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Local Studies Department

The Gordon Bennett Motor Race 1903 - Leinster Leader May 1903

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Leinster Leader, Saturday 16 May 1903 – Page 8
GORDON-BENNETT RACE.

“AUTOCAR” BALLOONING EXPERIMENTS.

Mr. Percival Spencer, the well-know aeronaut, has just returned to London after a tour of inspection over the Gordon-Bennett course, where he has been making arrangements for the ascents of the “Autocar” balloon, which is to float as an aerial observatory some hundreds of feet over the heads of mere ordinary spectators. Mr. Spencer was interviewed on behalf of the “Irish Times” shortly after his arrival.
“You know I am no stranger in Ireland,” he began. “I have visited Dublin on several previous occasions, and have toured through the south and the beautiful lake districts of Killarney.”

“And with regard to your ballooning schemes, Mr. Spencer?” “Well,” said Mr. Spencer, reflectively, “I must tell you I am somewhat restricted in giving you full particulars on this point, as, of course, I am under arrangements with the proprietors of the “Autocar,” a motoring paper, in whose interests I am at present engaged. But come and see the balloon,” and Mr. Spencer led the way to a hall where the monster captive balloon occupied a considerable space. It has a capacity of 21,000 cubic feet, with a diameter of 36 feet, and is constructed to carry three passengers. It was in a semi-animated (i.e., inflated) condition; having just been varnished, and filled with air for drying. The balloon is of a deep buff colour, interleaved with red stripes, the word “Autocar” being inscribed in large black letters on the surface.

Mr. Spencer said – “I think this novel method of seeing the Gordon-Bennett race on July 2nd will arouse considerable interest. Crowds of spectators will be gathered on the paths, and a great advantage will be gained by the system of signalling, by which we propose to notify them of the approach of the competing cars. The privileged few who will ascend in a number of different-sized balloons, placed at various points along the course, will obtain a splendid bird’s eye view of the whole scene.

“During my recent visit to Ireland – the second in this connection – with Mr. Harper, of the “Autocar,” we were everywhere received with the utmost courtesy, and were struck by the widespread and absorbing interest with which the people look forward to the coming contests. Our tour of inspection, which was a very thorough one, was made by a motor car. The most important point for the service of a balloon is at the starting point. This happens to be at Ballyshannon House. The drawback there is that there is no gas within many miles, and we have had to consider the advisability of laying down a special gas plant at this particular point; in a word, to erect a miniature gas works in the middle of the country. We should thus be independent of coal gas connections, and could assure the ascent of the balloon at the psychological moment of starting.

“The other points where “Autocar” balloons may be flown are in the Curragh district and Athy, at both of which places a sufficiency of common coal gas is available. We have also secured the option of gas at Carlow, but this locality is considerably to the south of the course, and hardly likely to afford as good a view as the other places mentioned.”

PUBLIC INTEREST IN IRELAND
The idea of the country being dotted with balloons adds not a little to the piquancy of the situation, and seemed to tickle the fancy of many people with whom Mr. Spencer came in contact in Ireland.
“Throughout the length and breadth of the Emerald Isle,” continued the aeronaut, “the interest in the great motor race is intense. Truly the Irish people are of a highly sporting disposition, and at once displayed their willingness to assist me in every way in their power. I observed in some directions, however, individuals who showed themselves to be a little over-eager in their own interests, the most notable case being that of a man whom I heard was asking £6 a night for a spare bedroom in his house adjoining the course. On the other hand, most people we dealt with were disposed to meet us in a fair give-and-take manner, though, naturally enough, on the look-out for profit.

“Beyond these few details it is almost impossible to give you further particulars yet, as I have not formulated my report. The roads, I noticed, were in excellent condition, but are not so wide as I should have liked to see them.”