From early on, the Beast was lucky to have its Event HQ at the fabulous Blackwater Castle, Castletownroache, Co. Cork. It is a permanent part of the event history. From our very first event, they have been with us as the Beast has grown from strength to strength and more recently as the event joined the Adventure Racing European Series (ARES) in 2013. In our 9th year (2015), the event opened it’s next chapter, when we hosted the ARES Finals and also moved to a new location for our Event HQ at the University of Limerick.
Now the Beast has grown too big to contain and has broken free. Free to roam the entire island of Ireland as it seeks the best locations and best challenges to push our competitors to their limits. Who knows where the Beast will take us next?
Early History of The Beast
Damien Hackett, founder of the original Outsider Magazine ran a staged adventure race in the Wicklow Mountains (2006) with well know Mountain Runner Brendan Lawlor and planned to repeat the event annually. One of the people behind the Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Trails, Pádraig Casey had been to a talk on Adventure Racing given by the then Irish AR Team and thought it would be a good idea to promote the forthcoming mountain bike trails by staging an event in the area. He was working with Damien Hackett on a marketing campaign for the trails and naturally the two brains collided and this is where Greg Clarke then came in.
Greg had been running the Irish Adventure Race Series for several years by then and was friends with Damien, so when he was asked to come to Kilfinane for the first of many weekends, he was only too happy to do so and here he was introduced to Pádraig.
Greg recalls how the event came to be:
It was a friendship that grew out of the energy and enthusiasm that we shared. I was a bit familiar with the Galtee Mountains but Pádraig introduced me to some amazing people and places that set the standard for the event. We discussed the various formats and having worked on a number of other events, from planning the route of the Gaelforce West course to the Irish Adventure Race Series and having taken part in the 4 Adrenalin Rush expedition events all options were discussed. Being a bit of a hardcore racer myself, I was keen to have something long and have a 24 hour event and although that reduced the amount of potential participants if the event could be televised it would work well as a marketing event. We also decided to run a short event at the same time and came up with the bike / run concept based on the cycle trails being finished. Pádraig managed to get a crew on board to film the event for the first year.
One of the things that was of great fascination to Damien and Pádraig was the fact that with sleep deprivation comes hallucinations and although it usually takes a little more than 24 hours for this to become a problem for racers, it would affect some competitors over 24 hours of non-stop racing. It is a tradition for people to hallucinate and see monsters along the course so the idea of combining the words ‘Ballyhoura’ and ‘monster’ was played with. Damien finally settled on ‘The Beast of Ballyhoura’ for the main event and the short fast run / bike was called ‘The Ballyhoura Blitz’. Damien arranged for a friend to design the little Beast Logo and that was the beginning.
One of the biggest parts of planning when designing the course for the Irish Adventure Race Series was that of land access, with both private landowners, forestry services and the national parks. Pádraig had that covered. One of the most amazing things about the Ballyhoura region is the friendly and helpful people who really go out of their way to help. Pádraig introduced me to a farmer who wanted us to use a waterfall in the Galtee Mountains for an abseil close to the town of Anglesborough; an enthusiastic individual, Ray Sampson, from the Lazy Dog Clay Bird Shooting Centre in near Kilfinane loved the idea of opening his centre just for the event. There was also David Gavin and the Dinocafe at Castletownroche, an amazing chap and his wife who ran a café with a dinosaur display attached that would put most museums to shame. When David produced a prop he made for the film ‘The Fifth Element’ I had yet another new best friend. David was the perfect man to make the trophies for the winners and the Dinocafe the perfect setting for the after race party…. but I had yet to meet Patrick and Sheila from Blackwater Castle in Castletownroche. I must have driven through Castletownroche before and probably thought it was a present well-kept village but like so much of Ireland you have to park the car and go for a walk.
Blackwater Castle, a twelfth Century Castle on the banks of the River Awbeg that has been lovingly restored by Patrick Nordstrom, another individual who is so full of adrenaline and ideas it is sometimes difficult to calm him down and again he introduced me to some amazing countryside around the Castle and the Awbeg. The castle has been the backdrop to the finish line since its inception.
The rest was up to me as the course designer to bring as many of the amazing places and people together in a fast moving and varied event in an area of Ireland that few people had any idea existed let alone participated in a non-stop 24 hour adventure race. What I didn’t use the first year is always there for the next. Funnily enough for the second year of the race I had so much to try to fit in I decided to extend it to 36 hours inspiring the slogan ‘the Beast has just got Scarier’
It would take me to write a small book to tell the story of how the Beast and the Blitz ran the first year with the level of planning and organising and of course the tidying up that took place after it was all over. When the event was over and the last kayak packed on the trailer ready for the drive back to Belfast I said to my wife Pauline, ‘remind me not to organise this event next year’, yet when it came the time I could not help but keep coming back for more. I worked with so many amazing people in so many amazing places it was hard to stay away. In the end I immigrated to Canada to finally let go and pass the torch on to Ivan who had competed in each of my events so he was the best person to take over as he understood what made the event tick.
Special thanks has to go to Greg and everyone who was involved with the running of the event in those first few years, without them the event would never have grown into Ireland’s Premier Adventure Race.