GUEST speaker at the weekly meeting of Ballywillan Men’s Fellowship was Mr Frankie Cunningham, chairman of the Dervock and District Community Association.
His powerpoint presentation told the little-known story of Kennedy K. McArthur, the former village postman, who 104 years ago achieved international fame as winner of the marathon at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm.
Born in Dervock on 10 February 1881. Ken McArthur was a promising athlete as a teenager and it is reputed that during his years as a postman he ran and timed himself throughout his delivery rounds.
In 1901, at the age of 21, he emigrated to South Africa. After joining the Johannesburg Police Force in 1906 he began to take athletics seriously. He competed with much success in the South African Police Athletics Championships and in 1908 ran his first marathon, beating the South African silver medallist Charles Hefferon.
Chosen to run for South Africa in the 1912 Olympics, he won the marathon in record time despite the sweltering heat, finishing 58 seconds ahead of his team mate Christian Gitsham.
The following year McArthur’s athletics career was ended due to a foot injury in a cycling accident, but he had competed in six marathons during his short career, winning them all.
In 1921 Ken McArthur returned home to Dervock where he bought some property, but he and his wife returned to South Africa five years later. He regularly visited the village in subsequent years, but died on 13June 1960.
A few years ago, as a memorial to McArthur, an annual marathon was organised, starting and ending in the village. This has since become a Festival of Running held every four years.
Thanks to Mr. Cunningham for his fascinating insight into the story of this little-known local athlete was extended by the Fellowship president Dr. Michael Gardiner.
This Thursday morning (18 February) the Fellowship speaker will be Claire Shiels, whose topic will be “Independent Living”. All retired and semi-retired men are welcome at Fellowship meetings which start informally at 10.30am in the Link at Ballywillan Presbyterian Church Hall, Portrush. The talk is at 11am in the adjoining Octagon.