Athletics community bids final farewell to Cyril

THE athletics community will come together this afternoon for the funeral Mass of Cyril O’Boyle, the first Donegal man to win the All Ireland Senior men’s cross country.
Aged 91 years, Cyril who lived in Breenagh, Glenswilly, with his wife Noreen (nee Conaghan) passed away in Letterkenny University Hospital on Tuesday following a short illness.
On his return home following a fourth place finish in the 10,000m event for over 75s at the world tests in Australia, Cyril took some time out to speak to the Donegal News about those heady days which culminated in him winning Ulster Junior and Senior and National Junior and Senior titles in 1951, an achievement that has not been equalled since.
Cyril O’Boyle, who was born in Kincasslagh on February 23, 1926, had been running since he was 16 years of age. Having emigrated to the United States as an infant, he returned to Donegal, and Drumany, on the death of his grandfather when he was seven years old.
The family had a farm and like most people of his generation, school was not the number one priority.
A couple of years working in St Conal’s Hospital was followed by a short spell in England before Cyril and his wife Noreen settled in Scotland with their two daughters Moira and Pat.
Having taken early retirement at the age of 54, the couple moved back to Donegal and Breenagh to a small cottage they bought and renovated a number of years earlier.
Situated just eight miles from Letterkenny, a few hundred yards off the Glenties road, the O’Boyle house was a warm and friendly place. At the time of my visit Cyril’s running gear had just been washed and was drying above the warmth of an open fire in a renovated old barn.
“This is where I come to relax. There’s no television. I listen to the radio and read away at books and magazines,” he told the Donegal News.
exercise bike
At that time Cyril still used to run for up to an hour every day while he also enjoyed spending time ‘going nowhere’ on an exercise bike. His daughter bought him a weight lifting bench for his 70th birthday.
“I can’t understand people who say that they get bored exercising. It’s all about focusing the mind. I enjoy nothing more than the buzz of a good workout,” he said.
While modern day athletes run up to 100 miles per week in training, Cyril rarely ran more than 25 to 30 miles per week when he was at his prime.
What he forgot to mention however is that he used to cycle around the county and further afield to take part in races.
“I remember jumping off the bike one day in Derry as the boys were about to start a race. I managed to win it before cycling back home,” he said.
With money prizes of £1 or £2 for the ‘main event’ at Sports Days around the county, they were races worth winning.
“That money allowed me to travel to Dublin to take part in the national championships as I was getting little or no money working on the farm.”
While in Scotland he won many of the top races in the Scottish calendar and was selected to run for Scotland in San Sebastian only to be told that he wasn’t in the country long enough to qualify.
“They said that they would let me run the next year but I never bothered,” he said.
Ironically, his late daughter Moira O’Neill did represent Scotland – in San Sebastian – a number of years later.
“Moira won the Dublin City Marathon in a time of 2:27:06 back in 1988. She was fine runner,” he said proudly.
Winner of national titles on the track over one, two and three miles, Cyril remembers that there were no tartan tracks in those days.
“They were grass tracks and if it was a wet day the field would be well muddy by the time the cyclists had finished on it,” he said.
Members of the St Eunan’s GAA club once pegged out a mile course around the old pitch and they watched on in awe as Cyril completed in course in four minutes 30 seconds.
“I used to do 40 laps of the pitch in training and each player would do two or three laps with me to keep me company,” he said.
He put his success down the years to hard work, dedication and some natural ability.
Predeceased by his daughter Moira, he is survived by his wife Noreen and daughter Pat. His funeral Mass takes place today, Friday, at  noon in St Columba’s Church, Glenswilly, with burial afterwards in Killpheak Cemetery.

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