Rally fever: A weekend to remember in Boyle

Though Boyle was on the fringes of the area in which The World Rally Championship took place over the weekend of the 18 to the 20 of November it really got into the spirit of the occasion due to the great work of the local Rally Committee.    The town was en fete on Friday evening and the crowds of people were out in force, reminiscent of former major events in the town’s history. There was so much to see. It was a very different style of festival as the town became a museum of the best, oldest, most colourful, most exotic and most expensive pieces of motor technology spanning a century.    Car enthusiasts were in their heaven and an enthusiast from County Down was able to reel off, for me, a total of letters, numbers and pedigree associated with the cars as a horse-racing enthusiast might do with a classic animal.    On The Crescent there were a number of different categories on display. There were Ferraris and Porsches, nearby was a collection of rally cars from recent times including that of rally legend Colin McCrea. Opposite were the De Lorean gull-winged cars made famous in the film ‘Back to the Future’. A drinks company did their best with their peculiar can designed exhibits and a fine ancient Dodge delivery truck of ‘Prohibition’ vintage. As one looked from the vantage point of the Town Clock the town looked resplendent with the lights and flags of a Broadway.    In the town car park there was a variation on the theme. Here some of the branded merchandise associated with the Rally was available at a price. On show here was a car which is work of art in its own right. This was the A 1 Ireland car of Adam Carroll. This I was assured by Declan was just a Division down from Formula One and whereas in Formula One there was the major contribution of computerisation in A 1 it was not so and was down to the expertise of the driver as all were on a level playing (or driving) field.    Next door was the Bridgestone Rally Car Simulator which was not for the faint-hearted but was prime attraction. This is based at Littleton, Tipperary, made famous by Eddie Moroney of commentating fame. This was the nearest experience a person might get to ever being in a rally car.    The huge screen showed highlights from the day’s rally in the north of the county, as a backdrop. The town was crowded, particularly with families as the kids with their lighted Jedi swords skipped merrily from exhibit to exhibit.    Over the Green footbridge there were a number of food stalls including a ‘pig on the spit’. I passed. The grounds of King House were like the backdrop one sees in the promotional travel videos of prime cities. Here there was a necklace of stalls with arts and crafts. However if you thought that you had seen all the courses in the car fest on The Crescent and with the A 1 here was the dessert with a collection of sumptuous vintage cars from Hugh Stewart’s 1911 Caltrop, Seamus Cooney’s earlier Ford, a Model ‘A’ 1929 Ford and an ascending date order of other gems.   By this time the music trail was beginning to make itself heard. Sean Simon got into the spirit of the occasion with an impressive performance from the roof of The Royal Hotel restaurant redolent of the U2 rooftop performance with ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’. I retired for a break to The Moving Stairs where the rally highlights were on the big screen.    The real star here was the in-car camera. While one may not be able to realise fully the speeds which these cars reach on the winding rally roads, when one immerses oneself with the in-car camera one gets a real feel for the speed and danger involved and impact there was as when the car of Spanish driver Xavier Pons bit the ditch and came to an abrupt halt. The exchange of looks between the driver and his pace-notes navigator (I’m beginning to get into the jargon) was most telling. The star of the show was the in-car cameras    As the evening progressed the families vacated the town and the music trail took hold from Clarke’s at the end of Patrick Street to An Crannog at the other end of the town. Rory McDonnell belted it out in The Patrick’s Well, the McGreevys anchored the traditional session in Wynne’s, Gerry Mattimoe’s was choc- a- block, Sean Simon had brought the roof-top concert indoors at The Royal, Daly’s was buzzing, Sean Purcell was entertaining rally aficionados at The Moylurg, another traditional session with Larry O’Beirne in fine voice was underway in An Craobhin. Larry told me it was one of the best evenings he had in Boyle for a long time. His post run had an early start in the Arigna hills due to traffic restrictions.    On later enquiry When I asked Jim McGrath if it had all lived up to expectations he said:  ‘It surpassed expectations’. He remarked on the number of families who had come to town. Jim was particularly pleased with the help which had come forward for stewarding and other duties. The town had come up trumps and the impression made was most positive.    Eileen Magnier’s RTE piece on the festival is due for transmission on Wednesday, November 28 on Nationwide. So the committee deserve the many plaudits that are coming their way.     The Roar of the Gear Change I doubt I’ve been up before four o’clock for a sporting event since the visit of Pope John Paul 2 to Knock in 1979. It is the time of rising for trips to airports or for farmers during lambing season or lorry drivers on long haul routes. My route was just twenty kilometres to the hills overlooking Ballyfarnon at Glenview Quarry an area I could see from my kitchen window. Suited and booted I headed out past The Rock of Doon expecting to get caught up in a snarl of traffic but everything was clear.    Turning left in Ballyfarnon I headed up Staunton’s Brae to Kilronan Mountain past a number of hardy souls with their florescent jackets. One had a bicycle for manoeuvrability and the return downhill journey. Being wary of getting locked into some zone I parked at Gaye Sheerin’s house and began the trek up the mountain road. I was lucky to get a lift to the front viewing line of the rally. The scene was calm with a number of tents housing ardent followers. The camper vans were out in force. The fact that so many Ballyfarnon locals were present on the quarry heights re-assured me that I was in the right location.    The morning mist rose and the experts with the formidable rally programme informed us that the first cars were now leaving the start at Geevagh. Then around the bends came Sebastien Loeb and a couple of minutes later Marcus Gronholm. The head turned left and then right as in tennis but then there was a break. For a while I thought that the rough sounding engines were not running well only to be informed that these coughs were because of gear changes.    Watching cars speed past, in single file, on a Geevagh to Arigna road is an acquired taste! Having tasted I wandered off to sample how people felt about it all. The real rally followers were impressed. They were there from Cork, Listowel, Meath and the English Midlands. A number pored over maps planning their next viewing location.    I headed back to Boyle. In Ballyfarnon I observed to a ‘traffic Garda’ that it was all very civilised to which he replied: ‘That’s the way we like it’!  That evening I caught up with the rally properly, on the big screen, as Gronholm crashed into the wall by Lough Gill and Loeb cruised to victory.