A Pilgrimage to Visit Marathon Mac

Published in Other News on 25th July 2012

by Peter Delmer

On July 14th 1912 – one hundred years ago – the name of Kennedy Kane McArthur was added to Olympic history when he won the Olympic Marathon, wearing the colours of South Africa, in Stockholm, Sweden.  McArthur was a native of Dervock, County Antrim and had emigrated to South Africa in 1901 aged 20 years old.

I discovered this two weeks ago as I was planning my long run for the next morning, over a Beef and Guinness stew, in Portrush on the Antrim Coast Road.  My son Aaron and I were on a road trip around the coast of Northern Ireland for a few days.  Reading a local tourism newsletter over dinner, I realised that McArthur’s marathon centenary was only days away, and that the village of Dervock was within running distance – I made up my mind and planned my Pilgrimage.

Marathon Mac was 6’3” and weighed over 12 stone, not your typical long-distance whippet.  His 1912 Olympic Marathon took place in sweltering heat, but by the final stages McArthur and his team mate Chris Gitsham, were in the lead.  When Gitsham stopped for water, McArthur ran on and opened a lead.  As he reached the finish line, he almost collapsed when a well-intentioned Swedish spectator placed a huge garland around his shoulders.  With cries of “Come on Antrim” reaching his ears from the crowd he managed to cross the line as Olympic Champion in 2 hours 36 minutes and 54.8 seconds.

My own 18.7 mile run was a lot less dramatic, and a lot less speedy.  Starting at the majestic ruins of Dunluce Castle, I rambled along the coast through Portballintrae and turned south to pass the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery. A few more pleasant miles of rolling Antrim farmland brought me to Marathon Mac’s home village of Dervock.

No time to stop and see the sights, I headed north again towards the coast.  This being the longest run I’ve managed in three years, I re-experienced the old pleasant sensation of feeling completely detached from my legs on the slight incline back up to Dunluce Castle. Whoever’s legs they were, they kept moving until I dropped into my waiting car seat and offered it up to the memory of KK McArthur.

In the cool Antrim morning there wasn't a Swedish spectator, or a garland of any description, in sight.


always interesting to hear the old stories, and there are a lot of them