This June bank holiday the roads of Laois, Carlow and Kildare will see some of the most spectacular classic cars, in celebration of the Gordon Bennett Irish Classic Car Run.
The road run takes place every June to commemorate the original 1903 race which shaped modern motor sport by being the first ever race to utilise laps of a closed circuit and was without fatality. It is a precursor to the modern Grand Prix Race.
It takes place across Laois and its neighbouring counties of Kildare and Carlow from Friday, May 31 to Monday, June 3.
Treacy’s of the Heath is the main hub for the event and will be a hive of activity right across the long weekend and a must for rallying and classic car aficionados and enthusiasts.
This year’s launch of the Gordon Bennett Irish Classic Car Run was held at the Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park, where it was attended by representatives of the Road Safety Authority and An Garda Síochána.
This event has an unblemished road safety record, linking it to the safety record of the 1903 race, ‘the race that saved motor sport’. This record set the 1903 race apart from the other early-stage races, whose hosts ran them on open roads resulting in multiple fatalities.
On hand for the occasion of the launch was legendary Irish motor racing star Rosemary Smith who arrived in a stunning red 1965 Sunbeam. But she was quick to point out that she still drives one of her original Hillman Imps which brought her so much success on the rally circuit.
Also in attendance were senior representatives of the Road Safety Authority, the Garda top brass, including Commissioner Drew Harris as well as the members of the Laois Gordon Bennett Classic Run organising Committee.
The Gordon Bennett Irish Classic Car Run is a fun weekend that attracts growing numbers of Irish and overseas visitors every year. The organisers attribute the enduring popularity to its amazing heritage and the success of the very first race in 1903, which attracted over 150,000 spectators, a record it retains to the present day for the largest ever attendance at any Irish sporting event.
The Gordon Bennett – a classic history
Around the turn of the century motor sport was becoming popular across Europe. However, it was earning a reputation as a dangerous sport which had led to many deaths.
The courses were on open roads throughout France, Germany and Britain and were badly managed town to town affairs with loss of life to drivers and spectators. The sport was in danger of being banned across Europe.
With Britain winning the 1902 race it was now required that they would host the 1903 race. However, with growing opposition to motor sport, there was little chance that it would be held there.
Ireland, still under British rule, was nominated but it was proposed that it run as a closed circuit with laps through Carlow, Kildare and Laois or Queens County as it was then known. The road signs for Portlaoise still denoted Maryborough.
The course quickly met the approval of the Gordon Bennett Cup Committee. Its long, leafy stretches and picturesque hilly climbs through some of Ireland’s most beautiful open countryside made this a course to rival any existing on the continent.
With the support from three hundred newspapers, thirty county councils, four hundred and fifty hotels, thirteen Parish priests and one Bishop there was a driving force across Ireland to make the race happen. Almost 7000 policemen were selected to guard the course of 166 km (104 miles). This was the first properly organised race and was very successful resulting in no deaths.
It also had a huge value for tourism and the improvements it would bring to Irish roads. At the time there were about 300 cars in the entire country. This race proposed to bring 1,500 cars to Ireland and it provided many Irish with their first opportunity to see a motor car.
In 1903, the motorcar had a top speed limit in Britain and Ireland of 12 miles per hour. A special Act of Parliament was passed to allow the circuit to be closed-in for the Gordon Bennett Cup and this enabled the winning Belgian driver to average 49.2 miles per hour in a time of 6 hours and 39 minutes.
Britain, in deference to Ireland’s role in organising the race, chose emerald green as the colour for its car and this is where the British racing car green originates.
What’s on during the Gordon Bennett Weekend?
Friday, May 31: 12:30pm, Treacy’s, The Heath unofficial ‘fun run’. The Thatch to Thatch. Treacy’s to Sheeran’s Coolrain for a ‘bit of craic’. 7:00pm Official reception at Laois County Council Building. Cars on display.
Saturday, June 1: 9.30am Treacy’s, The Heath. Come along and view the cars, meet the drivers and learn their stories. 11.00am – Rally commences. Saturday’s run is to Russborough House.
Sunday, June 2: Main Gordon Bennett Run.
9.30am Treacy’s, The Heath. Another chance to view the cars and meet the drivers. 10.00am Learn the history of the initial 1903 race and how Ireland was chosen to host this historic event.
11.00am Original Gordon Bennett Route Run commences.
There are a number of stops along the way where you can hear more about this historic run and engage with the drivers.
Monday, June 3: 9.30am Treacy’s, The Heath. Last chance to view the cars and meet the drivers.
10.00 am Learn the history of the initial 1903 race and how Ireland was chosen to host this historic event. 11.00 am The Heritage Run heading to Kilcullen which is celebrating its 700th birthday. Cars on display. BBQ and festival event at Treacy’s in the evening. A great evening to close the weekend. Great food, craft and food stalls and entertainment guaranteed.
Treacy’s of The Heath will be the hub for all events over the weekend. Each morning there will be an opportunity to view the cars from 9.30am.
This is a unique opportunity to meet the drivers from all over Europe and hear their stories. A must for anyone with any interest in cars or rallying. The Gordon Bennett committee will also be available each morning at 10am with a talk on how this historic race came to be in Ireland and in Laois.
If you don’t own a vintage car but the Gordon Bennett route interests you, why not follow the route in your own car and enjoy the beautiful rural countryside, perfect for a day’s drive. Engage with the vintage cars at all the stops and learn about the significance of each stop to the famous 1903 race.
The Gordon Bennett Route
The original route is now a designated tourist attraction in its own right, taking in quiet and scenic country roads, towns and villages, with many heritage attractions.
Identifiable road signs make the Gordon Bennett Route an easy to follow tour through one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland offering a unique insight into the lives, atmosphere and sheer adrenalin behind the historic car race that roared across this 166 km (104 mile) route.