End of an era: The Circuit of Ireland Rally’s final days in Killarney

The hotels in Killarney may have offered respite to the weary crews who arrived in town late on Saturday evening but they had little time to enjoy the nightlife of the famed Kerry tourist town.

Penti Airikkala was leading when the rally arrived in Killarney on Easter Saturday night – photos thanks to John Crone

The first of 11 special stages, Moll’s Gap, got underway at 7.15 am and while the Easter Sunday competitive leg was some 15 miles shorter than the previous day’s offering, it was the sheer compactness of the timetable that added to the pressure.

The first car was due back in Killarney at 4 pm that evening for the second overnight halt, and remaining crews were expected to tackle 11 stages in South Kerry and West Cork.

Today was a rally within a rally and regardless of the overall honours at stake, there were three different prizes put up for the Killarney run

The Killarney Prize fund, put up by the Killarney Traders and Hoteliers offered £75 to each of the winners of classes 1 to 8 over the Sunday run while second place would get £50.

Bertie Fisher on Carragh Lake, April 3, 1983 . Photos thanks to John Crone

The Killarney trophy, presented by the Ulster Automobile Club, would go to the fastest overall driver on Easter Sunday. The Killarney and District Motor Club Trophy was to be awarded to the fastest driver over the opening two stages.

A fourth award, called the Unofficial Killarney Run award and the regulations surrounding it were equally vague: “For the best performance for part 3 of the rally by a competitor who is eligible to compete in same.”  Yeah, we don’t know either.

Killmackillogue, Cod’s Head and Ardgroom kept the crews on their toes in the early morning.

A fourth stage, not one familiar to newer fans, named Knockhoura was held just outside Castletown Bearhaven took place at 9.47 am.

Stage 29 took the crews all the way to Bantry for the Farnanes stage (11.13 am), most of which used roads similar to that of the Reenascreena Single Stage run by KDMC around this era.

Gortloughra Bridge, skirting Dunmanway, used the eastern portion of the Lough Allua stage, a favoured test in the Cork ‘20’ International rallies and Rally of the Lakes during the late 1990s and early noughties.

This was followed by Gouganbarra (12.04 pm), which finished at the hairpin, just inside the Cork side of the border, at the Top of Coom and again a road often used in different directions on the Cork ‘20’ or Rally of the Lakes.

The rally returned to county Kerry just after 12 noon on Easter Sunday and just three tests remained.

Looking at the timetable, crews were given over 90 minutes to get from the start of Gouganbarra to the start of stage 32 (the ninth of the day) which suggests Kenmare hosted a service halt – we welcome any additional information on this.

Beallaghbeama started a little further into what we are used to today, and the stage did not travel any part of the Sneem to Killarney road. 

However, it did go well beyond the now traditional finish line, as far as Glencar junction and not far from the start of Carragh Lake which started, more or less by the church and finished by the Red Fox Inn exit.

The final stage of the day, Glen Ellen, or as we might call it today, Rockfield, got underway at 14.42, just seven and a half hours since the first car faced for the Gap and West Cork.

At this point, Russell Brookes was leading, a lead he would never relinquish.

Finnish driver Penti Airikklla was leading on Saturday as the rally headed toward Killarney but, while still in the rally, had slipped well down the leader board.

Bertie Fisher, in his Ascona 4OO was now second, with Brendan Fagan, the best of the Irish Republic drivers in third in his Vauxhall Chevette.

German driver Harold Demuth in an Audi 80 quattro was fourth as the rally headed back to Killarney for the second overnight halt in the town.

Billy Coleman, who had retired his hired Ford Escort on Friday or Saturday, returned for the Sunday run and set the wet stages alight, running last on the road, he was third quickest over the Sunday loop. Not much is else is known about Coleman’s participation in the 1983 rally, he was in semi-retirement at this time and his name does not appear on the official entry list and he carried number 70 on his door panels all weekend.

Event winner Russell Brokes in his Vauxhall Chevette HSR – photo thanks to John Crone

Thus ended the Killarney Sunday run and the rally’s association with County Kerry.

Writing in The Kerryman newspaper in May 1982, legendary sports broadcaster Des Cahill, who used to live in Killarney and started his career with the Tralee-based newspaper ominously wrote the following.

“There is a strong possibility that the Circuit of Ireland rally will not return to Killarney in Easter 1983.

I understand that members of the organising committee, the Ulster Automobile Club, were annoyed about overcharging, traffic problems, and the small amount of sponsorship given.

Representatives from the Ulster Automobile Club will visit Killarney to discuss the problems with members of the local Junior Chamber, who organise the Rally’s stopover in Killarney.

The Ulster Automobile Club have two other definite venues, which they are considering as an alternative to Killarney for 1983, unless there will be an improvement here in the near future.

When questioned on the matter, Liam Lynch of Junior Chamber, said: “There are serious difficulties, and we are looking into them.””

Turns out the UAC had a deal done with Waterford for 1984, as differences between the chamber and the club could not be resolved. 

At the least the crews did have one final chance to enjoy the town – Monday’s departure was not scheduled until 13.07, a 6.70-mile  blast over Knockacullig.

Jim McRae on Knockacullig on Easter Monday, April 4, 1983, thanks to John Crone

And that was that – Killarney’s association with the Circuit of Ireland Rally was over

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