A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
As the club’s Half Century approaches here is an extract from the Leinster Leader when we were celebrating our 25th anniversary.
COUNTY KILDARE MOTOR CLUB
(Extracts from an article in The Leinster Leader dated 18th November 1993.)
As Mondello Park prepared to open its doors to the public and herald a new era in Irish sport, a group of Co. Kildare motor enthusiasts decided to make their own mark and boost the sport which had become so popular in the nineteen sixties.
It was 1968 when the Co. Kildare Motor Club was born and as it prepares to celebrate its twenty-fifth birthday, it is stronger than ever, recognised as one of Ireland's foremost motor clubs.
The idea came from two men who felt that a locally-based motor club would help ensure that the best possible use was made of the new facilities at Mondello. Dick O'Reilly of Kildare, who served as the first club chairman, met fellow enthusiast Oliver McCrossan of Newbridge on the way to work one morning. They had often discussed their mutual love of motor sports but on this occasion, Dick had a concrete proposal to put forward. "He said that since Mondello was opening, we should have a club," Oliver recalls, adding: "The majority of the motor clubs already in existence were Dublin orientated and in many instances they were not geared towards the ordinary enthusiasts who just wanted to be a spectator, help in organising events and learn more about the sport."
A meeting at the Leinster Arms in Kildare Town marked the official start of the club. In an unabashed bid to provide sufficient prestige to impress the Royal Irish Automobile Club (with which they had to seek affiliation) the club members approached two well known figures, Aubrey Brabazon and Joe McGrath, to act as President and Vice President respectively. Both agreed and in fact Aubrey Brabazon (himself a very keen follower of motor sports) has remained Club President throughout the twenty-five years. The first chairman was Dick O'Reilly, with Oliver McCrossan as secretary, Stephen Talbot of Kildare as treasurer and committee members Liam Murphy (Kildare) George Frayne (Newbridge), Seamus Butler (Kildare), Tom King (Newbridge), Aileen Tynan (Kildare), Elaine Brophy (Kilcullen), Seamus Lacey and John Dowling (both Kildare) and Chris Glennon (Naas).
Attracting a sufficient membership didn't prove to be an undue problem, with film shows and car treasure hunts organised as fund-raisers. The club's primary aim was to promote motor sports. As Oliver McCrossan and long established member Jack Lenehan of Kilcullen recollect, there were only two major motor events taking place in this country on an annual basis, prior to the opening of Mondello Park. "There was the Leinster Trophy, run at Dunboyne for many years, and a further event in the Phoenix Park. We felt that people should have more than two opportunities a year to watch motor racing."
Organising the club's first major event in Mondello presented a challenge to those involved. As current chairman Robert Moody of Straffan notes, getting the crowds to attend was easy enough. "You didn't have the same type of TV coverage in those days and people really wanted to see the sport in action. Now, with videos etc, it is perhaps a bit more difficult but of course there are still large numbers of enthusiasts who want the day out."
Liam Murphy recalls the first event for rather different reasons. He had to go out and use what was then "an unknown word" - sponsorship. The race was to involve the six fastest Minis in Ireland versus the six fastest from England. The club had become affiliated to the RIAC and had its permit for the event, but money was the biggest problem. "I want something for nothing," Liam bluntly told the then managing director of the Naas firm, Kingswear. He walked away with £100 and a trophy while a similar request at the Concrete Pipes firm resulted in the presentation of a magnificent trophy now valued at around £1,000. Kildare Engineering and the popular owner of a Dublin Road restaurant, Willie Wong, were also among the early sponsors and, as the club members themselves came to realise, sponsorship isn't exactly 'something for nothing' As the club grew in prestige and more events were organised, major sponsors gained the inevitable promotional benefits. The Co. Kildare Motor Club involved and still involves, a mixture of members, ranging from those purely interested in spectating to those willing to act as officials and stewards in club events and finally, those whose primary interest is in participation.
At the outset, those who actually wanted to race tended to take a relatively unsophisticated approach. It was very much a case of spending months in the garage at home, getting the souped-up car ready for action, with fun as the keynote. Membership grew to over a hundred in a relatively short time and while nobody can remember what the exact membership fee was at the outset, there seems to be a consensus among committee members (past and present) that it was "around five shillings." It still isn't high, at £10 annually, but for those who are participating in events, it's clear that a great deal more money gets spent in preparing the vehicles. Over the years, the Co. Kildare Motor Club has had its own share of successful competitors, including David Hall of Brannockstown, who was renowned for his performances in a Hillman Imp during the 1970s; Brendan Conlon of Rathangan whose Woolsey Hornet was another familiar sight at Mondello and elsewhere; Liam Murphy who raced a Sprite; Dick O'Reilly who performed in a Mini Chick and also took part in rally cross, George Frayne, Vinnie Moy, John Rowley, Denis McCarthy and the late Eddie Regan, a director of Mondello, who also raced very successfully.
Most prominent of all were Derek Daly, who was a club member for a period; Austin McHale, well known in rally circles and Michael Roe of Naas, whose achievements have included the major Can-Am series in the USA. The club did not actually get involved in rallying until the 1970s. As Jack Lenehan recalls, it was in 1971 when the Super Saloons came to Ireland for the first time. "This was a major English championship and we were delighted to get a round of it; we had it for five or six years after that." In 1978, the club hosted a big international single stage rally in Co. Wicklow, known as the Hitachi Tarmac, and the top European drivers taking part included the then World Champion Hannu Mikkola (Finland.) That particular event ran for two years while in the nineteen eighties, the Co. Kildare Motor Club became involved in the organisation of the mixed style rally cross events, so called because they cover both tarmac and rougher, loose gravel type terrain. It hosted its first European event in 1987 and is now affiliated to the European Rally Cross Association. The European conipetition held in early June each year has had another spin-off in tourism terms, with drivers and officials coming from Scandanavia, Holland, Belgium, Germany, France, the Czech Republic the U.K. and elsewhere.
Hotels and guest houses gain considerably from this, while in the winter months, the club hosts a round of the British RAC rally cross championship - the only club outside Britain to run off a round of this event.
Four wheel drive events have been run at the Curragh over the years and these have proved particularly popular, possibly because jeeps are now used as family vehicles by many people. The motor club has representation on the various committees of the RIAC, dealing with rallies and race - hill climb events, as well as on the RIAC Commission, it's governing body.
Of course there is a strong social aspect, too and members will be in top gear on 26th November when they come together to celebrate the club's twenty-fifth anniversary at Hotel Keadeen, Newbridge. Among the attendance will be some of the past chairmen from years gone by, including Dick O'Reilly, Liam Murphy, Oliver McCrossan, Stephen Talbot, John Meaney, Michael Lenehan and Michael Fitzsimons. One outstanding committee member who will always be recalled for her dedication over many years is Sue Lenehan, who served for a very long period as secretary. The current committee includes Chairman Robert Moody, Secretary Ann Fitzsimons, Treasurer Torn Kinirons; Rally-Cross Secretary Mary Lou McClintock and Padraig Farrell, Tom Coade, Vincent Whelan, Shane McMeel, Rory Dooley, Sean Butler, Anna St. Claire, Maureen Brennan, Michael Fitzsirnons, Sid Quille, Dave O'Connell, Alan Farrelly and John Delaney.
In past years, social events were often lively and on at least one occasion, a planned fund-raiser caused considerable controversy. The tale of the barn dance at Kilbelin is one told with great gusto. There wasn't supposed to be any drink on the premises - but who wanted a night out in a barn with no beer? No doubt the twenty- fifth anniversary celebration will be a more sophisticated occasion. Even during a night out, however, one topic is sure to dominate. The enthusiasm of the club members for their chosen hobby knows no bounds.
The interest, verging on fanaticism so far as the lay observer might be concerned, is nevertheless tempered with considerable good humour. It was summed up by Liain Murphy as I prepared to part company with the motor club representatives. "Are you sure you have enough information," asked Liani with a grin, adding "if you like, I could give you the engine and chassis numbers of those Minis we brought in from England!".