One for the Birds – how a custard man tackled Bealach Óisín Pass in 1903 driving a Mercedes – a load of trifle for April 1 or a jelly-good true story?

If you think this morning’s story about how a 24 Hours of Le Mans race-winning car ended up in a field in Kilmoyley was far-fetched you really are not going to believe this one. 

This morning’s post is here

if you haven’t seen it yet. 

Ballaghisheen Pass, Co. Kerry, Ireland

This evening’s story is about a link between the inventor of custard and pioneering Kerry motoring.  

A member of a famous food manufacturing family was one of the first people to drive a car over Bealach Óisín Pass in South Kerry nearly 120 years ago. 

And one of the drivers that accompanied him actually reversed his car up the Pass.

This story might be for the Birds but you will get your just desserts if you read to the end – it is a trifle long to explain it but it is a jelly-good story. 

The story begins a few days before  the famous Ballyfinnanne Hillclimb of 1903. 

Competitors who had raced in the Cork event, the penultimate event of the Irish Speed Fortnight, which started with the Gordon Bennett Trophy Races, made their way to Kerry for the final event – the hillclimb between Tralee and Killarney. 

This story is well-documented elsewhere on this website but it is worth mentioning  Charles Rolls again. He went on to win the first closed-road motorsport event in Kerry on July 15, 1903. Later he became a founding partner in Rolls Royce Motor Cars. 

A few days before the Tralee event drivers overnighted in Killarney and some decided to make the journey to the hillclimb via the Ring of Kerry. 

Two of the three drivers were Harvey DuCros Jr on his 12 h.p. Ariel. He was  followed by his brother William  on a 15 h.p. Panhard. The brothers were well-known in motoring circles at this point and their family business interests included owing shares in Dunlop and Goodyear tyres. They were the Irish agents for Panhard cars. 

The names of three members of the party are confirmed by both reports in ‘The Kerry Evening Post’ dated July 18, 1903 and a passage in Mary Coghlan’s very well-researched book: ‘Echoes of Dunloe – A History – from the beginning to 1960.’ 

The third member of the team was a ‘Mr. Bird, of Custard Powder fame, driving  a 23 h.p. Mercedes,” according to the Kerry Evening Post. 

That Mr Bird was Alfred Jr , the son of the company founder.

In the early days of motoring in England he took to a Bollee. He then acquired Charles Rolls’ 6 h.p. Panhard; later, a 12 h.p. Panhard, and then a 24 h.p. Mors, and later a 15 h.p. Panhard.

He was for sometime, the Chairman of the Races Committee of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland which he joined as a founder member, on December 15, 1897. He was a member of the Club Committee since August 9, 1898 and was one of the guarantors in the early days of the Club.

During his visit to Ireland he was chairman of the food company set up by his father Alfred Sr.

Afred’s son Charles A Bird became an accomplished racing driver in his own right and was a regular visitor to Shelsley Walsh Hillclimb, Worcester in the 1910s and 1920s driving a  25/30hp Sunbeam. 

Alfred Senior, Charles’ grandfather, developed his own, unique recipe, because his wife was allergic to eggs, the key ingredient used to thicken traditional custard.   

The three drivers went the opposite direction to the now traditional Ring of Kerry route, visiting Derrynanne, Caherdaniel and Caherciveen on their way to Tralee. 

They traversed the Gap of Dunloe earlier in the day but were far from the first drivers to make this journey – in fact Harvey Du Cros is one of three that holds the Gap of Dunloe record but that is part of another research story that will be published in a few weeks. 

Later in the day they set a record. It is believed that they were the first motorists to cross  the mountain pass.  Bealach Óisín Pass has often since featured in the Circuit of Ireland Rally and the Rally of the Lakes. 

“The three cars, that had in the morning, passed the Gap of Dunloe had unique experience in surmounting the steep pass of Bollough-o-shein which crosses the Coomcarra Mountain at a height of nearly 2,400 feet,” adds the Kerry Evening Post. 

“The surface of the road at the steepest point of the pass is composed of a deep lair of loose shingle and when the front wheels were buried in this yielding mass, Mr Du Cros, reversed his Ariel in the narrow path and drove it backwards up the steep gradients, a feat of steering and driving which made some of the spectators rather uneasy.” 

There you have it, one of the first known crossings of Bealach Óisín Pass in a motor car was funded by the family fortune that gave you Bird’s custards and jellies. And another driver did the route backwards. 

A true story, or a tall tale for April Fool’s Day?  I will let you make up your own mind!

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