1979 Galway International

Photo: D. Smyth
Billy Coleman and Frank O'Donoghue were eventually declared winners of Galway 1979 after an appeal to the RIAC.

This report is made up of two media articles, Introduction and first day from Autosport 15 February 1979, and day 2 to the finish and results from Motoring News on the same date. Additional photos by Derek Smyth.


O’Connell’s win, subject to appeal by fastest man Billy Coleman – Boyd/Gallagher TR7 has a serious accident – John Taylor crashes out.

Autosport report by Rupert Saunders, Autosport photos by Hugh Bishop.

When you are at the top, it’s all too easy to fall down. A lesson which could be well learnt by competitors and officials alike after this weekend’s Henley Forklift Ireland West International Rally – the Galway International to you and me. The competitors fell down by making silly mistakes. The officials fell down by not tying up the ends of their organisation and by over-stretching their resources.

And so we are left with a messy rally to report on. The declared results give victory to the popular husband and wife team of Mick and Anne O’Connell in their Ford Escort but these results are the subject of an appeal to the RIAC by the fastest driver at the end of the rally, Billy Coleman. He was excluded by the Stewards for coming off the intended rally route when co-driver Frank O’Donoghue misread a route amendment. We won’t know the final results for a week or so.

Mick and Anne O’Connell were provisionally declared winners after a roadbook error by Coleman and O’Donoghue. Photo D Smyth.

The rally was also marred by a serious accident involving the TR7 of Derek Boyd which put both Boyd and his co-driver Fred Gallagher in the intensive care unit of the local hospital and which can grave doubts upon the organisers’ ability to cope with an emergency. Happily, both crew members are on the road to recovery but there are lessons to be learnt from the incident.

By far and away the fastest car/driver combination on the event was the Ford Escort driven by John Taylor and Phil Short. Taylor built up a healthy lead on the first night but then crashed out of the rally on the second morning leaving Coleman clear at the head of the field. It was a disastrous rally too for BL Cars since not only did Boyd crash, but Graham Elsmore rolled his TR7 too, just when he was starting to go quickly.

The Group 1 award went to Alan Carter, the London based New Zealander, who put in a very impressive display in his RS2000, while another impressive display came from John Lyons in the Datsun Violet. Although only Group 2, Lyons was up with the leaders until a tie-bar broke on the car.

The Galway is an event to look forward to. Sponsorship from Henley Forklift and the Ireland West Tourist Board have assured it of a future. The stages are good and the people are friendly. The prize money is excellent.

The three days are split up into three totally separate sections, each one based around a particular town which then also serves as a main service area. This year the Friday stages were in Connemara, based on Clifden, the Saturday stages were in south Galway based on Portumna, and the Sunday stages were run into Clare, based on Gort. The rally is quite tough enough without the added complication of bad weather but, for the second year running, snow fell on some of the stages making conditions doubly difficult for the competitors.

Noel Smith and Ian Turkington would have a great run to finish third overall in their usual Porsche Carerra. Photo D Smyth.

In previous years the Galway International has always been impeccably organised so it would not be fair to just list here the places where this year’s event fell short of previous standards. However, it must be said that some of the marshaling was of a poor standard, possibly through a lack of briefing; that a system of writing times on sticky labels which were then applied to the time card didn’t work because the labels were too small and the backing paper too firmly attached; that a programming error on the computer meant that there were no results on Friday night; and that the lack of any firm action after the one serious accident stretched the communications resources to the full was a serious error of judgement.


Coming, as it does, right at the beginning of the year, the Galway International always attracts a fair hotch-potch of entries. Some are using the rally as a testing ground, others are attracted by the very generous prize money, and now there is the added incentive of points in the Tarmac Championship. This year BL Cars are planning to contest the series adding the weight of a full works team to the list of well-backed privateers like John Taylor and Billy Coleman.

The BL team brought two of their V8-engined TR7s over, one in the usual red, white and blue colours for Graham Elsmore/Stuart Harrold, and one being backed by Chequered Flag for Derek Boyd/Fred Gallagher. The plan for this car is that it will be run jointly by BL and Chequered Flag for Galway and the Circuit of Ireland and that then the ‘Flag would take the car and the servicing over completely. Graham Elsmore had a completely new car for the rally while Boyd was using the car which John Haugland had driven on the RAC Rally.

Graham Elsmore added to the misfortunes of the BL cars team by rolling this TR7. Photo H Bishop.

Undoubtedly the TR7s had the speed down the straights, but nobody quite knew how they would cope with the bumps of the Irish roads or the crests of the Connemara stages. John Taylor was a better prospect for the punters. As defending Tarmac champion, and last year’s winner, he knew what to expect and had prepared accordingly. His Haynes of Maidstone Escort was fitted up with the newly developed ‘Monte Carlo‘ tarmac suspension, slightly modified to suit the bumpier conditions, and with a Monte Carlo type engine, though again there were a couple of modifications to suit the rally-style. The engine was still mounted up on the cross member to keep it clear of the ground and was fitted with a twin-pipe exhaust system rather than the Monte Carlo single exhaust. As ever John relied on Lucas fuel injection rather than the Kugelfischer type used by the factory and declared
himself to be delighted with the set-up.

“There’s tons of torque and its handling fantastically well”, he grinned at the Friday night service halt while leading the rally by over a minute. “I bet it sounds fantastic on the stages.”

Coleman’s car was of much older specification: in fact, it was fitted with the engine that Roger Clark had used to win the Cyprus Rally. The Escort has been bought by Ford of Cork and is backed by Motorcraft but the mechanics of the deal didn’t interest the hordes of Irish fans who were just delighted to see Billy back in an Escort on home territory. The little Cork man was quietly confident and in great form.

The only other apparent prospect for a win on the entry list was Brian Nelson driving the David Sutton Escort as part of a hire deal for the year but he was going to have problems adapting to the car. It hadn’t arrived in Ireland until just before the start and it was left-hand drive. He would probably get faster as the days wore on.

Once he adapted to the LHD RS1800 Brian Nelson began to climb up the leaderboard and was declared third overall. Photo D Smyth.

There were a couple of non-starters up the top end of the field, the principal one being Bertie Fisher whose new car wasn’t ready in time despite Sidney Meeke’s mechanics having worked day and night on it. There were outsiders like the O’Connells and talented young Ernest Kidney but, on the face of it, the Galway was going to be a straight battle: two works TR7s against the two Escorts – and may the best man win.


The rally followed its traditional pattern with a 2pm start on the Friday and then a run out to the first batch of stages with the first competition coming at 3pm. This year these first stages were out in the wild country of Connemara, on the far western side of Ireland. There was one service area in Clifden, but service was a rare commodity since you had to do five stages before you got any chance for repairs and several competitors had problems with petrol supplies.

There is always a grave danger of underestimating the importance of the Friday night stages on the Galway. Somehow, probably because the rally only starts at midday and isn’t going to run through the night, the drivers don’t allow for the effect that these stages are going to have on the results. It’s as well to remember that there are over 100 miles of stages on the first night and that the rally can be won or lost over that distance. Connemara on Friday was bleak, cold and unfriendly: as wild as only Ireland can be.

Alan Carter and Brendan Neville thrilled the large, if very brave, crowd of spectators with a most impressive Group 1 drive to fourth place overall. Photo D Smyth.

The first stage was a short warm-up which proved nothing, but by the second stage, a nasty bumpy road across the mountains with plenty of blind brows and jumps, things were starting to happen. The lead was snatched by John Lyons driving the Team Datsun Europe Violet to great effect while others struggled with the bumps. “She’s a mean old woman over that
stuff” was Graham Elsmore’s comment about the TR7 and its visibility over the crests but it didn’t seem to have slowed him that much.

The third stage was the first true test of car and driver with some very fast stuff down on the coastline with only the Atlantic breakers for company. John Taylor was fastest by an Irish mile, despite having to stop mid-stage to remove an aerosol can of de-icer which was rolling about on the floor. “I got mean and angry after that” – and his time was good enough to give him the overall lead.

For Brian Nelson the third stage was the start of a nightmare rally. Firstly he picked up a puncture near the start which he stopped to change. Then, pressing on to make up the time, he clouted a stone wall very hard indeed with the back corner of the car, bending the axle in the process. There was no spare axle available and the car didn’t handle properly again until the service crew managed to sort out most of the damage on Saturday morning.

At least he was still running. There were already plenty of drivers in more serious trouble. Ian Cathcart retired on the third stage when his engine blew a head gasket. Ernest Kidney hardly had time to try his new car before his engine also blew a head gasket and Rosemary Smith’s Sunbeam hadn’t even made the first stage. On the run out from the start, the engine went sick and it wasn’t worth carrying on. Punctures had delayed Mick O’Connell and John Lyons, who was now lying third, while his one-time great rival, John Coyne, had had problems on the second stage when a lead fell off the ignition switch of his Avenger. “I’d have found it in five seconds at home in the drive,” he commented, “but on a cold mountain in the middle of a stage it’s not that easy.” There was still a misfire to clear up but at least he was on his way again.

Dessie McCartney presses on through the snowy Galway landscape and would finish inside the top 10 despite a number of gearbox changes during the event. Photo D Smyth.

Derek Boyd had been having a good clear run up until this point and was healthily placed in fourth with the TR7, getting quicker all the time as the stages became more suited to its handling. Then, about a mile into the fourth stage, he completely misjudged a very fast crest. The road went slightly right over the brow but there was a lay-by to the left which Derek took to be the road. As the long bonnet of the car came down he realised his mistake, swung the wheel over to regain the road and the Triumph slammed sideways into a wall, completely destroying the left-hand side. Miraculously, Boyd was able to get out of the car but it was obvious that co-driver Fred Gallagher was seriously hurt and that help was needed.

The next few drivers all slowed down or stopped. Coleman slowed, Elsmore stopped to talk to Derek, but the priority was obvious. Get to the end of the stage and inform the organisers. Get the stage stopped and get an ambulance in fast. It should have been simple but it wasn’t. The message which reached the organisers wasn’t clear and they didn’t order the stage stopped. The stage commander wasn’t prepared to stop it himself, despite the fact that BL team boss John Davenport was sitting on the start line. After what seemed an inordinate delay, about 30 minutes, the organisers‘ helicopter was sent into the stage and airlifted Gallagher to the Regional Hospital in Galway. The rally continued with spirits rather dampened and the rumours started to fly. In fact, after hours of observation, it found that Derek Boyd had five cracked ribs and that Fred Gallagher had a broken pelvis, several broken ribs and a punctured lung. They were both admitted to the Intensive Care unit at the hospital.

The rest of the evening’s stages tended to be forgotten in the concern and the ever-increasing organisational problems which followed, though there was still plenty of rallying action going on. Mick and Anne O’Connell had an electrical lead come off the alternator and blew the electrics which lost them about five minutes, and John Lyons picked up another puncture but still held his place with the Datsun — until the seventh stage that is. The quick Ulsterman was verge-clipping with the front wheels of the car when he clipped one a bit too fine, collecting a rock, and breaking a tie-bar. The now steering-less Datsun was parked neatly in a bog at the next corner, totally undamaged but with no hope of getting out on time. At the next control he was O.T.L. by four minutes.

Jimmy Davison hangs on as John Lyons surprises everybody with the Group 2 Datsun Violet. A series of punctures cost time and a clipped rock broke the steering. Photo Unknown.

As the evening wore on, the town of Clifden became more and more crowded. There was a delay because the stage where Boyd had had his accident was due to be run again and the later numbers hadn’t yet come through for the first time. Brian Nelson had a gearbox changed and contemplated his bent axle. There was a hope of taking the axle out of Ernest Kidney’s retired car but, after a bit of bartering, it was decided to leave things as they were and to try to straighten the axle tube by heating it up and applying brute force.

At the end of the day, Taylor was clearly established in the lead. He had 1m 45s over Billy Coleman whose car was starting to sound rough with a manifold gasket leaking badly. The ‘clan’ reckoned that the engine would last the distance but was certainly down on power compared to Taylor‘s flying machine. Elsmore was third, a further two minutes adrift, with Noel Smith going well and holding fourth. Jimmy Logan led the Group 1 battle in seventh place.

Saturday morning caught everybody. It was snowing. Not much, but just enough to make the stages like ice-rinks. A couple of crews sneaked in a quick tyre change on the way out to the first stage but, with all the tests in farming country, there were bound to be some unexpected corners. John Taylor found one and threw the rally out of the window. “It was a corner designed to catch the first car on the road, and that was me.”

The remainder of this report is from Motoring News February 15, 1979. (Clearly, some confusion over the size of the lead Taylor had over Coleman.)

John Taylor looked all set for his second Galway win until he crashed out on the ice on Saturday’s opening stage. Photo H Bishop.

At the end of the first hectic day, John Taylor returned to Galway with a lead of 2m 18s after experiencing a trouble-free day (apart from a deflated rear tyre) from Billy Coleman and, after an impressively aggressive drive, Graham Elsmore who was quickly getting the hang of the TR7 on tar and was looking set to challenge. Running intermediate racers on the cold first few stages, both Boyd and Elsmore had been throwing their Triumphs into the tighter (and typical) crossroads and T-junctions visibly the quickest, apart from the hard-charging Taylor who had been cocking front wheels and sliding his Escort to an utterly spectacular degree. Brendan Fagan held fourth place from Noel Smith, Ger Buckley, Paul Windsor, the O‘Connells, Dessie McCartney and Brian Nelson.

The second and longest day provided 142 stage miles to the south and east of Galway based on the town of Portumna. Some overnight snow and sub-zero temperatures had left the higher and more exposed roads in a nasty state. It was on the first stage, just outside Loughrea, that the leader board changed with Taylor’s excursion. The stricken car was visible to following crews and, with Taylor waving to indicate that a considerable degree of caution was necessary, there were no further incidents at the corner. Whether or not there should have been a caution board employed (Galway MC’s system employs two types: a general board saying “danger” and a vivid skull and crossbones board symbol to denote “extreme danger”) will probably be argued for a considerable time. To indicate the views of some other drivers, it must be said that there is a good reason for not going to excess with such warnings. The driver is, after all, at his own discretion with accelerator and brake and the corner in question (which we did not witness) was said to hold no special danger, such as an unguarded drop or gable end of a house or barn, power line pole or any other such potential hazard. It was said to be in a heavily wooded and shaded area and that the road – at that time of the morning – was covered in a semi-frozen slime giving very little grip.

If Taylor‘s car hadn‘t been visible as a “caution“ it could well be that the entire field would have ended up off the road in one great heap – hardly a happy circumstance.

Billy Coleman and Frank O’Donoghue found themselves back in service a stage too early but caught on in time and got back on track. The decision to exclude them was eventually reversed by the RIAC appeal process. Photo D Smyth.

Apart from the fourth stage being scrubbed on Friday, Saturday saw the only stage cancellation. The 12.5 miles of Meelick, to be run twice, was lost due to a late road closure order problem. With Taylor out, top runners were further depleted on the snow-affected 16th stage when Elsmore ran out of road towards the finish and his TR7 flipped unto its roof. Coleman now looked to be home and dry apart from an irritating exhaust manifold gasket leak, but it went wrong for Coleman and O’Donoghue when it would appear that they were using a roadbook without an amendment, which deleted stage 15/24 and took cars from stage 22 into stage 23 before returning to Purtumna for service. Coleman arrived one stage early for service and, although work was started on the car, the mistake was realised and he moved out again to tackle the next stage prior to returning after the correct time to book-in. Several versions of the rights and wrongs of the discrepancy have been argued, but now the matter is in the hands of the R.I.A.C. after an appeal to the FIA was lodged. It is little consolation, at the present time, for Coleman to have won on stage times and lost on a technicality.

In Group 1, the drive of the rally was beginning to show. Alan Carter (RS2000) from New Zealand, who last season showed impressive form on tarmac, and he took the lead of the category from James Logan’s similar machine, which subsequently went off the road during the afternoon. A heartbreakingly late retirement was that of Brendan Fagan who, after achieving third place, stopped out of petrol (with fuel pump problems) on the final stage of the day.

Brendan Fagan had the misfortune to run out of petrol while holding third place overall. Photo D Smyth.

Back once more in Galway, the totals showed that the O’Connells were now leaders – after Coleman’s exclusion (he was allowed to start the Sunday run after a few heated moments on the re-start rump to obtain a time card and continue subject to the appeal) while Brian Nelson had moved up the leader board to a much more respectable fourth (after road penalties) behind Noel Smith and, in fifth overall with a Group 1 car, Carter and Brendan Neville.

The final fling for the much reduced field, bolstered with the more fortunate retirements from Friday and Saturday for a customary “Sunday Run“ thrash, involved 109 miles south and west of Galway in The Burren, with Service in Gort. The day (which started at 11.30hrs with an 18.00hrs final return) comprised just four stages, all run in two same-direction loops. Despite the intense cold, aggravated by biting wind, spectators did their best to cause Killarney-style jams in the area, especially at the longest stage of the event, 21.2 miles of Corkscrew Hill, an aptly named section.

It was very much a day for the survival of the fittest and there was little drama. The O‘Connells didn’t put a wheel wrong and nursed their deteriorating engine to the finish and Brian Nelson struggled with worsening water problems while the Porsche of Noel Smith always appeared on cue and running clockwork fashion. Alan Carter continued to provide the thousand of shivering watchers with his impressive and easy driving style, ultimately rewarded with fourth place ahead of crews who had battled towards the front by attrition (particularly Dessie McCartney who had lost considerable time early in the event out of petrol, driven an entire stage in top gear and had changed the box no less than four times).

David Agnew and Robert Harkness work their way through the large crowds who braved the arctic weather conditions. Tenth overall in their VW Sirocco. Photo D Smyth.

It had been tougher than it looked – particularly to comply with the regulations – and several crews were excluded for running O.T.L. (and for other infringements) which indicates a fault with the regs rather than any deliberate flaunting of rules by competitors, and the final deliberations before a winner was declared tended to reduce the impact of the event. If nothing else, the Galway International this year served to bring some of the problems of running fast tar events together (not the least of which is a shortage of trained marshals) and it will, hopefully, provide some answers to those problems.

Henley Forklift Ireland West Galway International Rally February 1979
Tudor Photographics Championship (Tarmac Organisers)
European Championship for Drivers – Coefficient 2

Provisional Results:

  1. M. O’Connell/A. O’Connell (Ford Escort RS1800) 364m 30s;
  2. N. Smith/I. Turkington (Porsche Carrera) 372m 27s;
  3. B. Nelson/R. Cole (Ford Escort RS1800) 376m 25s;
  4. A. Carter/B. Neville (Ford Escort RS2000) 378m 04s;
  5. T. Cathers/S. McCanny (Chrysler Avenger) 380m 33s;
  6. P. Windsor/B. Goff( Ford Escort RS1800) 381m 26s;
  7. S. Everitt/J. Bowie (Ford Escort RS2000) 384m 27s;
  8. V. Bonner/M. Bonner (Chrysler Sunbeam) 386m 47s;
  9. D. McCartney/J. Law (Chrysler Sunbeam) 388m 19s;
  10. D. Agnew/R. Harkness (VW Scirocco) 399m 38s

Group One: Carter/Neville; Cathers/McCanny; Everitt/Bowie.

Note: results are provisional until an R.I.A.C. enquiry’s decision (hearing 20th February).

Donegal team Vincent and Michael Bonner were the highest placed Sunbeam at 8th overall after a steady drive. Photo D Smyth.

Motoring News – Rally Round Up – Thursday 1 March 1979.

Coleman appeal is upheld.

On Tuesday of last week (20 February 1979), an appeal court of seven people from the R.I.A.C. met to hear the appeal by Dr. Frank O’Donoghue against the exclusion of Billy Coleman and himself from the 1979 Galway International Rally. The exclusion, and the appeal against it, resulted from circumstances occasioned by a route amendment during the rally.

Fastest man wins.

By a majority vote, the appeal was upheld and Coleman and O’Donoghue are therefore declared outright winners of the rally. The court felt that the article of the regulations which dealt with deviation from the official itinerary lent itself to more than one interpretation.

Second place now goes to Mick and Anne O’Connell, also from Cork, and all other places previously announced are put back one place.