WEEKEND SPECIAL: Motorsport on Moll’s Gap is 120 years old this year – proof!

120th anniversary of the first known competition car on Moll’s Gap

August 10 this year marks the 120th anniversary of the first recorded passage of  a racing and professional racing driver driving Moll’s Gap

The Irish Automobile Club (IAC), now the Royal Irish Automobile Club, was founded in the Metropole Hotel in Dublin on January 22 1901, the same day Queen Victoria died.  

Following a successful motor parade to the Royal Dublin Society’s showground in April, the new club’s second event was an ambitious two-week tour of Ireland.

The event was the brainchild of two of the club’s founders, William Goff and Richard J ‘Arjay’ Mecredy.

The latter was a motoring journalist and founder of the Motor News, a periodical that had its first registered office in Tralee – but that is another story.

At the time the IAC was operating under the auspices of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland (ACGBI) and the British club  ran a 1000 mile Tour of Britain in 1900.

Between one thing and another the ACGBI did not have the appetite to run a second event and Goff and Mecredy pushed for the opportunity to be given to Ireland.

Such was the ambition of Mecredy, a former champion cyclist, to run an Irish Tour that it was said that it would have gone ahead, with or without London’s approval, so permission  was given to save face.

On  Thursday August 8, 1901, 16 cars left the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin in an attempt to circumnavigate Ireland by visiting some the country’s most remote locations including West Cork, South Kerry Connemara and Enniskillen before returning to Dublin some 15 days later.  

The pioneering motorists were joined by others along the way, while more withdrew due to mechanical issues, a total of 28 different cars took part in various stages of the tour. Only two finished!

Among the entrants was the  famous English racing driver, Charles Jarrott, who was a friend of Mecredy through cycling.

Some years earlier, in 1897, Mecredy stayed with the English man  during the London Cycling Show and it was Jarrott, who introduced the Galway native to the joys of motoring, an experience which set the tone for the rest of his life.

Also on the entry list was Dublin business man, and another champion cyclist, Harvey du Cros Jr who worked for his family’s huge automotive empire.

Amongst many other things, his father Harvey Sr was financially involved in the Dunlop and the Goodyear tyre companies. They were the importers of Panhard et Levassor  cars into Britain and Ireland and later became the Mercedes agents for the two countries.

Jarrott’s  CV was all the more impressive. He raced, professionally, from 1900 to 1904, winning the 1902 Circuit des Ardennes in Belgium and competed in the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup, the first official  motorrace to take place in Ireland. Jarrott  also looked after the London motoring affairs of the du Cross family by acting as their sales agent.

Just a few weeks prior to his Irish Motor Tour adventure Jarrott finished 10th in the 1901 Paris–Berlin Trial, driving a Panhard et Levassor. A deal set up by du Cross family  through business connections with the French company. He arrived to Dublin directly from France.

A third gentleman, by the name of  Roger Fuller, was to play a significant role in the entire story when the tour arrived in Kerry a few days later.

Fuller was a senior official in the ACGBI and along with Jarrott was one of only two British drivers who took part in the Irish Tour.  The British club sanctioned the event, as a result of Goff and Mecredy’s pressure but it did not support it and did not encourage its members to enter. 

5 May 2018; Sam Moffett and Noel O’Sullivan in a (Ford Fiesta R5) during Day One of the 2018 Cartell.ie Rally of the Lakes, at Special Stage 1 Molls Gap, Killarney, Co Kerry.

Both Jarrott and du Cros drove Panhard et Levassor racing cars – the former’s putting out seven-horsepower and the latter’s, showing it’s racing pedigree, was producing a staggering 16hp. 

Fuller was at the wheel of a 4.5hp De Dion Voiturette.

There were many more significant Irish motor industry heroes involved too, most notably, Dr John Boyd Dunlop, founder of the eponymous tyre company and Dr John Colohan, the first Irish person to drive  a car, sometime in the mid-1890s, while on holiday on the continent . In November of 1896 he imported one of the first petrol-engined cars into Ireland – a Mercedes.

Colohan, another IAC founder, and Mecredy achieved their notable driving achievement when they became the first motorists to drive through Beallaghbeama Gap one year before the Motor Tour of Ireland. It was probably the first time locals in this remote part of South Kerry ever saw a motor car of any description.

The Shannon Development Company, in 1900, was the first organisation to promote a motor tour in Ireland. The company had built a hotel in Killaloe and organised a motor trip from Dublin to the Clare town, via Nenagh in  County Tipperary.  

The Shannon Development Company is a direct forerunner to Irish Tourist Board (Failte Ireland) and now the government agency charged with promoting tourism in Ireland.

Several participants extended that 1900 tour by their own accord, including Colohan and Mecredy, who ventured as far as Killarney and stayed at the Lake Hotel. It was during this trip that they drove their two 6hp Daimler cars through Ballaghbeama Gap.

It will come as no surprise to learn that Mecredy was one the first people to publish a road map of Ireland specifically for the motorist, a map that described important details like road conditions and pavement structure.

Returning to the Motor Tour of Ireland of 1901, and after an overnight halt in Waterford the drivers made their way towards the south west.  The second night was spent in Cork city before they journeyed westward to Kerry via West Cork.

They arrived in Killarney via  Bantry, Glengarriff  Parknasilla and Moll’s Gap.

This is the first documented evidence of racing cars (certainly professional racing drivers) traveling the famous Moll’s Gap road.

In his autobiography; ‘Ten Years of Motors and Motor Racing,’ published in 1906, Jarrott describes his first glimpse of Killarney.

“I shall never throughout the whole of my life forget the first view I obtained of the Killarney Lakes,” he says. “Dismounting from the car, on the narrow winding road, we peered through a cleft in the rock and looked down on the fairest scene I can remember.”

Today, mention Moll’s Gap to any motoring or motorsport enthusiast anywhere in the world and they will know immediately what, and more importantly where, is being spoken of. 

A tradition that started 120 years ago remains a central part of the motoring heritage of Killarney. The road is used every year in the International Rally of the Lakes and the Killarney Historic Rally.  From 1936 until 1983 the famous stage was an essential part of the Circuit of Ireland Rally route too.

A version of this article will appear in the Killarney Magazine which is due in the shops any day now – however the Killarney Magazine feature tells the story of the first known passage of a motor car through the Gap of Dunloe and if you want to find out that story went, you will have to pick up a copy.

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