Minis To Ireland 2015
Report by Tony and Angela Jones
The second MCR Minis to Ireland event took place from 17th through to 24th September, 2015. All but two of the thirty cars starting from England and Wales met up at the ferry port in Fishguard, and the absentees managed to catch up with the tour over the next two days. At Fishguard we signed on, were issued with the ‘Road Book’ for the tour together with super Rally Jackets. Then we were reunited with old friends and made new ones. The weather was lovely and the four hour crossing to Rosslare was smooth. From Rosslare, the 30 mile journey to the Brandon House Hotel at New Ross was straight forward. Here we met up with Hugh and Jan Wyllie, Emma their daughter, Mary Nugent, as well as Kevin and Connor the service crew. From Ulster we were joined by Walter Simpson and Mervyn Thompson, Wesley Johnston and Graham Gilbert, and finally from Edinburgh by Cathlean and Peter Bastian.
Sadly, our Classic Mini did not accompany us to Ireland this year and, like one or two other non-Mini crews on this event, so we knew that we were going to miss out on some of the fun. To avoid breaking up the cavalcade of Minis we elected to travel at the back of the field in our VW Golf, with Emma and Mary in the ‘Sweeper Car’ and ‘Legs’ (Kevin) and Connor in the service van. Hopefully, we could make ourselves useful as well.
Day 2 – New Ross to Sneem. 178 miles.
This was the real start of the event. Several Minis had ‘bonnets up’ in the car park of the hotel, and the service crew were busy before we had even started! But at 9:30am, Emma flagged the cars off at 30 second intervals. Now we were on our own with our Road Book and our Route Master Question sheet (10 questions to answer each day to ensure we were following the correct route). The target time to Sneem was just over 7 hours but, this included an hour for lunch and 30 minutes for a coffee break. It was here that we discovered we were not going to starve in Ireland! After a more than adequate breakfast at the hotel, our coffee stop offered a huge scone with jam and cream, and the lunch stop offered huge sandwiches and a bowl of soup.
The day was cloudy but dry. Initially, from New Ross the roads were smooth as billiard tables! We recalled that when we first visited Ireland about 20 years ago the roads were dreadful; even the main roads were bumpy and full of potholes! Anyway, we headed West via Waterford, Dungarvan, Lismore, Fermoy, Mallow and Kenmare to Sneem on The Ring of Kerry. As the day progressed, the roads became more interesting and challenging as they included two Circuit of Ireland stages that always prove interesting. The first was Mullaghanish and the second at Furiry where, if we had been alert, the answer to Question 6 was that we were 1,045 feet above sea level! The Road Book was excellent; the only thing we needed to be aware of was that the book and our odometers were calibrated in miles and the distances on the sign posts were in kilometres.
From the Sneem Hotel, where we would spend the next three nights, we enjoyed fantastic views over the Kenmare Estuary. The Minis had an exclusive parking area which allowed their owners to tweak to their hearts content. With so many Minis ‘gathered together’ it created an enthusiastic interest both for other entrants and hotel visitors alike.
Day 3 – Sneem to Sneem. 213 miles
This day was a long run taking in the Kerry and Dingle Peninsulas, with fantastic views everywhere one looked. The route was circular, and it was possible not to do the entire route if one felt so inclined. There were a few places where one could peel off and thus reduce the mileage somewhat. The day began with a coastal trip around the Ring of Kerry which forms part of The Wild Atlantic Way and is a designated scenic route around Ireland for visitors in cars or coaches. We would travel on sections of it for much of our meanderings over the following few days. There were stunning views of the Skelligs near Port Magee and Valencia Island (of weather forecasting fame). The edges of the roads were a continuous garden of wild flowers; Fuchsias, Montbretia, Ox-eye daisies, ferns; all species which had finished flowering a few weeks ago in Wales. Flags of Kerry were flying from most of the homes in support of a local Gaelic Football team who were to play Dublin. The weather was holding (just) but a mist hung on the hills. After a good lunch at The Red Fox Inn the route followed the coast road around the spectacular Dingle Peninsula to Slea Head before returning to Kerry and crossing the peninsula to Sneem; via the Lakes of Caragh and two Circuit of Ireland stages; Glencar and the famous stage of Ballaghbeama where the Road Book advised to “beware of tight bends and long drops”! We did! Suddenly, we were back in Sneem for a natter and a noggin in the bar, and to reflect on another super day.
Day 4 – Sneem to Sneem. 181 miles.
It was raining! Emma flagged off the cars from under the canopy of the hotel entrance. It was Sheep’s Head and the Ring of Beara today, with lunch at Mizen Head. We followed another section of The Wild Atlantic Way into Killmakillogg, then onto another Circuit of Ireland stage. It was a pretty route through a tunnel of overhanging trees but it was very narrow, very winding, very green and very wet. Suddenly, we came across several Minis; one of which was in trouble; the occupiers of the others Minis were there to give help and support in any way they could. The Doughty service van was right behind us; and the diagnosis was a broken tie bar. A new one was fitted drilled and held in place with a split pin, and eventually everyone was back on the road again. But, the weather was worsening. Next we tackled another Circuit of Ireland stage down the Healy Pass. We had driven this stage several times before, in both directions, but never in such wet conditions. Looking on the bright side, there was no traffic coming up! While no records would be broken this day we were able to appreciate the magnificence of the Pass in a very different way. The rain, as waterfalls, cascaded over the rocks or ran in dashing rivulets down the mountainside – fantastic to behold. But, the sheep were unimpressed by the grandeur of it and carried on obliviously as usual!
All this had happened before coffee break at Glengarriff, albeit, for us, a late coffee stop. We wondered if the front runners were already tucking into their lunch at Mizen Head, some 60 miles ahead. The weather had caused some of the roads en route to Mizen Head to be closed and detours were found to get there. We were happy to see so many of our Minis parked up. Later, Robert and Hugh came to the conclusion that the weather had deteriorated too much for the group to continue, and the planned afternoon session over Priest’s Leap was cancelled. However, they came up quickly with an alternative route. At Sneem Hotel that evening everyone was accounted for!
Day 5 – Sneem to Connamara. 210 miles.
After the disappointing weather of yesterday, this day turned out to be lovely, and just as well, because it was going to be a challenging one in any case; what with the mileage, crossing the River Shannon at Tarbet ferry and negotiating our way around Galway. So, we set off towards Killarney on the R568, enjoyed seeing the Carrauntoohill Mountains ahead of us (the highest in Ireland) and were soon into a Circuit of Ireland stage, avoiding the sheep on the road. Then we came across numerous Minis parked up all over the place, where ever they could. Apparently, one of our Minis slid off the road, turned over and landed in the bog about 3 feet below road level, cleverly missing a rock on the way! Thankfully, no one was hurt. By the time we arrived the car was back on the road and still in a drivable condition. There was a long delay before we could continue while the service crew checked the car over, and while the occupants and those who had witnessed it all happening could compose themselves.
Soon we were approaching the Kerry Way. The Road Book advised us to take care because of ‘jaunting’ horse and carts, and walkers on the track. And yes, they were there, lots of them, in this seemingly remote countryside. At 22 miles from the start of our day, the Road Book advised ‘Care – blind crest that goes sharp right’. And it did! There we happened upon a couple of Minis; one minus a front bumper and with a front, left wheel askew. Parking here was not a good idea. So, we left space for the service van and continued down the mountain for a short way where we were able to park. Soon, they all followed, moving very slowly. The Mini pulled in, in front of us. The service van, meanwhile, had had news of another Mini with problems, and so went off to investigate what was happening there. For the two cars on the mountainside, the question was, would we be able to get a breakdown car to transport the Mini down? Mobile phone reception was poor here, but eventually we received word to escort this ailing Mini about 3 miles down the hill to a car park where there would be room to assess the damage. The courageous driver led the way, leaving a black line from the wonky wheel along the track. On the way we passed the other Mini-in-distress, its front somewhat battered; but there was no sign of any occupants. We were glad to make the car park without incurring any further damage. There, in the car park, Kev and Connor, the driver of the Mini, Ian Wright, Phil Dyson and others worked so hard to get the Mini going but all their attempts came to nought. After about 4 hours of trying, a breakdown truck came from Killarney and arrangements were set in place to transport the stricken Mini home to England. The second Mini was, also, transported off the mountain to be taken home too. Both crews opted to continue with the event and went off to find hire cars. That left the sweeper car, the service van, two ‘helping’ Minis and one VW running very late; and we were only about 26 miles from the beginning of our day!
We abandoned the Road Book and followed the main roads to Connamara. But, we still needed to cross the Shannon at Tarbet. We reached the official lunch stop at 6.30pm and stopped, not for lunch, but for much needed drinks (non-alcoholic), before attempting the final 65 miles to reach the Renvyle Hotel. Part-way there we caught up with a convoy travelling extremely slowly. It turned out to be a funeral procession and, this, we followed at about 20 mph, in the dark for 27 miles! Journeys end was reached at 9:30pm and we went straight into dinner and to an ovation from the rest of the crowd. Renvyle Hotel is well known for good food and it was very, very good that night. And we had got Connor to Connamara for his very first visit!
Day 6 – Connamara to Connamara 178 miles.
It is amazing what a good night’s sleep can do! After the challenges of the day before, it was nice that the sun came out for our route today, which was a ‘there-and-back journey’ and with no obvious way to shorten the route. One or two Minis decided to do their own thing, and the rest of us set off from Renvyle towards an early coffee stop at Woods Hotel in Westport. The first few miles re-traced some of the route we had travelled in the dark the previous evening. Then we branched off towards Westport and were surrounded by cloud-topped mountains, lots of water and wonderful views. Plenty of peat cutting was obvious, the peat stored in bags to dry. After Westport we followed the coast road to its junction with Achill Island. We drank in the mountains, the sea loughs, the sea mists and never-ending amazing views. At one point The Wild Atlantic Way lived up to its name with continuous, white waves crashing towards the cliffs and onto a raised pebble beach. There were numerous new dwellings and plots for further development along this peninsula and on Achill Island. We mused that this area could look very different in a few years from now! At Dooagh, Achill Island, we turned into the Last Drop Coffee Shop and Bar for lunch. Lots of Minis and their crews were there – quite a novel experience for those of us at the rear!
On the return journey to Renvyle we re-traced our tracks as far as Westport but from then on travelled down a wonderful, scenic valley. The road was winding, there was no traffic; we followed Emma and had great sport. No major incidents occurred; nor too many small problems to be solved. We had had a grand day out!
Day 7 – Connamara to Wexford. 216 miles.
This was a day of passage from Renvyle in the north west to the Ferrycarrig Hotel at Wexford (close to the ferryport at Rosslare) in the south east. Despite the mileage, the travelling was good. The first car was flagged off at 9:30am but the back markers did not leave until 11.00ish. ‘sweepers’ and the service crew had been busy; so, while they tucked into a late but hearty Irish breakfast we enjoyed another cup of coffee.
We plunged into a Circuit of Ireland stage soon after setting off. It was a scenic route through wooded mountains and we all enjoyed this stage a lot. Lunch was at the Malthouse in the square at Montbellow. Here, Question 3 asked us to name the statue in the square? It turned out to be a lively, equine statue (in bronze) of Bobby Jo, horse extraordinaire who had won both the Irish National and the Grand National at Aintree. We did not catch sight of any MCR Minis all day long but the Landlord at the tea break said that the last Mini had departed about 25 minutes before we arrived. So, for Kev and Connor it was an easy day; at least until we arrived at Wexford.
As we travelled, we wondered how a week in Ireland could pass so quickly. But the answer was obvious – we were enjoying ourselves! We mused if, other than sheep and small herds of cattle, Ireland imported all its food? We had travelled about 1,225 miles in total around this lovely Emerald Isle but had seen no food crops growing anywhere. We also mused that Minis travelling at the beginning of our convoy would have a very different impression of this event. Although we were all travelling along the same route, each Mini would experience it from an individual point of view. We hoped that our story would recall some happy memories for the participants.
We arrived at The Ferrycarrig Hotel, which was as good as ever and in ample time to sort ourselves out, put on our glad rags and have drinks in the bar before our final dinner of the tour. Everyone had a good time and we each received a Finishers Award for taking part on The Minis to Ireland Event 2015. However, special awards went to Phil and Sue Dyson who received the ‘Spirit of the Event’ award; Cathlean and Peter Bastian were awarded ‘The Wooden Spoon’ and Colin and Margaret Armit won the ‘Route Master’ award for answering the greatest number of questions correctly in the road quiz.
Day 8 – Wexford to Rosslare. Approx. 14 miles.
Some crews were extending their holiday in Ireland and our Irish friends would be returning to their respective homes, but most of us were heading for the ferry port. It was a morning of ‘good byes’ but we hoped that we would all meet up again soon. Maybe on the ‘Minis to Monte’ run in 2016?
Our thanks go to all the organisers who put so much time into the event; to Chairman Robert and his wife Lesley Young; to Hugh and Jan Wyllie who devised the route and sourced hotels; to Emma who organised Start Control every morning with a smile and a chat for everyone; as well as “sweeping” and noting where every Mini was en route – even if they were just filling up with fuel. The ‘sweeper’ could not continue until all the Minis were ahead. Thanks also go to Kev and Connor who worked exceptionally hard on our behalf, especially at the start and finish of every day. Thanks are also due to Tiny who joined us for the weekend as a photographer. To all these people we are indebted for making the 2015 Minis to Ireland such a fun and enjoyable event.
Tony and Angela Jones