While Ireland has been producing male Olympic Champions for over a century and has a history of competitive activity going back centuries before that, Women's athletics is still in its infancy. While there are records of female athletes competing in Northern Ireland in the early part of the 20th century it was not until 1950 that the first NIWAAA official championships were held.
In August 1925 a Miss A. Lavery won the Ladies Race at the Ards Soccer Sports. The following year Annie Robinson won the 100 yards at a meeting in Larne and in August of the same year C. Nicholson representing Elmfield won the 100 yards Championship at Whitehead. The following year she retained her title in Lurgan in a time of 13.9. It is possible that Miss Nicholson was indeed the first Northern Irlaand Women’s Champion.
Sprint Championships at 100 and 220 yards continued on a regular basis as an integral part of the NIAAA Championships until 1940. These races during the 1930’s were dominated by the two Sheila’s – Elliott and Lord.
Sheila Elliott won her first title in 1928 in the 100 yards at Lurgan. The reason she ran was she had seen the first prize was a tennis racquet and she fancied winning it . To the delight of her uncle Willie she won the race and it was he who encouraged her to continue in the sport. Uncle Willie was Willie Millar, himself a champion athlete and subsequently grandfather of Graham Millar a member of the great Ninth Old Boys team of the sixties and a medallist in the British Decathlon Champinships.
Not only did Willie Millar encourage his niece, he made her first pair of running spikes. In 1933 Miss Elliott now representing the Co-op Sports Club based on the Castlereagh Road won the 220 yards in 27.2 beating Sheila Lord, a Methodist College schoolgirl into second place. The following year at Carrickfergus the positons were reversed with Miss Lord timed at 28.2. In 1935 and 1937 Shiela Elliott achieved the sprint double with times of 11.2/28.0 and 11.8/27.6 respectively. In the intervening year it was Miss Lord who won both titles in 11.8/28.4.
In July 1934 the two Shielas, accompied by Eileen Lord, a younger sister, M. Anderson and J. McRoberts made what was almost certainly the first international trip by a Northern Ireland team. The venue was Stranraer in Scotland and they competed with great success gaining victories in both sprints and high jump.
A few weeks earlier Shiela Elliott finished second running off scrartch in the 100 yards at the North Belfast Harriers Sports. The meeting was noteworthy for the fact that Eddie Boyce, a member of the promoting club, won the Triple Jump in a new British Native Record of 48’ 5.5 “ (14.54). By this time Shiela Elliott, who had been introduced to the young jumper at a meeting in Larne, had another reason other than Uncle Willie’s encouragement for staying in the sport. Romance was blossoming and eventually Sheila was to become Mrs Shiela Boyce.
Eddie Boyce of course went on to represent Britain in the most famous long jump competition of all time – the 1948 Olympics won by Jessie Owens.
The first official NIWAAA Championships were held in Belfast on the 22nd July 1950 with seven individual events and a sprint relay. The Shot Putt and Javelin were added the following year the Pentathlon in 1955, the 880 yards in 1958, the 1500 metres in 1969 the 3000 metres in 1975 and the 400 hurdles in 1977. The most recent additions being the Hammer, Pole Vault 5000 metres and Steeplechase.
The first two decades of the championships were dominated by three women. Thelma Hopkins, Maeve Kyle and Mary Peters scooped between them an amazing 105 individual local titles between 1951 and 1975 the last of these being achieved by Mrs Kyle in the 400 hurdles and the Pentathlon in Coleraine at the age of 46