‘Lisburn to the Front’ – The Lisburn Wheelers Cycling Club

In the late nineteenth century cycling became a popular pastime across many parts of the world. Initially a quite expensive and dangerous hobby, it was people from middle and upper class backgrounds who were most likely to own a bicycle. However, by the time the 1890s rolled around, innovations such as ‘the safety bicycle’ and mass-produced cheaper machines allowed increasing numbers of people to enjoy the pleasures of cycling.

With more and more people now owning a bicycle, habits of recreation changed. Cycling clubs quickly emerged for those interested in cycling for leisure and sport. As clubs flourished across Ireland, parenting bodies such as the Irish Champion Bicycle Club and the Irish Cycling Association began to promote and govern this increasingly popular sport.

A local nineteenth century cycling club. ILC&M Collection

With competition cycling becoming popular across the country, local cycling clubs emerged as a source of pride for local communities. This was the case with the Lisburn Wheelers Cycling Club. Founded in 1897, the Wheelers quickly became a well-known name at Irish cycling competitions, regularly topping the table at events across the country.

The club’s successes were regularly published in local and national newspapers, ensuring that the Wheelers name became known far and wide. The local Lisburn Standard, for example, proudly told the town’s readers of the success of ‘this flourishing Cycling Club’ as the Wheelers finished their first full year of competitions. The club, celebrating its first successful year, held a lively gathering at the Temperance Institute on Railway Street in December 1898. The Standard  reported on the large attendance the gathering attracted, showing that although a new club, it already had a dedicated following.

The Lisburn Wheelers Cycling Club, 1897-1898. ILC&M Collection

Training regularly for competitions was vital in a sport like cycling. The Lisburn Wheelers were fortunate that a cycle track in Wallace Park was made available to them. Developed in the early 1890s to accommodate the growing number of cyclists in the town, the Wallace Park track became integral to the club’s success. In later years, in 1955, the Wallace Park track was significantly upgraded to a become a velodrome, a facility said to be the best cycling track on the island of Ireland.

While the Lisburn Wheelers enjoyed tremendous success in their first few years of competition, the popularity of the cycling club waned for a time before reviving in 1905, when the Wheelers roared back in action. The rich history of Lisburn cycling clubs, including the Maryland Wheelers who were formed in 1930 (and still thriving today), demonstrate the sport’s continued appeal in the area. Do you have any fond memories of club or leisure cycling in Lisburn? If so, get in touch!

Further reading –

Lisburn, Past and Present – People, Places and Things, by John Scott Hanna and Frederick Gilbert Watson.

Recycled Memories – Stories That Capture the Spirit of Cycling Down the Years, by Isabel Woods, May Farrar, Rab Collins, and Billy Kirk.

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