Portadown - Athletic Club track
People's Park Park Road : BT62 1ED
Portadown - Athletic Club track : Map credit National Library of Scotland Portadown - Athletic Club track : Image credit Wiki Commons The People's Park was set up around 1870 on land given by the Duke of Manchester. Portadown Athletic Club was formed in 1884 and they set up their own sports ground in the Park, which they leased from Portadown Town Board. The club constructed an unbanked cinder track 440 yards around and received donations of cinders from local companies. The track was built over the old cricket pitch.

The club held its first sports in the Park on September 9th 1884 with three bicycle races; a club handicap over two miles and two and four miles open handicap races. Entrance cost one shilling or two shillings for the grandstand.

The Athletic Club meeting became an annual event each August and the club tried rigorously to prohibit betting at their meetings. Arthur Du Cros of Dublin was riding at the 1885 meeting, he would later become joint managing director of Dunlop Pneumatic tyres.

Bicycle races at the Athletic Club meetings became more popular and by 1888 there were five races, the top event being the 25 miles Championship of Ireland. At the 1890 meeting, Count Stadniki, the Polish champion from Dublin, won the 10 miles Irish Championship race. The following year RJ McCredy won the 10 miles Irish Championship and in 1892, Du Cros was the winner.

The Marriott Cycle Company presented the club with a cup in 1893, to be competed for annually in a two miles scratch race, this trophy was known as the Marriott Challenge Cup. By this time, the track was described as "well banked" and the Belfast Newsletter reported in 1894 that the banking and track surface had been improved since the previous season.

Bicycle racing at the Park continued to be popular in the 1890s and meetings could attract up to 5,000 spectators. In 1895, the club was warned by Portadown Town Board to do everything that they could to discourage betting at future sports meetings.

The Athletic club was in a good financial position in 1896 and they promised to improve the track. The annual meeting was moved from August to June in 1897, but unfortunately it rained all day and attendance was poor. This was to be the last bicycle racing at the Public Park, as a new road, called Park Road, was built through the park and the cinder track was lost.

At some point, probably after WWII, a new brick dust cycle track was built in the People's Park, but the track suffered from subsidence and was not used at all in 1950 or 1951. In 1951 Borough Wheelers complained to the Council that the track surface was deteriorating. Borough Wheelers were pressing the Council in 1952, through the press "Unless the present brick dust is removed and a hard surface such as asphalt is laid down no cycling championships will be held on the track." The 1952 NCU Racing Handbook described the track as "Brick dust, 440 yards, 18 feet wide, banked to 5' 6", For the use of inhabitants of Portadown".

In July 1952, the Council decided to relay the track with tarmac at a cost of £890. The work was duly carried out and the track opened on June 6th 1953. The 1955 NCU Racing Handbook described the track as "Bituminous macadam, 440 yards, 18 feet wide, banked to 5' 6", For the use of inhabitants of Portadown".

The opening meeting on the new track was organised by Borough Wheelers and included the NCU Northern Ireland half mile championship. A further half mile race was limited to Mid-Ulster clubs and the winner received the newly donated Hercules Cycles challenge trophy.

The Borough Wheelers organised an ‘all cycling' meeting on August 15th 1953 which featured a 1,000 metres All-Ireland Championship race, won by Dublin rider Jim McQuaid* of Emerald CC. Cycle racing continued throughout the 1950s and in early June 1960 a Portadown Cycling Week was held with road and track cycle races and entertainment over the whole week. Cycling Week was repeated in 1961 but this was to be the last cycle racing at the Park.

The 12 acre People's Park is still a popular recreational facility in Portadown.

* Jim McQuaid had a long and successful racing career followed by coaching and administration service to the sport. McQuaid's son Pat played an active park in cycling administration and became the president of the UCI from 2005 to 2013.

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Maps    : National Library of Scotland