Pat McSweeney is surrounded by history at his home in Manch, Ballineen. More than just a car enthusiast, Pat is passionate about the history behind his vintage vehicles, each of which he tells Mary O’Brien has its own story to tell and secrets to keep.
As a young man, Pat started off working as a mechanic in Dunmanway before setting up the successful family business (Mid Cork Group) with his brothers when they returned home from working in England.
A lover of old cars since before he can remember, Pat bought his first car — a Ford Prefect 100E, with overhead cam and four-speed gearbox — when he was 16.
His Bentley Mark VI (1951) has its original Irish plates. “It was owned by a Dublin doctor,” says Pat, “who never drove it himself — he used to get chauffeured down to Kelly’s Hotel in Rosslare.
Pat has owned this car for almost 30 years and has lovingly repainted and restored it. “I replaced all of the leather inside. At the time there was a man in Cork doing that kind of work, but since he passed away, you have to go to Scotland to get it done. There are only 300 of these cars left in the world.”
Pat’s favourite is a Rolls Royce ‘Silver Seraph’ previously owned by Sir ‘Bobby’ Robson, the English footballer and football manager. “He got it built in 1998, the first one of 1550 cars made, before being discontinued in 2002.”
The Seraph was known for its relatively limited acceleration and comfortable handling, but still had a top speed of 230km/h or 140mph.
All Seraphs were hand-built at the Rolls-Royce factory in England, which stopped making Rolls Royce models in 2002 but continued with Bentley.
Another beauty is the 1913 Silver Ghost. “When we found this car it was up on concrete blocks and all that was left was the chassis and the engine. It took us eight years to restore it to its former glory.”
The Silver Ghost was the origin of Rolls Royce’s claim of making the ‘Best car in the world’. It is considered the most valuable car in the world.
In 2013, Pat and his wife Anne had an amazing experience with this car taking part in what is known as the Alpine Trial. The rally, which only takes place every 10 years, took them to a starting point of San Moritz in Switzerland. “It was the centenary of the Trial and also the 100th anniversary of our car, so it was a really special experience,” says Pat.
The Alpine Trial started over 100 years ago when a team of four Rolls Royce Silver Ghosts embarked on the ultimate test of automotive endurance of the time. It was a gruelling 1,820-mile rally with participants having to negotiate near-impassable mountain sections with dramatic climbs and drops. A mean feat for some. But not for Roll Royce. It was after this event that Rolls Royce was declared to be ‘The Best Car in the World’.
“It was owned by a Sir Dunlop, another man who never drove the car himself,” says Jim. “He spoke to his chauffeur through an intercom system.”
In 1971, musician George Mitchell of The Black and White Minstrels, commissioned a Rolls-Royce Corniche Convertible. George loved the car and used it only for ‘high days and holidays’. Offered for sale by his wife after his death in 2002, it is a car like no other — painted in Nottingham Green metallic with ivory hide upholstery. It now holds pride of place in Pat’s garage.
‘The Moon Car’ deserves a special mention. A Rolls Royce Silver Ghost built in 1919, this car was used by the IRA in attacks on British soldiers. Due to its bright primrose yellow colour, the car was only used during the hours of darkness and became known as ‘the Moon Car’.
On March 24, 1924, the IRA decided to attack a contingent of British troops landing at Cobh. They had fitted the car with two mounted Lewis guns and killed a soldier and civilian. Many others were wounded.
With a reward of £10,000 put up by the Free State government for any information leading to the capture of the IRA unit responsible for the attack, the car was set on fire and later buried.
“It had been buried for over 70 years and was a wreck when it was found,” says Pat, who helped his friend Belfast restorer Jim Black restore the car to its former glory. “We couldn’t read the chassis number so we gave it to the PSNI, who did a special forensic test on it, which confirmed the car as PP5 ‘the Moon Car’.”
Pat and Jim Black also restored the Michael Collins Armoured Rolls Royce, the Sliabh na mBan, which is now on display in the Curragh Military Museum.
“I’ve six kids and not one of them are interested in cars,” says Pat bemusedly. “I bought a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow car for my son when he turned 30 and it sat here rusting for 10 years, so I eventually sold it.
Five years ago, Pat purchased a Silver Spirit 1989, a car owned by the late real estate promoter Justo Quesada Samper. “The car has an interesting story,” says Pat, who keeps it at his holiday home in Spain. “Quesada started off as a pauper and always said to his mother that one day he’d own a Rolls, and he did. The man is a legend in Spain, he built an entire town.”
A former chairman of the Rolls Royce Enthusiasts’ Club, Pat is really looking forward to attending the club’s 10th anniversary celebrations in Ballylickey this July. “There will be cars travelling from all the world.”
His current car restoration project is a 1912 Silver Ghost. “It will be over two years before it’s on the road,” he says “so I’ll be kept busy with that for a while.”
When he’s not busy restoring cars, Pat (of the Shanakiel Racing Syndicate) can be seen at the Races and is really looking forward to Cheltenham this year.
Over 20 years ago, Pat started keeping ponies and showjumpers at home. “We got involved with a local trainer and eventually with Willie Mullins. Three weeks after we brought Dorset Square up to Willie, he came second at Fairyhouse in the 1.5 mile race. Ruby said he reckoned he was a three-miler. Dorset won a number of times for us after that. His best day out was at Punchestown in 2010 under Katie Walsh when he won a very valuable handicap hurdle. We took him to Cheltenham with the intention of selling him, as he was handicapped too highly in Ireland after that and he just ‘switched off’ for his new owner.
“We’ve two good horses trained by Willie going to Cheltenham in March, ‘Sambremont’ and ‘Bacardis’” says Pat. ‘Bacardis won at Leopardstown on Stephen’s Day.”
With an eye for a winner, no doubt we’ll hear more from Pat McSweeney soon.