The Circuit of Ireland Rally: 90 and still not out!

Ulster International Motor Trial, Bangor, 1931 - Final Driving Test (Photo courtesy of Bill Swann, UAC)
Share this

The 2018 UAC Easter Stages Rally was the first step in a three year plan to resurrect the Circuit of Ireland Rally after a two year absence due to the lack of financial support for the event. Building on a very well organised and successful event, 2019 saw the rally develop even further, attracting WRC competitors and providing increased sponsorship and spectator interest. Coupled with these developments the organisers decided that the 2020 event would re-introduce the Circuit of Ireland International Rally title, colloquially known as the ‘Circuit’.

Before the devastating Covid-19 pandemic intervened, the 2020 event was included in the European Rally Trophy (ERT) which is made up of seven regional series: the Alps Rally Trophy (formerly Alpine Rally Trophy), Balkan Rally Trophy, Baltic Rally Trophy, Benelux Rally Trophy, Celtic Rally Trophy, Central Rally Trophy and Iberian Rally Trophy. The ‘Circuit’ is a round of the Celtic Rally Trophy.

Unfortunately the 2020 event had to be cancelled. However the organisers have been working behind the scenes and the 2021 Circuit of Ireland International Rally was included as a round of the Motorsport UK British Rally Championship (BRC). The hard work of the team to restore the event to International and BRC status reflects the quality and respect this legendary event has within the rallying world, please visit to experience our new website.

The 2021 Wastewater Solutions Circuit of Ireland International Rally, which regrettably has now been cancelled, would have been the launch pad to celebrate the 90th Anniversary of the creation of the third oldest rally in the world.

Winning Car 1931

In August 1931, the Ulster International Motor Trial was organised by the Ulster Automobile Club, a few days before the Tourist Trophy Race. The brain child of William Wallace McLeod, a lecturer in motor engineering at Belfast College of Technology and later Queen’s University, this was the forerunner to the Circuit of Ireland Rally. 

The event was based on the format of the famous Monte Carlo Rally with 5 starting points – Belfast, Bantry, John O’Groats, Dover and Land’s End with competitors having to cover at least 500 miles. Their route was checked by having their road books signed by recognised authorities in places such as police stations or post offices. The final 24 miles required the 77 entrants (63 starting from Belfast) to maintain an average speed of 24 mph (a regularity test) and contained a secret check to ensure the average speed was maintained.

The Trial was part of the August Race Week, which included a Concours d’Elegance at the finish and our famous Craigantlet Hill Climb. The winner was Jimmy McCaherty, driving a 16 hp Austin, an Ulsterman who started in Belfast and completed the 500 mile route and the regularity test without dropping a single point, an amazing feat! His reward was the princely sum of £100 cash (presented by the residents of Bangor, the finish venue) which equates to about £7000 nowadays.

During the next 4 years the event became more competitive, having only two starting points – Belfast and Dublin,  the route increased to 750 miles and braking and driving tests were introduced. However, in 1936 McLeod decided to extend the route to 1000 miles, move the date to the Easter weekend, with the start and finish in Bangor. The newly named Circuit of Ireland Trial followed a clockwise route along the coastline of Ireland and included a day of rest in Killarney. In 1936, 68 out of the 80 starters finished in Bangor on Easter Tuesday afternoon with Basil Clark being the first full Circuit of Ireland Rally winner in his 16hp Austin.

So the Easter tradition was born and over the next 85 years many changes were made to the event we so fondly refer to as the ‘Circuit’. Memories and stories abound, many embellished with every telling, but we all know the craic and enjoyment the ‘Circuit’ has brought to so many for so long and we will never forget the enjoyment it has given each and every one of us who have been there and worn the tee shirt, jacket, blanket, bib!

The Rally has survived petrol shortages, the troubles, foot and mouth disease, heavy snow fall and will return after the dreadful coronavirus has eased its grip on society. It is recognised as one of the greatest tarmac rallies in the world; this giant will awaken again to take its rightful place as a legend among the rallying world and one not to be missed.

Stay safe, stay well and look forward to the spectacle that is the Wastewater Solutions 2022 Circuit of Ireland Rally!

About Author

Share this

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.