Strabane - Recreation Park

Railway Street : BT82 8EQ Strabane - Recreation Park : Image credit PRONI
The first sports facility in Strabane was set up in 1892 by William Orr, the organiser of the Strabane annual shows, who formed a company called the Strabane Recreation Park Committee. The company acquired a seven acre plot of land near the railway, enclosed the ground and built a 580 yards banked cinder bicycle track which enclosed cricket and football pitches. There were facilities for tennis courts and a 200 seater grandstand with dressing rooms was built. It was considered to be "one of the completest places in Northern Ireland for the purposes for which it is intended."

Strabane Cycling Club had been formed in March 1887 with its headquarters in the Commercial Hotel, it's president was the Duke of Abercorn. The club started with road racing at the outset, which proved very popular with the public. At the 1890 road race, it was suggested that, if £200 could be raised, a cinder cycle track could be built at the Abercorn Road Showground. Immediately after the road races, there was meeting to discuss the building of a new recreation park, with a cycle track, which was warmly supported by those present, several of whom promised £5 each towards the project.

The Recreation Park opened on June 11th 1892 (postponed from Whit Monday) with a large sports meeting where there were 10 running and athletics events and 6 bicycle races. Middle marker William Roulston YMCACC, won the 1 and 3 miles open handicap races. The 1 mile local novices handicap was won by Russell Orr from Strabane and the 2 miles open handicap (pneumatics barred) by R McFarlane Omagh CC. CB Jones from Lurgan won the 5 miles open handicap, off scratch.

The Strabane annual athletic sports were held May 22nd 1893 at Recreation Ground with racing held under the rules of the Irish Amateur Athletic and Irish Cyclists' Association. There were 14 running and field events and 5 bicycle races which were organised by Strabane Cycling Club. In the one mile bicycle open handicap race, Charles M Boyton of Derry CC, off 10 yards, was first and won a barometer. There was a Strabane members one mile handicap race with five competitors, racing for a gold medal. In the two miles open handicap race Samuel Steele of Armagh was first and won a carriage clock. He also was second in the five miles event and third in the one and three miles races and was described by the Tyrone Constitution as "a dangerous rival in local circles in the near future." FO Maxwell of LCC and Strabane CC won both the 3 and 5 miles open handicap races off scratch.

The Whit Monday sports became an annual event. Football matches were a regular feature at the Recreation Ground.

On September 9th 1893 there was a meeting that featured five cycling events but the attendance at the event was disappointingly poor. The success of the day was the performance of a comparatively unknown Strabane wheelman, John Kerlin. He won the gold medal in the club mile race, the open five miles race in 14m 5s and the cup for the best all round performance. The Strabane CC sports continued at the Recreation Park in 1894, with six athletics and six bicycle races, although attendance was again disappointing.

The Strabane Show was held in the Recreation Park in 1894 and featured five miles handicap races on 25th and 26th July, organised by Strabane CC, with a gold lever watch as first prize. Also in 1894, Strabane organised 3 and 5 miles races at Raphoe Show, some 11 km from Strabane.

Strabane annual sports continued in the late 1890's and in 1895 the five miles Ulster Championship was included in the meeting.

The Derry Journal reported on a serious accident that occurred at the sports meeting on June the 29th 1896 during the 5 miles bicycle championship of Ulster race. Thomas Mallon was sprinting for the line against M Boyton when a bookmaker, Patrick Meenan rushed out of the crowd and kicked Mallon's wheel, throwing him to the ground. Mallon was badly hurt and Meenan found himself in court charged with assault and grievous bodily harm, Meenan admitted being drunk. The case was sent to the Assizes.

In 1898, the 10 miles championship of Ireland was included in the annual sports. Following the 1899 meeting, the committee of the Strabane CC were severely criticised by the Strabane Chronicle as "useless nonentities...lazy individuals..." The attendance was not as large as expected, put down to the high admission charges.

Cycling magazine of June 18th 1898 described the 10 miles championship race "This event was run off at the Strabane sports on 9th inst., when most of the Irish middle distance cracks put in an appearance. Two preliminary heats were necessary to ensure safety in the race itself. The final heat brought out Oswald, Kerr, Robertson, Goss, Harley, and R. Reynolds, and most of these shared the pacing; the race was a fast one. Beginning the last lap, Oswald took command, closely pressed by Goss, but the former falling at the turn for home, a desperate finish between Goss and Robert Reynolds ended in a wheel win for the latter in 27 mins. 42 secs., not bad when the poor track is considered. R Reynolds is a younger brother of Harry Reynolds, one of the few Irish professional riders."

In 1899 the Recreation Park was under a new system of management and in 1904 the Strabane Recreation Park Company was struck off. Sports continued at the ground through 1900 and then bicycle racing at the Park stopped after the Strabane Show on 30th & 31st July 1902.

After a gap of some years, there was bicycle racing at the Park on Easter Monday 1909 and then in 1911 there was just one bicycle race, over three miles at the Strabane Sports meeting. This was probably the last bicycle race at the Recreation Park.

Football and cricket continued to be played at the ground in the 1900's and sometime after bicycle racing stopped, the ground was split into a football pitch and a cricket pitch. Strabane Park was re-developed as an ASDA superstore and a new ground called New Strabane Park on Park Road (BT82 8EL) was opened in 2008.


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