Motorsport ace Keith Cronin features in new rallying books

February 7th, 2021 12:10 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

Ballylickey's Keith Cronin has won the British Rally Championship four times.

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OVER the festive season sports books proved popular. Champagne Football by Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan topped most people’s list and not all were sports fans. Another Southern Star columnist, Denis Hurley collaborated with Cork and Castlehaven legend Larry Tompkins for Believe.

In terms of motorsport or, more definitively, rallying, Icons of Irish Rallying hit the shelves just days before Christmas in what was a limited edition. The book is the brainchild of Kerry native Mike O’Mahoney.

‘How could I not be passionate about rallying, given that I was born, bred and buttered on Caragh Lake, the iconic and gloriously scenic backdrop to one of the better known stages in the sport?’ O’Mahoney explains.

‘From Caragh Lake, I was lured by happy coincidence and by Mary Jo, who would become my wife, to another famous rally stage, namely Gortnagane, where we now reside with our extended family.’

O’Mahoney described his decision to write the book as his ‘fit of Covid madness.’ He readily admits it’s not a comprehensive account or biography of all the greats of Irish rallying, more so a miscellany of anecdotes and reflections from those willing to offer the inside track, as it were, on their involvement in the sport. In total, it features 74 different stories, each with a flavour that captures unique moments in time.

Naturally, every reader will have their favourite and Billy Coleman, who features on pages 36 to 41, resonates with O’Mahoney, possibly by virtue of the fact that the Millstreet ace comments, ‘Along with Gortnagane, I would say that Caragh Lake was probably my all-time favourite stage.’

Not surprisingly, O’Mahoney also spoke of the satisfaction he had chatting with another contributor, Ger Buckley, who affectionately states his family affair with rallying led to them being described as the ‘Banteer Mafia.’ Many of the contributors are of the family theme and Buckley delights in the motorsport tradition being kept alive by his grandchildren, Jack, Tadhg and Liam.

Another strong motorsport family is that of Frank O’Mahony’s. Proud of his West Cork roots – and it’s referenced in just the second sentence – Frank and his family have been hugely involved in rallying. Frank and co-driver Hughie McPhillips won the Best Privateer in the 2000 WRC Rally GB. The final paragraphs of his contribution to Icons of Irish Rallying doesn’t spare the ink.

Naturally, four-time British Rally champion and Irish Tarmac champion Keith Cronin reflects on his success.

‘One of my first memories of the sport was being sat on someone’s lap coming back from a test. It was in the dark and I remember the noise.’

On the first BRC win Cronin remarked: ‘Then, there was the homecoming and that was just surreal. So many people came out and I don’t think I will ever experience anything like that again in my life.’

The book is the perfect read and will be more enjoyed over time rather than a cover-to-cover escape from Covid-19.

Icons of Irish Rallying is available on order by calling 089-2213968.


Another publication is The Western Warriors – a half century (1970-2020) of the Galway International Rally dedicated to the late Esler Crawford, who passed away last year.

The book, chiefly edited by Alan (Plum) Tyndall, known to many through RPM Motorsport, is a recollection of each Galway event of which Tyndall opines: ‘The Western Warriors records how the rally fraternity have managed to meet those challenges (difficult terrain) in the last half century.’

The book honours the 28 drivers that have conquered the worst that the brave West has thrown at them and the officials who braved the elements to provide them with that challenge.

Interestingly, according to the editor, in 1971 the clerk of the course, Eamonn Cotter, persuaded the RIAC (Royal Irish Automobile Club), after threatening to go direct to the FIA in Paris, to grant the Galway Motor Club an international licence just 11 years after its formation. Included in the list of clerks of the course is Brigid Brophy, who became the first (and still the only) female to run the rally (1990-1992).

Included in the list of 28 drivers to have won in ‘the West’ are Cork aces Billy Coleman (1976, 1979, 1986), Ger Buckley (1979) and Keith Cronin, who took a Subaru WRC to victory in 2013.

On Cronin’s success, Tyndall says, ‘… third placed Declan Boyle was fastest on stage four where Cronin clipped a rock and damaged a rim.

Undeterred, he blitzed the fifth stage to get within a second of the leader Eugene Donnelly, but the five-time Tarmac Champion had no answer to the raw talent of the young Cork driver.

In the final loop of stages, the inevitable happened and Keith Cronin and Marshall Clarke sailed past the County Derry driver, going on to increase their advantage to 18.5 seconds at the finish. Quite a World Rally Car debut!’

Published by RPM Motorsport, The Western Warriors is available from


Another publication to hit the bookshelves was Rally Insight, its latest yearbook (second edition) covering 2020 Irish rallying stories along with many historical features.

Adam Hall, the book’s editor, opted to name the 2020 edition ‘Black Road’, a famous stage of the Galway International Rally where last February Fermanagh’s Alastair Fisher took his maiden victory in a round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.

Naturally and according to Hall, Fisher, whose late uncle Bertie was a hugely popular figure in Irish rallying, sets the tone for the rest of the features in the 70-plus pages of the book. Hall intends to name each edition of the yearbook after a defining stage from that season.

Some of the many stories include Killarney’s Paul Nagle’s key moments in his career to date; Fastnet Rally winner Andreas Mikkelsen’s memories of rallying in Ireland; Rory Kennedy’s recollections of his time beside the late Bertie Fisher; Mark Higgins on what makes Irish roads unique and John Coyne’s 1982 Irish Tarmac Championship title.

The 2020 yearbook is available on line from [email protected] and it costs £13.95 plus postage and packaging.

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