Irish Racing

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Ireland has long been the home of motor racing on public roads for the purpose, which lends interest to a splendid little soft-cover book by W.A. McMaster, AMIMI, Motoring Correspondent of the Belfast News Letter about racing in Ireland from 1903 to 1969.

Starting with the 1903 Gordon Bennett race, and a map of the 92-mile (in two loops) course, the steps which followed are traced, culminating in the use of the Ards circuit for the 1928 TT. For this, Wallace McLeod, the then Motoring Correspondent of the News Letter, must be thanked, his enthusiasm sparked off by attending a 1927 race meeting at Brooklands, and George Eyston, Earl Howe, Sir Algernon Guinness and Harry Ferguson assisted in getting the use of the now-famous 13 2/3–mile Ards circuit. Before this a course at Portadown had been considered and a Gran Prix was suggested for it, but never materialised.

The book covers the first and subsequent Ards TTs in some detail, with good pictures. The one of Major Hayes, 4½-litre Bentley actually shedding its o/s front wheel as it goes down Bradshaw’s Bray in the 1929 race is magnificent, and others depict the 1929 start, with hooded Arrol-Asters and two Model-A Fords preparing to mix it with Type 43 Bugattis and heavier metal (all the drivers seem to be wearing identical white overalls, although many are bare-headed – did the race regulations stipulate them?) and the Austin Ulster team with Howe’s private Alfa Romeo outside Ferguson’s Belfast garage before the 1929 race. There is also a picture of Nuvolari on his epic winning ride in the MG Magnette K3, in 1933, and a table reminds us that the Ulster TT was won three times by MG and Riley, and once by Lea-Francis, Mercedes-Benz and Alfa Romeo, with the lap record in the hands of Lebegre Delahaye) at 85.52 m.p.h.

McMaster then deals with the various circuits, most of them closed public roads, which were used in Ireland after the unfortunate fatal accident ruled out Ards. The TT ban ended the County Down Trophy races round-the-houses at Bangor, which were revived in 1937 as the Ulster Trophy race over a Ballyclare circuit of just over four miles lap distance. County Antrim also tried hard to find a course suitable for a bigger event and nearly had one, in the Glengormley-Templepatrick area. Antrim CC required the latter village to be bypassed, which called for resurfacing a small private road. Finance for this was guaranteed by the CC if the RAC guaranteed the race for a five-year guarantee, which could not be given. A nice touch was provided by the residents of Templepatrick petitioning the CC not to exclude their village from the race! The Ulster Trophy also died out in this pre-war period, so Northern Ireland lost its motor racing for nine years. But in the South it prospered. The new Cork circuit embracing the Carrigrohane straight where Joe Wright attempted the motorcycle speed record, was used from 1936 for the Cork GP, an F1 race being introduced in 1938, Phoenix Park had started even earlier, and the Leinster Trophy meetings were held at the Tallaght circuit right up to almost the eve of the war. There was, indeed, a Phoenix Park race on the day war was declared, of necessity confined to all-Irish drivers, with a motorcycle race hurriedly arranged to fill the bill . . . .

Much of the book is devoted to short histories of these races and their post-war survival and substitutes. From this much of interest emerges. For instance, I am reminded of the many great drivers who have competed in Irish road races. Fangio drove a BRM, as did Moss, in the 1952 Ulster Trophy over the 7.4-mile Dundrod circuit, Taruffi’s 4 1/2-litre Ferrari winning from Hawthorn’s Cooper-Bristol. The previous year HM the Queen Mother and Princes Margaret saw Giuseppe Farina win the £1,000 first prize in a 1 1/2-litre Alfa Romeo, from Parnell in the Thinwall Special, Farina averaging 91.46 m.p.h. Villoresi, Wimille, Dreyfus, Comotti and L. Gerard came to Cork in 1938.

Dundrod became the scene of the post-war TT, of course, until the RAC pronounced it too dangerous, Jaguar winning twice, both times driven by Moss, Aston Martin, Mercedes-Benz and DB-Panhard once each, Hawthorn’s Jaguar taking te lap record, at 94.67 m.p.h. All this is portrayed in words and excellent pictures. There is one picture of the cars about to start in the 1936 County Down Trophy Race at Bangor, with Powys-Lybbe’s Alfa Romeo, the ultimate winner, the works Austins and Rolt’s ERA on the front of the grid, the pits along a kerb lined by lamp-standards on one side of the road, the spectators behind ropes and barrels and more lamp-posts on the other side, as the cars prepare to race through the packed town – it would give the GPDA a fit! Yet I suspect that most of the drivers enjoyed this real racing so much that thereafter they found Brooklands a bit dull . . . .

The book is full of information about these pre-war Irish races, the hill-climbs, with tabulated results for Craigantlet in 1925 onwards, the later Mondello Park, Curragh and other races, the airfield races, rallies, autocross, etc., with sections on the Irish Clubs, Irish drivers who have done well out of Ireland, Trophy winners, and so on. It contains the story of all these Irish fixtures, the pre-war races round the 4 1/4-mile Phoenix Park circuit which attracted drivers of the calibre of Ramponi, Ivanowski, Kidston, Birkin, Campari, Eyston, Don, Driscoll, etc. (and where racing still atkes place, with the problem that spectators cannot be charged), the Leinster Trophy, which has the longest history of them all, going from Skerries in 1934 to circuits at Wicklow, Dunboyne, County Down, Bishopcourt, and Mondello the Bray round-the-houses races, similar races at Limerick, etc., with some excellent stories about them woven into the histories, including the splendid one of how the author, then in the RAF, was responsible for an Open-Day at Long Kesh airfield being changed to a grass-track meeting, which finally became a motorcycle road race, due to a chance remark to his armourer which got back to the CO. Incidentally, Miss Comerford, who drove at Phoenix Park in 1933, is claimed to be the first woman to take part in a road race in the British Isles; she had a rather improbable Hillman Minx, presumably an Aero. There is even a list of fatalities in Irish races, which number 20 competitors, nine spectators and two marshalls, since 1924. The abandonment of some of Ireland’s excellent public-road circuits after such accidents, or because of encroaching suburbia, or from anti-racing pressure in the towns, can be traced from this book. Anyone wishing to go to Ireland when the present troubles die out and drive over the old and existing courses, etc., would find it a useful guide. It costs 7s. 6d., the publishers being Century Newspapers Ltd., Donegall Street, Belfast. – W. B.

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