The Joule Donegal International Rally ended in tragic circumstances early yesterday when Manus Kelly, who won the event for the last three years, lost his life after his Hyundai i20 R5 crashed and left the road on Stage 15, Fanad Head.
His co-driver Donall Barrett was injured and is being treated at Letterkenny General Hospital. Kelly, aged 41, is survived by his wife Bernie and their five children.
Yesterday’s tragedy occurred about midway in the Fanad Head stage at a place called Baile na Brocar, a relatively short distance from a hairpin right. The section of road was relatively straight but has a series of bumps that was described by an experienced co-driver as “choppy.”
Following one of the bumps, the car got out of line and caught the grass, before crashing through a hedge into a field, and was propelled after it hit a small clay bank before it landed back on its four wheels.
The emergency services were quickly deployed in response to the competitors that were next on the scene, while a tracking system and an outside emergency call were also involved in alerting the services. The area was subsequently sealed off for a technical investigation.
Rally organisers brought all the competitors back to the service park in Milford and cancelled the remaining five stages of the rally.
A very sombre mood descended on the Milford service park, with competitors, service crews, and spectators in a state of shock, a stark comparison to the hive of activity a few hours previous.
An extremely popular competitor on the Irish rallying scene, Manus lived in Glenswilly, close to Gartan, where a stage of the rally was run on Saturday and was regarded as his home stage. Manus was recently elected to Donegal County Council where he won a seat for the Fianna Fáil party.
A close friend of footballer Michael Murphy, the Donegal captain was called into the Clones dressing rooms to be told the sad news immediately after his team’s Ulster final win over Cavan.
At the time of the incident, Manus and co-driver, Milford man Donall Barrett, were lying sixth overall and third in the R5 category. The Kelly/Barrett partnership were the first crew to win the event in three successive years, each time in the same car, a Subaru WRC. Their first victory in 2016 saw Kelly beat the Citroen DS3 R5 of Cork driver Keith Cronin by half a second to claim the spoils on the final stage of the rally, ironically, Fanad Head, a stage that he recently claimed was his favourite of the Donegal International Rally.
At the beginning of the season, he was one of three Donegal drivers that switched from a World Car to an R5 variant, choosing a Hyundai i20. Rules of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship state that only drivers of R5 and similar cars can win the series.
World Cars are not eligible for championship points but can take event wins.
While two other former winners of the Donegal International, Donagh Kelly and Declan Boyle, reverted to WRCs for this weekend’s event, Manus stayed with his R5 car, very recognisable in its Applegreen livery.
In the build up to the event Kelly gave the Irish Examiner his reason: “It’s the future and I am staying with it.”
Clerk of the course Eamonn McGee, who is a personal friend, said: “We are devastated. Manus was a great ambassador for the Donegal International Rally, a good clubman, and was a great family man as well.
He loved this rally, even when he drove a Mk 2 Ford Escort; he was such a bubbly lovable person. I really can’t put into words what I feel right now.
At the time of the accident, Monaghan’s Sam Moffett led the similar Ford Fiesta WRC of Waterford’s Craig Breen by 13.4 seconds, with Derry’s Callum Devine (Ford Fiesta R5) 27.5 seconds further behind in third.