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County Kildare History and Heritage

Gordon Bennett Motor Race 1903

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Leinster Leader, Saturday 30 May 1903 – Page 4

SATURDAY, MAY 30, 1903.

The appalling number of fatalities recorded on the occasion of the motor race on Sunday last from Paris to Bordeaux sent a thrill of horror throughout the world, and focused universal attention on the possibilities of the Gordon-Bennett contest in this district. A death roll of eight and a casualty list of at least sixteen is indeed lamentably great, and affords the most substantial excuse for a world-wide protest against the recklessness with which these races are conducted on the Continent, and the terrible disregard of human life manifested by the circumstances of the competitions. The shock was intensified of course by the dreadful accidents in the autocycle races at Bristol the previous day, and speculation was rife as to the effect, which this series of mishaps might have upon the contest fixed for the 2nd July. A section of the English Press gave currency to the statement that the race would be prohibited, but, whilst we join in deploring the hideous slaughter of Saturday and Sunday, we cannot help expressing satisfaction at the fact that these rumours are as groundless as the mass of fabrications, from the manufacture of which the Yellow Journals of the time derive their “daily bread.” The stoppage of the race would mean an untold loss to this district. The preparations for it are already far advanced; the Automobile Club and the County Councils of Kildare, Queen’s and Carlow have already expended much money on the improvement of the course; whilst hotels keepers and others have gone to considerable inconvenience and expense in providing accommodations for the tremendous influx of visitors expected. It would be a dire calamity if all this were to go for naught.

To our mind the only lesson to be drawn from the blood-spilling in France and Bristol is the need of the adoption of the utmost possible precautions for safeguarding human life. On the Continent, the reign of the motor car has been marked throughout by the sacrifice of life and limb. The foreign devotees of the fascinating, but perilous, pastime of motoring seem to be wholly devoid of all caution or prudence, and indeed of all common feeling for the safety of the humble pedestrian. The conditions, under which the proposed Gordon-Bennett race will be run, are, however, wholly different, and whilst the danger to the competitors and drivers will to some extent remain, we do not anticipate any risk to the spectators. The Automobile Club have issued a moderate and reassuring statement on this point. They draw attention to the most conspicious[sic] and comforting differences between the respective contests. Over 200 cars, of varying types and speeds, with motor cycles, and other such diverse whirling modes of conveyance took part in Sunday’s performance. They were started at very short and inadequate intervals, thus raising portentous clouds of dust, which must have materially affected the capacity of the drivers to steer their machines properly, as well as preventing the spectators by the roadside recognising the imminence of their danger. They were constantly passing and re-passing each other, the highways were practically unguarded, and it would be surprising if the lightning progress of the contestants had not been marked by a blood-red trail of dead and mangled witnesses. Here, all this will be changed. The comparatively short course will be protected through every yard of its length by seven thousand troops, police and volunteer stewards, whilst the danger will be infinitely lessened by the fact that there will be only twelve cars competing, that all traffic will be suspended, that spectators will be kept entirely off the roads and away from corners. Arrangements have been made for the filling up of gulleys, the levelling of abrupt rises, sharp bridges, and the proper treatment of corners to prevent dust, and so assist the drivers in negotiating them safely. Under those circumstances, it would be a national misfortune if the race were stopped owing to the fears of unduly nervous people. The Irish fortnight, which will mean the expenditure of so many thousands of pounds, must necessarily prove of the greatest benefit to this country, and we are glad to notice by the issue of regulations as to the protection of the course that the Local Government Board appreciate its importance. The general public, with the terrible records of the results of recklessness in France and Bristol before them, should take kindly to the regulations, and, in addition to the exercise of the greatest care and prudence for their own safety, should also endeavour to ensure the protection of the competitors from the dangers of collision with stray goats, donkeys or live stock of any description. One of the most painful of the fatalities reported from France was occasioned by a dog running across the road and becoming entangled in a flying motor. It will be the duty of the County Councils concerned to see that the public are thoroughly acquainted with these regulations and with the restrictions, which will be placed on their movements, and on the proper fulfilment of that duty it will depend whether the great event of the 2nd July will or will not be marred by any serious accidents.