RECORD numbers of vehicles took part in last Saturday’s annual Tullamore Christmas Tractor Run which raised funds for Dochas, the Offaly Cancer Support group.
Market Square and the surrounding streets were thronged with tractors, other vehicles, participants and spectators from early on Saturday morning with the unseasonally warm temperatures adding to the occasion.
’Participants came from all over the Midlands and from further afield including Dublin, Galway, Roscommon, Kildare and Tipperary,’ said P.J. Lynam, PRO of the organising committee.
Added Mr Lynam: “Tractors, cars, trucks and motorcycles started to arrive in their droves to the silent town of Tullamore in the early morning with the weather helping to attract bumper crowds.”
Almost 500 breakfast rolls, sponsored by Leavy’s Centra, were served to participants before the cavalcade set out shortly after 11.30 am.
The route took in Ballydaly, Tinnycross, Derrygolan, Ballycallaghan, Baleek, Ballinmona and Gormagh before participants travelled back to Tullamore where soup was served to all.
Mr Lynam added that the auction on Saturday night in the Old Harbour Bar was also a major success with the popular hostelry packed to the rafters.
Lots on offer included All-Ireland senior hurling final premium tickets together with passes to Six Nations rugby fixtures.
“Every item from a three page list given by our generous sponsors were sold,” outlined a delighted P.J. Lynam.
He extended thanks to all who took part in and supported the tractor run and all the hard working committee members, volunteers, sponsors, Gardai and Offaly County Council personnel who made the event possible.
To date the annual Christmas event has raised well in excess of €200,000 for a series of worthy causes.
P.J. Lynam, who has been a stalwart member of the Tractor Run committee since its inception in 2008, stressed the event “has become one of the most popular tractor runs in the country over the past decade.”
Looking to the foundation of the event, Mr Lynam recalled it was the brainchild of a few local vintage tractor enthusiasts who were enjoying a few pints in a bar on a cold winter night.
“Indeed the beer won over the faint hearted and a date was set to form a committee to organise a Christmas Tractor Run with one aim in mind, the funds collected would go to cancer care,’ outlined Mr Lynam.
He continued: “With ten members attending our first meeting and after a lot of deliberations December 28 in the old Coen’s Yard in Church St was chosen as the starting point for our first ever run.”
“It was a fine frosty morning and beyond all our expectations droves of all makes of tractors, cars and trucks assembled for our marathon run to Pullough and back.”
The first run raised a staggering €32,000 and the event immediately became one of the major fund-raisers for the Friends of Tullamore Hospital who at that juncture were raising funds for a €300,000 patient care project at the oncology unit in the hospital.
The economic downturn had just hit and Government cutbacks meant that all finance for the Friends project had to be raised thought voluntary fundraising, outlined Mr Lynam.
The recession also took its toll on the 2009 Tractor run as takings dropped to a still massive figure of €28,000, half of which was donated to St James’ Hospital in Dublin.
“On behalf of the people of Offaly we wanted to show our appreciation for the ongoing transfer of patients for advance treatments between the oncology units of Tullamore and St James,” outlined Mr Lynam.
In 2010, during one of the coldest winters in living memory, the run moved to the old Jennings centre on the Arden road.
“The big convoy set off to Pullough with temperatures at minus ten degrees but our team battled the elements and collected a further €26,000 that day.”
With the economic downturn intensifying it became clear in 2011 that the committee had to diversify into other areas of fund-raising so bag packing, cake sales and ticket raffles all came into being while more effort was put into the post run auction night.
Recalled Mr Lynam: “We also introduced the brave concept of purchasing a tractor to be raffled. So we went on the hunt for a Massey Ferguson 35 and after travelling the highway and byways we found a suitable one in a small farm up the Clonaslee mountains. We secured a short term loan from Tullamore Credit Union to buy the tractor and transported it for an overhaul into Flynn’s Garage in Durrow. Members of the committee spent many summer evenings reconditioning the engine, hydraulics and giving it a total respray.
“Flynn’s Garage became known as the Banner Lane. For the record Banner Lane was the home of the Massey Ferguson factory founded by an Irish man, Harry Ferguson and an unbelievable 388,000 MF 35s were built there.”
That year the committee applied to the Tullamore Show Executive to be allowed the one permitted charity slot only to discover that Dochas has also applied for the coveted place. However, it was the first year the Show decided to allow two charities on board and the reconditioned MF 35 was launched and a whopping €10,500 was collected on show day.
In 2012, the Run relocated to the centre of town and having raised the target of €100,000 for oncology services at the hospital the committee decided Dochas would be its new charity recipient.
Also in 2012, the committee was chosen as guest of honour at the St Patrick’s Day parade in Tullamore and given the task of opening the popular spectacle. Tullamore Lions Club also featured the committee in the Tullamore Annual.
After various starting points in the town centre, the Run, thanks to the permission of Offaly County Council, settled on the Market Square since 2015.
Stressed Mr Lynam: “This event has grown significantly in size and reputation since its inception and has played a very important role in gathering both town and country people in a social setting, creating awareness of a very worthy cause.”
Referring to the total figure of over €200,000 which has been collected to date, Mr Lynam said the committee’s policy is to make sure all funds collected is used in an open and transparent manner to improve services for patients who need it the most.
He stressed: “We have met many obstacles on our path over the past number of years but with determination and commitment from our committee we have found ways around them.”
Added Mr Lynam: “The Tullamore Tractor Run didn’t happen by chance. We made it happen. It is the result of a collaborative effort from a small committee including our wives, families and friends and the support of helpers to numerous to mention.”