Superb turnout as Lisburn Festival of Orienteering is a runaway success

The  winners of the Women's World Ranking Sprint Race with from left to right, Kirstin Maxwell from Scotland (2nd), Niamh O'Boyle from Naas (1st), and Sarah-Jane Barrable from England (3rd) with the Mayor of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council, Thomas Beckett, who presented the prizes. Pic by John Shiels, Action Photography.
The winners of the Women's World Ranking Sprint Race with from left to right, Kirstin Maxwell from Scotland (2nd), Niamh O'Boyle from Naas (1st), and Sarah-Jane Barrable from England (3rd) with the Mayor of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council, Thomas Beckett, who presented the prizes. Pic by John Shiels, Action Photography.

Staging the six separate events of the Lisburn City Festival of Orienteering within 72 hours over the May Bank Holiday weekend was a mammoth task for local club Lagan Valley Orienteers.

Friday evening saw a World Ranking Sprint Event based at Laurelhill sportszone, forcing competitors to navigate at speed through the alleys, courtyards and parkland of the Drumard estate.

Scottish orienteer Murray Strain, currently ranked as 19th in the world, did not disappoint by claiming victory with a blistering time of 12:26 for the 3.5km course.

Leading Irish elite runner Nicolas Simonin, who hails from Co Cork but currently lives and trains in Stockholm the home of orienteering, was only 4 seconds behind but was unfortunately disqualified, as he did not punch correctly at the final control, so second place and the Irish title went to Cork runner Darren Burke.

Third place went to Nick Barrable from South Yorkshire while third place on the ladies course went to Nick’s wife of only six months Sarah-Jane. Kristin Maxwell from the Scottish Borders took second place, beaten to the finish by 4 seconds by Naimh O’Boyle from Curragh Naas.

Local interest centred on the Millar brothers from Dromara with older brother Jack drawing on his Junior World Championship experience to beat brother James. However, father Ivan had also entered the World Ranking Race, managing to catch up with James, but unable to overtake Jack.

Presenting the prizes Mayor of Lisburn City & Castlereagh City Council, Thomas Beckett, spoke of his pleasure to see a new format of sport being brought into the city.

The venue for Saturday’s Long Distance Championship race could be seen from the finish arena at Laurelhill, but by Saturday morning it was a different picture, with unseasonably low temperatures, strong winds and lashing rain sweeping over Slieve Croob.

A number of competitors found the conditions too testing and were forced to retire, a scenario which fully tested the organising club’s contingency plans.

Despite the conditions runners who were able to demonstrate quality navigational skills did complete the courses in fast times. With so many in the local club officiating, opportunities for course winners were reduced.

However, the Cairns household in Lambeg were able to rejoice in a win for mother Heather in the W40 class and son Ben M10. Recent training by Andrew Elwood from Anahilt paid off handsomely with a win in M14. Dromara’s Ivan Millar proved that he knew his way around the Dromara Hills with a win in M40.

Although now living in Luxembourg, Chris Scott made it worthwhile returning to his native Lisburn for the championships by claiming the M35 prize. Other winners from Lagan Valley Orienteers included Denise O’Hagan, Paul Pruzina and Billy Reed.

Hillsborough Forest looked as damp as the adjacent lake by Sunday morning, but conditions did improve before the mass start of the relay championships by the ramparts of Hillsborough Fort.

In the relay, teams of three pass the map on to each other so that every team covers the same ground, but in a different order.

Both the men’s and women’s Premier classes went south of the border with the ladies from Curragh Nass and the men from Cork picking up the trophies. Locally the Lagan Dragons team of Phil Stuart, Heather Cairns and Wilbert Hollinger were victorious in the Handicap 18 category.

In contrast the pace slowed to a sedate Sunday afternoon stroll at Aberdelghy Golf Course, the venue the Trail Orienteering Championships.

This format of the sport relies not on speed but on fine judgement of map and terrain from the trail, allowing disabled and able bodied to compete on an equal basis.

The quality of courses planned by club member Alan Gartside is so highly regarded that this was a selection event for the British team, with John Kewley from Warrington bagging the Visitors Trophy and Peter Roberts from Yorkshire being placed second.

There was success for Lagan Valley’s Lyle Fleming who saw off close competition to claim the Irish Championship Trophy by a single point over Stephen Gilmore from Hillsborough who had to compete from a wheelchair due to a recent injury.

On Bank Holiday Monday competitors were led into the arena constructed at Lagan Valley Island by a piper. This invitational event was staged especially to prepare potential British and Irish competitors for the World Orienteering Championships to be held in August in Nairn near Inverness.

Competitors were faced with a challenging sprint course from Lagan Valley Island, up the hill to Castle Gardens, back down to the Island and then upwards again for a second loop around the Forthill campus before returning to the Island again to hand over to the next runner.

For much of the competition it looked like the Scottish team were set to take an easy win, but their commanding lead started to slip, allowing the mixed Ireland team of Lagan Valley’s Susan Lambe, Cork’s Darren Burke and Co Kildare’s Kevin O’Boyle to set up final leg runner Olivia Baxter from Boardmills to victory.

Following the spectacle of the sprint relay, the start lanes opened for the inaugural Lisburn City Race, the first urban race in Northern Ireland to be part of the UK Urban League. Whilst juniors had a straightforward course following the County Antrim side of the Lagan and then across the bridge into the Hillhall estate to return to Lagan valley Island, the other six courses accommodated adult competitors of all ages.

The toughest Black course took competitors on a challenging route from the Low Road, to Hillhall Estate, then to Alexander Park, back over the river to Wallace Park, westwards to Tonagh, Old Warren, Lisburn Leisureplex and Lagan Valley Hospital with the final controls in the City Centre including a control shoppers may well have spotted in Lisburn Square.

Whilst nominally a course of straight line distance 10.8km, most competitors would have covered close to 15km. Unsurprisingly Scottish elite Murray Strain won his class in a staggering 50:25.

With the intense weekend of top quality completion now behind, Lagan Valley Orienteers are not resting on their laurels.

Attention now switches to opportunities for beginners to try out the sport as the ever-popular Wednesday Evening Event rolls out to local parks throughout the valley every Wednesday in May, June and August.

Venues for May include 13 May at Botanic Gardens and 20 May at Musgrave Park with registration between 6.30pm and 7.30pm each evening.

Full details are at with friendly introduction available for newcomers at each event.