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Reliving historic motor tour

Mayor of Ennis Michael Guilfoyle unveils a plaque at the Halfway House, Clare Road, Ennis, to commemorate the 1901 Great Motor Tour of Ireland. Looking on are  Peadar White and Mary O’Donovan, members of the Clare Classic and Vintage Club and Lord Inchiquin Conor O Brien, motor sport enthusiast. Photograph by John KellyA momentous occasion in the history of motoring in Ireland will be recalled in Ennis this month.
Vintage cars will gather in the town on August 28 for a motor tour recalling the Great Motor Tour of Ireland, which passed through Clare in 1901, a time when a motor car would have indeed been a rare sight on the county’s roads.
Earlier this week, a plaque commemorating the motor tour’s visit to the county was unveiled at the Half Way House on the Clare Road.
Spearheading the plans to remember the event is Peadar White, a vintage car enthusiast who, along with Mary O’Donovan and the Bald Eagle group, has used their passion for classic cars to raise vital funds for local charities. This year, the group is raising money for the daycare centre in Clarecastle.
Peadar explained that he became aware by chance that the Great Motor Tour of Ireland had come through Clare and getting the information that confirmed the event had come through Ennis and passed along the Clare Road was “better than winning the lottery”.
“I was walking up the Clare Road and I was looking at the historic plaques around the town and saw a photograph of Lord Inchiquin’s grandfather’s car. Underneath it said ‘An impromptu motor race on the Clare Road’. We originally thought that it referred to when the British Army were based in Clarecastle, that maybe the boys had taken one of the cars for the evening. I asked Pat and Larry Brennan about it and they came back to me with the information that the tour had come through here.”
An article detailing the tour, written and researched by Larry Brennan, detailed the 1,000-mile event, with 19 cars driving from Dublin throughout Ireland, with the motorists arriving in Clare on August 15, 1901.
Peadar then contacted the Royal Irish Automobile Club’s archives, which also confirmed the details. Bob Montgomery, archive curator of the RIAC, furnished Peadar with even more documentation, a full report of the tour from archived issues of the magazine The Motor News. Among the reports of the tour furnished by Mr Montgomery was a description of a “chapter of errors” after the cars reached Ennis, including wrong turns, “but the detour was not to be regretted as it led through splendid scenery”.
Some of the “amusing experiences with jolly Clare men” were also outlined including music and dance arranged by locals for the motorists. It was also noted “Clare indeed is remarkable for its pretty girls”.
Peadar added, “The information I got from Pat and Larry Brennan and from Bob Montgomery was fascinating. When I got this information it was better than winning the lottery because motorsport is in the blood for years. When I found this out I was delighted, that the Clare Road, the road I was born and reared on, was the site of this race.”
Peadar explained some of the history behind the Great Tour. “In 1900, the Automobile Association in Britain did a motor tour of Britain but a lot of people didn’t want it coming through their area. When the tour ended they wanted to know no more about it so the Royal Irish Automobile Club of Ireland and Britain contacted their counterparts in Britain to know if they could run the tour here in Ireland. They were ahead of their time back then, there were very few cars about and everywhere the motorists went they met people who loved to see this machinery.”
Peadar is now urging other vintage and classic car lovers to take part in a commemorational motor tour taking in part of the original route in Clare.
On the day the cars will park at St Flannan’s College before going up the Turnpike and down Carmody Street. The vehicles will then travel along the Lahinch Road back onto the Clare Road before heading into Shannon, continuing onto Sixmilebridge, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Clarecastle and back up the Clare Road before going back to the Turnpike.
Peadar expects at least 50 cars to take part but there could be many more.
“We usually get around 50 to 70 cars taking part in events like this. But it’s like going for a game of golf, two could take off and 50 could finish.
“We’re looking for as many people as possible with vintage classic cars to come along on the day and take part in this motor tour, acknowledging the Great Motor Tour of Ireland, an historic occasion in Irish motoring history.
“There should be all kinds of cars there on the day, all vintage with lots of different makes and models so it should be quite a spectacle for anyone who wants to see the cars. It’s amazing, people of all ages love to see vintage cars so it should be a great day.”
According to Peadar, there are hopes that next year they will be able to take on the entire Great Motor Tour of Ireland. “We’ve already asked Motorsport Ireland about it and they’ve said it should be ok, so that should be a fantastic event.”
At the opening of the plaque at the Half Way House Mayor of Ennis Michael Guilfoyle emphasised the historic significance of the original motor tour. He praised the organisers of this month’s event, saying, “This will be a great event that is very welcome to the town and it will help to bring more people into Ennis. There are hopes that there will be between 50 and 100 cars taking part, which should be an amazing sight.”
Due to the motor tour, Ennis Town Council has proposed to temporarily close part of the Limerick Road and the Turnpike Road from 3pm to 6pm on the day. Full details of the proposed closures can be obtained from the local authority.

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