NO matter to whom the name Michael O’Connor is mentioned in motorsport, there is a pause with the unanimous retort: ‘You mean ‘Bones’.
Growing up in Ballintemple, he explains its origin.
“It stemmed from a long time ago when I was seven years of age, a Scotsman living near us actually gave me that name because I was so skinny, he used to say: ‘You’re only a bag of bones’. It stuck.”
‘Bones’ shed some further light on those early years.
“My dad, who was from Kenmare, was a very successful accountant and based his business in Cork.”
Moving about was part of the equation before Bones climbed aboard the property ladder himself in 1978 when he purchased a house in Blarney, work took him to Limerick in 1993. He moved to Australia in 2011 and returned to Ireland and, ironically, Co Kerry in 2018.
“We always had a house here (in Kerry) it was like our second home.” Home is Caherdaniel.
Bones traces his motorsport roots back to 1968.
“I started driving when I was 12 and the first event that I looked at was the ‘20 Hour’ (the Cork 20) when, coincidentally, it was starting outside what became the ICC offices (his future employer) in the Grand Parade.
“I cycled in with a pal of mine to watch the start. My first actual rally was the Circuit of Ireland in 1968, we watched a stage (Chimneyfield) just south of Killavullen.
The two marshals there were Alan and Ray Verso. Alan has been a lifelong friend.”
Bones soon joined what was then Munster Motor Cycle and Car Club.
“I ran my first navigation event in 1972 and I got the timing all wrong as several crews cleaned the event, it never happened again, I had learned my lesson.”
O’Connor was assistant clerk of the course to Leo Whyte for the Moonraker Forest Rally in 1973 and 1974 and clerked it the following two years before a split in the club led to the formation of the Cork Motor Club, who ran the first West Cork Rally in 1977.
In one of these most recent features involving Kanturk’s AJ Keating, Bones admits he chuckled, knowing he was the clerk that denied AJ his ‘Best Novice’ award, reckoning any driver that finished in the top 10 could not have been a novice.
“Yes, I was that man, it generated some remarks,” he says.
Taking over from Declan Mullally, Bones became synonymous with the West Cork.
“It’s fair to say without Declan, things would have taken a different turn. He was a brilliant organiser, he really put the Cork Motor Club on the map.”
O’Connor is reluctant to take any acclaim for such matters: “I’m not sure that I had the ability to start it (the West Cork Rally) from day one.”
It took ambition and drive and the template (working with a local committee) is now being utilised throughout the country. O’Connor can recall those early days in Shanahan’s Garage in Leap, but again, he plays it down.
“I got a lot of credit for a lot of things but I picked little things up from others. I think Eamonn Cotter started it (running a rally from a base) I could see the benefits.”
After some discussion, he finally acknowledges how he played his part in the progression of the rally: “Yeah, I suppose I did but I was never too proud to pick things up.”
From 1978 to 1990, Bones was the West Cork Rally as much as the West Cork Rally was Bones. A book charting the history of the West Cork Rally (1977-2013) by Kevin O’Driscoll is testament to O’Connor’s ability.
O’Connor enjoyed the fact that the rally attained International status in 1986, however, accidents in 1985 and 1989 still rest heavy on the heart.
The event is now an integral part of the Irish Tarmac Championship.
“I’m glad it’s getting the top entries it deserves, it’s good for everybody.”
Reflecting on stages like Tragumna, Glandore, Union Hall, and Rossmore he adds: “Yes, they were brilliant, but times have changed. But could I add and like many others, the one person that I would have liked to have won West Cork was Frank O’Mahony, he is a personal friend.”
Although the West Cork (rally) took over his life, O’Connor still managed to compete.
“I loved the navigation rallies, I won seven Irish championships with Feli (aka Paul Phelan). I won the Cork 1000 Shakes 13 times with five or six different navigators, that was my lucky event, it was like I could never lose it. Yes, Paul was a brilliant navigator, he sat with Billy (Coleman) and Timo Salonen and Ove Andersson.”
O’Connor won his class in the 1981 Tarmac championship, had a class win on the 1982 Circuit of Ireland and in 1984 became the first Irish driver to compete in the Rally of the 1000 Lakes, now Rally Finland.
Bones, who was chief marshal for this year’s Rally of the Lakes, has his favourite drivers.
“Like the kids of my generation that followed Manchester United, Billy Coleman is always going to be special. The late Paddy O’Callaghan was a mentor, a friend and a man of huge generosity, a legend.”
With nostalgia in full flow, Bones concludes: “I’ve made life-long friends that I love meeting. “If I had my time again I would have been more understanding of people. I was very focussed when running the West Cork, I was a hard taskmaster, which I regret.”
Surely, not a case of putting flesh on the bones.