Morton, William (Billy) (1910–69), athletics organiser, was born 28 June 1910 at 26 Sandwith St., Dublin, eldest of three children of Patrick Morton, saddler, of Wicklow, and Mary Morton (née Clegg) of Cootehill, Co. Cavan. Educated at Great Brunswick St. (latterly Pearse St.) national school and Westland Row CBS, and apprenticed to the Manchester Bifocal Company, he established (1941) his own optician's firm at what became the family home, 10 Berkeley St., Dublin. He later had another business premises nearby at Blessington St., and became a registered optician under the Opticians Act, 1956.
Having won the national marathon title (1936), Morton was the first hon. registrar of the Amateur Athletic Union, Éire (AAUE), formed in 1937 after a period of international isolation following the refusal of the National Athletic & Cycling Association of Ireland (NACAI) to accept a ruling of the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) confining its jurisdiction to twenty-six counties. This resulted in the notorious Irish athletics ‘split’ – lasting till 1967 – and the formation of Bórd Lúthchleas na hÉireann (BLÉ). Morton was a conspicuous campaigner for unity throughout that period, raising the issue at several IAAF congresses. As hon. secretary (1940–69) of Clonliffe Harriers, he established a reputation as an organiser of major international athletics events in Dublin. The first big promotion (July 1946) drew a crowd of 8,000 to College Park; pre- and post-Olympic meetings in Lansdowne Road (1948, 1949) brought crowds of over 25,000 and featured many of the London Olympic medallists, including the great Fanny Blankers-Koen (Netherlands). This led indirectly to a controversy: the archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid (qv), condemned women's athletics, which were subsequently abandoned until 1961.
The successes of the new Tipperary-born runner, John Joe Barry (qv) of Clonliffe Harriers, boosted attendances at the 1948–9 meetings, which were run on grass tracks. Morton joined with Shelbourne soccer club in a short-lived venture to build a cinder track on the former corporation dumping-ground at Ringsend (1951). He was also manager of a two-man athletics team at the Helsinki Olympics (1952). This led to another controversy: though the IAAF accepted their entries, the Olympic Council of Ireland denied them official selection as the AAUE was a twenty-six-county body, and ordered them and Morton out of the Irish team quarters in Helsinki. Morton, however, marched in the opening ceremony behind the Israeli team, which also wore green uniforms.
Public interest in athletics revived with the emergence of Ronnie Delany, winner of the 1,500m in the Melbourne Olympics (1956), and centrepiece of a series of ‘Morton spectaculars’ (1955–7) in College Park and Lansdowne Road, with up to 28,000 spectators. The campaign for a cinder track also revived: building began (1957) on Clonliffe Harriers' Santry site, where a stadium was officially opened in May 1958. Strong Australian and New Zealand teams – in Britain for the empire and commonwealth games in Cardiff (July 1958) – visited the new venue, and several world records were broken at Santry before crowds of over 25,000 spectators. The stadium was modified (1959) with a banked tarmac cycling-track (sponsored by Guinness) which, on the day before its official opening, was damaged by bombs planted by extremists in the NACAI. After instant repairs, the meeting went ahead as scheduled, exemplifying Morton's motto ‘Everything will be all right!’ Santry stadium, renamed ‘John F. Kennedy Stadium’ (1962), continued to feature many Olympic and world record-holders, but financial difficulties threatened to close it more than once, and fund-raising was often unsuccessful. Morton suffered a major heart attack (1964) but recovered to stage further events, albeit on a more modest scale. He made more headlines with a hunger strike (1966) until public contributions cleared a particularly pressing debt. He died 14 December 1969 of a heart attack after falling into a roadway excavation near his home. In 1970 outstanding debts were cleared with a successful memorial meeting at Santry, which about this time became known as ‘Morton Stadium’; an arrangement on the tenth anniversary of his death formally confirmed the name and assured the future of the stadium, owned by Fingal county council and jointly managed by the council, Dublin city council, the Irish government, and Clonliffe Harriers. Morton married (1943) Elizabeth (‘Lily’), daughter of Jack and Rose Guilar (née Devine) of Belfast. They had two daughters, Yvonne and Wilhelmina (‘Billie’ Morton, a well known actress).