County Antrim Harriers, Northern Ireland’s oldest athletic club and one of the longest established in the United Kingdom, were formed in 1895 and had their roots in St. Luke’s Parish Church, in Northumberland Street, off Belfast’s Shankill Road, when some of the young men in the congregation, tiring of taking their regular stroll from the church to the Bog Meadows and back, decided to set up an athletics club. The club’s first President was the Curate Rev. J.E.Archer, with W.J. Vance( Secretary), Tom Draffin (Treasurer), Joe Watson (Club Captain) and Jack Heasley (Vice Captain). 

At the club’s first organised training run, from St. Thomas’s School in Lower Windsor Avenue, three men and a dog were in attendance, and since that miniscule beginning County Antrim Harriers grew from strength to strength. In the early years the club had their Headquarters at Erindale, near Andersonstown, which in those early times before the rapid expansion of Belfast was a rural country area, hence the name County Antrim Harriers. In 1945/6 the club moved to Balmoral on the Lisburn Road in Belfast, having purchased the old Millisle Telegraph Hut for £200 as the new changing rooms A forty yard sprint track was laid out behind the hut. It was in this post war era that there was a massive increase in membership, and on a club trip to the Whitehead Easter races the club filled three carriages on the train. It was also recorded the same year that club members sold 150 dozen minerals on the 12th July. 

In their heyday the club were one of the top teams in the country, with the Ulster title being won in 1905, and in the 1930’s, which was a particularly strong time for the club, several members ran in the international championships. There was a quiet period after the war before the foundations of a new team was built up which eventually clinched victory in the Lisburn Relays in 1964 and which was reckoned by many to be the club’s greatest achievement, given that they defeated all the top teams in Ireland, North and South. A few years later the club tasted victory with the capture of the blue riband Northern Ireland Junior Cross Country Championship in 1969. The team in this era was led by the late Roy Brown who was killed in a car accident in South Africa some years later. The “wee man” was arguably the best runner ever to wear the green and white colours. Other runners of note were Ray Kirkland, who won three Northern Ireland Marathon titles and who with Jackie Hoey formed a formidable spearhead, while John Robinson competed in the Junior International Championships. 

County Antrim Harriers have had a succession of dedicated officials over the years, with Eddie Horner and especially Tommy Welsh holding the reins for many years. The club was also active in race promotions, with the William Horner Memorial Races starting in 1962, while the Great Northern Half Marathon attracted athletes of the calibre of Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist Jim Alder and European 4th placer Alister Wood. The club celebrated their Centenary with a Dinner at the Forte Hotel, Dunmurry, on the 25th November 1995. 

In the intervening years County Antrim Harriers were in the doldrums and struggled to survive, with few and sometimes no runners in the club, and but for the sterling efforts of their two and sometimes only members Mr. Tommy Welsh (Past President) and Mr. Dave McKibben (President) of the Northern Ireland Athletic Federation, might well have folded. In the Spring of 2005 Greg Hopkins from Ballyclare and Glynis Crawford from Ballyearl took over the running of the club and relocated it to what they thought was a more natural environment at the Sixmile Leisure Centre (Ballyclare) and Ballyearl Leisure Centre (Newtownabbey), in a catchment area where they believed it would flourish, provide a service and prove an added attraction to complement what was already there. Since then the club has indeed flourished, and from once being a bastion for male athletes County Antrim Harriers now boasts a membership that is now three quarters female. 

County Antrim Harriers is a non members profit making organisation registered with H.M.Revenue & Customs as a Community Amateur Sports Club, with a Constitution that follows the guidelines and recommendations of the Northern Ireland Sports Council and UK Athletics, and adheres to The Code of Ethics & Good Practice for Children’s Sport. The club aims to be a family orientated club with a friendly environment for athletes, joggers and fun runners of all abilities and backgrounds. The club’s crest is the County Antrim Coat of Arms with the motto – Per Angusta Ad Augusta – which has a variation of meanings such as From Adversity We Triumph, and From the Narrow path to the Higher ground, County Antrim Harriers – Northern Ireland’s oldest, but Newtownabbey’s newest athletics club.