1969 Circuit of Ireland – MW

Jolly Roger Clark slides the winning Escort round a bend on the Moan Vaun Special section.


How 118 people in 58 cars managed to get from Ballymena to Larne via Killarney, Donegal, and many points in between!

This report by Richard St. John Young, and photographs by Esler Crawford, was published in MotorWeek dated 12th April 1969.


With a full entry list of 150 crews, and a 1500 mile route, with over one third of the total distance on closed roads, the 1969 Gallaher Circuit certainly had all the ingredients for the best international rally held in the British Isles for a very long time. Additional flavouring was provided by the presence of four of the greatest names in International rallying today, Clark, Hopkirk, Makinen and Trana, and by the first really warm weekend we have seen so far this year.

Paddy Hopkirk getting rather close to a bank in the “seamless“ Mini Cooper S.

The general format of the rally was similar to that used for the last two years, the route being divided into five stages.

Stage one took the cars from the start at the Gallaher factory at Lisnafillan, through County Down, for a night‘s motoring through the centre of Ireland to the breakfast halt at Blessington, where the first car arrived at 6.30 a.m.

Stage two went South from Blessington through counties Wicklow, Carlow, Kilkenny and Tipperary and then on to Killarney, where work was allowed in the newly instituted service park for 20 minutes before the cars Were locked away for the night.

Heroes in the west were Millstreet men Billy Coleman and Dan O’Sullivan who went like nothing on earth in their tatty Gp6 Escort TC, but crashed in Donegal when challenging the leaders.


Stage three was the familiar “Sunday Run” round the Ring of Kerry, where such famous special sections as the Tim Healey Pass and Lake Caragh are used. This was something of a “rally within a rally” with special prizes being offered by the Killarney Hoteliers and Traders for the best performances in each class on the Sunday, an additional incentive to drivers which was much appreciated.

Barry Lee crosses the infamous bridge at Caragh Lake. The winding nature of the road can be seen in this photograph.

Monday morning and stage four saw the beginning of the long haul up the Western half of the country, starting in Killarney and finishing with supper at the Manor House Hotel at Killadeas, near Enniskilien before the final hard night’s motoring which took the much reduced field round Donegal and the Antrim coast to finish up in Larne on Tuesday morning.

The luckless Tom Trana kicks up a dust cloud at Cannon Wood on Saturday. Neither of the works Saabs finished for various reasons.

A tough route, but an enjoyable one, with some of the finest rally country in Europe on the agenda to keep drivers busy and spectators interested.

First car away from the start at Lisnafillan was, of course, the twin cam Escort of last year’s winner Roger Clark partnered by Jim Porter. These two were followed exactly one minute later by Paddy Hopkirk and Tony Nash in the latest in works Mini, a filleted and very stark motor car which looked more like a racing car than a rally machine, and a car which Paddy said was quick, but not very pleasant to drive.

Adrian Boyd and Beatty Crawford finished third behind the works machinery in their privately entered Mini Cooper.


There followed a fairly long run-in to the first special stage at Lough Henny, where Clark started as he meant to go on, losing only 5.2 marks, with Adrian Boyd and Beatty Crawford second in the group 6 Cooper S with 5.3, and Timo Makinen and Mike Wood third, losing 5.8 in their Escort TC. Good performances were also recorded here by Cahal Curley and Austin Frazer (Escort), John McClean and Hal Patton (Cooper S) and Ronnie White and Harold Hagan who were also Cooper mounted.

John L‘Amie went really well with the Escort until he ran out of brakes early on Saturday morning. The car was subsequently stripped of many of its “goodies” while left unattended.

Already there were a couple of retirements notably the works assisted Saab V4 of Doug Lockyear and Ted Cowell, who took to the scenery, and the Imp of David Baird and Colin McMeekin, which shed rods and things shortly after starting the stage. Very frustrating.

Crunch! Cecil Vard finished sixth overall, and was highest placed Southern driver with the Porsche, despite this argument with a bank on Monday.

So on to the very exciting stage along the shores of Strangford Lough at Ardmillan, where there was, as usual, plenty of action with the Herries-Syer Cooper S becoming inverted, and the driver. who ran back along the stage to warn following traffic getting himself clobbered by a following competitor. All in a night’s work, I suppose.

Dessie McCartney with Mervyn Johnston in typical pose on Moan Vaun. He was later to retire with a broken piston after a spirited drive.

A couple more sections followed in County Down before the run across the border and down into Cavan, and at this stage, a new name began to appear on the leader board, that of John L’Amie, who together with John Grant was going incredibly well in his Escort TC, setting fastest time overall on both the Annahaunshigo and Altnamackin stages, much to the surprise of many people, including himself!

Roy Fidler pushed his BMW hard to net seventh place. Here he applies the pressure at Moll‘s Gap on Sunday.

Poor Paddy Hopkirk wasn’t having mach of a rally, his “racer” suffering from indifferent handling and a badly misfiring engine, and the only time he did manage a better time than Clark, over the twisty Hamilton’s Folly stage, he was beaten by Makinen.

Sports cars are no longer popular wear in rallies, but the two Brians, Mitchell and Pinkerton did well to finish in this Sprite.

Breakfast at Blessington was an enlightening meal, with tales flashing around regarding the happenings of the night, and a considerable number of gaps in the parc ferme. Among those who had gone out during the night was John L’Amie, who had run completely out of brakes on the last section of the night, the superb 24 miler at Sally Gap, and had gone so far off the road that none of the following competitors saw the car, and giving his service crew some anxious moments when no news of him could be found.

How to bend tyres, as shown by Will Sparrow-Nigel Raeburn.

Another notable retirement was the Renault Gordini which had departed rather violently from the fray, as had the King / Stephenson Escort after leaping over a bank on the Muff special section.

“The Flying Sewing Machine” of Johnston/McCutcheon (a Wartburg Knight) hummed it’s way to a class win.


Several other people had been in trouble during the night, and Timo Makinen struggled into Blessington right on the limit of his 15 minutes permitted lateness, having changed a differential en route. Dessie McCartney also had a fair amount of electrical trouble, and indeed did most of his night driving with only his rather bloodshot looking headlights functioning.

Hill Scott looks as though he’s trying hard in his “sticky tape” Escort TC at Moll’s Gap. Ken Atkinson bites his lip and says nothing.

Charlie Gunn and Norman Henderson went a stage further and set the Escort on fire after electric problems on Sally Gap, while on the same stage the Jock Russell and Peter Valentine Porsche 911 broke its suspension, and John McAlorum and Ian McFarland put their Mini’s fan through the radiator.

Richard Hudson-Evans hurling his yellow Mini Cooper down the Caragh Lake section on the Sunday run.

Saturday’s run saw the cavalcade charging down into the deep South, still being headed by Roger Clark who rather gave the impression of being in complete control of the situation and not pushing the car too hard at all. By contrast, Makinen was very exciting to watch, especially at Canon Wood where some of the looser bits were very much to his liking.

The only Anglia entered, the 1500 cc car of Cook and Brundle finished, albeit in a somehwhat lowly position.

Paddy Hopkirk was soldiering on, but looked anything but happy in the Mini which had had new carburettors fitted at breakfast in an effort to cure the persistent misfire which must have made the car very frustrating to drive, but he had a whole host of other machinery snapping at his heels. This included the Coopers of Adrian Boyd and Ronnie White, neither of whom were taking it easy anywhere, and a veritable horde of Escorts not to mention the BMWs of Roy Fidler and Barry Hughes and Robert McBurney and Reggie McSpadden.

Roger Clark’s winning Escort receives a bit of intensive service from the Ford mechanics.

Tom Trana put in some very fine stage performances on Saturday with the works Saab to take over the mantle of Escort chaser from the Hopkirk Mini at the end of the day’s proceedings.

A steady eleventh was Bob Lawrence with his ex-works Cooper which finished ahead of many much more fancied runners.

The other works Saab, driven very steadily by Crawford Harkness and navigated by Hamish Cardno, was a little short of time, following a getting lost session around Clonmel, and its chances of being “in” for the Sunday run were slim in the extreme.

Robin Lyons, from Omagh pressing on.

A number of people had incidents of one sort or another during the day. Charlie Gunn did a bit of rock thumping with the Escort and retired after the Donoughmore stage, while earlier the Farquharson and Oddie Cortina GT had fallen over on Cannon Wood, and although it continued for the rest of the day, this crew was also excluded, as were McKeag and Brown in the Escort, and sadly, Timo Makinen, who, despite some fantastic driving, had in fact been late into Blessington and so was unable to continue.

The East-Hobbs Escort TC going through the woods on Lake Caragh.

Killarney seems to get busier every Easter, and this year the town was nearly solid with people, there being quite a large number of “normal” holidaymakers in addition to the Circuit folk, but in spite of this, things went very smoothly, and thanks to very good marshalling in the town itself, rally traffic was able to move more or less freely in and out of the service park.

Going up. Bill Jack’s Cooper climbing hard.

First section on the Sunday run was the magnificent 10 mile at Moll’s Gap stage, which winds its way up out of Killarney, past the Lady’s View, and down towards Kenmare. Clark was really trying on this one, no doubt because he wanted to make sure of the Killarney Cup, presented for the best performance on the Sunday, and lost only 4.4 marks as against the 11.0 of his nearest rival, Hopkirk.

Noel Smith was the fastest driver from the South

Trana, who started the day as second-favourite, was out within a couple of miles of the start after trying to remove a particularly large piece of Killarney with the right side of the Saab, and doing the front suspension a power of no good.

David Sutton and M. Giles show what happens when you brake hard in an Escort.

Other people to go really well were Boyd, Dessie McCartney (Cooper S), old hand Cecil Vard (Porsche) and rank outsider Billy Coleman (Escort TC).

Ken Shields and Peter Lyster show why they would finish in 9th place overall.

Of these performances, Coleman’s is the most noteworthy, as this young man from Millstreet was driving what must have been the tattiest Escort in the world, a rebuilt write-off fitted with a twin cam engine, and running in Group Six, with a lot of trim etc. removed. Coleman, partnered by Dan O’Sullivan was running as a reserve at Number 115, so his performances on Mo1l’s Gap and the other Sunday stages were very creditable indeed, and he was certainly good value to watch.

Jim Lennox hurries along Moan Vaun, his Cooper showing signs of contact with a solid object of some sort.


At Borlinn it was Clark again, this time with Cecil Vard, who seems to have found real winning form with the Porsche second ahead of Boyd, Hopkirk (still with the misfire), Ronnie White and Coleman, while at Curraduff Dessie McCartney managed quickest from Hopkirk, Boyd and White.

The Robert McBurney-Reggie McSpadden BMW 2002 demonstratng its independent rear suspension on the way up Moll’s Gap.

The first run over the Tim Healey saw Clark reaffirming his position as “the man” with Vard second fastest, then Boyd, Hopkirk and Coleman, and so it went on, with Clark usually managing to outfox everybody, but with the unfortunate Hopkirk losing quite a bit of time to the very smooth Boyd, who didn’t even look as though he was working most of the time.

Tony Fowkes safely passes the spectators who clearly didn’t see the sign!

The first few stages on Monday saw Roger Clark back to his “taking it easy” style, which although it may look to be fairly slow, is still considerably quicker than most other people can manage when flat out.

Toney Cox gets the Escort a little crossed up at the Poorhouse.

Paddy Hopkirk seemed to be slightly happier with the Mini, and appeared to be really trying, although, if Paddy was trying, then Boyd was trying even harder. A particularly malevolent right hander on the Moan Vaun (nee Cappagh White) section caught just about everybody out, as did a rather nasty wiggle later on in the same stage, and there was quite a bit of battered bodywork to be seen. Rosemary Smith, who had been driving the AutoExtra entered Lotus Cortina very well indeed, was said to have clobbered a spectators car during this section and certainly she finished with a rather second- hand looking front wing.


After a few more stages during which the field was further reduced when Dessie McCartney broke a piston in the Mini and retired, while the big Rover Three Thousand Five of Mike Howells and Martin Hamer was involved in an accident with a non-competing Volkswagen. A pity this, as the big car was going like a train, and Howell’s handling of the rather unwieldy machine was a joy to behold.

Ernest McMillen drove the Eakins Cooper S with his usual gusto, but a navigation error on the run in to Killarney put them OTL and they were out.

A very short special stage round the grounds of Manor House Hotel followed, Hopkirk making the fastest time on this rather tight and pointless section, proving that, even if the works Cooper has a limited usefulness in international rallies, it can still be used to good effect in driving tests!

Derek Boyd and Beatty Crawford slip past a more traditional Irish vehicle.

After supper the cars headed out into Donegal for a long thrash round the top of the country to the finish in Larne and it was here that Paddy Hopkirk began to go really quickly, beating Clark on several stages, but it just wasn’t enough and “Jolly Roger” came home first by just over 100 marks from Paddy. Paddy did in fact have some problems towards the end, when the car started overheating, but Adrian Boyd, in a typically sporting gesture, had his service crew help Paddy to cure the problem and go on to finish second, ahead of Boyd.

Beatty Crawford (left) and his partner Adrian Boyd collect the money.

That last night claimed its fair share of victims, among whom were McBurney and McSpadden in the BMW which eventually succumbed to rear axle problems when very well placed, and Billy Coleman who had. the inevitable accident, going well off the road on the Atlantic Drive section and being unable to get back.


Unluckiest man on the whole rally must be Noel Smith, who got to within a couple of miles of the end of the last special stage when his Cooper broke its gearbox, putting him out of the running, while in Banagher Forest, John Jago and Helen Walford inverted their Cortina into a stream, but managed to retrieve it, albeit in a very second hand state, in time to qualify as finishers.

Jan Sloane and Darryl Atkinson proved themselves “fast ladies“ in the nicest possible way, of course. Here they reap their rewards.

So Clark did it again, in a rally which will be remembered for a long time to come for the heat of the pace, for the quality of the entry and for the very high standard of driving, particularly among the local drivers.

Roger Clark (right) and Jim Porter look pleased with their haul of silverware, and why shouldn’t they?

Perhaps, as many people were heard to remark, the 15 minutes permitted lateness was not sufficient, and certainly, had it been half an hour, the final result could well have been different, but this is a very debateable point, and doubtless David Mitchell had some very good reasons for putting the limit at 15 minutes.

At a very enjoyable “do” on Tuesday night the awards were presented, and a good time was had by all, but the one man who worked harder than anybody, never got a thing. I mean David Mitchell of course. How about somebody giving a prize to the Clerk of the Course. He deserves it!


  1. R. Clark-J. Porter (Ford Escort TC) 428.8;
  2. P. Hopkirk-T. Nash (BMC Cooper) 529.6;
  3. A. Boyd-B. Crawford (BMC Cooper) 547.2;
  4. R. White-H. Hagan (BMC Cooper) 611.9;
  5. C. Curley-A. Frazer (Ford Escort TC) 625.7;
  6. C. Vard-D. Reynolds (Porsche 911S) 645.5;
  7. R. Fidler-B. Hughes (BMW 2002) 682.9;
  8. B. Lee-J. Coles (Ford Escort TC) 702.2;
  9. K. Shields-P. Lyster (Vauxhall Viva GT) 712.3;
  10. A. Sheppard-J. Taylor (Ford Escort TC) 777.3;
  11. R. Lawrence-P. Muddiman (BMC Cooper) 818.0;
  12. W. Sparrow-N. Raeburn (BMC Cooper) 836.6;
  13. A. Allard-T. Fisk (Ford Escort TC) 846.9;
  14. R. Shiner-R. Davis (Ford Escort TC) 864.7;
  15. T. Burke-D. Jolly (Ford Escort TC) 874.6;
  16. T. Cox-N. Salt (Ford Escort TC) 893.1;
  17. R. Hudson-Evans-M. Sones (BMC Cooper) 892.2;
  18. J. Bridges-R.Murphy (BMC Cooper) 904.8;
  19. W. Jones-J. Gittins (Ford Escort TC) 930.6;
  20. R. Mullenger-J. Matthews (Ford Escort TC) 931.2;
  21. D. Boyd-B. Crawford (Ford Lotus Cortina) 940.0;
  22. Miss R. Smith-Miss A. Watson (Ford Lotus Cortina) 947.8;
  23. A. Fowkes-J. McNeil1 (Ford Lotus Cortina) 948.0;
  24. R. Wilson-D. Duffin (BMC Cooper) 972.1;
  25. J. Eakin-F.P. Johnson (BMC Mini) 981.3;
  26. B. Garlick-D. Close (Ford Lotus Cortina) 998.8;
  27. P. O’Callaghan-P. McEvoy (BMW 2002) 1011.5;
  28. J. Keating-R. Keating (Ford Escort GT) 1026.1;
  29. B. Pinkerton-B. Mitchell (MG Midget) 1032.9;
  30. J. Wilson-T. Knox (Hillman Hunter) 1055.8;
  31. C. O’Sullivan-I. Bendall (Ford Lotus Cortina) 1062.9;
  32. H. Scott-K. Atkinson (Ford Escort TC) 1066.1;
  33. I. Woodruff-K. Billows (BMC Cooper) 1073.8;
  34. J. Henry-W. Maguire (BMC Mini) 1074.5;
  35. R. Bambury-P. Russell (Ford Escort TC) 1088.0;
  36. D. Bradley-D. Flanagan (Vauxhall Viva GT) 1088.6;
  37. J. McCosh-S. Mc D. Broadhead (Ford Escort TC) 1104.4;
  38. B. Reid-A. Burnett (Sunbeam Imp) 1110.2;
  39. N. Newtown-R. Mason (Ford Lotus Cortina) 1122.6;
  40. J. Mossopp-T. Johnstone (Ford Lotus Cortina) 1134.6.
  41. J. P. O’Kane-J. McLean (Ford Lotus Cortina) 1176.5;
  42. J. Andrews-S. White (BMC Cooper) 1182.4;
  43. B. Cooke-J. Burrow (BMC Mini) 1199.2;
  44. J. Ferguson-J. Wade (Ford Cortina GT) 1200.2;
  45. H. Hoffman-R. Jude (Ford Escort TC) 1205.6;
  46. P. Doland-M. Silke (NSU TT) 1215.8;
  47. K. Gouldsborough-D. Hacking (Fiat 850) 1240.6;
  48. D. Rhodes-P. Grimwood (BMW 2002) 1250.0;
  49. D. Burman-A. Blackburn (BMC Cooper) 1290.3;
  50. B. Wilson-G. Taggart (BMC Cooper) 1308.0;
  51. W. Johnston-R. McCutcheon (Wartburg Knight) 1364.0;
  52. D. Crawford~F.O’Donoghue (Fiat 850) 1380.5;
  53. J. Cassidy-D. Grant (MGB GT) 1334.7;
  54. J. Jago-Miss H. Walford (Lotus Cortina) 1435.2;
  55. N. Cook-E. Brundle (Ford Anglia) 1447.8;
  56. J. Titford- A. Covill (Sunbeam Rapier) 1455.4;
  57. W. Paton-H. McNeill (Volvo) 1496.9;
  58. Miss J. Sloane-Miss D. Atkinson (Ford Escort GT) 1537.1;
  59. P. Scott-P. Shields (Renault Gordini) 1542.4.