93-year-old who watched first Cork Grand Prix in ’38 gears up for re-run

A 93-year-old man who watched the 1938 Cork Grand Prix in awe is gearing up to attend a re-run of the event this summer.

Derry Healy, who lives in Farranree, Cork, said he has vivid memories of the race, which attracted some of Europe’s top racing car drivers, and the excitement it caused.

He said he can’t wait to retrace his own steps next June to watch the re-creation of what was one of the largest motorsports events in Ireland.

“I’ll never forget it,” he said last night.

“I was 19, and me and a few buddies went down to the Carrigrohane Rd that day. We didn’t know much about the drivers. We just went down to see what was happening.

“We were standing on a wall on the Lee Fields, waiting for the cars to come by... then whoosh!

“The first car sped past and nearly backed us all in to the river — the noise out of it. Then whoosh again, another one flew past.

“I have a very clear recollection of the day out. It was a very big thing for the city. There were thousands of people along the route. It was one of the most amazing things I saw in my life.”

Derry, who went on to work as a mechanic in the Dagenham Ford Motor Co plant in England, was among an estimated 70,000 spectators who lined the route for the race which was staged under international formula regulations — giving it the equivalent status of a modern day Formula One race.

Although similar races took place in Cork in 1936 and 1937, the 1938 event was part of an international series which featured races in Crystal Palace and Brooklands in England; Pau in France; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The 200-mile race route was a 33-lap circuit beginning on the Carrigrohane Rd, where cars reached speeds of up to 147mph, and then going clockwise via Victoria Cross, Dennehy’s Cross, Model Farm Road out to Poulavone and back in to the finishing straight.

The race was won by French driver René Dreyfus piloting a Delahaye ahead of Prince Bira of Siam, a member of the Thai royal family, driving a Maserati.

The Munster Vintage Motor Cycle and Car Club is planning to mark the 75th anniversary of the race with a three-lap parade over the original circuit, with rolling road closures in place on June 23 as part of the Gathering celebrations.

It will be open to all pre-1950s sports or race cars, with efforts under way to trace the owners of some of the original racing cars to invite them to Cork to take part.

Mike Foy will drive his Smithfield Special, which took part in three races that June ’38 weekend.

Organisers also hope to track down the California-based owner of the winning car driven by Dreyfus.

Event co-ordinator Alan Cavanagh said the commemorative event will offer drivers a unique opportunity to drive a race circuit which remains almost unchanged since the 1930s.

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