Throwback Thursday: A muddy scramble down memory lane

The glory days of the Munster Motor Cycle & Car Club roar to life again in this week’s Throwback Thursday, reveals JO KERRIGAN
Throwback Thursday: A muddy scramble down memory lane

Lionel (Liney) Cohen competing at the Viaduct in 1955. Photo taken from from the new book Memoirs Of An Irish Jew.

THE information has been pouring in on that great old club, the Munster Motor Cycle & Car Club, following last week’s Throwback Thursday article.

We have even seen a copy of the original minutes, with the first meeting held at Desmond’s Hotel (where, oh where, was this, does anybody know?) in September, 1938.

It was immediately successful, with new members joining all the time as the word spread.

Meetings were held at various locations, including several at the Palace Theatre (now the Everyman), and then regularly at 32, MacCurtain Street, which became the club rooms for some years.

It was a lively and large club, with a very friendly atmosphere, everyone taking part in good fellowship.

Many are the stories which have become legends: the keen racer who couldn’t afford the two shillings required to enter a particular grass track event, who approached the committee and asked if he could enter anyway, and if he won, he would not accept the prize.

History does not record what actually happened, but it is to be hoped he was allowed to race.

Another concerns a member who was due to get married on the Monday, but who fell from his bike at the weekend’s races and ripped his clothing so badly that he had to postpone his wedding for a week until said garments were suitably mended. It sounds a bit far-fetched, but remember that this was during the war years, and although we might have been neutral, we were also fairly badly off, and fast fashion, throwaway clothes, were far in the future. So it might well be true.

(Incidentally, some years back, when this writer was interviewing the tailor Mr Moynihan over by the South Mall, he cocked an eye and said: “Stitched the leather patches on your dad’s motorcycling breeches I did, back in the Fifties.” A good memory had Mr Moynihan.)

Michael English remembers the club events held in Bishopstown in those same Fifties very well.

 “How eagerly we looked forward to the Sunday afternoon scrambles in the African Missionaries (SMA) field, now Bishopscourt Lower. The entrance was opposite the now Garda Station, then the home of farmer Eugene Murphy.

“That entrance was also the avenue to Professor McConnell’s home, now Wilton Park House.

“As youngsters, we rarely made our entrance through that gate, as it would cost us a few pence, so thanks to the generosity of a lady ( who will remain nameless) living in one of the houses backing onto the field, we entered through her hall door and over the wall when the guy checking for dodgers was at the other end of the field. I guess I owe the organisers a few bob!”

Michael recalls many great competitors. “but the names which remain with me are the Sargeant brothers, Mick and Willie, from Dungarvan I think, Tommy Foley, whose photo appeared in last week’s edition, Kitchie Swan, and of course, Joey Kerrigan, who I’m sure raced for enjoyment and not for winning.” (That he did, Michael, that he did!)

When the SMA field was no longer available, recalls Michael, the club moved to the site where CUH now stands.

“It became suitable for racing when it was levelled in preparation for the building of the Regional Hospital. That resulted in rainwater run off causing major road flooding. The solution was to bulldoze the top soil into high ridges to hold back the water. This made it ideal for exciting events with over-the-ridges, daredevil riding.

“This venue wasn’t used for too long, but it did remain a vacant site for a while, waiting for the foundations of the hospital to be eventually poured.”

A Munster Motor Cycle Club event at Vernon Mount in 2016. The venue was purchased by the club in 1959
A Munster Motor Cycle Club event at Vernon Mount in 2016. The venue was purchased by the club in 1959

Thanks for those lovely memories, Michael. If we can find any of the committee, we’ll tell them you owe them at least one pint!

It wasn’t all fresh air, mud and oil spills. The annual Club dinner dance was a very popular affair, held at various city hotels, including Moore’s on the South Mall and that one on Coburg Street, the name of which escapes this writer at the moment – perhaps some reader will oblige?

I do remember, though, staying awake with increasing excitement for my parents to come home from this dinner dance, always bringing with them some small treat for us children – perhaps a little cake wrapped up in a festive paper napkin, or a table decoration. Of such delights are the golden memories of childhood made.

Witty speeches and escapades were a feature of these annual occasions too. One memorable event was when a small silver cup was to be shared between two members for tying in first place in a particular race. Kitchie Swan and Joey Kerrigan were the two winners, and Joey, in typical Kerrigan style, solved the problem by sawing the little cup in half, so that they could both share the honour of being presented with the prize! I think my brother still treasures the Kerrigan half of the cup.

We were delighted to hear from Yvonne, daughter of a famous member of the Club, Lionel Cohen. ‘Liney’, as he was generally known, grew up in Cork, attending Presentation College and pursuing a highly successful career in both the army and the navy before (reluctantly) settling down to run the family tailoring business which was situated behind Cash’s (now Brown Thomas).

When he discovered motorcycling, however, a new interest filled his weekends, and indeed the rest of his life too.

Coincidentally, Yvonne has just edited and released her father’s recollections, Memoirs Of An Irish Jew, which contains fascinating details on the many varied aspects of his full and energetic life. The book is published by Cork City Libraries and is available in the library on the Grand Parade or at Waterstones in Patrick Street. (They will also arrange delivery if emailed at Cork@waterstones.com.)

Yvonne has generously allowed us to publish some details from that book of how her father became involved with the Munster Motor Cycle & Car Club.

Lionel Cohen, Alan Wilson, and Joey Kerrigan ready for a race.
Lionel Cohen, Alan Wilson, and Joey Kerrigan ready for a race.

When he finally came back to Cork from his travelling life, Lionel purchased a motorbike, a BSA 350, and enjoyed riding it around the countryside.

“One day, while I was tinkering with the bike in the garage, a chap called Dickie Wagner, who lived nearby, wandered in and told me to get rid of that thing, to buy a competition motorcycle and join ‘The Club’.

“The ‘club’ was the Munster Motorcycle and Car Club and little did I know when I went to my first meeting, held over a pub called McNamee’s in Oliver Plunkett Street, that I would be taking on what would become for me a fulfilling and interesting hobby.”

There was a wonderful crowd of lads in the club, says Lionel, and, best of all, religion counted for nothing there.

“That was rare enough in Ireland at that time as most clubs were either Catholic or Protestant oriented. In this club, members were well and truly mixed, apart from me being the sole Jewish member.

“Three of us palled around together and helped each other in competitions. We were known as ‘The Three Apostles’. Johnny Welsh was a Catholic and was a wonderful mechanic. John Kitchener Swan was a Protestant and a neighbour of mine from Marble Hall. We had the best of times together and I don’t think there was ever a cross word between us.”

For years, the Club met in various rooms around the city, but in 1959, Vernon Mount and its extensive grounds were purchased as their headquarters. Here Lionel played a large part too, being on the committee that made the courageous decision.

Vernon Mount was, of course, the house built by the Hayes family back in the 18th century, and where Sir Henry Hayes had dragged the rich Quaker heiress, Mary Pike, after abducting her forcibly from her home with the intent of benefiting his own pocket from hers. He didn’t get away with it, receiving a death sentence for the crime, but this was later commuted to transportation to Australia.

So the house certainly had its history, but it suited the motorcycle club perfectly, since they could use its spacious grounds for trials, scrambles, and grass track events, charge for admission, and thus recover at least some of their costs.

“We were very proud of ourselves,” writes Lionel, “but we little realised the amount of voluntary work we would need to put in over the following years. But by the time we were finished, we had achieved something really worthwhile.”

Touchingly, Yvonne told me that she was glad her father, who died in 2000, never knew what a sad sight that splendid place has now become. “It would have broken his heart.”

When she was about seven, her parents actually held a birthday party for her at Vernon Mount. “My friends still talk about it to this day!” And this writer can add to that, Yvonne, since very shortly after the house came into the ownership of the club, a Christmas party was held for all the children of members, and my sister and I were lucky enough to be there. It was such a dazzling place with that sweeping staircase and all the atmosphere of a stately home. It’s something we will never forget either.

It is nice to remember in these modern times, when every sport is highly professional and linked to financial gain, that there was a time here in Cork when men and boys got together at weekends to race their bikes for the sheer pleasure of it, enjoying each other’s company and the thrill of the challenge, whether manoeuvring through muddy morasses, haring up hillsides, tearing round a track, or trying to navigate a tricky section without putting their boot on the ground.

Oh, do you remember last week Jack Lyons spoke of his uncle, Eddie Wagner’s superbly painted helmet, painted by Jack’s grandfather, the artist Jonas Mansfield Wagner? Well, he very kindly sent us a picture of it, and here it is (inset left). Thanks for sharing, Jack!

Tell us your memories. Email jokerrigan1@gmail. com. Or leave a comment on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/echolivecork).

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