North Tipperary and elsewhere, 1920 onwards
The particular part of North Tipperary lies in a triangle with points at the bridge over the Shannon at Portumna, Birr and Nenagh. In the motoring sense the district has one sure claim to distinction in that in the first decade of this century there lived at Belle Isle, near Portumna. Charles Segrave. His son, de Hare, was subsequently to win wide and undying fame. The Segraves were intimate friends of my father, who often spoke to me about de Hare. Carles Segrave brought a car with hint from England, with a mechanic to look after it. If he was not the first motorist in the district, he was certainly one of the very early ones. The make of car is not known (I believe the first was an Argyle, followed by a small Rover and De Dietrich etc. Ed.) they left the district before I was born in 1915, so I never met either de Hare or his father. He, of course, was a schoolboy hero of mine and I followed his racing and record-breaking career closely. I can still vividly recall the sadness I felt as a schoolboy at Ampleforth, when he was killed on Lake Windermere.
In 1930 Major H. H. P. Deasy, of the Deasy car and Siddeley-Deasy, an uncle through marriage, returned to Ireland and carne to live about 3 miles away from us. So perhaps this makes a second claim of motoring distinction for this part of Ireland. He had a Wolseley saloon of about 1928, with a 6-cylinder overhead-camshaft engine, the performance of which in his hands was anything but pedestrian.
I dearly have all internal combustion engines and even in the 1920s there was plenty to interest me. Our car was a 1914 Model T Ford with brass radiator and flat-topped front mudguards. It had acetylene lighting, devised and fitted by my father. The house was also lit by acetylene. My father was taught to drive by my mother, who had started in 1912, also on a Model T Ford. The bad roads of those days, thin tyres, lots of broken stone, made her an expert in wheel-changing and puncture-repair. In addition to the car there was a 1918 Titan tractor, a 1914 Evinrude outboard motor, and an open 18 ft. motor-boat my father bought front Charles Segrave. [This boat is referred to in Cyril Posthumus biography of Sir Harry Segrave Ed.] The latter had a single cylinder 2-stroke engine made by G. H. Blomstrom Ltd., of America, with ignition by battery and trembler coil. Like the Evinrude, it was a machine of unbelievable crudity. I subsequently got both of them to go, but my father, to my sorrow, scrapped them. It is a pity as the Blomstrom, particularly, would have been a real antique. It must have been made in the early part of the century.
In 1923 the Titan was supplemented by a second-hand Fordson, made in the Ford Tractor Plant at Cork in about 1919. It is still in existence today, and is the second-oldest working Fordson in the country. This was established in a competition run by Ford of Ireland a few years ago. In 1924 the Model T was sold and replaced by a Trojan on solid tyres. It was a very troublesome and unreliable car, and was only kept for two years. The narrow tyres wore two deep ruts in our avenue, and you were literally “in the groove” until you reached the gate about ¼ mile away. It was replaced in 1926 by a Citroen, of which there was a series of three. Unexciting cars, but rugged, long-lasting, very reliable, and well suited to local conditions. The last of the Citroens was replaced in 1936 by a 22 h.p. Ford V8 saloon, which was sold during the war. In 1927 the Citroen had been supplemented by an open Austin 7, bought secondhand in England, and said to be a 1924 model. It was, to my mind, a delightful little car, to which more later on. Also in 1927 the Evinrude outboard supplemented by a Lockwood, an excellent American outboard motor which gave us a lot of fun and quite a few adventures.
In the 1920s there were not great many cars in the district. Model T Fords were the most numerous, and Overlands were also popular. The local doctor had a Dort, and a friend of my mother had a Waverley. My cousins, the Esmondes (one rot whom was Lieut/Commander Eugene Esmonde, VC) owned a Model T with a non-standard radiator, as also did an uncle of mine. The Esmonde Model T Ford was replaced by a Rugby Durant, which ran for many years. The engine was subsequently fitted to a boat which my brother and I owned. This made yet another addition to the family stable. The Esmondes also had an ancient Overland lorry, with solid tyres and chain drive. The Durant was replaced by an A-C Light Six, a very nice car, other a Buick limousine of about 1920 or 1921. There was also a small French car, referred to as a ”Baby Peugeot”, but a recent article in Motor Sport makes me wonder if this is correct. An uncle owned a small Lagonda of about 1925. I remember it as a 2-seater and it had a very high reputation. There was also an ABC owned by a cousin. All in all quite a variety.
Motor Sport touches on the aviation scene and I digress slightly to do the same. After the Treaty in 1922 British Military flying ceased. Prior to 1922 one did see aircraft from time to time, but after that they were very rare indeed. However, one day in 1934 I was at a tea party with an uncle and aunt who had a large park between the house and the lake. We heard an aeroplane and presently saw it. It circled round and landed, the pilot being the Eugene Esmonde previously mentioned, who had flown over from England on leave from Imperial Airways. He was given tea, and then took off again to land at his home about four miles away. The aircraft was a Simmonds Spartan. It is perhaps worth mentioning that Eugene Esmonde and his five bothers in WW2 were between them VC, DSO, DSC, OBE. That VC was the second one in the family, an ancestor haying won his Cross in the Crimea.
To revert to motoring, my own driving career began secretly in in 1924. The mail was delivered to tour local Post Office in a Model T Ford, the owner of which tought me the rudiments of the art. One could do suchthings on the public roads of the Ireland of those days. When my parents found out they took it very well, and I was allowed to drive on the avenue, which fortunately was fairly long. The Trojan, although troublesome to my parents, was a joy to me because, thanks to the internal starting device, I could start it myself, and drive it round the yard and on the avenue. The Austin 7, I remember with warm and lasting affection, I drove it quite a bit on the local toads, before getting my first driving licence in 1932. In 1934 I started my engineering apprenticeship in London and became a motorcyclist, owning Coventry-Eagle, Velocette MOV and KSS, and a Sunbeam S7 after the War.
Wartime was a motoring paradise for me, in the Middle East and Italy. I was an Infantry Officer and MTO of my battalion, and I used the opportunity to drive and ride anything I could lay my hands on – British, American, French, German and Italian – including a Sherman tank. What fun it was, and how I wish I had the petrol now that I used in so carefree a manner in those days! I owned my first car in 1952, a 1938 Series-E Morris 8, its arrival coinciding with that of the girl who became my wile. Despite being badly neglected before I had it, it was still reliable and never let me down. It was succeeded by an s.v. Morris Minor, secondhand, which was a wedding present, and then there was a succession of Morris Minors, Ford Anglia 105 Es, 4 different Cortina, a Hillman Minx and a Triumph 2000, also various Minis. The present “stable” includes a Dolomite 1500 HL, a Mini, a 450 Desmo Ducati and a Kawasaki 200 belonging to my sons, a 1936 Champion outboard fully restored and used quite a lot, and a 1939 Neptune outboard nearing completion of restoration. I also have a small 7-cylinder air-cooled radial engine under construction. J. F. Hickie