History of the West Cork Rally

Posted on: 6th March, 2014

Category: The History Corner

Contributor: Samuel Kingston

Samuel Kingston studied history at NUI Galway and has a keen interest in oral and local history. He is also interested in the Irish historical experience abroad especially in Canada and South America. The aim of this column is to tell the stories of West Cork people both famous and forgotten who, through their lives at home or abroad, made an impact on their time.

The Cork Motor Club was formed in 1976 to promote motorsport in the Cork area. Luckily at the same time, people in Clonakilty were looking for a new event to expand the tourist season in the town. The idea of a Rally was proposed and accepted and the West Cork Rally was born. The inaugural rally took place on Saturday, March 19 and Sunday March 20, 1977 and was won by North Cork legend Billy Coleman. The rally grew rapidly and by its third year drew a sensational field including Billy Coleman, Roger Clark, Malcolm Wilson (now head of Ford Motorsport), Jimmy McRae (father of Colin McRae), Ger Buckley and Bertie Fisher. The demanding West Cork stages proved too much for many of the big names who were forced out with Ger Buckley claiming the title that year.

Bob Fowden on his way to winning his second title in 1997

Bob Fowden on his way to winning his second title in 1997

The 1980s saw the rally continue to evolve and attract strong fields, as it was included as part of the Shellsport National Rally Championship and was sponsored for six years in succession by Zanussi. This was the era of Richie Heeley, Russell Brookes, Frank Meagher, Mark Lovell and Kenny McKinstry. The event applied for and received International status for 1986 with the aim of attracting more European drivers to come to Clonakilty. Two crews arrived that year (one French and one West German), but a series of accidents involving spectators in other events later that year saw all rallying in Ireland come to a halt for the first six months of 1987, as insurance premiums skyrocketed. As a result the rally did not run in 1987, and it dropped back to national status in 1988. It was still able to start 120 crews despite not attracting the star quality names of previous years. Drivers like Frank O’Mahony and Bob Fowden gained valuable experience in these years too.

The 1990s were an exciting time for the rally. Rallying in general was becoming more popular and this was reflected in the West Cork Rally. The rally was very competitive with many leading talents taking part including John Price, Bob Fowden and Liam O’Callaghan. Both Price and O’Callaghan won the rally twice but both were outdone by Fowden who claimed the title three times – 1995, 1997 and 1999. Fowden is something of an iconic figure at the Rally and his three titles are the most won by any driver. Other well-regarded drivers in this period were Frank O’Mahony, Gwyndaf Evans, Denis Cronin and Liam McCarthy. Liam, a Dunmanway man who has competed in 20 West Cork Rallies, finally won the event in 2009. In 1998, the rally saw its first local winners in Donal O’Donovan and Pat Lordan.

The late 1990s and early 2000s saw the rise of new drivers financed by the booming Celtic Tiger years. Drivers like Stephen Murphy, Derek McGarrity, Eamon Boland, Michael Barrable and Donie O’Sullivan all appeared in Clonakilty with some of the finest machinery available. 2000 marked the first victory for a Subaru Impreza in the hands of Stephen Murphy. Since that year, the Impreza WRC has won eight times, becoming the dominant car. Before the Subaru came along, Ford cars reigned supreme. The first four winners were all Ford Escort RS1800s and later the Ford Sierra Cosworth and Ford Escort Cosworth were strong, the Escort Cosworth being driven by Bob Fowden for each of his victories.

With the downturn in the economic climate, drivers faced greater challenges getting cars to compete in the rally. Despite these challenges, the rally continues to thrive and grow and is still an essential element to the Clonakilty tourism season. For 2014, it is part of the Irish Tarmac Modified Championship, which will provide a lot of interest this coming March 15 and 16.

The rally has only failed to run twice in the past 37 years, the first as referred to above, was due to an insurance crisis after a number of incidents in 1986. In 2001, it was cancelled to prevent the spread of Foot and Mouth disease, which was a major problem at the time. Jerry O’Mahony holds the record for competing in the most West Cork Rallies; having started in 32, he finished 18. The record for most finishes goes to Martin Daly with 19. I think most supporters would agree that the driver most deserving of a victory that never came was Frank O’Mahony, so often challenging but unfortunately never able to capture success.

Over the years, some of the stages of the Rally have become iconic – the most famous is the glorious Ring stage, which has drawn approval from many leading drivers. Other well known stages are Ardfield, Clogagh, Sam’s Cross and Glandore.

For further information, I would recommend the book ‘The West Cork Rally, A History’, written by Kevin O’Driscoll. The book is an exciting, detailed look at the wonderful history of the rally. Full of fascinating insights and stories, it’s a must read for any Rally fan. The book is available online through www.westcorkrally.com and www.corkmotorclub.com and local bookshops.

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Wave to Mary! 65-year-old Mary Nolan Hickey is running around the entire coast of the Island of Ireland to raise funds & awareness for the RNLI and is currently running the roads of West Cork.

Mary is the only woman to have completed every single Dublin Marathon (all 38 of them). She’s also completed the grueling Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, known as the ‘toughest foot race on earth’.

To mark her 50th year involved in Athletics Mary is taking on her biggest challenge yet (even though she thought she’d already done that when completing the Dublin Marathon when she was over six months pregnant!) She wants to raise as much money as possible for the RNLI.

Mary started her epic journey in Arklow, Co. Wicklow, on New Year’s Day. She aims to cover up to 5000 kilometers, using coastal routes, over the next five months. She hopes to get back in time to get her first pension payment in June when she turns 66.

Mary will stop off at as many RNLI stations as possible, on her once in a lifetime adventure. As far as she knows no other woman has ever taken on this challenge.

Speaking about her journey Mary said:

“I wanted to prove that age not a barrier. Coming from a coastal town I have a deep affinity with our local RNLI station & volunteers and have huge admiration for the brave men and women who risk their lives to save lives at sea”.

Mary, who’s depending on the goodwill of communities along her route for accommodation, has been astounded by the response so far. “The support has been overwhelming,” she said. “I have met the most amazing and encouraging people along the way”.

To see more about Mary’s adventures, and to pinpoint her location today, check out her Facebook page - rnlilapofthemap2018.

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20th March, 2018  ·  


This Saturday the 10th March, will see some magically curious activity as local Bandon national schools compete in a Wizarding Harry Potter Quiz. The prize will be the beautiful Bandon Banshee Perpetual Cup.

As any Harry Potter enthusiast knows, Bandon has the unique honour of having a character named after the town. The Bandon Banshee, was referred to as the nemesis of Gilderoy Lockhart in the Chamber of Secrets. The book grossed €60 million in sales and was the 7th highest earning film of all time.

Locals, looking to enhance the town for young people, saw the quiz as an ideal way promote the connection. The universally absorbing book series brings young readers on a huge adventure of magic, adversity and triumph. It is also an exploration of loyalty and friendship, good and evil – so it is not only popular way to engage young people, it is a hugely positive connection.

Zoe Tennyson, one of the organisers said they were delighted with the response from schools who ran a qualifying quiz as part of World Book Day. On Saturday Bandon Town Hall will be transformed into Hogwarts Great Hall, with proceeds going Bandon Playground Group, and to cover costs of the event.

Bandon Books will be rewarding the winning team with vouchers to each of the five members. The Bandon Banshee, or Bean-sidhe na Bandaan Perpetual Cup will be hotly contested – but which school will the Banshee go to??

If you have any questions please call Marguerite McQuaid on 087 900 9494
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8th March, 2018  ·  

Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition 23 February 2018

The inaugural Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition will take place in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen this Friday 23rd February. As part of Engineers Week 2018, leaders and members of Ballineen Foróige Club have organised an exhibition which will showcase a diverse and exciting range of engineering projects that have been undertaken by members of the club over the last few weeks, with the aid of leaders and a number of local engineers.

With the aid of local pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, along with the support of STEAM Education, a UCC based company focused on promoting science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths subjects in primary schools, Ballineen Foróige has been engaging members and leaders in all things engineering over the last six weeks. From researching, designing, and prototyping a project based on local problems, to participating in various workshops on coding and careers in engineering, Ballineen Foróige have been extremely busy in preparation for the exhibition this coming Friday night.

On the night itself, Michael Loftus, Head of Engineering at CIT, Fintan Goold, Manager at Eli Lilly and All-Ireland Cork winning Footballer, along with Geraldine Coughlan of GCA Architects & Designers, a local business, will act as judges on the night, evaluating the different engineering projects and offering some advice to the members of the club. Also in attendance will be the CEO of Foróige Seán Campbell, along with a number of local councillors, TD’s and Senators.

Leading the team of Ballineen Foróige leaders organising the event, is Rebecca Dwyer, a bioprocess engineer at Eli Lilly. Rebecca recently became a leader in the club and says that Ballineen Foróige Young Engineer Exhibition 2018 “promises to be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience for all involved and we look forward to welcoming parents, relatives, friends and members of the public to the exhibition and film screening on the evening of Friday 23rd February.” Overall, there are twelve projects entered in the exhibition. One project, led by Cian Kennefick and Charlie Nolan, members of the starting out club, examines the possibility of installing speed ramps on the road near local primary school. Fourteen-year-old Charlie says he got involved in the project as it was something to do and it gets you thinking. Cian says the most exciting part of the project was the building of the prototypes.

Both Cian and Charlie, along with thirty other members of the club will display their projects this coming Friday 23 February in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen. Doors open at 8pm and the event runs until 10pm. All are welcome to attend, and admission is free. Catering, including tea and coffee, will be provided on the night.
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20th February, 2018  ·  

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Main course

17th February, 2018  ·  

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