Easter Special – Kerry Motoring Facts that have Easter connections


By Sean Moriarty and with special thanks to John Crone for his archive photographs.

Easter weekend is traditionally Circuit of Ireland time and between 1936 and 1983 nothing else mattered in County Kerry  for local motorsport fans…Or did it? 

Here are ten Kerry/ Easter motoring facts you portably never heard of before. 

TEN: The O’Rahilly’s De Dion 

Irish republican and nationalist (Michael) The O’Rahilly was best known for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising. 

The O’Rahilly was one of the founders of the Irish volunteers  but he was also one of Ireland’s early adopters of the motor car. 

His De Dion was used as a barricade on Dublin’s Princess St during the 1916 Rising. It was blown to smithereens a few days before he himself met the same fate. 

The remains of the car, like much of the 1916 rubble, are buried under Hill 16 in Croke Park. 

The O’Rahilly was born in Ballylongford. 

NINE: Gap of Dunloe in 1901 

The first recorded passage of the Gap of Dunloe by cars happened in August 1901. The amazing feat was by completed by British Racing drivers Charles Jarrott and Roger Fuller and Dubliner, Harvey Du Cros Jr. All three were friends through cycling before switching to the new hobby of motoring. 

The Jarrott and the Du Cros family were linked through business too, Harvey Du Cros Sr imported cars from France and Jarrott was his London agent. 

It was during the Easter Holiday of 1898 that Jarrott taught Du Cros how to drive. 

EIGHT: The Easter Rally, 1972 

A viable security threat ahead of the 1972 Circuit of Ireland forced the Ulster Automobile Club to cancel the rally. Limerick Motor Club steeped in at the last minute and organised an event in less than six weeks that covered the traditional Killarney route. 

The rally was won by Cahal Curely and Austin Frazer in a BMW. Tralee’s Maurice Kelliher, a founding member of Kerry Motor Club, won the novice award. 

SEVEN: Monte Carlo Rally connection

The first true Circuit of Ireland (Trial) Rally was organised in 1936. It overnighted in Killarney and there were controls in Tralee and Ballybunnion. 

The rally was won by driver Basil Clarke and co-driver Ronnie Adams. There was a third person on board their Austin 16 Kempton Saloon named Wick Holmes who (most likely) served as the intrepid pair’s mechanic.

Adams went on to become one of Ireland’s most successful rally drivers – his biggest claim to fame was  winning the 1956 Monte Carlo Rally in a Jaguar Mk8. 

SIX: The Kingdom of Kerry 

The Circuit of Ireland’s annual Easter visits to Kerry spawned Kerry’s first motor club. 

The Kingdom of Kerry Motor Club was founded in December 1956 and its first event, The Circuit of Kerry Motor Rally, took place on Easter Monday, 1957. 

Both the club’s name and its event’s title are still used today – the Kingdom of Kerry Rally Championship is named after the club and Kerry Motor Club’s Circuit of Kerry Rally took its name from that first trial that started in Castlemaine. 

FIVE World Champions 

It is unlikely to happen again but thanks to the Circuit of Ireland, several World Champions sampled Kerry roads and Killarney hospitality over the years. 

These include Ari Vatanen and Hannu Mikkola and Stig Blomqvist. 

And while the Circuit of Ireland is now contained in the province of Ulster, the rally’s reputation as a breeding ground for future starts remains. The last time the rally was run, in 2019, current World stars Craig Breen and Killarney’s own Paul Nagle were the winners. 

FOUR: Russell Brookes

The English rally legend won the Circuit of Ireland on its last visit to Killarney in 1983, driving his Vauxhall Chevette HSR. 

A few years later he put his knowledge of Kerry roads to good use. He remains one of only two overseas drivers to win the Rally of the Lakes. Brookes did so, in 1988, driving a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth. 

Mark Lovell was the declared winner of the curtailed 1987 event in a similar Sierra.

THREE Happy Birthday 

The Circuit of Ireland is 90 year’s old this year . The first event was the Ulster Motor Rally but it was another five years before it became the Circuit of Ireland Trial – marking the first time it came to Killarney. 

In those 90 years The Circuit was suspended during World War II (1939–1945), and again in 1948 due to fuel shortages. Further cancellations occurred in 1957, 1972, 2001, 2007 and 2013 and of course the 2020 and 2021 events. 

TWO Special Stages

Kerry can rightly boast that it hosted the first-ever timed-to-the second special stage in Ireland.  Sometime between the Circuit gaining international status in 1958 and the mid-sixties the rally switched from a navigational tests to timed stages. I don’t know the exact year but the stage was certainly the Healy Pass from the Kerry side, starting at the Sibin Pub. 

ONE Paddy Hopkirk – four Circuit time winner one time Kerry winner

The Circuit of Ireland Rally gained international status in 1958. The first winner of the international status event was one Paddy Hopkirk. 

A year earlier Paddy won the Central Hotel Motor Rallly, organised by the Kingdom of Kerry Motor Club. The event had three starting points, Nead in Cork, Adare, County Limerick and Castlemaine. Paddy was driving a Ford Angila. 

He could be classed as an honorary Kerryman – he had a holiday house in South Kerry for years! 


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