1985 Hills of Donegal

James Cullen was quick out of the blocks but retired at first service.


This report is reproduced from CarSport Magazine, April 1985.

James McDaid partnered by Rory Kennedy emerged comfortable winners of the Hills of Donegal Rally in their ‘Swilly Homes’ Opel Ascona 400. The local men completely dominated the event, which saw a closely fought battle between James Cullen/Seamus Gormley in their RS 1800, and Vincent Bonner/Seamus McGettigan in their Opel Ascona 400. Unfortunately both Bonner and Cullen retired early in the event with mechanical maladies, and McDaid was left to cruise home to take the honours for the first time on his local event.

Stanley Orr and John Armstrong finished an excellent second overall in their ex-Ernest Kenmore two-litre Sunbeam on one of their first ever visits to Donegal.

Winners of the Hills of Donegal Rally, James McDaid and Rory Kennedy in their ex-Jimmy McRae Opel Ascona 400 – Photo Norman Blakeney.

Ronnie McCartney and Uel Calvin drove their rented Ascona 400 with gusto to say the least, but were badly delayed with an excursion on SS 3, when they got very badly out of line on a very tricky crossroads. Damage to the car was largely cosmetic, and they were rewarded with third overall at the end of the day.

The event, based in the very popular Milford Inn, consisted of twelve stages totalling just under one hundred miles of fast, bumpy, but smooth tarmac. A loop of four stages, which were to be repeated with service at the end of each loop in the spacious Milford Cattle Mart and finally a loop of two stages to the north of Milford to conclude was the format of the event.

A record one hundred and forty entries had been received for this ever-increasingly popular event. The welcome late entry of Vincent Bonner led the pack away from the Milford Inn parc ferme at 12 noon in perfect weather conditions. McCartney followed at No. 2 on the road with McDaid, Cullen and Orr making up the top five.

James Cullen continues to impress – Photo Seamus McDonnell.

Cullen was quickest on SS1 with Bonner next, followed by McCartney, Orr and McDaid. McDaid realising how far off the pace he was on SS1 turned up the boost and was quickest of the following three stages to lead the rally by just two seconds at the first service. Cullen was second, but was also in trouble with a suspected manifold gasket problem, and opted not to continue and retiring to an early bath. Vincent Bonner was third, but he also retired after the SS5, with oil pump failure, thought to be caused after a very heavy landing off a yump on SS5. Stanley Orr inherited second after Bonner’s demise, and was holding off Ronnie McCartney by just over thirty seconds.

Harold Thompson/Sean Hannigan had a monumental accident towards the end of the very fast SS6, absolutely destroying their immaculate Sunbeam. Fortunately, neither of the crew were hurt. Sammy Fisher/Kevin Kiely were also soon out of the event, rolling heavily after a series of yumps on SS8. Again, both crew members were unhurt.

John Boyle and Cathal McGettigan retired their Escort after holing the sump on SS6. Ken Irwin/John McCafferty were entering into a classic battle with Seamus and Dermott Carey in their respective GPA Sunbeams for class honours. This battle was not to be resolved until the final stage when Carey got the honours by just three seconds.

Eamon Harvey/Michael Pearson were also fairly dominant in the same class earlier in the day, but mechanical difficulties put paid to their challenge, in their Downtown Sunbeam. Stephen Emerson/R Mason retired their Sunbeam on SS5 with mechanical problems, as did Roy Balderick and Lorna Thompson after a very spirited drive in their GPN Sunbeam Ti.

Stanley Orr in full flight – Photo Seamus McDonnell.

Gerry McVeigh and Aidan,Fox had a real big moment on SS7, having to revert to all his driving ability to avoid the inevitable off on the now famous ‘McCartney Crossroads’, but Tommy Keys/Brendan Delap were less fortunate at the same location, when their GPN Sunbeam left the road due to a jammed throttle.

Joe and Dermott McHugh were showing a great turn of speed In their GP2 RS 2000, leading their class from Louis McNern and Shaun Lafferty in their RS 2000, who were just beginning to have clutch problems from which they retired on SS11.

John Gilleece and Stephen Boswell for some peculiar reason were not on their usual pace, in their familiar RS 2000, trailing in third place in the class, and showing evidence of contact with the Donegal scenery on the rear of the Escort. Jackie Harris and John Meenan were also off the pace in their ‘Autospares’ two litre Sunbeam and suffered mechanical problems towards the end, but still managed to finish in the top ten.

Meanwhile, McDaid continued to dominate extending his lead as the rally progressed, and a puncture on SS9 didn’t seem to lose him any time. Stanley Orr continued to dice with the Ascona of McCartney over the last four stages, but a short rain shower seemed to be to Orr’s advantage, as the Ascona fought for traction, leaving both cars on an equal par, on the slippy stages.

Robin Lyons and Noel Harvey took another convincing class win in their ‘Lyons Bros’ Talbot Samba after a trouble free run, with P. Baxter and M. Devlin second in a Honda, and Paddy Logue and Mickey Carr third in the Escort.

The organisers of the event, Clerk of the Course, Mrs Reba Graham, must take full credit for running such an efficient and well laid out event. Most crews seemed to enjoy the event, even though some of the stages were ‘yumpy’.

A delighted James McDaid and Rory Kennedy took a convincing but yet comfortable win in their ever reliable Ascona 400, after so many disappointments while featuring for the top place in many other rallies. Stanley Orr and John Armstrong finished 27 seconds ahead of McCartney, in second spot, an excellent result for the two litre Sunbeam in one of his very few visits to Donegal. Ronnie McCartney and Uel Calvin finalised the top three in their Opel Ascona, minus the rear wheel arch.

Hills of Donegal Rally Sat. 2nd March 1985.


  1. James McDaid/Rory Kennedy (Ascona 400):
  2. Stanley Orr/John Armstrong (Sunbeam):
  3. Ronnie McCartney/Uel Calvin (Ascona 400);
  4. Joe McHugh/Dermott McHugh (RS2000);
  5. John Gilleece/Stephen Boswell (RS2000).


  1. Seamus Doherty/Charlie Bradley;
  2. Thomas Hanlon/Patrick Haughey;
  3. Tommy McSorley/P.J.Gillespie.


  1. Seamus Gallagher/Joe Joe McGonigle;
  2. Paddy Carr/Eunan McBride;
  3. P. Laird/M. Forsyth.


  1. Hugh Tinney/Hugh Carton;
  2. Charlie McAteer/P.J. Sweeney;
  3. L. Allen/G. Buckley.


  1. S. Ballantine/S. Clements;
  2. B. Mutch/M. Cox;
  3. I. Gillespie/M. Rushe


  1. Robin Lyons/Noel Harvey;
  2. P. Baxter/M. Devlin;
  3. Paddy Logue/Mickey Carr.


  1. Seamus Carey/Dermott Carey;
  2. Ken Irwin/John McCafferty;
  3. Eamon Harvey/Michael Pearson.


  1. B. Corey/C. Quinn;
  2. W.]. Dolan/D. McSorley;
  3. I. Mulholland/E. Gorman.


  1. Gerry McVeigh/Aidan Fox;
  2. B Fox/J. McGinn;
  3. Ivor Boreland/Roger Ward Whiteside.


  1. Stephen Marsden/W. Mitchell;
  2. F. Flanagan/E. Flanagan;
  3. Paul Muldrew/N. Wilson.


  1. John Kennedy/Don Wilmot;
  2. T. Harbison/C. Serplus;
  3. I. Owens/R. Arthurs. ‘


  1. Stanley Orr/John Armstrong;
  2. Joe McHugh/Dermott McHugh:
  3. John Gilleece/Stephen Boswell.


  1. James McDaid/Rory Kennedy;
  2. Ronnie McCartney/Uel Calvin;
  3. Trevor Haydock/Eric Patterson.