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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 9 July, 2020

'We thought it was sparklers going off': Irish runners speak of Boston trauma

Irish participants in the Boston Marathon have spoken of the shock at the events at the finish line on Boylston Street.

Emergency responders comfort a woman on a stretcher who was injured in a bomb blast near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Emergency responders comfort a woman on a stretcher who was injured in a bomb blast near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Image: Elise Amendola/AP

IRISH PARTICIPANTS in yesterday’s Boston Marathon have spoken of their trauma and anguish as they witnessed the twin bomb blasts at the finish line of the race – and of their difficulty finding loved ones in the chaos.

Eamonn Loughran from Ballymena had asked his wife to meet him at the finish line after completing the 26-mile race – and could not be united with his wife for several hours afterwards.

“I was no more than fifty yards over the line – I actually thought it was an amplifier, or a music thing, that had exploded,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“I wasn’t sure what it was, at that stage, but another one [exploded] within a minute, 100 yards on… that says, ‘Right, this is real… get out of here, quick’.”

Official race tracking timers showed Loughran had passed the finish line around two minutes before the blasts, which came within 15 seconds and 100 yards of each other on the same crowded side of Boylston Street.

Loughran had asked his wife to meet him at Copley Square, a green area just past the finish line on Boylston Street, but was unable to get in touch with her because of difficulties with mobile phone networks, and Loughran could not know for sure where his wife had been at the time of the blasts.

“I was crying, thinking the worst, because that’s where I had told her to be,” Loughran said.

“There was another man who came in at that time, and his wife had been watching too – but his wife had come back, and my wife was the only one who hadn’t come back.”

It later transpired that his wife had tried to return to their hotel, but had been unable to take a train or taxi, and had travelled on foot – but had gotten lost because she was not familiar with the area.

“I couldn’t get over how happy I was, and how happy everyone else was,” Loughran said, recalling his feelings finishing the marathon before the blast. “It had all changed, from the most happiest and joyful event ever to the most horrible, worrying time. It just ruined it.”

American athletes ‘knew straight away’

Bobby Hilliard from Clonakilty said he thought the explosions were sparklers or fireworks going off – but realised otherwise when he saw the reaction of the American athletes.

“The American runners started running very quickly. They panicked,” he told Morning Ireland. “They knew straight away and started running in every direction. They knew what they were doing.”

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Hilliard said he had only just finished the race – and could have been closer to the blasts, as he had considered walking the final stretch of the race instead of keeping pace to record a better overall time for the 42-kilometre course.

“If somebody set off the bomb with the intent of hurting, they couldn’t have picked a better time,” he said. “They knew they’d get maximum devastation of it.

“One of the most positive things you can do is run a marathon in your life,” he added, but asked – with reports of an 8-year-old among the dead and with around 10 people said to have lost limbs – “What’s the point?”

Eugene Coppinger, an organiser with Sports Travel International, an Irish firm which arranges tours to major global marathons, said another Irish runner – Gerry Carr from Clonliffe Harriers – had finished the race only 30 seconds before the blasts.

He told Newstalk Breakfast that the timing chips worn by participants meant he was confident relatively quickly that most of his runners were not as close to the site of the explosions – as skilled runners would have finished the course by the time, while more amateur runners would have had some way to go.

“People should be celebrating – it’s a fantastic marathon. Anyone who did get to the finish would normally be out celebrating … there’s no way you could be out celebrating in Boston tonight.”

Top story: Three dead, 140 injured in Boston Marathon blasts

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Gavan Reilly

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