Thursday, September 25, 2003

Athy 75 - and correction to No. 567

The pitfalls in researching local history were brought home to me this week on the day that my article on Abraham Boulger V.C. appeared in this paper.  You may recall that I wrote of the recent finding of the grave of Boulger during a FAS cleanup of the old section of Crookstown Cemetery.  As you would expect of somebody who was going to print on the subject I phoned a number of people who were understood to have been involved with the FAS Project to confirm the finding of Boulger’s grave.  “Yes the grave of the Victoria Cross winner is in Crookstown” was the answer which tended to confirm Boulger’s residency in the Ardscull area and the likelihood of an error in previous publications which gave his last resting place as Ballymore in Co. Westmeath.

My article aroused a lot of interest and a few phone calls on the very day the article appeared and it prompted me to take an assisted trip to Crookstown to see for myself what I believed was the forgotten grave of a brave Victorian soldier.  Imagine my dismay to discover not the expected grave but rather the grave of Abraham Joseph Boulger whom the headstone described as “the second son of Lieutenant Colonel A. Boulger V.C. who died on December 9th, 1891 aged 23 years”.  This was the grave discovered during the FAS Scheme and the gravestone information transmitted by word of mouth from one person to another eventually reached me as indicating the last resting place of Abraham Boulger V.C.  If there is a lesson to be learned it is the old one of never believing everything you hear, little of what you read and nothing at all of what politicians tell you.

However, the information gleaned from the visit to Crookstown Cemetery was of immense interest to Abraham Boulger’s grandson who also contacted me following the article.  He had been trying to trace his ancestor Abraham Joseph Boulger who so far as family records disclosed disappeared without trace while still a young man.  The mystery was solved on finding his grave in Crookstown Cemetery where he was buried in December 1891.  So my original article, even though based on incorrect information, did in the end prove of some use.

Now to a different subject and one which has interested me ever since the late Dan Meany made me aware of the road race known as the “Athy 75”.  This was a road race for motor cyclists which was first organised by the Athy Motor Cycle and Car Club in May 1925.  It was run over a 9½ mile long course, starting a few hundred yards on the Ardscull side of the entrance to what was Taylors Farm at Russellstown.  The circuit went past Ardscull, turning left at Fontstown Crossroads down to Booleigh Crossroads, turning left back towards Athy, turning left at Tullygorey Crossroads and out to the Dublin Road at Russellstown Cross.  The race was held annually up to 1930 when following the tragic killing of a competitor for the second year in succession the Athy 75 was thereafter canceled.  It was the first motorcycle road race to be run in the Irish Free State under the powers granted to the Minister for Local Government which enabled him to close public roads temporarily for the purposes of racing.

The late Des McHugh was very helpful to me when I first became aware of the Athy 75 .  He remembered races and those involved in them but now that I have gathered together additional information on the Athy race I have more questions which remain to be answered. 

Thirty five competitors rode out their machines in the inaugural event on Saturday, 16th May 1925 on a day which was marred by heavy rain.  Local riders included H. Cogan on a 490 Norton, T.S. Pearson on a 349 A.J.S., P.J. Ryan on a 250 B.S.A., C.W. Taylor on a 345 Rover, Tim Kelly on a 349 A.J.S., W.K. Hosie on a 350 A.J.S. and W.D. Taylor on a 349 A.J.S.  There may have been other local riders amongst the 35 who competed in that first race, but I have not yet identified them.  In subsequent years more locals competed and these included Jack Yeats and Harry Sargent of Fair Green, Naas, a shop assistant working in Athy who entered the 1929 race under the nom de plume “Sonny Boy”.  He crashed at the Moat of Ardscull within a quarter of a mile of the start and died in the Meath Hospital, Dublin on 26th June.  He was Assistant Secretary of the Athy Motor Cycle and Car Club at the time of his death.

Another local rider in the 1929 race was J.S. McMenamin who rode a 499 Rudge Whitworth.  When the final Athy 75 was run off in 1930 the only local rider amongst the 43 competitors was J.G. Yates (sic), presumably the same man who in previous years was listed as Jack Yeats.  I would like to get some information on the various local men mentioned who participated in the Athy 75 races and to hear from anybody who has any information, photographs or memorabilia relating to the races.

Athy Motor Cycle and Car Club in the late 1920’s had as its President C.W. Taylor with M.W. Whelan as Treasurer and F.K. Jackson as Assistant to the Honorary Secretary A.G. Taylor.  F.A. Youell had acted as the Club Honorary Secretary in its earlier years.  The Directors of the Club included R.H. Anderson, .K. Hosie, J. Duthie, T. Kelly, W.D. Taylor, J.C. Reynolds, J. Greene, Dr. J. O’Neill, C.W. Henderson, H. Cogan, Captain W. Kehoe, Dr. Kilbride, A. Hamilton and W. Cotton.  Quite a lot of those names I can identify but inevitably there are some who are unknown to me.

The Athy Club was very active in the second half of the 1920’s, running speed trials and social events as well as the Athy 75.  It appears to have disbanded in or around 1934.  I would welcome hearing from anyone who can give me any information on the Athy Motor Cycle and Car Club, its members and especially the famous motor cycle road race organised by the club for six years from 1925.  I hope to devote a future article or two to the Athy 75 in the years 1925 to 1930.

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