Pictures: Exhibition honours Cork’s motor sport achievements

Pictures: Exhibition honours Cork’s motor sport achievements

Mel Nolan with friend Denis Collins after setting the record. Picture: Denis Minihane

Donal O’Keeffe

“If Mel Nolan, the famous Flying Corkman, was to try and set the land speed record on the Straight Road today, he’d find it hard,” joked the Lord Mayor. “We have it in for resurfacing.”

The Lord Mayor, Councillor Colm Kelleher, was speaking at the launch of an exhibition celebrating Cork’s motor sport heritage in the City Library, where he happily shared guest of honour status with Mr Nolan, some 41 years after Mr Nolan set the Irish land speed record.

The Lord Mayor, Councillor Colm Kelleher, was speaking at the launch of an exhibition celebrating Cork’s motor sport heritage in the City Library, where he happily shared guest of honour status with Mr Nolan (left), some 41 years after Mr Nolan set the Irish land speed record.  	Picture: Denis Minihane
The Lord Mayor, Councillor Colm Kelleher, was speaking at the launch of an exhibition celebrating Cork’s motor sport heritage in the City Library, where he happily shared guest of honour status with Mr Nolan (left), some 41 years after Mr Nolan set the Irish land speed record. Picture: Denis Minihane

“The exhibition is a wonderful celebration of Cork’s great legacy of motor sport, both two-wheeled and four-wheeled, and it’s a great credit to the city, a great credit to the library, and a great credit to the motor sport community in Cork,” Cllr Kelleher said.

Mr Nolan told The Echo he was very honoured to play a “very small part” in the exhibition.

In July 1981, the Togher native set the Irish land speed record of 294.56km/h over the Flying Kilometre on the Carrigrohane Straight, and he went on to set a new 1,000cc Flying Mile record of 289.46km/h, hitting a top speed of 307.510km/h. 

“This exhibition all started last year, on the 40th anniversary, when David O’Brien, the city librarian, and the Deputy Lord Mayor, decided to make a presentation to me on the Straight Road, and we had the bike out there,” Mr Nolan said. 

“As a result of that, David got the idea to do an exhibition on the history of Cork motor sport.

Mel Nolan setting the new Irish landspeed record in 1981.  	Picture: Denis Minihane
Mel Nolan setting the new Irish landspeed record in 1981. Picture: Denis Minihane

“The first motor race here in Cork was in 1903, and at that stage there were no motorbikes or cars here, so when the people turned out to see the race, for a lot of them, it would have been the first time they saw a car, because there were only about a hundred cars in Ireland in 1903,” Mr Nolan said.

“One of the guys who raced here was Charles Rolls, and the year after that, he met James Royce, and they founded the company Rolls Royce.

“Then, as more cars started to come onto the road, by 1910 motor enthusiasts wanted to race, so the first motor club in Cork was formed, the Cork District Motor Club.

“One of the first events they ran was an event called the Cork 20, a 20-hour reliability test for motorcycles first, and in later years cars came into it too, but the Cork 20 today is Cork’s international car rally, so the name goes right back to that,” Mr Nolan said.

Mel Nolan with friend Denis Collins after setting the record. 	Picture: Denis Minihane
Mel Nolan with friend Denis Collins after setting the record. Picture: Denis Minihane

Cork City librarian David O’Brien said the purpose of the exhibition was to celebrate the rich heritage of motor sport in the city and the wider Cork area.

“This is an event that has something for every fan of motorsport thanks to the kind permission of a wide range of enthusiasts, everything from model cars to actual rally-prepared cars, and motorcycles capable of extraordinary records and other vehicles that were on show on opening night.”

“This exhibition has been curated by library staff and made possible by funding from Creative Ireland. Most importantly, the artwork from our colouring competition will be on show for the duration of the exhibition.”

The Cork Motor Sport exhibition runs in the City Library on the Grand Parade until Thursday June 2.

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