CURRAGH - MOTOR RACING 1947-1954
Leinster Leader 4 October 2007
When horse power of a different kind echoed over the Curragh plains
When sport on the Curragh is mentioned the attention immediately turns to horse racing but horsepower of a more mechanical kind also featured on the plains in the middle of the last century. The Curragh could boast of having two motor racing circuits, the “Short Circuit” which opened in 1947 featured both car and motor cycles on a regular basis and the “Big Circuit”, a five mile circuit on the Camp side of the Curragh was the venue for the International Wakefield trophy motor races from 1949 to 1954 which drew crowds upwards of 30,000 to the plains – ‘ That was more than attended the Irish Derby over at the race-course’ pointed out Oliver McCrosson, stalwart member of the Curragh Local History Group as he displayed photographs of the Curragh’s motor racing story at the Curragh groups museum in the Camp. He went on to explain that elite car makes of the day such as Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Fraser Nash and Jaguar hurtled around the circuit piloted by such stars of the race track as Britain’s Stirling Moss, Anthony Powys - Lybbe, Duncan Hamilton and Roy Salvadori. However speed and danger are two sides of the motor racing coin and the tragedy was to strike in 1954 when a car driven by Joe Quinn of Derry crashed into onlookers near Ballymany killing Sidney Donaldson of Athy and Patrick O’Reilly, a soldier from Wexford who was on marshalling duty. That tragic episode brought an end to car racing on the big Curragh Circuit but was far from the end of motorsport with motorbike racing continuing on a shorter circuit until the late 1960s. The Curragh History Group marked the history of the races, and the unfortunate fatalities, with a fiftieth anniversary Speed Festival and the unveiling of a monument in 1999.
Motoring enthusiasm in the Curragh environs indeed dates from a much earlier period judging by a photograph in the Curragh museum which shows a vehicle in engine and chassis form which was devised by R C Ginn, head chaffeur to Capt. Greer, well know bloodstock figure on the Curragh. It is thought that this pioneering vehicle dates from 1910 and its history is currently being researched by motoring historian Bob Webster.
The illustrations of motor racing and engineering are far from the only items of technical accomplishment on display in the History Group’s museum. An exquisitely engineered theodoalite complete with instruction manual published by the British War Office in 1859 was used in setting out the buildings in the camp. A literal echo from those early days is a bell which dates from 1855 and carries the inscription ‘Encampment Bell’ ; it apparently tolled the hours from the very early years of the permanent camp installation. It is one of three tower bells in the possession of the museum – a fire bell and a church bell of uncertain origin are also in the collection. A smaller bell but one which shows the all pervasive nature of the military stock control system is a hand bell, possibly used in a classroom setting on the camp, which bears the ‘crows foot’ marking used by the British Ordnance Department to mark all kinds of military property but is normally associated with weaponry and large scale hardware. Metalwork of a different kind is evident in the collection of helmets used by Army personnel down through the decades including an example of the controversial ‘German style’ helmets which were in fact made by the Vickers factory in England and used by the Army during the early years of the Emergency (1939-45). Perhaps some of the soldiers who were the distinctive helmets were recruited on the basis of posters similar to one on display in the museum and dating from 1924 which enticed men to enlist with pay rates starting at 2s/6d per day for a recruit rising to 7s/6d per day on reaching Sergeant-Major rank. The poster which is designed with graphic flourish adds that free board, bed, libraries and gymnasia are additional perks of Army life.
A miscellany of other items, civilian and military, complete the Curragh Local History Group’s collection which portrays the life and times of the Camp since its establishment in the mid-nineteenth century.
· My thanks to Oliver McCrosson and Reggie Darling of the Curragh History Group for their guidance through the museum’s holdings. Series no. 35
** Approaching the first anniversary of his death, 6th October, I would ask readers to remember Dr. Con Costello who made this column his own in the Leinster Leader for quarter of a century and contributed 1,261 articles – an achievement rarely equalled in the annals of Irish journalism. May he rest in peace.
Liam Kenny takes a look at motor racing on the Curragh from 1947-1954 in his regular columen in the Leinster Leader, 'Notinh New Under the Sun.' Our thanks to Liam