1959 Circuit of Ireland

As the rain begins to fall, the competing cars line up at the top of the Tim Healey Pass for a special test. Fastest time down the hill was shared by Wallwork and McMillen.


Volkswagens Win The Circuit of Ireland


Kevin Sherry/Seamus de Barra Take Premier Award—Ladies’ Prize for Pat Moss/Ann Wisdom

KEVIN SHERRY, the 35-year-old driver from Monaghan in Eire, has given Volkswagens their first-ever overall victory in the 1,500-mile Circuit of Ireland International Rally which he won outright, together with his co-driver Seamus de Barra, during the Easter week-end.

KEVIN SHERRY (left) and Seamus de Barra with their trophies after taking first place and class and team awards.

Volkswagens filled the first seven places in the final overall positions which, until this year, were usually occupied by sports cars. For three years previously, the Circuit had been won by Triumphs, but this year Johnny Wallwork in a “works” entered car could do no better than eighth place. This was undoubtedly due to the fact that the grand touring cars were handicapped to a certain extent on the speed tests and were not as quick as the smaller saloons in some of the tight drivability tests.

Pat Moss again won the Ladies’ Trophy accompanied by Ann Wisdom in a Morris 1000 and in doing so finished second in the class for closed cars not exceeding 1,000 c.c., which was won by Cecil Molyneaux and Ken Allen of Belfast in an Austin A35. Third place in this class went to P. O’Flynn of Cork who drove with D. Whelar in a DKW.

In the class for closed cars from 1,001 c.c. to 1,300 c.c., Sherry in his Volkswagen was followed by Joe O’Mahony from Douglas, Co. Cork, with T. A. Burke from the same town in third position.

Hillmans had a one, two, three victory in the closed car class over 1,300 c.c. with Esdale Dowling and Cecil Atkinson first, followed by Charles Eyre-Maunsell and J. A. Greeves, and Wilbert Todd and John Davidson third.

The new grand touring class for cars up to 1,300 c.c. gave victory to Sammy Moore of Cloughmills, Co. Antrim, in an Austin-Healey Sprite with Robin McKinney second in another Sprite, the property of Paddy Hopkirk, who had entered his friend McKinney while he took part in the African Coronation Safari. In this class F. W. Stembridge from Huby justified his journey from England in his Elva-head Ford Anglia by finishing in third position ahead of many of the small sports cars.

Works entered Triumphs finished in first two places in class five, for grand touring cars over 1,300 c.c. The first car was driven by Johnny Waliwork and Mike Wood, while Brian McCaldin and Jack Scott crewed the second car. Dr. Sydney. Armstrong of Ballymena was third in this class driving his M.G.A.

This year the organizers of the event, – the Ulster Automobile Club, introduced a class for “Touring” cars, in which the competitors did not have to take part in a number of the tests and who were given slightly more time to cover some of the sections. This class resulted in a victory for S. P. Bishop of Dublin in a Triumph, followed by D. S. Baird of Belfast in a Hillman.

The Castlereagh Trophy, for the best visitor to Northern Ireland, was also collected by Sherry, who led the winning closed car team. In this he was accompanied by Dr. Sam Logan and Billy Kilroy, again all in Volkswagens.

The new AUTOSPORT Trophy, which was awarded for the first time, was won by O’Mahony, being the best driver to take part in international motor car rallies outside Ireland. The novice award went to Robert McBurney of Ballymena in another Volkswagen, who incidentally finished fifth in general classification.

Three Austin-Healey Sprites, driven by McKinney, John McClean and Crawford Little, won the team prize for open cars.

After being flagged off by the Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, Cur. Herbert Jefferson (left), the Moss/Wisdom Morris sets off on its way to winning the Ladies’ prize.

Friday, 27th March
It was raining heavily when Pat Moss and Ann Wisdom, carrying rally plate number one, drove out into the crowded Belfast streets with their cream Morris Minor 1000 from under an archway in front of the City Hall, after being sped on their way at exactly 7 p.m. by the Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Herbert Jefferson.

At minute intervals the rest of the Belfast starters followed and headed south to join competitors from the Omagh and Dublin controls at a check point in the police station at Dundalk, after crossing the Northern Ireland-Eire border.

There was last-minute drama for two of the Belfast starters, for Bob Harkness (1.5 Riley) broke a half shaft late in the afternoon and had to have it replaced, while Billy Reid (Triumph) found at 6.30 p.m. that water was leaking into the sump of his car from a faulty head gasket and proceeded, with the help of another driver, John Chesney, to remove the head and replace the gasket. Both cars, however, were at the control in time to start.

From Dundalk the competitors proceeded inland to a control at Castleblayney and it was during this stage that the rally suffered its first of many retirements. Brendan Curran from Bangor, one of the early starters, lost considerable time when caught in a flooded road and when trying to make the control in time, crashed his Austin A40 into a wall, damaging the front suspension and radiator.

At Castleblayney all competitors, except those in the “touring” class, were handed a 95-mile navigation card which gave the location of nine check points which had to be visited in rotation. This, it was soon discovered, was to be one of the toughest tests of the rally for when the cars reached the next control 184 miles away, a very large percentage had suffered penalty marks for lateness on the road.

Among those to get through clean were Pat Moss, George Hurst, Jimmy Millard and Cecil Molyneaux in class one, 11 of the cars in class two, including Sherry, only four of the 31 starters in class three – Bob Caughey (Riley), Dr. J. D. Keatley (Riley), Esdale Dowling and George Parkes in an excellent performance with his 3.4 Jaguar. No one was clean in class four at all while Wallwork and McCaldin were among those to be without penalty in class five.

A number of competitors, in fact, who were only slightly late through the navigation section, found difficulty in making the next control, located in the Wicklow Mountains, for this stage also included two checks at Kilcock and Naas which had to be visited.

It was during this navigation that Brendan Devine shunted his Volkswagen team-mate Robert McBurney, but after some forceful panel bashing both were able to continue. Dowling had a slight encounter with a stray bullock, while Paddy Newell stripped the gearbox of Wilbert Todd’s hard-worked Ford, which he had borrowed for the event, and was forced to drop out.

Many drivers, therefore, were carrying heavy penalty when they reached the next control. Billy Reid was down 170 marks when he was forced to spend considerable time in a wayside garage repairing a torn-off exhaust system while Johnny Moore from Dublin found things a little too much for his Goggomobil 300 and was down 600 marks. His team mate, C. Norton, also from Dublin, had retired along with Ronald Graham (Morris),  Miss E. Ingram (Austin) and nine competitors from class three, who had either retired or were excluded from winning an award because of excess lateness.

Tragedy struck the rally also in this section when J. T. McGimpsey, the 31year-old co-driver with Denis Wilkins in a Triumph, collapsed and died at one of the checks. He had been behind the wheel of the car when he complained of feeling ill and died shortly after changing seats. Dr. G. W. Houston, who was competing with R. C. Eames in a Riley, gave medical assistance at the check, but the unfortunate competitor, who had only arranged to take part in the event the previous day, had suffered a heart attack.

Saturday, March 28

Competitors at the control in the Wicklow Mountains took part in the first driving test of the rally which was of the forward and reverse type around pylons down a fairly steep hill, and it was here, for some unknown reason, that several experienced drivers made their first mistake by doing the test in the wrong direction. One of the offenders was Brian McCaldin in the Triumph and his error – the only one throughout the event – virtually cost him first place in his class.

Ray Noble (Morris) was fastest in the small saloons while Sherry was already showing his paces among the Volkswagens and returned a very good time.

LINE-UP of works Triumphs at a Co.Cork control. In front is Wallwork’s car with which he won the large G.T. class.

An easy road section of 108 miles brought the drivers through a check in the police station at Wexford, not the easiest thing to find in the small deserted streets of the town in the early hours of the morning, to a welcome breakfast break in Tramore, on the southern coast of the country where, after a quick clean-up and a meal, everyone was ready to start into the next stage leading towards Killarney.

A pleasant drive along the coast road to a check in Dungarvan then sent competitors inland again for another driving test which was followed by an easy route card section across the Knockmealdown Mountains. This required a certain amount of concentration, however, for after the driving test at the end, it was necessary to know just where one was before heading for the check in Ballingarry and the final control of the day in the Fair Green, Killarney, where the sun was shining brightly to welcome weary drivers. But no matter how optimistic the sunshine was it did not help the feelings of Mervyn Glover in his Hillman, who had been 12 minutes late at the previous control and had been docked 120 marks!

Sunday, March 29

Knowing, from years of experience, what rally drivers are when they are turned loose in Killarney on Easter Saturday night, the organizers did not get anyone out of bed too early on Sunday morning and it was 9.20 a.m. when the first car drove off towards Tim Healey Pass for the first test of the day.

CHECKING OUT of a control during the Sunday run are A. J. Hedley/W. D. Johnston. In the distance can be seen the start of a downhill free-wheel test.

This consisted of a timed downhill “blind” for about two miles of the twisty and tortuous road where Pat Moss proceeded to demonstrate to members of the opposite sex just how to get down that hill really fast.

Her loss of 103.9 marks for the test was one of the talking points of the rally from there on, and even Sherry at his best could only manage to beat her by slightly over two marks. This was the first test on which the grand touring cars carried a handicap but they were still further handicapped by the torrential showers of rain which swept the hillside when it came their turn for the descent. Wallwork and McMillen were undoubtedly the fastest in class five while Sammy Moore returned a good time with his Sprite in class four.

Through Bantry and up into the mountains of Kerry was the next stage to be completed before they carried out a driving test and were presented with a route card which was to keep things busy for the next two hours.

Similar to the one used the previous day, of the pictorial “Tulip Rally type”, a minimum average of around 30 m.p.h. was indeed hard enough to maintain for 65.4 miles and required a heavy right foot on any section of good road surface that was available.

Adrian Boyd of Belfast in his Ford Anglia, who up to this was going extremely well, found that, at the control, he was 10 minutes late and lost 100 marks.

It was in this section that fate struck the “works” Triumph team which now, it seemed, because of the handicap and the nature of the tests, had no hope of winning the event outright. The team was also being split by young Cheshey in his much-older model, so it looked that perhaps the team award was one of the best things to aim for.

Waiting for his route book at a control is Ernest McMillen of the Triumph works team. Within an hour his car had crashed and was out of the rally.

However, in this route card section, McMillen, on a fast right-hand bend, was confronted with a Volkswagen van occupying more than its fair share of the road and there was nothing else for it but a hard stone wall on the left which altered the contours of the Triumph considerably. Poor McMillen was able to drive the car back into Killarney but it was beyond repair and was sent off by train to Dublin.

A further control and test was scheduled before returning again to Killarney for the second night stop and the publication of the positions up to the end of the second stage to provide plenty to think about.

It was now obvious that Sherry was pulling away from the rest of the field, and with a loss of marks of 326.1 he was already 7.7 marks ahead of Dr. Sam Logan in another Volkswagen. Joe O’Mahony was third with 337.9 marks while young McBurney, who was qualifying for the novice award, was in fourth place.

Cecil Molyneaux had a comfortable lead of more than five marks in class one, while Dowling was leading Bob Caughey by 3.6 marks in class three. In the smaller of the two grand touring classes Sammy Moore was out ahead, but the Sprite monopoly was being split by F. W. Stembridge in an Elva-head Anglia.

John Chesney, who was leading the “works” Triumph drivers after the first night in Killarney, had slipped into second place with Wallwork now out in front, while S. P. Bishop of Dublin was best of the “touring” class, again in a Triumph.

Monday, 30th March

Early on the road on Monday morning, the cars were soon through Ballyheigue on the coast and through checks and controls, before arriving at the start of the optional section which always creates a great deal of interest in the “Circuit”. Between a control at the start and at the finish the competitors could either go the easy main road route or via two check points on a more difficult and longer route but for visiting which, four marks are deducted from his or her total.

This year the alternative, route proved to be passable but due to an unfortunate incident at the end control, when an official marked at least three cars 10 minutes earlier than their actual arrival without it being discovered until some time later by either official or competitor, some cars were penalized 100 marks for being TOO QUICK through the checks.

Another competitor in a large grand touring car, who was mislaid in the optional checks and who arrived obviously late at the control, was fortunate enough to have his road book also marked 10 minutes before his actual time of arrival by the unassuming official, and escaped without losing any marks on the section.

A protest was lodged at the end of the event regarding the matter, which affected a class placing, but the judges ruled that the various competitors had signed for their road books with the times marked upon them and nothing could, therefore, be done.

A similar protest was lodged at the end of the event about a wrong time of arrival marked on a competitor’s book at the next control, situated at the bottom of the Corkscrew Hill where again the driver was penalized for being too early and which also affected a class placing, but again the judges ruled similarly.

STARTING on the Corkscrew hill-climb is Dr. Sydney Armstrong, who took third place in the over 1,300 c.c. G.T. class.

Up the Corkscrew, which was used for a timed ascent, it was McCaldin who led the way with Parkes returning a very good time, also. The grand touring cars were handicapped, again, and it was Parkes who came out the best in the long run. Sherry and O’Mahony each lost 81.4 marks on the test, while Frank Robinson lost 82.4 marks. Pat Moss was best of the small saloons with 81.6 marks against 90.2 returned each by Cecil Vard (Renault), C. G. C. Whaley, H. Lindsay and Victor Stanfield, all driving Austins.

Parkes in the Jaguar, with 73.2 marks lost, was followed by Ronnie Martin in his 1.5, Riley with Z. Mladek of Belfast in another 3.4 Jaguar third in the class for large saloons. Bill Chesney was fastest of all the Sprites while Wallwork and Reid returned some very rapid times in class five.

Proceeding to the next checkpoint at Fanore on the coast, over a narrow and twisty mountain track, Fred Bradshaw, in a Volkswagen, met a Sunbeam coming from the opposite direction at a fairly hefty speed. The resulting collision put both cars out of the rally. It seemed to be an unfortunate Circuit of Ireland for the Bradshaw family, for his brother Bill was forced out in Killarney after the first night with both rear shockers of his A.C.Bristol gone completely.

After passing through Galway City the cars entered Connemara and threaded their way down into a check point at Leenane. It was just on entering Galway that John Chesney, lying second in class five, realized that a bearing was going in his near-side rear wheel. There was, however, nothing that could be done at that stage so he drove on carefully, stopping every now and then to pack the faulty bearing with grease.

A few checks and some very bad mountain roads kept drivers and navigators still hard worked until they reached Toormakeady on the shores of Lough Mask. It was here, in fact, that a local claimed that in all his years in Toormakeady he had never heard of a car coming down the road off the mountain which the rally competitors used.

Controls and tests near Sligo and Donegal town had to be visited and completed before the cars reached Londonderry for the end of the third stage. The results show that at this point, where competitors, if they were lucky, could snatch about four hours sleep, Sherry was still away out in front followed by Logan. There was a change in third position in the overall placings for now T. A. Burke from Douglas, Co. Cork, in another Volkswagen, took the place of O’Mahony.

Tuesday, 31st March

Leaving the Londonderry control the remaining cars in the rally went east across Northern Ireland to Orra Lodge, just south of Ballycastle, where the first control and driving test was situated. The one competitor who stayed behind in Londonderry was Chesney who had decided to have a go at changing the wheel bearing which, he knew, if not replaced, would soon break up under the strain.

In exactly 45 minutes after being clocked out of the control the car was driven out of a local garage complete with a new bearing and the control was made with about seven minutes ‘to spare. No wonder Chesney was warmly greeted by everyone, at the control, for it was considered by many to be an impossible task in the time available.

The next control was at Kirkistown, where the 500 Motor Racing Club of Ireland holds it race meetings, and here drivers had to complete five laps of the circuit, being timed over the last four.

Because of the system of handicaps, Parkes gained the most marks of any around the Circuit which he was lapping around the 1 mm. 25 secs. mark, but fastest of the day was McCaldin with a lap in 1 mm. 22 secs. despite the fact that the “works” Triumph had Weather-master tyres fitted all round—just not the most suitable for circuit dicing.

Pat Moss got around with a loss of 77.96 marks for the test, while next best in her class was P. O’Flynn, in a DKW, with 82.12. Sherry managed 81.44 in his class, being followed by J. N. Brooks with 82.16.

In Bangor, Co. Down, at the final control, where many hundreds of spectators had gathered to watch the closing stage of the event, two driving tests had been laid out. The first of these tests consisted of a complete circle of a pylon followed by a flying finish through a channel of tins. Best time here was returned by two competitors in class two, Billy Kilroy and Frank Robinson, in Volkswagens. It was Parkes who won loud applause from the crowd when he threw the big Jaguar around in fine style and maintained what now, by virtue of Kirkistown, must have been second place in the large saloon class.

Drivers were tensed up as they waited to take part in the last test of the rally which was designed to establish the efficiency of the brakes after the 1,500-mile drive.

Drivers had to average more than 30 m.p.h. between two lines 44 ft. apart, and then stop in a channel lined with pylons in the shortest distance afterwards.

It has often been the case that braking tests have changed many positions in the rally, and this year was no exception for both Parkes and John Chesney, who were both lying in second place in their respective classes, failed to average the required minimum speed between the two lines and were penalized 150 marks each.

McCaldin and Wallwork each returned very good figures on this test, as did. O’Mahony, who beat Sherry by over four marks. Robin McKinney, who had earlier been the fastest driver in class four with his Sprite on the Kirkistown circuit, also did a very good braking test and gained some valuable advantage over his rivals, which was later to prove very useful.

The cars were scrutineered, with penalty marks for such things as torn panels and wings before the road book was handed in for the last time.

General Classification:

  1. K. Sherry, Monaghan, 672.99 marks lost;
  2. J. O’Mahony, Douglas, 695.04;
  3. T. A. Burke, Douglas, 699.96;
  4. S. H. M. Logan, Dublin, 704.66;
  5. R. D. G. McBurney, Ballymena, 706.24;
  6. J. L. Cullen, Dublin, 716.88 (all driving Volkswagens).

Special Trophies:

  • Castlereagh Trophy, Sherry;
  • AUTOSPORT Trophy, O’Mahony;
  • Novice Trophy, McBurney;
  • Ladies’ Award, Miss Pat Moss.

Class Awards
Touring Cars, up to 1,000 c.c.:

  1. C. Molyneaux, Belfast (Austin), 727.19;
  2. Miss P. Moss, Tring (Morris 1000), 747.41;
  3. P. O’Flynn, Cork (DKW), 752.42.

1,001-1,300 c.c.: As in general classification.

Over 1,300 c.c

  1.  J. E. Dowling, Belfast, 727.88;
  2. C. W. Eyre-Maunsell, Belfast, 744; 3,
  3. W. T. Todd, Lisburn, 762.40

Grand Touring Cars, up to 1,300 c.c.:

  1. S. Moore, Cloughmills (Austin-Healey Sprite). 755.96;
  2. R. C. McKinney, Lisburn (Austin-Healey Sprite), 766.48;
  3. F. W. Stembridge, Huby (Ford) 770.15.

Over 1,300 c.c.:

  1. J. C. Wallwork, Coventry (Triumph), 725.69;
  2. B. McCaldin, Monaghan (Triumph), 763.32;
  3. Dr. S. T. Armstrong, Ballymena (MG.), 799.10.

“Touring” Class:

  1. S. P. Bishop, Dublin (Triumph), 419.40;
  2. D. S. Baird, Belfast (Hillman), 620;
  3. P. G. Thompson, Belfast (Austin), 620.50.

Team Awards:

Closed Cars:

  1. Boyne Valley Club, Drogheda (Logan, Sherry, Kilroy);
  2. Hillman Team (Dowling, Eyre-Maunsell, Todd).

Open Cars:

  1. Austin-Healey Sprite (McKinney, McClean, Little);
  2. Austin-Healey Sprite (Moore, Hedley, Chesney).

Club Team: Munster M.C. and C.C. (O’Flynn, O’Sullivan, Burke).