The Clerical Medical Parish Walk - current feature
Irene Taggart - 11 times around the 85 mile course
Irene Taggart - won the womens race to Peel in 1984. She returned to complete the full course in 1997 and has now finished it 11 times. She is pictured above in the garden of her West Baldwin home.
In 1963 Eunice Davies completed the whole 85 mile Parish Walk course in 20 hours 51 minutes and 24 seconds. Irene Cottier (later Corlett) followed her 2 hours later. A year later Heather Murphey became the third female finisher but then nobody completed the course until Ann Sayer in 1978. Up until 20 years ago there were still only 5 women who had walked the course (Irene Corlett did her second lap in 1980 and Caroline Convery finished in 1983).
So who would have ever dreamt that a single woman would later manage 11 laps? Certainly not Irene Taggart who did not even consider the possibility until 1996 even though she was a former winner - work that one out!
The female class in the Parish Walk only used to cover the 32 and half miles to Peel, in fact it was always listed as 32 and a quarter miles in the old days! In her maiden name of Kelly she walked to Peel in 1980 in a time of 08:01:40 and improved to 07:09:50 in 1981. She went even faster (06:28:28) in 1982 finishing third to Irene Corlett and Ann Cain. She missed the event in 1983 but returned to take the title in 06:35:51 in 1984 beating Ann-Marie Kelly and Rose Clark who was later to become much better known as a fell runner in her married name of Hooton. She was devastated not to be able to retain her title in 1985 when she was hit by sickness and was not to start the event again until 1997.
Squash was Irene's main sport, although she also played hockey until the early 90s when her knees began to suffer playing on the artificial surface. She became Manx squash champion "8 or 9 times" most recently in 2000. She still plays although not so seriously. She is very involved in the sport, however, helping Gary Crease with the coaching of juniors at the National Sports Centre. She is very proud that 54 juniors had taken part in the recent Manx Youth Games.
It was after she heard about Winnie Collister finishing in 1996 that she decided to attempt the whole distance. Winnie was still only the 11th female finisher over the whole 85 miles. Jean Oldroyd completed a hatrick between 1989 and 1991. Maureen Cowbourne and Vivienne Hooper finished in 1989, Maureen Cox in 1991 and Gill Green beat Winnie to the line in 1996. "I didn't know Winnie" she told me in her lovely home in West Baldwin when I met her last week, "but when I heard her on the radio she sounded so determined and I thought I must do it next year."
Irene with her training companion Ping, a border collie. (all photos by Murray)
A lot of people make such promises but not everyone delivers. She didn't have many doubts about completing the course although she did have to walk in her husband's shoes from Andreas to the finish. She has been married to Graham for 21 years and feels sorry for him every June when he he supports her so faithfully to the finish. Thankfully it is only twice that the loyalty stretched to lending her his shoes!
On her return in 1998 she lowered her time from 22:25:38 to 20:16:57 and surprisingly that remains her best time, although she was back under 21 hours in 2004 and 2005 and indeed her average time is 21:11:11. Since she first attempted the full distance in 1997 it is only once that she retired.
In 2000 she called it a day at Maughold. She had just returned from Iceland where the Isle of Man had won the small nations squash title and she said that she just didn't feel right from the start. Iceland was not quite so well known for its banking in those days but it's a Manx bank that has given Irene her employment. She worked for many years for the Isle of Man Bank and, although she now only works part time, she is currently employed by their parent, the Royal Bank of Scotland International, in the payments department.
In 2007 Irene was featured in the Sky TV film of the Clerical Medical Parish Walk. Here she is interviewed by the late Geoff Cannell.
The Kelly family has farmed for generations at Ballamodda in Baldwin, a unique farm that has entrances from both West and East Baldwin and the family house that she shares with Graham and their 17 year old son Aleyn was built on the farmland opposite the old Methodist Chapel in West Baldwin.
In the early 80s I used to train regularly around Baldwin and the warm smiles and waves that I received from the Kelly family were always a great encouragement as I approached the Algare Hill. That same warmth was there the whole time I interviewed her last Thursday and the chances are that you will see that smile in the walk for a few more years yet.
A few years ago I remember asking Irene if she was going to enter the following year. She told me that she was never going to walk again but she soon changed her mind. I didn't even ask her that question this time - can you imagine the Parish Walk without her now? She is not so sure about how many more times she will complete the whole course though and she told me tonight that she expects stopping at Peel to become a necessity rather than an option soon. We shall see!
Murray Lambden - 2 June 2009
Irene at the Round Table in 2003 on her way to her 6th finish.
And the same spot a year later.
Irene Taggart's record in the Clerical Medical Parish Walk
Catch me if you can: every year that Irene records a finish it makes it harder for anyone to catch her up. Rosemarie Crellin has 9 finishes, Sue Biggart 8 and Jo Revill 7.