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County Kildare History and Heritage

Gordon Bennett Motor Race 1903

Intro and Menu | March Articles

Leinster Leader, Saturday 28 March 1903 – Page 7.




The Dublin correspondent of the “London Times” writes:-
“Ireland owes, or will owe, one of the most sporting events in her very sporting history and a tide of wealth which may be safely estimated in thousands of pounds, to the energy of Mr. Claude Johnston, [Elsewhere Claude Johnson] secretary of the British and Irish Automobile Club. It was, of course, Mr. S. F. Edge’s victory in last year’s Gordon-Bennett Cup which made it possible that this year’s race should be held in the United Kingdom at all: but Mr. Edge’s victory was only the beginning of a very hard battle against circumstances. There was, first, the task of converting the staid public opinion of these countries into acceptance of the notion of travel at more than the highest railway speeds on the roads of the British taxpayer. This conversation[sic] is now practically complete.” Referring to the change of course, the article continues:- “Various considerations – narrowness of roads, badness of the surface, and other difficulties – suggested these changes, the net result of which is to reduce the length of the course from 131 miles to 102½ miles. It is necessary to explain that the 13 miles of road between Athy and the junction below Old Kilcullen are counted twice in this estimate. The race will start, in all probability, from a point on this road, and, will execute a figure of 8 thus – Ballitore, Castledermot, Carlow, Athy, Kilcullen, The Curragh, Kildare, Monasterevan, Maryborough, Stradbally, Ballylinan, Athy, and so back to the starting place. This stretch of 13 miles which will be covered six times by each competing car, is beautifully straight and smooth, and will admit of the highest speeds. The race was to have been three times round the original course (393 miles). It will be three-and-a-half times (about 360 miles) round the final course, and is expected to occupy between seven and eight hours. The start will be made at 7 o’clock a.m. The commission are unanimous in describing
and believe that the foreign competitors will be agreeably surprised by it. The country in which the course is laid is smooth and undulating. There are few steep hills, but many long and gentle slopes admirably suited for fast racing. The roads, if not as straight as the French roads, are remarkably straight for Ireland: and there are at least three such perfect stretches of several miles as could hardly be bettered in the United Kingdom. Mr. Edge expresses the opinion that, as regards both straightness and surface, the course compares favourably with that on which he won the cup last year and with the course on which Mr. Jarrott, who will also be a competitor this year, won the Ardennes race.
The course thus favoured by nature will be, in Caesar’s phrase, both natura et artemunitus before the day of the race. The business of the special commission on Wednesday and Thursday was not only to settle the course, but to fix “controls,” to arrange for necessary repairs and alterations, and to choose spots for the red flags that will mean “stop” and the green flags that will mean “go slowly.” For these purposes, when we started from Kildare at 8 o’clock on a frosty morning, we took with us Mr. Glover, the County Surveyor of Kildare: and when the limit of his baliwick was reached at Monasterevan, Mr. White, his colleague of the Queen’s County, joined the party. These gentlemen, and indeed, everybody in the two counties down to the humblest peasant, are co-operating in the preparations with delightful zeal and enthusiasm. We race from Kildare over to the Curragh - giving a mild shock en route to the horses and a battery of field artillery – then back again to Maryborough and so, round the larger segment of the course, to Kildare. The second day was devoted to the Carlow half of the figure 8. The course is everywhere practicable, and the parts which are rather bad are not nearly so numerous as those which are very good. The best sections include a magnificent stretch of 12 miles between Monasterevan and Maryborough, the road, straight as a ruler for six miles, between Maryborough and Stradbally, and several perfect stretches on the Carlow-Kilcullen road. The second half of the road between Stradbally and Ballylinan is not good: and the Ballylinan-Athy road, though broad and straight, is very rough from the large coal traffic which passes that way from the mines at Castlecomer to Athy. I may mention that we made our journey in a steady downpour of rain. In summer weather the surfaces which we found bad will be better, and those found good will be excellent.

The commission marked several permanently dangerous spots with flags, and many others more amenable to treatment will be eliminated before the race by the County Surveyors. The repairs which these gentlemen have undertaken to make are, principally,
to a perfect surface, rounding off bad corners, and levelling up the road on each side of the little bumpy culverts which are so common in Irish country districts. These culverts present no dangers to slow touring cars, but they provide racing cars moving at the rate of forty yards a second with a “jump-off” for leaps of 30 or 40 feet through the air. The cost of all these repairs which will be considerable, will be largely met by the Automobile Club: but it is hoped that the County Councils and other public bodies in Ireland will make contributions. “Controls” – that is to say, spaces through which the cars will have to proceed slowly under supervision of racing officials – have been arranged at Castledermot, Carlow, Athy and Kildare – five in all, since the “control” at Athy will come into force twice each round of the course. It was decided on Wednesday to avoid the necessity of a “control” at Maryborough by taking in a little cross-road, which brings the course quite away[sic] from the town. An important matter which the commission left still undecided after two days careful consideration was the location of the point for the start and finish of the race. But it will probably be selected somewhere in the neighbourhood of Tippeenan [sic - Presumably Tippereenan in the parish of Fontstown]. The reasons in favour of this position are that, as I have explained, the cars will pass six times over this road, and that a beautiful vista of straight road will enable their flight to be watched continuously for nearly five miles. At the place chosen for the start and finish the club will erect a stand for members and an enclosure for the paying public. As for myself, if I am so fortunate as to be on the ground, I shall take my stand on the moat[sic] of Ardskull [sic - Moat of Ardscull; Motte of Ardscull], a splendidly preserved Danish fort about four miles north of Athy on the same road, which commands on one side a stretch of two and on the other a stretch of four miles. The course is within an hour’s railway journey from Dublin. Intending visitors by that route will do well to remember that on the day of the race neither love nor money will buy a passage across the track, and that the only way to the inside of the course (from which any point on it may be reached) will be through the “control” at Kildare.
Mr. Johnston and his assistants have still to grapple with the big problem of keeping the public off the course on the day of the race. It is made bigger by the fact that the Irish peasant adds to his traditional recklessness complete ignorance of
of racing motor cars. The Races Committee of the Automobile Club in the current issue of its official organ that the road should be divided into two sections of a quarter of a mile, each in charge of two members of the County Councils and two members of the club. This formidable army of 1,400 persons may possibly be increased by levies of the military and police, who would be extremely glad to give their aid, and by drafts on the local peasantry. Nobody has a more severe or uncompromising sense of responsibility than the Irish peasant “drest in a little brief authority,” especially if he be given something to display - a green badge or ribbon by preference. It is very certain that the Gordon-Bennett Cup race of 1903 will more than repay the trouble of a visit to Ireland, even if the visitor abstain from the other and varied delights which the Automobile Club has arranged for the public during its “Irish fortnight.” England, France, Germany, and America, will be represented each by its three, best men and its three best cars, and the course is one on which the records of all previous races may quite possibly be lowered. Mr. Edge, who now holds the cup, and Mr. Jarrott, whose average in the Ardennes race was 55 miles an hour, have been chosen definitely as two of the British competitors.”