By Sean Moriarty
It seems that Kerry County Council was the body behind bringing the final event in Irish Speed Fortnight (see part two) to the county but to verify this we need to step back in time to 1901.
The (Royal) Irish Automobile Club was founded in January of this year.
Founding members included Dublin Motor News editor Richard J Mecredy and the club’s first meeting at the Metropole Hotel was addressed by Claude Johnson, secretary of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland. (Those of you paying attention to part one will see a pattern already.)
The new club’s first event was a 1000-mile Tour of Ireland which attracted 16 entrants including five cars brought over from Britain by racing driver Charles Jarrott.
The tour visited Kerry.
“From Cappaquin to Clare, villagers congregated to welcome the motorists, while Killarney and Tralee were also crowded with enthusiastic spectators,” wrote motoring historian Brendan Lynch in Green Dust – Ireland’s Unique Motor Racing History 1900 -1939.
Mecredy, driving a 9HP Daimler acted as the guide for the August 1901 event.
The next paragraphs appear in the Kingdom Vintage Veteran and Classic Cars Club’s official programme from a 1993 event to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Ballyfinnane Hillclimb. Thanks to Tim O’Connell for supplying this info.
“The next leg of the journey was a stop en-route to visit the Devonshire Estate in Lismore. From Cork, the cars travelled to Bantry, Glengarriff, Parknasilla, and on to Killarney where they all appeared to have enjoyed themselves.”
The story goes that Jarrott and two of his racing friends, Harvey Du Cros and Roger Fuller said Moll’s Gap did not present enough of a challenge and went in search of something more exciting.
While staying in Killarney they decided to have a crack at the Gap of Dunloe road and despite a number of incidents along the way, including driving through a lake, Du Cros’s Panhard’s radiator overheating and a local using a stone to scrawl his name in the expensive paintwork of the same car, they made it to the top alive.
But they had nothing on two intrepid Daimler drivers a year earlier. The Shannon Development Company organised Ireland’s first motor tour in 1900, from Dublin to Killaloe.
Mecredy (that man again) and a Dr Colohan decided to return home via Beallaghbeama Pass – see main photo.
The (Royal) Irish Automobile Club grew into a powerful political and social movement.
“Indeed the club itself became a pioneering force on behalf of the motoring in Ireland both through the events it organised and through the influential voice it provided to governments on behalf of Irish motorists,” writes Bob Montgomery, the current curator of the RIAC archive in Dawson St and renowned motoring historian and author, in his book The Irish International Grand Prix 1929-31.
“In the years that followed and up to the outbreak of the First World War in 1913, it’s no exaggeration to say that the Irish Automobile Club was directly involved in every significant motoring development that took place in Ireland. The Irish Reliability Trials of 1906-1909 and 1913, the IAC Motor Shows at the Royal Dublin Society and in 1907 and 1908, the provision of road signs, and most significantly the organisation and running of the Gordon Bennett Race of 1903 – in all of these events, the gentlemen of the IAC took the lead.”
It almost brings us the full circle as we, again, look at the importance of that 1903 Gordon Bennett Race and the subsequent Irish Automobile Fortnight.
Remember from part one, Claude Johnson and Richard J. Mecredy were the two officials from the IAC who were appointed to find a suitable course for the race and that they did contact the secretaries of 34 different county councils.
Given Mecredy’s previous role in organising the 1000-mile Tour of Ireland two years earlier he would have had contact with Kerry County Council officials and hoteliers in Killarney, a town already well-established as a tourist resort.
Kerry County Council did bid for the race and while it was unsuccessful it did get the consolation that the final event in the Irish Automobile Fortnight – the Ballyfinnane Hillclimb was held in the county.
An article in Tim O’Connell’s official 1993 event programme, which describes Charles Rolls’ win, gives credence to this.
“He took away the beautiful Kerry County Council Cup, which cost the princely sum of 30 guineas and had been presented by Kerry County Council. The cup was magnificent and was displayed under spotlight in Switzer’s window in Grafton Street for weeks before.”
A second piece in the same programme puts the theory beyond doubt.
“The activities of the Tour  participants in Killarney were so popular that when a suitable circuit was being sought to stage the Gordon Bennett Race in Ireland in 1903, Kerry County Council was upfront in offering suitable locations to hold the Race.”
As always, I welcome comments or other material that would add to this and other articles. Three chapters in and we are still in 1903.
I have no further leads on the Rossbeigh or Farmer’s Bridge event of 1908 and 1909 but have a tentative one that may lead to info on the Inch Strand events of 1924 and I will chase that over the next few days