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Local Studies Department

The Gordon Bennett Motor Race 1903 - Leinster Leader June 1903

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Leinster Leader, Saturday 27 June 1903 – Page 4
(Editorial) Pages 4 – 5.

Leinster Leader
“FIDES ET PATRIA.”
SATURDAY, JUNE 27, 1903.
THE MOTOR RACE.

Next week the great International Motor Race will focus interest. On Thursday, July 2nd, the districts in Kildare, Queen’s County, and Carlow, intersected by the Gordon-Bennett Course, will be traversed by the swiftest vehicles of the modern highway – the marvellous racing cars of the Old and the New World. Familiarity has perhaps bred contempt for a memorable and historical event. The preparations of months have divested the Motor Race of its glamour. And no wonder. The routine of County Council discussion – the prosy work of the road contractor – were curbs, rather than stimulants to the local imagination. Now, however, on the eve of a struggle, whose outcome will be “local news” for the globe at large, the associations of the steam-roller, the stand-builder, and the speculator keenly “on the make” cannot check the reflective mind in its estimate of the magnitude of next Thursday’s happenings. The Motor Derby, no matter how much one may decry it as an advertising medium for Automobilism[sic], nevertheless marks a notable stage in the progress of human invention and practical science. As such it confers a certain world-wide distinction on its chosen area. The roads over which the flying motors will skim five days hence will be coupled in history with the most strenuous efforts of Man to achieve the “last conquest” of Distance and to add the final triumph to the victories of territorial locomotion. Next to aerial navigation, the motor car represents the highest attainable possibilities in the way of human travelling. A vehicle, flashing by at the rate of 80 to 100 miles an hour is an experience which the average mind can with difficulty even imagine. From the standpoint of a century ago, it is a miracle. Yet to the Automobilist of to-day[sic] it is but an accomplished fact, thresholding[sic] other and perhaps more wonderful things. The day when the man of business or leisure will career along the highways and bye-ways at Express Speed may be of course far distant – but who – with the reaped harvests of science and invention before him – can doubt that some similar revolution will in future generations relegate the train, the tram and the cycle to the same category as the Stage Coach. Automobilism, therefore, as it will be expounded on Thursday has the intense interest and fascination that attaches to everything which makes world history and that heralds a greater human empire over space and time. To this aspect of the Gordon-Bennett contest even the most sordid mind – and the mind utterly callous to the other elements of personal risk and peril – cannot be insensible. The Motor Race is truly “great” not as the enterprise of Trade or the fad of Wealth, not as the occasion of a great International gathering, not as the opportunity of persons on profit or pleasure bent. It derives its importance and its grandeur from its demonstration of Twentieth Century mechanical skill and its prophecy of the travelling future. The localities whose co-operation has made this possible must derive permanent note from their connection with this latest test of human and mechanical endurance and this circumstance can not be unwelcome in a country where everything that lends distinction and individuality to a district is highly valued.

However, we must not dally with the higher aspects of the Motor Race “at the eleventh hour.” The practical considerations of public safety and needful precaution must be now our principal concern. A word of strong warning however superfluous is called for because of the exceptional dangers and risks that threaten. Let us say at once that we have little anxiety ourselves as to the sufficiency of the protection that will be afforded to the public and the competitors. The County Councils have done their duty promptly and well. Roads, turns, dangerous corners, bridges, etc., are as perfect as liberal expenditure and good, carefully supervised workmanship could make them. In Kildare, the Council’s admirable foresight in indemnifying the ratepayers’ pockets against all future demands, has been no more conspicuous than the care and thought devoted to the practical work of the County Surveyor. Queen’s County has done its share and can point to splendid results, in respect of its highways; and Carlow has efficiently looked after its own part of the course. The “finance” of the extra police question having been placed at last on a satisfactory basis, there is a certainty that the stewarding of the course, and its clearance from all obstruction, will be as exhaustive as possible. And whatever slowness may have characterised the arrangements of the Automobile Club up to the present, surety, in the ultimate issue, will at any rate not be lacking. At least this is what we are justified in expecting at the time of writing.
So far as observation can judge all precautions that could reduce mortality and even simple accident to zero have been carried out or are in the course of being put into effect. If lives are lost or property destroyed it will not be through any lack of anxiety, thought or effort on the part of all concerned. Nor are these the only facts which encourage and inspire confidence. The Belgian race over the Ardennes circuit during the week was singularly free from mishap. A score of heavy motors, passed each other at Express Speeds “on reads far from flat, and with dangerous bends” without a single disaster; and the race be it noted was carried out under conditions and a discipline far less stringent than will prevail in the case of a dozen cars next week! But the practically perfect precautions of the Gordon-Bennett event and the cheering result of the Belgian contest, ought not create any undue or false sense of security. We would appeal to all concerned in the race whether as competitors, stewards, spectators, or persons residing on the verge of the course who may remain at home, to exercise the most painstaking caution and to carry out their respective obligations to the letter. Let those charged with grave official responsibility do their duty promptly and fearlessly; better a rough word, or a summary act, than a life lost or endangered. Let those ordered “back” sharply or rudely restrain angry revolt or indiscreet disobedience; let them remember that not only their own lives but the lives of those in the cars are in peril and that either overt or covert evasion of the regulations may lead to the double crime of suicide and murder. To those with houses or land in the vicinity of the course we would direct the gravest word of warning. Let them keep their live stock – hens, pigs, donkeys, dogs – safely houses, paddocked[sic] or fenced in from Wednesday, and let them by personal check satisfy themselves that there are no absentees from pen, fowl-yard or field. This is one of the most serious necessities of the two days and nothing that we could say could add to its gravity. The services of the police ought not be exclusively relied upon. It should be the aim of every right-thinking resident not merely to keep his own live stock under lock and key, but by co-operative and neighbourly action to keep the roads clear of “strays” and “wanderers” whose ownership is unknown. This is not a task to be neglected as “nobody’s business” or derided because of its appeals to the “wit” of the flippant. Anything that concerns human life is high and sacred. We lay stress upon it not in the interest of Automobilism[sic] or any other ism – not on the comparatively low ground of the success of the race – but for a reason that must weigh heavily with every person having a spark of humanity in his or her breast – namely, the saving of even ONE human life. No rational being worthy of the name can deliberately neglect any precaution – whether directly or remotely within his scope – which can have the effect of averting death or mutilation from a fellow creature.

We have left to the last a caution, which the Bishop of the Diocese has been the first to solemnly utter and which cannot be too earnestly promulgated in every parish. This is the need for strict temperance on an occasion pregnant with so many chances of casualty. As Dr. Foley has so timely pointed out the temptation to excessive drinking will operate strongly on a July day, especially in the case of those restricted to a limited space; and if, to any considerable extent it is yielded to, the general evil consequences of the practice may be shockingly varied by appalling tragedy. No precautions, however complete, in a quantitative and qualitative sense, would guarantee safety if the course was neighboured with persons more or less under the influence of liquor. Such persons might not be numerous, but this is not a question of number. One or two individuals, incapable of taking care of themselves or betrayed into recklessness by semi-intoxication, might be responsible for untold suffering and carnage. Let us hope that Dr. Foley’s exhortations, will be the text of strong appeals on Sunday next from every pulpit in the districts included within the course and that heed will be paid by all denominations to his Lordships opportune counsel. Irish spectators and local residents ought by their conduct and demeanour on Thursday give an object lesson to strangers of the order and decorum of a people, who can maintain their self-respect and their high standard of morals as well as their native courtesy and hospitality, under the most distracting and exciting stimulants of an International Carnival. The best and proudest advertisement that this country can receive is that an in addition to its sporting attractions, its ideal roads and its picturesque scenes, it can rise to the great disciplinary needs, the self-control, the prudence and the organising capacity demanded by such an unique event as the Gordon-Bennett Motor Race.