Motor Racing at the Rally of the Lakes

The Rally of the Lakes is an annual motor racing event that takes place annually in the south-west of the Republic of Ireland. It was initiated in 1979 by the Killarney and District Motor Club. The race starts from Killarney and makes its way through County Kerry. For several years, the Rally of the Lakes has been the third/fourth round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship as well. Today, it is one of the most followed rallying events in the world as it manages to attract huge support from across the world. Let us go back in history and discover how it all started. Let’s begin.


It was the 10 November 1977 when several motorsports enthusiasts gathered and met in O’Shea’s Bar. The purpose of the gathering was to form a new motor club. The meeting soon shifted to Des O Neil’s, kitchen, who was one of the best known rallying characters at the time, due to the weather being too cold.

This was where the Killarney & District Motor Club was formed. It was intended to become one of the biggest and most admired motorsports clubs in the world. The members decided to form the club as soon as possible and therefore, each was given responsibility. With the chairman and secretary decided, the event was closer than ever to schedule its first motorsports event.

Prime Historical Years


In 1979, the newly formed Killarney & District MotorClub announced that it will be scheduling and organizing a two-day stage rally event. The MotorClub had announced that the ultimate aim of the rally was to transform it into one of the great modern European rallies. The rally was scheduled for the first weekend in December. At the time, not many people were sure of the event’s future especially when it was being held at the year’s end when almost all the budget had been spent and the cars were tired.

However, a key factor that helped successfully launch the event was the fact that the majority of the stages were quite popular and used in the Classic Sunday run of the Circuit of Ireland. The event was a success at the time with the legend Billy Coleman coming out as a clear winner.


The year 1980 saw the event growing bigger. This time there was an even bigger line-up. However, the legend Billy Coleman retired, and his place was taken by his cousin Ger Buckley of Banteer. The event was the same as that of 1979 but this time around a slight change was made. The rally had now shifted to the Gleneagle Hotel. To date, the venue remains the same.


The 1981 rally event shattered all the records. To begin with, 133 cars had entered the competition and it was now the final round of the Shellsport National Rally Championship. Gleneagle Hotel had replaced the Radley Engineering Era who were once the main sponsors. The Chevette owned by Ger Buckley was sold to Cork baker Demi Fitzgerald who continued to win and extend his winning streaks. As a result, a tradition had been set at the Rally of the lakes that it was always won by a Corkman.


The year 1983 was another milestone achievement for the Rally of the Lakes as it now not only became an International Rally but also the Final round of the STP Tarmac Rally Championships. In addition to that, Billy Coleman caught everyone off guard by making a re-entry. This time he was driving an Opel Ascona. Although all the paperwork was done within days but there was no car. Since thousands of pounds were bring demanded to transport the car. Overnight, calls were being made and with the help of some political intervention, the car finally arrived at the venue. The engineers got down with explaining the car to Coleman who has never driven it before.


The 2020 event was scheduled for 2-3 May. However, on March 12 all motorsports events were postponed due to the COVID Pandemic. Then, on 20 March, Motorsport Ireland released its statement saying that the motorsports events are suspended till 1 June 2020. Following the release of the statement, the Tarmac Rally Organizers Association announced that the 2020 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship was canceled as well. At the moment, there is no further news regarding the event’s future.


Special Awards

The Tim O’Sullivan Cup

Tim O’Sullivan was both a popular and talented co-driver who was a native of Cullen near Millstreet in Co Cork. However, he, unfortunately, passed away when he stopped his car to allow a slow-moving vehicle to pass and was severely rear-ended by a truck. The cup is one of the biggest honors presented by the Killarney motorclub to co-drivers who achieve the highest place in the overall finishers.

The Tom Nyhan Cup

Tom Nyhan was not directly linked to the club but was a huge fan. He was known to have never missed an event. Unfortunately, he too passed away in a road accident, and to honor his commitment to the sport, the Tom Nyhan Cup is presented to the highest placed crew, open to all sections of the rally.

Final Word

Although the world of motorsports, especially motor racing at the rally of the lakes has been silent since the pandemic but it has failed to bring down the hype of its fans. This is the first time that the event has experienced such a dry spell. However, the organizers are optimistic about the event’s return in the coming few months as several meetings have been held to bring the event back to life.