The Kerry backroads lead to Monte Carlo: Kerry connections to Irish successes in the world’s most-famous rally

The 2022 World Rally Championship bursts into life on Thursday.

Ireland’s Craig Breen and Paul Nagle start amongst the favourites in their Ford Puma Rally1 – and if they were to be successful on Sunday night they will join two other Irish men who have previously won the most famous rally in the world. 

But there is always a Kerry connection the two former winners of Monte Carlo have both won rallies in the Kingdom.

Ronnie Adams

The first time the Circuit of Ireland Rally visited Kerry was in 1936.

While the rally was always associated with Killarney up until 1983, this  first event visited Tralee, Listowel and Ballybunnion too.  It took place between the 11 and 14 of April 1936.

After five days of competition over Easter weekend the three-man team of Basil Clarke, Ronnie Adams and Wick Holmes won the first true circumnavigation of Ireland driving an Austin 1 6 Kempton. 

Adams had only turned 20  a few weeks before the rally  but a report at the time said: 

“The trio were allocated the start number of 53 (out of 85) and shared the driving on the long tiring run to Killarney , almost 400 miles which they completed without incident. As arranged, they shared the driving until weather conditions deteriorated and the roads became wet and slippery on the West Coast, when Ronnie was asked to do more of the driving,”

Fast forward to 1956 when the Belfast-born Adams steered a Jaguar XK-20 to victory in Rallye Monte Carlo. 

He made his international debut in the 1952 Monte Carlo Rally, and his victory in 1956 was is fifth participation in the event. Along the way he took several top ten finishes, including sixth in 1954 and eighth in 1956. 

His 1956 victory, as part of the Jaguar team in the Monte Carlo Rally, meant Adams became the first Irishman to win an international rally.

But it is fair to say he learned his skills on the backroads of Kerry between Easter Saturday and Easter Monday in 1936. 

Paddy Hopkirk 

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, Nad in Cork, Adare, County Limerick and Castlemaine. Paddy was driving a Ford Anglia and it was one of the first events for the local club that now lends its name to the county rally championship. 

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

The Col de Turini is the second stage on Thursday night

He won the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally driving a Mini but it can be safely argued that Hopkirk learned his skills on the back roads of Kerry. 

Paul Nagle 

 There can be no doubt where Paul Nagle learned his skills – like Adams and Hopkirk he served his apprenticeship on the back roads of Kerry. 

As a new era of Hybrid Rally1 cars beckons, the Aghadoe man is ready for his  tenth start in the Winter Classic in the French Alps. 

It will be the first time he has shared a car with Craig Breen – a Ford Puma Rally1 on the Monte– and his first time back in Monaco as a competitor since 2018 when he was working with Kris Meeke. 

His first appearance was in 2006, when he and Gareth MacHale drove a Ford Focus RS WRC  to 16th place overall. They improved that result by five places the following year. 

He made his Monte debut with Meeke in 2009 and they were back again in 2010. On both occasions the rally was the opening round of the Intercontinental Rally Championship but their  Peugeot 207 S2000 twice failed to make the finish. 

Nagle’s best result in the principality came in 2014 when he and Meeke finished in an amazing third place in a Citroën DS3 WRC. 

They were tenth in 2015 in a sister DS3 and a year later on the early side-lines following a broken gearbox on another DS3. Another retirement followed in 2017

Nagle’s last appearance in Monte Carlo was in 2018 when he and Meeke brought the troublesome C3 WRC home in fourth place.  

Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle during Nagle’s last Monte appearance in 2018. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

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