Participation in the March 25 ING Georgia Marathon of runners representing each of Ireland and Northern Ireland’s 32 counties could mean increased business ties between Georgia and a more united Ireland following an historic political agreement last week.
After decades of violence in Northern Ireland between the Catholic, nationalist party Sinn Fein and the Protestant, United Kingdom-loyal Democratic Unionists, the two factions announced a power-sharing government on March 27 that restored the Northern Ireland Assembly, which had been suspended since 2002.
Though organized long before the agreement, the Irish marathon team represented a sort of Irish unity apparent in the runners’ camaraderie during the trip to Atlanta, according to Bob O’Sullivan, the team’s leader.
The Irish team’s participation in the Atlanta marathon is expected to lead to increased business with Ireland, said Mr. O’Sullivan, who worked with the Arthritis Foundation and other Atlanta-based charities to bring the runners here.
“There is no doubt of the potential of this for future business,” Mr. O’Sullivan told GlobalAtlanta following the race. Some of the runners themselves were businesspeople, and the high profile raised in Ireland about the historic team competing in the Atlanta race will cause Irish companies to “pay attention to Atlanta,” he said.
He explained that each runner was required to raise funds to support his or her trip and to donate money to Temple Children’s Hospital in Ireland. The group raised $33,000, which was triple their stated goal, Mr. O’Sullivan said.
The team was the first to represent all 32 counties, including the six in Northern Ireland. “For an Irish team, this had never been done, not necessarily because of the conflict but because people just hadn’t wanted to attempt it,” Mr. O’Sullivan said.
The team left a divided Ireland last week but will return home to a more united country, which only “amplifies the team’s sense of victory,” said Mr. O’Sullivan. He also added that he and the team were still digesting the possible ramifications of the political truce.
All 32 team members have already agreed to meet again for the Longford, Ireland, marathon on Aug. 27, he said.
Each runner wore a necklace displaying the colors of their respective counties. All completed the ING race despite 85-degree temperatures that are almost unheard of in Ireland.
The team returned to Ireland on March 27 amidst fanfare and celebration of the political agreement that came after Britain issued an ultimatum for the two sides to reconcile by March 26.
The two conflicting parties — the Democratic Unionists led by Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein led by Irish Republican Army nationalist Gerry Adams — failed to meet the deadline but were granted an additional day by British Parliament to complete the deal. A power-sharing government is anticipated by May 8.
If no agreement was reached, the U.K. threatened to restore permanent direct rule by London over Northern Ireland and retract a $68.6 billion aid package promised by the British government.
Mr. O’Sullivan said that he did not know whether the team would race again in the ING marathon next year. “It could never be replicated what we did this year,” he said of the inaugural 32-county team.
For the past 10 years, Mr. O’Sullivan had been managing U.S. charity groups to sponsor the Dublin Marathon that takes place the last Monday of October each year. This role led to his relationships with the Arthritis Foundation, the Leukemia Foundation and other Atlanta charities. Representatives of the Atlanta groups challenged Mr. O’Sullivan to put together an Irish team to run in the ING Georgia Marathon this year.
Interviews with Lucy, Martin, Shane and Bob of the Irish Marathon Team.
Bob’s Complete Interview
Story Contacts, Links and Related Stories
Irish-American Chamber of Commerce – Jim Gaffey (770) 448-0685
ING Georgia Marathon/Half Marathon – Marina Alden Bryant (770) 454-8821