25 Years of the Killarney Historic Rally – first event December 8, 1996


25 Years of the Killarney Historic Rally

Words: Sean Moriarty Programme Archive: Mike O’Shea

First published in the official programme of 2021 rally programme


Long-serving Killarney and District Motor Club member, Maurice Nagle, identified the gap in the rally calendar in December, after the Rally of the Lakes moved to its now traditional May date. This led to the formation of the Killarney Historic Rally. It has etched itself into the mainstay of Irish rallying.


Dessie Nutt, who would go on to become the most successful driver in the event’s history, recorded his first of seven wins. He outpaced the rally’s first winner, John Keatley, who was back this year in the same Porsche 911 he drove to victory in 1996. Sadly, Dessie passed away in the run-up to this year’s rally.


The same pair of drivers fought for honours in the third running of the rally – Nutt taking the win from Keatley by well over a minute.

Geoff Crabtree and Liz Jordan made it a Porsche one-two-three at the finish ramp.

The winners of the modified section were Kieran O’Neill and Paul Nagle marking Nagle’s first victory on the early steps of his journey to World Rally Championship stardom.


Dessie Nutt recorded a hat-trick of wins, with Geraldine McBride on the notes, the Porsche crew held off the early challenge of John Keatley and Maurice Beckett.

Gary McCormick acted as event Clerk of the Course this year and 20 years later his son Darren took the helm, marking the first time in the club’s history that a father and son clerked the Historic or any KDMC rally.


The 2000 Killarney Historic Stages Rally was won, once again by Derry-based GP, Dessie Nutt. The victory marks his fourth consecutive triumph on this event. He and co-driver, Geraldine McBride, led throughout, but had been fortunate to emerge from the opening stage following a meeting with an errant deer – the Porsche 911 struck the animal but did not incur any damage.


Twenty years ago Ireland was fighting a different health crisis – this time in the animal kingdom as Foot and Mouth Disease disrupted the farming sector. As rallies pass through farmlands it was decided, unanimously, at a KDMC meeting on August 7 not to run the rally because of the prevailing situation at the time.


Dessie Nutt and Geraldine McBride in a Porsche 911 added another win to their  Killarney Historic Rally CV. After 10 tough stages, they came out ahead of the similar car of John Keatley and Maurice Beckett, with Mervyn Johnston and Richard Hyland the first Mini in third place.

John and Christy Farrell were the winners of the Post Historic Section and Phil Collins and Howard Davies took the Classic section.


British Historic Rally Champion Steve Perez won the 2003 edition of the event. The big threat to Perez was always going to be his close friend Dessie Nutt, but a clutch problem early in the event forced Nutt and co-driver Liz Jordan to run without first gear in their Porsche 911.

Perez may be the holder of an (unverified) Killarney record. Could he be the only overseas driver to enter the Rally of the Lakes, The Killarney Historic Rally and the now discontinued Killarney Forestry Rally?


The 2004 running of the Killarney Historic Stages Rally was granted the accolade of Stage Rally of the Year at the International Historic Motorsport Awards.

The award was presented at the second International Historic Motorsport Show held at Stoneleigh Park, England. Clerk of the Course Tim Clifford accepted the Award on behalf of Killarney and District Motor Club from former British Open and Irish Tarmac Rally Champion, Russell Brookes.


Ray and Elaine Cunningham won the 2005 Killarney Historic Rally in their Mini Cooper S. Having led the event from start to finish, the Galway couple emerged from the final stage of the event, Killmackillogue 2, with an advantage of 34 seconds over their closest challenger, Russell Brookes on his first competitive outing in five years.


The 2006 Killarney Historic Stages Rally came to a dramatic conclusion when Dessie Nutt and Geraldine McBride snatched victory from Ray Cunningham and Richard Hyland on the 12th and final stage. Cunningham, the winner in 2005, led the rally from the off, in his Mini Cooper S, but Nutt, driving a Porsche 911, whittled the gap down to ten seconds going into the final test near Beaufort. Nutt was 11 seconds quicker, taking victory by one second.


Ray Cunningham and Richard Hyland made amends by winning the 2007 edition of the rally – his second victory in total. 

Steve Smith and Phil Spurge won the Classic section, and Phil Collins and Adrian Deasy won the competitive Modified section. Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle were fourth in the Modified section in a Ford Escort Mk2.


Motorsport Ireland decided to uphold the recommendation of the Rallies Committee that a permit should not be issued for the 2008 Killarney Historic Stages Rally.

At the time the club refuted any suggestion that safety was an issue on the 2007 event. The steward’s report on the 2007 event did not highlight any safety deficiencies but for whatever reason, the permit was not granted.


The club came up with an innovative way to help spectators enjoy this year’s rally. The rally programme, with maps and entry lists, was included in The  Kingdom newspaper as a supplement so all spectators had to do was buy a copy of the paper. Innovative in 2009 but probably questionable in 2021 – the sales of rally programmes is a vital income for organising clubs these days.


The rally was based in Kenmare for the second year running but it never got off the ground.

On the days leading up to the rally, the South West of Ireland was covered in sheet ice and even heavy snow in some places. It was, simply, too dangerous to run the event and some competitors would have found it impossible to travel – a decision to cancel was made two days before kick-off. 


The 2011 event attracted observers from the FIA European Historic Rally  Championship with a view to including the rally in future championships. While the Killarney Historic Rally was never included in the European championship calendar it proved a worthwhile exercise for Killarney and District Motor Club as the Rally of the Lakes did feature in the championship some years later.


New for 2012 was the introduction of the gala dinner to coincide with the prizegiving.  Each driver and navigator were invited to attend the event, in the Mangerton Suite of the Gleneagle Hotel, not just to celebrate the rally but to mark the closure of the Irish rally season for another year. 

It is a tradition that is still going on to this day and this year’s rally will also draw to a close with a similar end of season celebration and rally Christmas Party. 


This was the first year that Rentokil-Initial came on board to sponsor the rally. Thanks to the generosity of MD Michael O’Mahoney, this is on course to be one of the longest-serving sponsorship deals in Irish rallying.

Mark Falvey and Diarmuid Lynch won the event that featured stages like Moll’s Gap, Beallaghbeama, Kilgobnet and Coolick.


At the end of eight classic stages, Denis Moynihan and Ger Conway (Ford Escort MkI) edged out Tomas Davies and Eurig Davies in an Escort Mk2 by 21 seconds. A notable feature of this event was back-to-back runs over the Gortnagane stage. The first test was run in daylight and after a holding control near Rathmore GAA grounds, the crews re-entered the test under the cover of darkness.


Rain rain, stay away, come again another day. Unfortunately, this was not the case and the rally was cancelled at the eleventh hour due to flooding caused by Storm Desmond. It was a bitter blow for Clerk of the Course Kevin Flannery and the 130 crews waiting in Parc Ferme but it was the only option given the widespread flooding in the area.


Local man Rob Duggan closed his year as the Billy Coleman Young Rally Driver of the Year in style by winning the Modified section of the rally.

Seven-times Circuit of Ireland winner Jim McRae showed that he has lost none of his flair by winning the Post-Historic section in a Vauxhall Firenza, while Ryan Barrett from Omagh was best in the Classic section in an Escort.


This was the last appearance of Dessie Nutt in the event but what a legacy he leaves behind. His seven wins on the event are unlikely to be matched. He led a star-studded entry list that included big names like motorsport royalty Jim McRae and former British Junior Rally champion Rob Duggan.

The entry list for the rally topped the 130 mark defying any other event in the country this year, except for the Donegal International Rally in June.


This year marked the arrival of a special crew in an even more special car. World Rally stars Craig Breen and local man Paul Nagle, son of the event’s founder Maurice, drove an MG Metro 6r4 as a 001-course car. It was the first time since the 2013 Ypres Rally that the Waterford and Kerry crew worked together but it set them up for the 2019 Irish Tarmac title, three partial seasons with Hyundai and now two full World Rally Championship campaigns with Ford M-Sport.


A new trophy was introduced for 2019 to remember event founder Maurice Nagle who passed away a few short days after the previous year’s event.

The perpetual trophy is presented to the overall winners of the rally each year and the first winners of the trophy were local heroes Rob Duggan and Ger Conway who were driving a rented Ford Escort Mk2. 


Scheduled for Saturday, November 28, the 2020 event became the latest rally to fall under the pandemic axe. The last rally to run in Ireland was the March 2020 Mayo Stages. Rallying had to wait until the September 2021 ‘Cork 20’ International before the sport got back on its feet.


And it is back, this year’s Rentokil Initial Killarney Historic Rally is the first Killarney and District Motor Club event to run since the 2019 running of the event . Two years ago, the club celebrated the 40th anniversary of that event so it is appropriate to mark the resumption of KDMC rallying with the 25th anniversary of the first Historic Rally.

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