LOUGHREA-DOMICILED Barryroe native Kevin O’Driscoll always had an ambition to write a book, but had no idea about the subject of his musings.
The end result is a hard-backed and almost 400-page publication charting the history of the West Cork Rally from its inception in 1977 up until 2013. Annually since, West Cork Rally – A History is updated within the event’s rally programme courtesy of a pull-out supplement with the same design template.
Essentially, it’s an encyclopaedia of what began as a local event, went on to become a top national and now international event with status as rounds of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship and the British Rally Championship as well as the regional Southern 4 series.
The book, published by the Cork Motor Club, is a go-to reference with accurate compilations of entry lists, reports and results interwoven with memories from organisers, competitors and a vast collection of photographic images from the lenses of some 30 different people.
In many respects it was a labour of love as Kevin is also the event PRO, a position he has filled since 2006.
Ironically, Kevin’s first sight of a rally car in full flow almost turned him off the sport. That was in 1976 and the event was the Cork ‘20’ International Rally that actually passed his home in Lehenagh. It was the second stage and much of it incorporated what is now used as the Ring stage, albeit in reverse.
‘I was three years of age at the time and the rally frightened the life out of me. After about six cars had passed, I demanded to be taken home,’ he says.
It was another four years before Kevin ventured out to watch another rally. This time, a high rock near Tragumna provided more security. In fact, it was a game changer.
‘I certainly felt braver and I can remember the battle between Billy Coleman and Jimmy McRae – that probably converted me,’ he says.
His parents, Paddy and Peggy, were always interested in rallying and asking them to be taxi was never a big deal apart from the prospect of getting wet. His uncle Pat Duggan also ferried him to several of the West Cork rallies.
By the mid 1990s Kevin joined the local fundraising committee in Clonakilty and also marshalled at the event. He joined the Skibbereen and District Car Club in 1996 and the same year, competed in his first West Cork Rally as co-driver to his neighbour Steve Roberts.
Three years later (1999) he accompanied Kevin Kelleher. During the second day they were passed by a distinctive yellow Vauxhall Nova driven by Darren McCarthy, who later became clerk of the course for the rally. At the awards presentation the pair had a longer discussion and McCarthy persuaded O’Driscoll to join the Cork Motor Club. The fact that he was now living in Cork, it seemed a natural progression. It was a memorable weekend in other respects too.
‘Twenty-three years after I watched my first rally I got the chance to compete on my local road, albeit in the opposite direction to what I saw in 1976. It was a great experience,’ Kevin recalls.
The idea of writing a book hadn’t really gained any real momentum but he was writing press releases for the rally after clerk of the course Brian O’Connell asked him to act as Press Officer for the event in 2006. By this stage, Loughrea, Co Galway had become his new home.
Ovens man Jerry Murphy was, according to Kevin, one of the first people to actually mention a book about the West Cork. In 2012 and with the important records to hand, Darren McCarthy, John Quill and Dick O’Brien decided that the project should move ahead.
‘The club dealt with the costings aspects and I worked on content. It began as a 256-page project but turned out to be 392 pages,’ he says.
Kevin, married to Caroline, reflected on the challenges.
‘At the time our children, Sharon and Alan, were just three and four, but I was on evening shifts and that allowed me to do some writing during the day,’ he says.
Much of the early ground work in the way of programmes was supplied by family relations while the window of Houlihan’s Bakery was decorated with many more.
When Kevin enquired could he have a loan of them for research purposes, the late Justin Houlihan gave him the entire window display. Another great source of help was John Lowney, who gave Kevin much of the documentation in relation to correspondence. The Colin Taylor collection that was acquired by Fergus McAnallen was also vital in the realms of photographic records.
Another member of the Cork Motor Club, Dick O’Brien was also very central to the project and was also able to supply comprehensive list of results.
‘I wanted to have a record of every driver and co-driver that started the rally. There were many co-drivers that just did one West Cork Rally. The two remaining sets of outstanding results (1977 and 1981) I got from Mike Dunnion and Sean Campbell. I wanted everything to be as factually correct as was possible,’ he explains.
In the summer of 2013 Kevin was a regular and welcome visitor back home in his native Barryroe, but the social aspect was only part of the journey. Each time he met with Marcin of Walsh Printers, who were designing and printing the book.
Although things were progressing at pace, a launch date fast-forwarded the entire project. Once special guest and World rally champion Ari Vatanen was confirmed for a particular date, the project gained greater urgency.
‘When that date was set, the pressure really came on. In reality, I had six months to complete everything. Each time I came back I brought reams of paper to proof read,’ Kevin says.
‘One of the more difficult issues was the cover as to who or what we would include. We didn’t want it to busy and it probably took more time than it should. In the end we settled for images of Billy Coleman, Brian O’Mahony and Richie Heeley. The one of Billy taken by John Crone is black and white and according to John, it was the first time in all the years that it had been used that he was actually credited for it.’
Research for reports included The Southern Star where the records of all the locals proved a great source of information.
It took Kevin until 2016 to read the book in its entirety. By then, he had undergone a serious heart operation and is now in full health. The 50th anniversary of the first West Cork Rally takes place in 2027 – perhaps it could be timely for Volume 2? No doubt, it should prove equally as popular and no shortage of new stories, and no heart-stopping moments.