It’s hard to remember the last time that the annual Flagstaff to Carlingford Mountain Race took place on a bright sunny, mist and rain free day. While the forecast for Sunday 19th June promised that the sun would come out in the afternoon from behind the cloud, the conditions greeting runners as they arrived for registration was far from promising with cloud building up over Sl Foy and a constant drizzle of rain.

However, by race time the sun was out and stayed out to make life that much better for the runners. There was an excellent turnout of 68 runners all of whom made it to the finish. The pre-entry was about 75 but the no shows reduced that number.

The Flagstaff to Carlingford race is essentially a traverse of the entire Cooley Mountain range including the formidable Slieve Foy at the end. However, despite the clear visibility the race poses lots of navigational problems with route choice a big issue.

After the runners were deposited by the bus at the start following a pleasant drive along Carlingford Lough the race got underway at 11.00am and soon there was a colourful stream of runners making their way up the steep climb to the summit of Anglesey Mountain. Armagh AC’s Paul McAnespie was first to the control in 16.34 followed by 2014 winner Jonny Steede in 16.43. Mourne Runners athletes Adam Cunningham and Timothy Johnston were next in 16.50 and 16.52 respectively. Armagh AC’s Lorcan Vallely was next through lying 5th in 18.37 with clubmate Keith Johnston 10th on 20.5. As the leaders headed across off Anglesey to Clermont Mountain the rest of the field came through in colourful pursuit.

Paul McAnespie dipped at checkpoint two in 21.28 with Jonny Steede Glens AC second on 21.44 and Mourne AC’s Timothy Johnston now third on 21.46. Adam Cunningham lost a bit of ground here coming through in 4th with a time of 21.56.

Armagh’s Lorcan Vallely held onto 5th in 24.23 with clubmate Keith Johnston moving up to 9th with a time of 25.35.


At checkpoint 3 at Clermont Cairn Timothy Johnston began to take control of the race moving into 1st arriving at the cairn in 29.47 followed by Jonny Steede on 30.05 a full 18 seconds down on the Mourne AC athlete. Armagh’s Paul McAnespie improved his placing to come third close behind Steede in 30.08 with Adam Cunningham fading a bit to come through fourth in 30.27. Lorcan Vallely lost a place here to 6th with a timing of 33.29 while clubmate Keith Johnston also dropped one place to 10th in 35.30.


Markethill athlete running for Newry AC Esther Dickson dominated the women’s race from start to finish despite having recently run a number of hard races including a marathon. At checkpoint one she came through in the impressive time of 20.41 and maintained her position reaching checkpoint two in 26.39. She powered through the 3rd checkpoint at Clermont Cairn in 36.56 and from then on she controlled the women’s race arriving at the 4th checkpoint in 51.28 and the Long Women’s Grave in 63.34. At this checkpoint which represents about two thirds of the race the runners are faced with an almost vertical climb from the road up to the Foxes Rock after which they have to negotiate the Raven’s Crag before getting onto the slopes leading to the 6th checkpoint at the summit trig point on Slieve Foy. This stretch of the mountain presents many possible route choices and its where careful route preparation pays up.

In second and third place in the women’s race were Karalee McBride from Glenmore AC in 2Hrs 15.36 and Debbie McConnell Jog Lisburn AC 2Hrs 19.15.


The two Mourne runners Timothy Johnston and Adam Cunningham opted to go straight over the Raven’s Crag while Jonny Steede contoured to the east and others contoured west on a route broken up by a number of waterfalls.

The placings at the Long Woman’s Grave were Timothy Johnston first in 51.21, Jonny Steede 52.34, Adam Cunningham 52.43, Paul McAnespie 53.04, Lorcan Vallely 57.19 for 5th place.

The race was then on for the summit of Slieve Foy reached by Timothy Johnston in 1hr.26.24 with team mate Adam Cunningham next in 1hr29.58 with Jonny Steede 3rd in 1hr30.05 Paul McAnespie was 4th in 1hr33.20. Lorcan Vallely had lost some ground to come over the top in 7th in 1hr40.45 while his Armagh AC team mate Keith Johnston was 10th in 1hr42.59.


The Slieve Foy descent is one of the steepest in the mountain running calender dropping 1900’ to sea level and demands extraordinary skill and daring as well as leg strength and sheer luck to avoid serious injury. Timothy Johnston displayed all those talents with a split time of 11.34 from the summit to the finish line. Jonny Steede the former winner from 2014 rose to the occasion with a split of 11.50 to finish second well clear of Adam Cunningham on 12.37. Paul McAnespie held onto 4th to record a finishing time of 1.48.05. In 5th was Newry AC’s Maurice Harte in 1hr 49.36. There was little separating the next 5 runners led by John Marrs in 1hr51.51, Donal McMorland Unattached in 1.55.14, Lorcan Vallely in 1hr 55.19. Lorcan picked up a bad injury on the descent which saw him in the South Tyrone Hospital the next morning getting bandaged from his foot to his knee and told not to run for the next 4 to 6 weeks. However despite his injury he was able to hold off serious challenges from Jonathan McCloy BARF on 1hr55.21, Ronan Davison-Kernan BARF on 1Hr55.29 and Armagh AC’s Keith Johnston on 1.55.39. Special mention should go to Pete Grant of Newcastle AC who recorded 2.01.22 to win the M50 category.


Armagh AC won the men’s team with Paul McAnespie 4th, Lorcan Vallely 8th, Keith Johnston 11th and Gareth Kelly 16th for a points total of 39. Armagh AC had two other finishers Ciaran McQuade 39th in 2hrs17.20 and Ronan McBride 53rd in 2hrs35.48. Mourne runners took 2nd team with a points total of 54 while 3rd team went to Newry AC on 79 points. Newcastle AC was the final full scoring team with 113 points.


The Masters awards went as follows MV40 – John Marrs Glens AC, MV45 Paul McAnespie Armagh AC, Mv50 Pete Grant Newcastle AC, MV55 Dale Mathers, Mv6 Paul Le Blanc and MV70 Ricky Cowan. For the woman FV45 was Karen Wilton Jog Lisburn AC and FV55 Denise Mathers Mourne Runners.


Armagh AC organised the race under the direction of Lorcan Vallely in his first role as Race Director. He was backed up by a team of dedicated officials who marshalled the various checkpoints, start and finish and catering after the race. The team included James Vallely, Mark McKeown, Julieanne McKeown, Julie O’Neill, Fearghal Delaney and family, Oonagh Haughey, Fiona Kearney, Conor Hamilton and James Brannigan. The catering was managed by Eithne and Maire Vallely. Brian Vallely was starter. Special thanks goes to James Carr who monitored the race and produced a detailed spreadsheet of everyone’s time including split times at all the checkpoints.

Paul McAnespie went the extra mile for the race going up Anglesey Mountain the day before the race to build a new style to replace the dangerous earlier model which served for many years gradually starting to become a hazard.

Thanks also to Ricky Cowan who represented NIMRA at the race and assisted with the prize giving.

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