Ardgillan parkrun in Balbriggan, County Dublin, was the seventh parkrun to start in Ireland when it launched in February 2014. Event Director Paul Bissett reveals what makes this event so easy on the eye and hard on the lungs!
Malahide parkrun, the first in Ireland, started in November 2012 and I went along to the third event to see what it was all about. I liked the idea of a free friendly timed run every week and I found a few friends from Balbriggan were already running it and parkrun soon became part of our weekly routine.
Saturday morning meant meeting up with friends, doing a run as fast or not so fast as we felt like, and a nice coffee and chat afterwards. It was a perfect start to the weekend. Pretty soon other parkruns started and we visited them too and found the same friendly atmosphere and people, even though each venue offers its own challenges and attractions.
We have a beautiful park between Balbriggan and Skerries overlooking the Irish Sea, so we thought why not bring parkrun to Ardgillan? It took almost a year of organising, liaising with parkrun Ireland and Fingal County Council, but in February 2014 we became the seventh parkrun in Ireland.
Ardgillan is a beautiful park. I love the fact that we get to run in it with our friends each week and show it off to parkrun tourists. We have grown a real sense of community and I think everyone looks forward to their weekly parkrun followed by a coffee and chat in the castle tea rooms afterwards.
For any parkrun tourists visiting us, there’s no hiding the fact that we have a hill or two but you don’t get the stunning views over the sea to the Mourne Mountains without a bit of elevation! Our course is all on trail paths; it starts at the back of the castle, runs past rose gardens, down through a wooded area to do two loops of the bottom section of the park and finishes running back up to the castle.
As well as our views over the Irish sea as far as the Mourne Mountains in Co. Down and our beautiful castle we also have the main Dublin-Belfast rail line passing along the edge of the park, which we don’t really notice anymore but did cause major excitement to a visiting parkrun ambassador when the Saturday morning express passed by as he was running with us!
I’d like to say our stunning view is the most iconic feature of our course, but it’s probably our finish hill! When we visit other parkruns and say we are from Ardgillan we usually get “Oh that’s the one with the hill at the finish” It’s a nice challenge though and there’s great satisfaction (and refreshments in the castle) when you reach the finish.
We have a lovely event with around 80 people each week, you’ll be made very welcome and the scenery around the course is gorgeous. The castle manager (also a keen parkrunner) calls the the gate into the Demesne the ‘OMG’ gate as that’s the reaction people have when they come through the gate and see the view of the castle, sea and grounds for the first time.
The all-important post-parkrun meet up takes place in the tea rooms in the castle with a great selection of snacks as well as tea and coffee. In summer there is a lovely terrace at the back where you can sit outside amongst the roses and take in the sun. If it’s cooler we get to sit in high ceiling sitting rooms of the castle. Dogs are welcome in the tea rooms too.
The best thing about parkrun is the people you meet, become friends with and share your saturday mornings with, running, volunteering and of course having a coffee with afterwards. It’s wonderful to have had the chance to get to know so many people through parkrun and hear their stories. Two that come to mind are Lisa and Ben.
Lisa I already knew before parkrun as she is my partner. She did some walking but never ran before her first visit to parkrun to see what it was all about and to see why I kept disappearing on Saturday mornings. She walked a few parkruns and then decided to try a bit of running on the downhill sections. Those small bits of running gradually got longer until she was running the whole 5k. Since then she has completed 130 parkruns (catching my total!) in more than 20 locations, volunteered more than 40 times including as a Visually Impaired guide and Run Director. Outside of parkrun she has completed 20 full marathons.
Ben recently featured in a people of parkrun profile. He came up to us for the first time last October with his wife Alison when their daughter Lisa was home visiting from New Zealand. Lisa parkruns in New Zealand and as she was doing the Dublin Marathon that weekend; she volunteered with us and Ben and Alison walked the 5k. They were hooked! Ben has gone from walking the 5k to running it in under 25 minutes and rarely misses a Saturday morning. Alison unfortunately picked up an injury but is back walking with us regularly now too.
Ardgillan parkrun has brought together people from North county Dublin and further afield every Saturday. We regularly have people from Balbriggan, Skerries, Rush, Lusk, Stamullen and all over the county join us for parkrun and become our friends. Since we started, we have seen other local parkruns spring up and we hopefully have been of some help to them, especially the local junior parkruns in Rush and Balbriggan. It’s nice to think that maybe we helped inspire some of our parkrunners to set up another event in the same way that our visits to Malahide parkrun inspired us to start Ardgillan parkrun.
The full parkrun Ireland profile series is here.
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