We meet the people behind St. Benedict’s Athletic Club
The story of St. Benedict’s Athletic club and the people behind it
IT STARTED with the kids; they never thought that it would come to this.
Arklow's Pat Kavanagh went out for a walk with his children one day and by the time he got back home they, and he, were members of the St. Benedict's Athletic Club.
The children would flourish and compete for a few years but 30 years later, Pat remains, filling the role of Chairperson, working tirelessly, organising, arranging, coaching, helping, driving on a club through all kinds of weather, through all kinds of changes.
Likewise with Breda Dickenson, club secretary and treasurer. Her son discovered the athletics club and that was that.
Now, 31 years later and, according to Pat Kavanagh, she's the heart and soul of the organisation. Pat jokes that his most oft-used statement in his waking life is “yes Breda”. Breda disagrees.
But Breda and Pat, and the other committee members and coaches, Amy Desmond, Tracey Walker, Pat Crotty, Brian Doyle, Lesya Williams Oshun, Max Williams Oshun, and Denise Kavanagh have brought this local club to a position where it is once again thriving and where it is looking towards a fruitful future on and off the track.
“It was started in the late 1960s by Breda Sinnott, Mick Quinn (R.I.P), and Nancy Quinn. They were the three founders. Sean Kinsella came later. There was already a St. John of Bosco club but there was no juvenile club so St. Benedict's was started as a juvenile club,” says Breda Dickenson.
“It was very strong in the beginning and at the moment we are very strong. We have 60 members and we are competing at county level and we hope to have a couple at national level. We went to the Leinster Indoors and all of our athletes performed very well. On May 2 and 3 we have the County Championships,” adds Pat.
The club boasts nine coaches at this moment in time and for the first time in a long time members are staying on past the age of 15. The club now has three 18-year-olds and that is changing everything.
But parents, a.ka. committee members, often move in the same migratory patterns: child joins, parent joins, child leaves, parent leaves. But Pat and Breda remain. What was their inspiration to come back every year? What drove them through the lean times when the club was close to folding and shutting up shop forever?
“We kept the club going as a tribute to Breda Sinnott,” said Pat. “Breda started this club, she was Chairperson of the B.L.O.E which was the forerunner to the A.A.I (Athletics Association of Ireland), she's travelled the world. She retired eight years ago but she's still the Life President of the club and she's on the County Board.
“And over the years we kept it going for the children in the town. To be honest, they kept turning up. Every year you'd be thinking that this was it and then four or five new members would turn up so you'd stay at it,” he added.
“It does come in cycles,” adds Breda. “Athletics in the whole county has increased enormously.
“For us it's the case of a friend brings a friend who brings another friend, that's how we've always worked. We've never went out to try and recruit new members. You're supposed to have one adult for every 10 children so we need the adults and then you can have the children. Now we have the adults,” she added.
So what has their three decades of effort and toil given them in return?
“Great pleasure and enjoyment,” says Breda Sinnott immediately in a tone that suggests she wouldn't change a single thing.
“Outside of doing it for Breda Dickenson we didn't want to see the club go either. We talked about it often. You know we'd have kids turning up and we didn't have the heart to call it a day.
“And now the children of the former members are training with us. We enjoyed it though, and it keeps you young. We have people coming up to us regularly on the street or in pubs going “do you recognise me?” or “howya Pat, howya Breda”. And I wouldn't know, I wouldn't be able to place them and they'd tell me who they were and then you'd remember,” said Pat.
When asked about former members who they recall in terms of exceptional talent there are plenty of names that roll off the tongue.
There was Willie Tyrell who competed in shot putt and discus. Willie works in Arklow still and was a fine talent according to his two former mentors.
There was also javelin thrower Anne-Marie Fennell and a whole host of other runners and field competitors who joined the club, had fun, competed, blossomed and thrived under the guidance of Breda, Pat and all the other people over the years who gave their time and energy to the St. Benedict's Athletic Club.
“We'd like to thank the parents of the town,” said Breda. “It used to be the case that parents just dropped their children off but now they stay and that's so much better for us,” she added.
The St. Benedict's AC meets on Monday and Wednesday from 7pm to 8pm and on Saturday from 10am to 11am at their track, weather permitting, and if not in the sports hall at St. Mary's.
Committee members, coaches, and members of the St. Benedict’s Athletics Club in Arklow.
Founder member of the St. Benedict’s Athletics Club in Arklow - Breda Sinnott.
Pat Kavanagh, Chairman, Emer Dillon, club captain and Breda Dickenson, secretary and treasurer, St Benedict’s Athletic club, Arklow.