Bertie Messitt – A personal remembrance
On Tuesday February 21st 2012, Bertie Messitt was laid to rest in Shanganagh Cemetery following a long illness. He was 83. Once described as ‘Ireland’s greatest ever distance runner’, a guard of honour comprised of athletes, journalists and officials welcomed him to the church in Shankill.
For all of us who knew Bertie, he will be remembered as a great and gentleman athlete.
Bertie, as a founder in 1977 of the Donnybrook Athletic Club (C.I.E) was inspirational in the setting up of the BHAA in ‘79/’80 and the 1st Dublin City Marathon in October 1980 and went on to compete in many subsequent BHAA races (He clocked 24.14 in the Collen Bros/Readymix road race in East Wall in July 1981, 17seconds behind yours truly but then I had 22 years on him!).
He discovered his running ability in the Army before joining CIE as a bus conductor and becoming well known on the No. 10 bus. A training routine consisted of running from his home in Shankill to Donnybrook in the morning and home in the evenings. For years he was a member of Donore Harriers and dominated Irish middle and long distance running.
He represented Ireland in the Rome Olympics in 1960 in the marathon and led to 20 miles before exhaustion set in. In the year 1958 he broke 9 national records and represented Ireland in the European championships in Stockholm in the 5K and 10K.
In 1987 he appeared in an edition of RTE’s ‘Pet World’ dealing with how runners should react to loose and bothersome dogs!
In 1988 Frank Slevin and Bertie invited me to go as part of a 5 man team, with Frank Greally and Frank Broughal, to the New York Marathon. It turned out to be one of the most eventful week-ends in my athletic career. It seems our registration was not quite in order. We made an impassioned plea to the race director, Fred Le Bow, to no avail. We then went on New York radio and made an impassioned appeal on Adrian Flannery’s Irish Radio Network (I had had Adrian on a ‘Bibi’ show sometime prior). We must have been very convincing as we were swamped with race numbers from athletes who had entered but couldn’t run. The appeal was also heard in other quarters. We were wined and dined and given a police escort by some of New York’s finest in the New York Police Force courtesy of Sgt. Joe Toal. We were taken to the office of the mayor of New York, Ed Koch, who wished us all well on the day. We all completed the marathon fulfilling our pledge to our many sponsors back home and raising thousands for charity. An unforgettable experience!
In 2007 Bertie agreed to be the official starter of the RTE race and got a rousing round of applause from all the athletes. Many will remember him at the 30th anniversary celebrations of the BHAA in the Alexandra Hotel; it would have been the last time that many of us would have had an opportunity to talk to him.
Advice from Bertie to a colleague before a long run ‘You wait for us at the beginning and we’ll wait for you at the end’.
Ar dheis DÃ© go raibh a anam dÃlis.
Niall Mathews, Frank Slevin, Frank Broughal, Bertie Messitt.