Irish runner vows to repeat Boston race next year

An Irish runner caught up in the Boston marathon attack has vowed to compete in the event next year.

Bobby Hilliard, 49, from Clonakilty in Co Cork, said he would not let the horror of Monday’s attack put him off running in the iconic event again.

He was among the 108 people registered as Irish residents or citizens who took part in the race — all are safe and well.

And the father of two revealed that if it hadn’t been for the encouragement of two American runners, he could have been crossing the line just as the bombs went off.

Mr Hilliard, who crossed the line to finish his 25th marathon just minutes before the bombs went off, said he “hit the wall” at the 21-mile mark.

“I started to walk at that stage but two American women who were running near me, and the positivity from the crowd, just encouraged me to start running again,” he said.

“If I hadn’t starting running at that point, I could have been caught in the blast.”

Speaking from his hotel in Boston yesterday, he said the full shock of the attack is only sinking in now.

“It’s hard to believe that someone would do this to ordinary runners and spectators at the finish line,” he said.

“You’d wonder what would drive someone to create such pain and misery on such a positive day.”

Mr Hilliard, a founder of the Waterfront Marathon in Clonakilty, was mingling with other runners who had finished the race when the first bomb went off.

“I was gathering my thoughts and was about to get a foil sheet when we heard the first bang,” he said.

“We genuinely thought it was firecrackers or bangers. But the Americans copped on very quickly what was going on.

“It seemed like time stood still. They moved us on very quickly, we got medals and juices and we were moved out very quickly.

“It still hadn’t registered with us what had happened. It wasn’t until afterwards that it hit us. It was chaos with ambulances and police cars flying all over the place.

“We were all over the place emotionally and physically. I didn’t see the carnage.

“It was only when I walked back to the hotel and saw the full extent of the events on the news, that I realised how bad it was.

“Yesterday was eerie. Nobody celebrated. It was just sad. Such a beautiful day that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.”

Brian Donovan, 35, originally from Ashbrook in Limerick, was at the marathon to cheer on his wife, Julia.

He said the enormity of what happened only sunk in when he awoke yesterday in his Boston hotel room.

Julia, 33, had crossed the finish line almost an hour-and-a-half before the blasts occurred.

“We were never in danger, thankfully. But it is only this morning watching the news that it is sinking in what has happened,” he said.

Mr Donovan, who works in London in financial services, said he had helped a local man in his late-20s who was sitting on a pavement in a state of shock, with no money, water or mobile phone to ring for help.

“The city was in lockdown and this man had nothing on him after running the race and was stranded. He wasn’t injured but was obviously in state of shock.

“So I gave some money and let him use my phone so he could call friends and family to say he was okay.”

He said there was mass confusion and it was hard for locals to gather exactly what had happened as local news reports contradicted each other.

“I learned more from ringing home to Ireland than I did from the news here,” he said.

Julia said she was horrified by the attacks.

“I crossed the finish line before this happened and Brian was there waiting for me. This could so easily have been us. It’s a sobering thought,” she said.

The couple had not planned to run this weekend’s London Marathon and are due to leave Boston tomorrow.

Irish accounted for

Some 108 Irish citizens, 50 of whom are resident in Ireland, have been accounted for in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.

A total of 108 people who took part in the marathon were listed as having Irish citizenship, while 50 were listed as being resident in Ireland. Of these, 46 runners began the race, with 42 finishing.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Irish consulate was investigating all of the Irish participants but was not aware of any casualties.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny offered his sympathies to the people of Boston yesterday. “This is an act of insanity when so many people enjoyed the preparation for that wonderful race and the occasion itself. We sympathise with the people of Boston, the many Irish people that have been affected in one way or another in a city that is so Irish. This is a tragedy,” he said.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said: “My thoughts are with the people and the authorities in Boston as they continue to deal with this tragic situation. I know that there were a significant number of Irish participating or involved in the marathon, and my department — in particular the Irish consulate in Boston — is doing all that it can to make contact with our nationals to check on their situation.”

Among the athletes taking part in the race were a team of 10 from the Royal College of Surgeons and a dozen runners who travelled with Dublin-based tour operator Sports Travel International, all of whom have been accounted for and are safe and well.

Irish people concerned about loved ones can contact the Department of Foreign Affairs’ special helpline on 01 4780822.

— Conall Ó Fátharta

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