The sports meeting which ran at Maryland crossroads on the southern outskirts of Belfast in the 1920s and early 1930s left at least one legacy, the cycling club which bears the name of the area 77 years later is still going strong.

Maryland Wheelers is a cycling club with a proud tradition. Over the years many great cyclists have worn the club's colours. Champions of their generation, Albert Ewart, WJ Stewart, Maurice Donaldson, Tommy Givan and in more recent times, David McCall, Scott Hamilton, Denis Easton, Heather Wilson and Mark Greer to name but a few.

All sports clubs, in particular cycling clubs go through peaks and trough's, following a downturn of fortunes in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the club went through a period of renaissance from about 1974 onwards, mainly thanks to the hard work of club officials in promoting a healthy club league and later a schoolboy section. Two of the prime movers behind this were Joe O'Neill, now residing in Canada and current President Mervyn McComb.

Initially the schoolboy section was very popular with up to thirty boys turning up for the Saturday runs. Over the next few years this settled into a core of about six or seven who retained a long term interest in the sport.

In the early 1980s Joe O'Neill emigrated to Canada and around the same time the club suffered a downturn in membership to such an extent that the club was only saved from extinction largely by the efforts of Mervyn McComb and others with enough passion for the name to ensure that this did not become the case. All was not lost however, even during this difficult period Alex McKinnon won several Ulster and Irish Championship medals.

The current renaissance can be traced back to the early 1990s when Phil Holland came into the sport, a new face with fresh ideas for team and club spirit. His motivational skills and club promotion got Maryland Wheelers back in the public eye.

At around this time Billy Knowles and Billy Bothwell were finding a new enthusiasm for the sport and the combination proved to be a winner. Their commitment to the club went unquestioned as they organised and attended almost every club and open race fixture. Before this new era Maryland had a stalwart team of James May, Mervyn McComb and Bill Campbell as club officers for many years, they deserve great credit for keeping the club alive during lean times.

As word of a Maryland revival spread Davy McCall and Alan Hodgen returned to their roots and with Phil a committee was formed to get Maryland back where it belonged. Scott Hamilton joined the club and became Irish champion at 10, 25 and 50 miles in 1995. In 1996 he successfully defended his Irish titles and added the Ulster 10 and 25 mile championship titles, to his growing list of achievements. Throughout this period, Scott had the backing of a solid squad of riders and back-up team from Maryland. The club went on to win the team-prize in all time-trial events and in the Ulster Road-Race championship where notably Denis Easton finished 2nd.  McCall and Hamilton won medals in all the above events, backed up for the team prizes by Phil Holland, Alan Hodgen and Alan Quinn.

Simon Thompson another prolific winner for Maryland won the Dave Kane time-trial league in on a number of occasions before retiring from the competitive scene. He remains one of a very select bunch of top riders to break the 20 minute barrier for a 10 TT.

During this period Mike Brown was encouraged to take the post as Maryland Chairman. Mike was a popular choice amongst club members and with him at the helm and with a strong core of club workers around him the club continued to go from strength to strength. Mike stood in office for 5 years before handing the reigns back Phil Holland. Gerry Lundy is the current Club Secretary and Mark Greer the present Club Treasurer.

In more recent times Heather Wilson is the current Irish ladies time-trial record holder at 10 and 25 miles. In 2008 and Mark Greer broke the Irish Vets record for a 50 TT recording a time of 1hr 49mins 12secs. Even although the core of open race riders are few, Maryland continues year after year to achieve some notable results.

The memory of Tommy Givan, a former Maryland Wheelers champion on the track and at time trialling, both home and abroad is still carried on today with Maryland's promotion of the Tommy Givan Road Race and 50 mile Time Trial. These events are well established classics within the Irish cycling calendar.

Maryland also host their renowned reliability trial in February, known locally as the Grand National it is without doubt the most popular of all the trials for local cyclists with entries always in excess of 100.

Of course all these events would never have been successful, without the tradition of loyal support and the back-up of our hardy band of volunteers of whom we are always grateful. 

The club has a very rich history and is in a very strong position with a flourishing youth group of teenage boys and girls and a cross-section of men and women road cyclists and tri-athletes.

The history of our great club will always be tinged with sadness of course by the tragic death of David McCall in August of 2008 such a grand servant and personality of the Maryland.

 

Links to the Historical Articles of

Ernie Miskelly

Guy Crawford