, between England and Ireland.
Bram Stoker the creator of Dracula competed with Civil Service A.C. He was also an accomplished rugby player. He studied at Trinity College and later joined the Civil Service. His father was a minor Civil Servant at Dublin Castle. Photos below depicting a foot race and an athlete performing the long jump at College Park. The long jump was performed over grass and not over sand as today.
The first Civil Service A.C. sports was held in May 1878. And was held up to the 1960’s. It featured many international athletes over the years. In the later years Frank Duffy was the driving force in organising the sports. College Park was the venue most used.
Cross Country Association of Ireland governed athletics.
In the coming years some exceptional athletes competed with Civil Service A.C. namely Hugh S. Hart and his brother Michael (Mick) Hart, they hailed from Sligo, and John Purcell who came from Barefield, near Ennis Co. Clare. In the early 1880’s they joined City and Suburban Harriers Athletic Club, and later on joined Civil Service Harriers.
Hugh S. Hart was also a very good oarsman. He rowed with Commercial Rowing Club. He was picked to Stroke Liffey Cup 4. Rowed number 2 in Visitors Eight, unplaced.
(1881) Ran 3rd in the Half Mile Handicap at Newery Sports, he led City and Suburban Harriers and obtained highest marks in runs, being frequently first and never unplaced. He ran in club handicap off short mark, but when clear of all but Hogg missed the trail.
3rd in Dundalk Harriers Handicap, off 2mins 10secs. 25ran, limit 10mins.
On the winning team in Championship and finishing 6th for Ireland at Dunboyne. May 1882, 3rd in Mile Handicap at Carbury, off 10yards mark. Hugh S. Hart won so many athletic and rowing events, far too many to record here.
Hugh and Michael Hart, and John Purcell joined Civil Service Harriers in 1883. They would compete for CSH over the next 3 years. January 1883: Immediately on joining CSH, Hart won the club handicap easily, off 1:40. Time 24mins, this was a cross country event.
Michael ‘Mick’ Hart, Hugh Hart’s brother ran cross-country with Civil Service Harriers. Interestingly he is one of the many minor characters from real life mentioned in James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’.
Through a Mr. John Simpson, Cheltenham England, we have discovered some relatives of the Hart brothers, (Ann Sulentic). Anne’s mother has a cup which Hugh won in a competition hosted by Civil Service Harriers in 1883.
The following image of Hugh S. Hart is taken from a photograph published in the ‘Irish Sport’ circa. 1880 when he competed with City and Suburban Harriers.
The cross shaped medal that Hugh is wearing was presented at athletic events when an athlete put in an outstanding performance.
Of all the athletes this country has produced John Purcell has to rank not only in Ireland as one of the greatest, but equally prominent internationally.
He competed against the best from England, Canada and the USA and defeated them all on their own athletic fields.
John Purcell was born in Barefield near Ennis, Co. Clare, and came to Dublin in his teens. Between the years 1880 and 1887 he competed for all three athletic clubs. ‘Metropolitan Hurling Club’, ‘Civil Service Harriers Athletic Club’ and latterly ‘Haddington Harriers Athletic Club’ before he emigrated to the USA in 1888.
In his athletic career he truly could be termed an all-rounder. While the hop, step and jump was his premier event he also competed in the following…
100 yards flat and hurdles
120 yards hurdles
220 yards flat
300 yards flat
440 yards flat
600 yards steeplechase
Road Racing (he didn’t excel at cross country)
In trying to define John Purcells achievements and which club he was representing at any time. It is known that in June 1884, he competed in The Caledonian Games, Landsdowne Road, under the colours of The Metropolitan Hurling Club. By October 1884 he was with Civil Service Harriers A.C. before moving to Haddington Harriers in 1886.
In the following paragraphs we are thankful for the research carried out by the following: Dr. Cyril White, Trinity College, Mr Tom Purcell, Grand Nephew of John Purcell. Mr John Simpson, Cheltenham England.
‘’Civil Service Harriers’’
Under the above title this athletic institution is looking forward to a very successful season. A large contingent of members has already enrolled. Civil Servants not yet enrolled, and desirers to join the club, should apply to the hon. Secretary Mr. Frank J. Curran, 7 Palmerston Place.
A run will take place on Saturday 4th October at 3:30pm sharp. The run will start from Williams, Chapelizod. Visitors are invited.
‘’(Freemans Journal, 25th Sept. 1884, Page 7)’’
(Williams were Whiskey Distillers)
Here’s evidence that Purcell ran for CSH.
Purcell was part of the ‘Sport’ Newspapers Irish-American athletic tour of 1885. At the time he ran/competed for CSH.
He stayed with CSH until 1886, when he changed clubs – joining the Haddington Harriers. He clearly ran cross country, but can’t have excelled at it (in comparison with all the other events he did excel at).
The following photograph came from Anne Sulentic in America. She always assumed that the photograph was taken in America where her relative Hugh S. Hart finished his career.
We would like to think that the photo was taken in Dublin in 1886 when Hugh S. Hart was still in Civil Service Harriers colours (amber and black hoops). He moved to Haddington Harriers later that year.
The athlete seated third from the left with three medals is Tom Conneff, who seems to have shot to fame in 1886, before taking on Carter in 1887 and going off to America in 1888.
John Purcell is seated fifth from left. He is aged about 20 years at this stage. He is displaying eight medals. Purcell won eight medals (five first, two second and one third) at the Caladonian meet at Ballsbridge in June 1886.
The photo was taken as a memento at the following Haddington Harriers Cross-Country meet heald at Clonskeagh, at which Conneff and Purcell competed and Hart acted as an official.
In the photo Hugh S. Hart is the athlete lying on the ground in front of the group. He is wearing CSH colours.
In newspaper reports Purcell and Conneff were often referred to as ‘’Harts Novices’’ because Hart coached both athletes to great success.
John Purcell’s departure for America. Extract from the Clare Journal. 17th May 1888.
Sport: Saturday 18thAug.1888
Mr. Hugh S. Harts departure to America, printed in the ‘’SPORT’’ newspaper on Saturday 18th August 1888. The following article was written by Mick Hart, Hugh’s brother. Both of the Harts were journalists. This is just part of a much longer article.
Sketch of John Purcell from 1893.
7th July 1895. London. Three athletes at an event in London made an attempt on the 4 minute mile. Fred Bacon ran 4:17 which was 3 seconds faster than the previous best. William Lutyens ran 4:19 and Charles Montague ran 4:21.
28th Aug. 1895. New York. Thomas Patrick Conneff who was coached by Hugh S. Hart ran the fastest mile of the year in a time of 4 minutes and 15.6 seconds. Conneff at this stage had turned professional.
Thomas Conneff died in October 1912. Hugh Hart had died some years earlier.
The enclosed Photo and documentation show that John Purcell sadly passed away from suicide in 1904. Hugh Hart had died a few years earlier.
San Francisco Call – 12th January 1904
San Francisco Call – 24th January 1904