A Galway man was literally on top of the world this week after winning the UVU North Pole Marathon.
Gary Thornton led a field of 35 competitors on Tuesday to take the title in what has been called ‘the world’s coolest marathon’.
The Newcastle native battled deep snow and temperatures of -30C to complete the course in a time of 3 hours 49.29 seconds.
Speaking from Svalbard in Norway, the 33-years-old said that the race was “indescribable”.
In travelling to the event, Gary admitted that he was “going into the unknown”.
“I wasn’t going up there with a target time in my head because it’s so different.”
Even though the event organisers called the conditions “the toughest we ever had”, the race winner revealed that he was feeling a lot better after the marathon than he had expected.
“I feel ok, I thought I’d be pretty tired but I’m not too bad. I feel good having rested since Tuesday,” Gary said.
“We were running on snow, so the damage to your muscles wouldn’t be the same as a normal road race.”
Gary had company on the long trip to the North Pole as his wife, Elaine, also ran in the event, completing the half-marathon. He finished just 13 minutes behind the race record set by fellow Irishman, Thomas Maguire, in 2007.
According to Galwayman Richard Donovan, the race founder, Gary’s achievement is difficult to compare against past events due to the constantly changing conditions on the North Pole.
However, he said the Galway man’s effort was “a cracking time” considering the conditions.
“The guy Gary finished ahead of is a very good runner and he finished a long way in front of him,” Richard said.
Temperatures were hitting -30C when the competitors set off on the 26.2 mile looped circuit.
Gary said that ice formed across his eyes during the race, the only part of his skin that was exposed.
“I went up there not thinking I’d need a facemask but thankfully I made the decision before the race to wear one,” he revealed.
The primary school teacher said temperatures ‘warmed’ to around -20C during the race. While the snow was soft underfoot, it meant that the marathon became more challenging as the race continued.
While one would think that the athletes would be thankful for the rising temperatures, it actually proved a hindrance to them.
“As the temperature rose, the course became softer. The snow started to disintegrate and it became really difficult for the racers,” Gary explained.
He described the snow as “very deep” by the end of the race.
“As people were going round the circuit it was breaking up and coming up over your knee,” he said.
“The section running along the camp runway was the best bit as it was solid ice.”
The race’s remote location meant that event organisers had to send out a crew to scout a route for the marathon.
“Once we found that, Russian paratroopers were air-dropped with a tractor to prepare the runway and camp,” Gary said.
He believes that the race is probably the only one where a man with a rifle is required to protect the competitors from the threat of polar bears.
“The race is an adventure where running is only a secondary element,” Richard added.
The marathon began at midnight local time on Tuesday and finished in the early hours of the morning.
For most people, a marathon beginning at midnight would conjure images of competitors racing through the night. However, Gary explained that the race’s unique location meant that this late start was possible.
“It’s bright all the time at the North Pole this time of year so we were able to race through the night,” he said.
When he is not running over the Arctic Ocean, the 33-years-old is a teacher at Claddagh NS. He was quick to praise his employers for their support.
“The school have been outstanding in terms of helping me with my career. I’m working as part of a job-share at the moment which has me working three days a week,” he said.
The former Irish 10,000m track champion’s flexible working hours allow him to continue the training required to compete in top level athletics.
After narrowly missing out on qualification for the London Olympics, Gary fully intends to return to more traditional athletic events in the coming months.
“I have altitude training in France in two weeks and I have track races coming up in the Summer. I feel fit and strong, I’ve been doing a lot of gym work in the last six weeks,” he said.
Paedophile sentenced to a further 17 months in prison
A convicted paedophile, described by a Garda as ‘a prolific child abuser’, has had a 17-month prison sentence added to a 13-year sentence he is already serving for the rape and sexual abuse of children.
Disgraced primary school teacher and summer school bus driver, 69-year-old Seosamh Ó Ceallaigh, a native of Tuirín, Béal a’ Daingin, Conamara, had at all times denied two charges of indecently assaulting a ten-year-old boy at a Gaeltacht summer school in Béal a’ Daingin in 1979.
The offence carries a maximum two-year sentence.
A jury found him guilty by majority verdict following a four-day trial at Galway Circuit Criminal Court last month.
At his sentence hearing last week, Detective Paul Duffy described Ó Ceallaigh as a prolific child abuser who had amassed 125 child abuse convictions, committed while he was a primary school teacher in Dublin and while he operated an Irish language summer school in Beal a’ Daingin.
They included convictions for rape and sexual assault for which he is currently serving sentences totalling 13 years.
Those sentences were due to expire in August 2024, but last week, Judge Rory McCabe imposed two, concurrent 17-month sentences on Ó Ceallaigh, before directing the sentences begin at the termination of the sentences he is currently serving.
The judge noted Ó Ceallaigh’s denial and lack of remorse and the lifelong detrimental effect the abuse had on the victim as aggravating factors.
Dismay as marine park proposal rejected by planners
A lifeline project, with the potential to create around 200 long-term jobs in an area of South Connemara ravaged by unemployment and emigration, has been rejected by planners – primarily environmental grounds.
The proposed marine park or Páirc na Mara, east of Cill Chiaráin village, was viewed by many as a real chance to turn the tide for this unemployment blackspot.
Locals – and the vast majority of Galway West politicians – were supportive of the project which was viewed as one that would revitalise the area.
That said, Galway County Council’s decision to refuse permission for the marine park was welcomed by Galway Bay Against Salmon Cages which had expressed fears that the marine farm would extract huge amounts of fresh water to breed more than 1.5 million salmon smolts.
They said that millions of litres of fresh water would have been extracted on a regular basis by the salmon farm company operating the smolt rearing units – from the same lakes as the Carna and Cill Chiaráin water supply system.
“Local residents can now rest assured that their domestic water supply won’t be hijacked to line the pockets of people who have no regard for the local environment or residents,” said Billy Smyth, Chairman of Galway Bay Against Salmon Cages.
It was proposed to provide a marine innovation park Pairc na Mara on a 60-acre brownfield site at Cill Chiarain.
The development involves the provision of a number of marine-based facilities as well as education and research facilities in the townlands of Cill Chiarain, Ardmore and Calvary.
It involves the abstraction of water from Lough Scannan, its transfer to and temporary storage in Iron Lake along with impoundment and pumping to the Marine Park site with a rising main.
According to the application, Galway County Council has previously granted planning permission for aquaculture-based activities on the site of the proposed marine park back in 2002 while the first phase of the innovation park was built in 2005.
There were a considerable number of submissions supporting the application with many saying that this part of Connemara would benefit greatly from such a development.
But there were others who expressed concern over the potential impact it would have on the environment, and it would be located in a highly sensitive area.
Cllr Gerry King said that it was a valuable opportunity lost to the area given the amount of unemployment that exists. He added that there was local outrage at the decision.
The Fianna Fail councillor met with those behind the project and residents in support of the project. He said that they all agreed that this decision should be appealed to the higher planning authority.
It was refused on the basis that it would adversely affect the integrity and conservation objectives of the European sides in the vicinity of environmental value.
Planners stated that they could not be certain that the project would not adversely affect the integrity of Cill Ciaran Bay, the islands and Connemara bog complex
They also said that the Environmental Impact Assessment Report did not present a sufficient level of information on the impact it would have on human health, biodiversity, land, soil, water along with cultural heritage and the landscape.
Council rules that honey business is in Special Area of Conservation
A North Connemara beekeeper has expressed his dismay at the County Council’s refusal to issue an exemption to allow him proceed with an apiary on farmlands at Rossadillisk.
Tom Termini, who has lived in the area for the past 25 years, purchased the lands just off the coastline with the intention of beekeeping there, but plans to expand have come to a halt after an enforcement order was issued by the Council last Summer.
Mr Termini said he had been of the understanding that the 20msq agricultural storage building which was portable in nature would not require planning permission because of its agricultural purpose and its location on appropriately zoned lands.
However, after receiving a letter from the Council, he engaged the services of an engineer who recommended seeking a Declaration of Exemption from planning.
“The area is located in a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) so we engaged the services of another engineer who carried out an Environmental Impact Assessment and it was found it would have no impact,” said Mr Termini.
The report, compiled by Delichon Ecology, states that there are 17 sites protected by European SAC status within 15km of the proposed development, but concludes that ‘the completed groundworks and proposed agricultural building, either individually or in combination with other projects and plans, is not likely to have a significant impact on any European site’.
Mr Termini said no explanation as to why his application was refused was forthcoming, but that he had since applied for retention on the partially completed structure.
“After I invested in the property, I started down the route of setting up the apiary because I had one when I was in the States, and I’m a member of the local association. I decided to build a bigger shed so we could expand beyond being a service to have a product offering,” said Mr Termini who owns and operates Bluedog Honey.
He said the company would bring economic benefits to what was a small, rural area and the lands he owned were 90% bog, unsuited to many other forms of agriculture.
“We’d hoped to have it up and running by February 2020, but the pandemic set that back and then we got the letter from the Council as works were progressing towards opening this February.
“This facility would not impact on the area – other than using water to wash natural matter, there is no discharge – I’m perplexed by it all really,” said Mr Termini.
An application for retention of the structure was sent to Galway County Council this month, with a decision due by August 15.
Mr Termini said he would be forced to appeal to An Bord Pleanála if this application was turned down, but said he was being assisted by local Councillor Eileen Mannion, whom he said supported enterprise in the area.
“This has been going on for 18 months and really, what I want to do is get to the next stage where we can grow the business and deal with the stresses that come with that – not this,” said Mr Termini.