Tax evasion, the Black and Tans, accusations of cheating and the GAA’s ban on foreign games – the Inch Motor Races from 1920 to 1926 had it all

Tax evasion, the Black and Tans, accusations of cheating and the GAA’s ban on foreign games – the Inch Motor Races from 1920 to 1926 had it all. 

By Sean Moriarty 

What have the Black and Tans got to do with the history of Kerry Motorsport? 

Quiet a lot actually, and not for good reasons. 

First a quick history lesson for our overseas readers who may not realise the full impact of the opening sentence. 

Between January 1919 and July 1921 Ireland was in the midst of the War of Independence as the country strived to free its self from British rule. 

The Black and Tans was the derogatory name given to the British Army’s reinforcements that were sent to Ireland to quell the uprising and put the unruly Irish back in their place. They achieved the exact opposite, such was their violent modus operandi and reputation for brutality, it only encouraged the neutral Irish, who were up to this point nonchalant about the War, to take the side of their fighting countrymen. 

The Tans, who remained in the country until they were disbanded in 1922, were notorious for reprisal attacks on civilians and civilian property, so when the Irish Republican Army (not to be confused with the Irish terrorism group called the IRA) ambushed a lorry load of British soldiers near Annascaul in West Kerry , disarmed 13 of them , and set fire to their  truck, someone was going to suffer. 

The attack happened on Thursday August 18, 1920. 

By Saturday, a young Kennedy man was shot dead in the village as the Tans avenged their burnt-out lorry. An innocent man was assassinated.  

There was a public outcry. Local sports events and other public gatherings were cancelled as a mark of respect.  

One of the first to get postponed was the planned ‘Inch motor sports’ scheduled for Sunday, August 21. 

The decision to cancel came too late for The Kerryman newspaper.

A preview to the event carried the following words that were filed in the Castlemaine notes section: “Well you may bet your ‘bottom dollar’ as our hustling friend the Yankee says, it will be far from lonely on Sunday with the Inch Motor Car and Cycle Races in the offing. Every mode of conveyance, from that drawn by donkey in tandem to the lordly “Henry Ford” will be knocking the dust out of it.” 

The reference to “every mode of conveyance” is important in another sense. 

The Inch speed trial was organised by the Tralee based Inch Motor Sport Committee. This was a sub-committee of the Tralee to Dingle Railway Company. 

Members and spectators would have been preparing to arrive in Inch via the train to Dingle.

The train would have arrived in Annascaul, just in time for Mr Kennedy’s funeral. 

The following week’s The Kerryman explained the impact of the tragedy in more detail: 

“The news of the tragedy created feelings of the most profound regret in Tralee. A hurried meeting of the Inch Motor Sports Committee was convened at Benner’s Hotel, where it was unanimously decided to postpone the fixture owning to the sorrow which had fallen on the district. 

“On a motion of Mr Benner, seconded by Mr T Barrett, a vote of sympathy was passed to the relatives of the deceased.” 

This meeting would have taken place on Saturday night, not long after the shooting and on the eve of the planned event.

There is no evidence if the event did get underway later in 1920 or even 1921 and there is very limited information to suggest an event may have taken place 1922. 

One explanation is that in April 1921, The Kerryman newspaper’s printing press was destroyed by the Tans and the paper and its sister title, The Liberator, did not resume production until July 1923.

So, the next mention of Inch sand races was published in September 1923. 

 The Liberator newspaper carried this news item in September, 12, 1923. 

“Inch motorcycle and car races will be held at the popular venue ‘by Inch island’s side’, next Sunday. The programme is an excellent one, and will be carried out on a natural sand track which could not be surpassed. A pony race is a welcome innovation in this year’s sports. An excursion train leaves Dingle on Sunday in connection with the event and hundreds will surely avail of this grand day’s out.” 

The mention of the new pony race is enough to suggest something happened the year before… 

And unfortunately, results and reports of the 1923 races were not published in the following editions of local newspapers.  

However, a fascinating letter, which can be downloaded here, tells some, if not all, of the day’s stories. 

From a motorsport history point of view, it is important to examine some of the questions asked in the letter. 

“Why in the open race for the Jacob Cup, a humble Ford was forced to line up at the scratch mark beside a Maxwell and a full-throated Buick. Did it not look like a whippet amongst greyhounds? Why was that Ford not allowed take its natural stand at the 150 yards mark? Why was his excellence in steering mechanism so severely penalised?

“What gland did Mr Boland insert into that old grey Ford that gave it such mysterious vigour and spright-fullness?”

It took another year to answer that batch of questions but his final question, in this very long letter was:

 “Who is that man from Tralee who more than others is ever-ready to help sport in West Kerry? That last question I was able to answer – it is Mr Tooher,”

A year later, on Thursday July, 17, 1924, The Liberator newspaper introduced the wider public to Mr Tooher and his not so insignificant role in the history of motorsport in County Kerry. 

He was the general manager of the Tralee to Dingle Railway line and the promotion of events in the West of the County were in his interests. Fans took the train from Tralee to Annascaul for Inch events and it is also highly possible that the ‘racing’ cars were transported from the county town in this way too. 

“The Inch Motor Car and Cycle races which come off next Sunday on the glorious strand of Inch will, granted favouring weather, attract a tremendous attendance,” the front page of The Liberator said. 

“A very attractive program has been compiled by the Hon Sec Mr J.P. Tooher whose very name is a guarantee of success and the energetic committee associated with him.” 

On this occasion there were classes for Hackney Cars and a “separate contest confined to Ford cars.” 

The Kerryman, dated July 17, 1924 carried this preview: “Inch Motor Races, now a hardy and deservedly popular re union on “the silver sands”—are booked for next Sunday, and should attract a record attendance.

A natural race track when the tide is out

“I shall have more to say on the matter; but advise you, for the present, to make a note of Inch for next Sunday.

“Should the weather be anything like decent, Inch is going to be the one bright spot.” 

On Monday, July 21, 1924, The Kerry News carried this report.

“Inch Motor Car and Cycles races on Sunday were brilliantly successful. A large crowd travelled by rail from Tralee while all the morning heavily freighted motor cars bore their quota westwards. Though the morning was cloudy and threatening, and there was heavy rain before the programme started the evening held up well and the spectators thoroughly enjoyed the day’s outing on Inch Strand. The racing was good and the speed of 66 miles per hour achieved by Mr. Denis O’Connor’s Dodge car in the Jacob Cup Race, was a record for Inch.”

This event is mentioned by Brendan Lynch, in his brilliant book: ‘Green Dust – Ireland’s Unique Motor Racing History 1900-1939.” 

The full results of event were: 

The Motor Cycle Handicap race was won by Mr. B. O’Donnell, Tralee; M. J. Fenwick, Tralee 2nd. 

The ten mile motor race (Fords only) was won by Mr. F. Carroll, Ballybunion,; Mr. T. Scanlon, Ardfert, being second. 

10 miles motor cycle race—Mr. Maurice Healy, Tralee 1st; J. Fenwick 2nd. 

Jacob Cup—D O’Connor, Tralee,. (Dodge) 1st; J. Raymond, Tralee (Buick) 2nd; F. Reynolds. Tralee, (Buick) 3rd. 

10 mile race for Hackney cars:

R. Lavin, Tralee (Dodge), 1st,  F. Reynolds, (Buick) 2nd; T. Scanlon Ardfert, (Ford) 3rd. 

The Committee Cup and stakes: –

G. Raymond, Tralee, (Buick) 1st; R Lavin, Tralee (Dodge)  2nd; K  O’Donnell, Tralee (Maxwell) 3rd. 

Race on Sunday – sell on Monday! This advert appeared in The Kerryman on August 2 1924.  Mr O’Connor’s Garage was on Edward St, Tralee

Tuesday’s edition of The Liberator was full of praise for the event. 

“Hon. Sec. and Sporting Committee of the Inch Motor Cycle and Car Races are to be congratulated on the magnificent  success that attended their fixture on last Sunday.”

The writer goes off in a random tangent but a few paragraphs later: “To return to the Inch races and the success achieved by Mr Tooher and the Committee ‘was above their deserts.’

The media, drivers and fans seemed to like Mr Tooher. The taxman did not. 

In January 1925 he was fined £50 by Inland Revenue for “breaches of Entertainment Tax in connection with the Inch Motor Races,” according to The Kerry News.  He had eight prosecutions against him for “failing to place entertainment tax stamps on admission tickets.” 

The story gets a bit muddled here. Remember our prolific letter writer from above. 

The following passage in appears in  The Kerryman dated August 9, 1924. 

“The 13-mile motor race at Inch Strand for the Jacob Cup which was won by Mr D O’Connor, Tralee with is Dodge, and objected to by Mr Boland (Ford) will be re-run between the declared winner and the objector at a later date.” 

If this paragraph relates to the 1924 event, then the 1923 letter writer was a sidekick. 

Results for the 1923 event have yet to surface but it begs the question, why did the race have to be re-contested, not only a year after the potential dispute but after the 1924 running of the races too?

Mr Boland does not appear on any info regarding the most recent running of the two events in 1924 and as the letter writer pointed out he was, seemingly, at an unfair disadvantage when the handicaps were being decided during the earlier, 1923, event.

Who knows, but allegations of cheating only add to the story.

As for our friend Mr Tooher. It seems the taxman got the better of him, and while there were races in 1925, the train company did not provide the transport on this occasion.

The Liberator newspaper of August 11, 1925 reported a new Hon Sec by the name of  James McCarthy. 

“Inch was favoured with ideal weather for its annual motor races which were held over the beautiful strand there yesterday,” reported the Kerry News  on August 10, 1925 “There was a very large attendance of people who were compelled to go there by road as, for some unknown reason, there was no railway facilities provided.” 

Dr McGuire from Listowel won the feature race, for the Jacob Cup, on his Willy’s Knight while  W Mangan from the same town was second in a Dodge and P O’Shea, Killorglin was third in another Dodge. 

JJ Galvin from Listowel won the Committee Cup driving a Ford, ahead of Ballybunnion’s F Carroll  with O’Shea taking third place again according to The Liberator. However, The Kerry News declared  Gerald Ryan from Tralee as the winner of this race. 

A special prize went to Eugie O’Donnell from Tralee who “won the race for cars covering 500 yards in the slowest time,” according to The Kerryman but The Liberator said this prize went to J Crean, Annascaul.  

There were two motorcycle races, E.F Hewison from Cork won the first on a Triumph and a J Burke from Tralee won the second race 

The next  mention of the Inch Motor Races was made in The Kerryman, dated July 10, 1926.  There were attempts to run the event on June 12 but it was postponed until July.

An advert in the June 5, 1926 issue of The Kerryman, in anticipation of the postponed event, listed the committee as follows: 

Inch: D Foley; W.T. Bowler, D McCarthy; J Moriarty; W Bowler; M Dowling; J Kennedy; T O’Brien; J McCarthy

Annascaul: J Crean, T Kennedy; P Keane; M.T O’Donnell; D McKenna;

Tralee: J. Benner; E O’Donnell; J Reynolds; E Morell; D O’Connor, D. Twomey 

The event’s indicators were listed as: J. Flavin; T Barrett; ?. Houlihan, Dingle; J Thompson; Killarney 

The preview article in The Kerryman said: “The popular fixture will take place at the famous Strand on Sunday next. Entries have been received from as far as part as Dublin and Cork. 

“Excursion trains will run from Tralee and Dingle in connection with event.” 

P O’Shea from Killorglin won the Jacob Cup, run over 20 miles, in his Dodge, fending of a challenge from Waterford’s J Egan who was at the wheel of a racing Bugatti. Egan got revenge in the Committee Cup race and also took home the honours in the reverse race!

Organisational standards were high to the extent that the Royal Irish Automobile Club were considering holding its annual championship event on the famous strand in September of that year. 

However, another issue was beginning to come to the fore. 

“The Inch Motor Races, held on Sunday, were, on the whole, successful. There is no question whatever that the meeting would have been, far more extensively patronised but for the inexcusable clashing with the important Gaelic fixtures held in Tralee on the same day. It is a pity that there is nobody in existence to which such matters could be referred, for the benefit of all concerned. I suppose the G.A.A. ban on foreign games makes this a matter of some difficulty. I wonder if motor racing comes under the classification of a foreign game?” reported The Kerryman on July 17, 1926. 


This is the story of the first five years of the Inch  Motor Races. 

Less than a month ago, I knew about five lines about the 1924 races – gleaned from Brendan Lynch’s book -and not another thing.  

It was personal for me, my father, Michael, is from Inch and I spent many a summer on my late grandmother’s farm which is less than 5ks from the famous beach. 

Through researching another article on the Gap of Dunloe, which will be published elsewhere later this year, I worked with Irish automotive historian Bob Montgomery who revealed one piece of information that, basically, opened the floodgates. Thanks Bob! 

I don’t claim this to be definitive and as always if new material comes to light the information will be updated.

I have my own questions too. What was Mr Boland’s beef and what year did he feel he was robbed of the Jacob’s Cup? Speaking of the cup…where is that now?

I hope to find the time to research beyond 1926 – events did continue into the 1930s but were run by Cork and District Motor Cycle Club. For now I am going close out this fascinating period of  Kerry motorsport and motoring history. 

The story should not end here – any additional info greatly received:

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