Looking back to May 1969

I’m sure we’re all feeling nostalgic as we spend what should be our annual weekend get together and Irish orienteering Championships in our various 2km zones. So I set about taking a look through some of the archives and found this beautiful piece of writing which follows. I hope you enjoy this piece by Aubrey Flegg.

Decade

The owls of the Devil’s Glen looked in, no doubt, on Emlyn Jones as he prepared five meticulous tracing for the new Devil’s Glen map. Winter had laid mapping by the heels and a map was urgently needed for the first of the Leinster Orienteering Championships in May. Planning went ahead on black and white and in the evenings the roding woodcock whirred over the woods. Then the map was at the printers. Leaves fell from the calendar like autumn. A week to go… days … then the maps were there. It was Friday: the event was on Sunday.

Two years previoulsy , almost to the day, Michael Lunt, stimulated by an article in the Observer, organised the first of our now familiar Orienteering events. The map was an unmodified six inch Ordnance Survey sheet. The course, with glorious disregard for wind or limb, plunged from the north of the present map down into the Devils Glen, across the river, up to the summit, down to the farm, and then like hound on hare across the road to a finish in a distance which even Mike can not remember. The event was won by Niall Rice in the first of many wins. “we had very little idea of fairness in setting courses in those days”. Mike Lunt recalls. “A control was once put hard up against a wide ditch. There were only two alternatives: total immersion or a very long run round.” Tactics too were different. Was it at the Devil’s Glen that Jim Butler, when hard pressed, was seen to hide in the grass until the opposition, missing the control, had passed?

The map prepared by Emlyn, sided by others, particularly from A.F.A.S., represents an enormous stride forward in ten short years. The development of modern maps reflects the unfolding of an almost surprised awareness of the richness and variety which the sport has to offer. Accuracy and details have become intelligible through the use of colour, and the orienteer carries with him not only fact but opinion. This is runnable, this is not. Tedious thought the modern map may be to produce, it carries with it completefreedom of choice for the orienteer. For the planner it makes it possible to set a course designed, as mike puts it, “to elminiate chance and to reward skill”.

Colin Dunlop (controller) and I poked in the gloom over our fuzzy dye-line print wondering if we were looking for a path or a drain: colour does make a difference. We enter the stage together, searching.

  • Planner: I have ribboned a control on this knoll here.
  • Controller: What knoll? ( He inspects a gentle undulation on the ridge) Well, I suppose it could be called a knoll. Where do you want to hang your control?
  • Planner: Down here. ( With enthusiasm, pointing into a cavity in a pile of brashings.
  • The controller, with a patient look, takes the control from the planner and hangs it high. The players leave the forest.)

“The important thing on that first event, “Mike Lunt recalls, ” was to find features which the organiser could recognise. We were not the least bit worried about whether they could be recognised by an orienteer on the run. The controls were H.Williams’ bags and the markers coloured felt pens. Nobody worried too much in those days: we just came out and had a great time.”

A great time? A great time? Is there something in that for us? Something perhaps we are in danger of forgetting?

The course was all but set. Worried about one last bearing, I was following, in advance, the track of many feet when a yard before me, the leaves erupted and a woodcock rose and curved down through the trees. At my feet was a nest with two or maybe three brown-smudged eggs. The course was changed, the many feet went else-where, and the woodcock sat, merged with the fallen leaves, until we too had gone and the owls of the Devil’s Glen flew again over Tiglin.

An original piece taken from the archive by Aubrey Flegg penned in May of 1979 , looking back at an earlier event held in May of 1969.

So who are these characters of early Irish orienteering?

Well I did a bit of googling and also sought the wisdom of John McCullough, (feel free to send me any corrections) if Aubrey, Emlyn, Mike or Colin’s family would like to add or subtract please do, let me know!

Aubrey Flegg was a club member of Irish Orienteers, later in Setanta. He was born in Dublin, but his early childhood was spent in County Sligo, Ireland. He was a geologist and worked with the Geological Survey of Ireland. His wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Eleanor, were also active in orienteering as well as their son Nigel. Aubrey retired from G.S.I. and took up writing children’s books, he also gave up orienteering. Unfortunately none of the family are involved now. (Source: O’Brien Press and John McCullough!)

Emlyn Jones was an instructor at the National adventure centre at Tiglin in Wicklow. He was Welsh and a physical oceanographer by training. He instructed in a range of adventure sports including mountaineering, canoeing and orienteering. The director of the centre at the time would have been Paddy O’Leary who was one of the founding fathers of Irish orienteering. Paddy wrote a history of Irish mountaineering called “The way that we climbed” which was published a few years ago. Many of the names from the early days of orienteering are mentioned in the book: Joss Lynam, Seán Rothery, Raymond Finlay, Paddy O’Leary.

Mike Lunt was also one of the original Irish orienteers, having previously been involved in mountaineering (Ireland, Alps etc). He was in Irish Orienteers, later in GEN. Mike was a commercial artist who designed the 1972 Roadstone calendar depicting various adventure sports like mountaineering, sailing, orienteering etc. The orienteer looks pretty dull but in those days it was against the rules to wear bright clothing, even if you could get it!

Colin Dunlop was another Irish Orienteers transferring to Setanta member. He was very competitive in his day and was a prolific controller (controlling IOC 1994 in Fermanagh a few months before he sadly died of cancer). His sons were also a very good junior orienteers. Colin had been a hockey player. His wife, Alison, used to come to all the events but didn’t ever orienteer – she used to sit in the car and read, and chat to everyone.

Colin is remembered each year at the Irish Championships where the Colin Dunlop Trophy is awarded to the leading M or W 50, men and women on alternate years. It is a silver plate which was in his family and has the inscription “It’s a good day – go with it!”, which was Colin’s attitude to life. He was on the Irish Orienteering Association committee back in the ’80’s and was involved in the Federation of Irish Orienteering which brought together the Irish Orienteering Association and Northern Irish Orienteering Associations to agree rules, team selection, Irish Championship titles etc. Colin also managed the Irish team at World Orienteering Championships of 1985 in Hungary.

I would like to thank Aubrey for this beautiful piece of writing, I hope he comes across this post and reflects on his time spent orienteering. (we’d love to hear more if you would like to chat!) Also thanks to John McCullough, font of all knowledge Irish orienteering for his help with information on these Irish Orienteers.

Whatever you are doing and wherever you find yourself this would-be-Irish Champs weekend, in the words of Mike Lunt remember to “just” get “out and have a great time”

Debbie Whelan

We’d love to hear your orienteering story, you can contact me on comms@orienteering.ie.