With a 5.30 start we were well through Coventry and out of Stratford before dawn, but we were at Tewkesbury before we got our first glimpse of the sun. This made the M50 somewhat more bearable until we took the A40 through Abergavenny and the picturesque route through Brecon to Haverfordwest and then turning north to Fishguard. We arrived at the harbour at midday having covered the last few miles in comparative warmth and every promise of pleasant weather.
We bought our tickets and moved into line ready to board the boat. The driver of a cream Reliant 3/25 called over to ask if we were going to the rally and assured us he would see us over there. On board there was only one other bike, a 1942 Harley Davidson 750 ridden by a lad from Kent. Only two other bikes had bookings but by the time the boat sailed there were about a dozen bikes on board.
Ian Goodson and I made our way to the canteen where we had dinner and then over to the bar for a quick half. We had intended to get a few hours sleep during the three hour crossing but, although the day was calm, the anguished and fitful crying of numerous very young children kept us awake. Therefore we sought out some of the other motorcyclists to chat about the rally.
On our arrival at Rosslare at about 5 o'clock the bikes were the first off and we went quickly through the Irish customs and then for petrol. Here John with the Harley and Carl a Welsh lad on a Norton joined forces with us and after one more stop at Waterford for some supplies we made a start on the next half of the journey.
At the turn off just north of Dungarvan we tanked up once more before sending John off in front down the narrow and thirsty road through the Knockmealdown Mountains. It soon got dark and with the poor road surface and the Harley's solid rear end we all agreed that we had done enough riding for one day when we reached Fermoy. Leaving our bikes in the centre of town we walked down the main street to enquire about accommodation. We were directed to a house where we were greeted by a lady who was pleased to put us up; no question of turning away road-grimed motorcyclists. We then returned for the bikes and after nipping into a bar for our first glass of Phoenix beer we went in search of a fish and chip shop. We located this up the dark end of town and gorged ourselves on a fish supper before returning to our digs. The landlady had been kind enough to put hot water bottles in our beds. What more could anyone want?
Next morning it was a struggle to get up but after a good breakfast we set off once more on the rocky road to Anascaul. We took on petrol at Mallow as the people came out of church and spent an hour looking round Killarney before heading for the Dingle peninsula. The coast road through Inch offered us a priceless view of the sunlit Macgillycuddy's Reeks, the highest mountains in Ireland, across the spectacular bay. We hit Anascaul in the early afternoon and rode to the check in. There were already about thirty tents in the field on the hill opposite the village and after reading the welcome from the people of Anascaul we pitched camp.
Perhaps I can best describe the rally by using an analogy. The village was a one street farming community and every second building either a guest house or a bar, just like a wild west town with its hotels and saloons. The surrounding country complimented the similarity. Outside of each saloon, livery stable (petrol station) or emporium (general store) were the horses (motorbikes) with the hard riding, hard drinking cowboys (motorcyclists) whooping it up at the honky-tonk (a home rigged loudspeaker system on an old record player which covered the whole village and camp). In Anascaul is the South Pole Inn so called because it was once the home of Thomas Green who went to the south pole with Scott. After dinner we rode into Dingle and had a look round the harbour. To the Gaelic speaking folk this town is called O'Cush's Fortress and was once the chief trading port with Spain in Kerry. In Elizabethan times it was a walled town. We watched the fishermen icing their catch and helped to pull a boat ashore, then walked through the town. Everywhere people stopped to pass the time of day and ask where we were from. We stopped briefly in a bar before we returned in the last light to Anascaul.
It was not long before we found ourselves in one of the bars. The landlord was pleased to have us in and invited us to watch the Eurovision Song Contest on his TV but we preferred to sit in the bar at first. When the headlight parade came in we all rushed outside to watch. There were many bikes but the majority of riders were already in the bars. Eventually we went in to see the last few contestants in the Eurovision Song Contest and then spent the rest of the night until midnight back in the bar.
From there we moved up the hill to the church hall where the dance was warming up. On the way we stopped for a few things in the shop which was still open. Inside the hall they were just judging the Miss Shamrock after which they presented the prizes for the furthest travelled and concours events. Then the dance proper started to the music of the accordionist. All the village girls were there and they all joined in to make a really good night. At about four o'clock we started to drift back towards the camp, stopping at bars along the way until we got back to our tents. Not until I had introduced John and Carl to the horrors of onion toast did we turn in until morning.
Next day we were up bright and early to the sound of a Suzuki closely followed by the loudspeaker music. John and Carl decided to start a steady ride back via Cork so we said cheerio and made for our favourite bar. In the afternoon we went for a ride round the Dingle coast and looked out at the great Blasket Island which sheltered early Christians. The coast is punctuated by shrines in the rocks, ancient Christian beehive houses and oratories besides the tropical palms. These latter flourish due to the mild weather brought across the Atlantic by the Gulf Stream. We visited Ventry Harbour where according to an ancient tale Daire Donn, King of the World invaded Ireland. He was defeated on the beach head by Fin MacCool and the Fianna. We then climbed the twisty road up the Conor (Conaught) Pass. From the top you can see seven lakes and the sea. Soon damp, wind driven cloud sent us scurrying back down to warmer altitudes.
Back once more in Anascaul the camp was almost empty and we were the only motorcyclists in 'our' bar. However there were a lot of local people there as they had come from all over the country for a dance in the church hall. Two young lads arrived with accordions and soon the bar was alive with typical Irish music. The place soon became packed with people singing folk songs and ballads. Almost everyone came across to speak to us and invite us to sing. Especially insistent was a well built young man in a very happy mood. We gained brief respite when the company was joined by two couples from a film set on location in the district. One young lady had a very short mini skirt only just on and this, or the lack of it, attracted all the attention for the next hour.
When they left we were once again assailed to sing and although we had not intended to drink much that night we were becoming very inebriated. Finally the big fellow and his friends got us cornered and with the drink inside me I did not need much persuasion to lead into a drunken version of The Balad of Harry Pollitt. I'll say one thing, those Irishmen have good voices and they soon pick up a chorus. But those of you who know my voice will have guessed that it caused trouble. The first I knew of it was when the farmer to whom we had been talking pointed to two rival factions eyeing each other up on the door side of the bar. He explained "He's a Paddy and he after a foight. Sure an' all but oi'm a Paddy, but oi ain't after foighting. But they're after a foight." I was far too drunk to understand what was going on then, or to remember it now, but I am sure of one thing; it was my singing they were arguing over. The big Irishman, Sean, and his mates were insisting that I had not received the necessary respectful silence while I performed and an even uglier crowd of Paddys wanted to know "So what?"
Our friend quickly pointed out that we could prevent any trouble by standing between these two factions and making a speech. I agreed with him but certainly didn't intend to take his advice. Unfortunately the trouble was between us and the door. This is the time, I thought, to call upon the speechmaking qualities for which Chairman Ben and Chairman Mao are famed (in that order). A little mixing of the paints and metaphors, the truth of Garner Ted Armstrong, the sincerity of Hughie Green, the subtlety of David Frost, the evasiveness of any politician and what have you got? A khaki blur, or verbally, a slur. However we had got to the door and the departure of Sean and his friends left us plenty of much needed room to back out. Outside it was raining which is why we ran all the way back to camp.
Next morning we broke camp at first light (we had a ferry to catch) and made all haste through Anascaul on the road to Tralee. It was good to be on the road again in the fresh air. From Tralee to Limerick and then on comparatively good roads to Dublin and then Dunleary about three o'clock. We had met some sharp rain at one or two points on the road but here the weather was fine and we had ample time to walk round the town, buy some presents and get some dinner before boarding the ferry.
We could not get to our bikes during the crossing so after a quick snack we decided in favour of an early night. There was a fair old gale blowing in from the west and it was good to be snug inside a warm cabin although I think they were running a steam hammer on the other side of a paper thin wall. With two hours left to go Ian became very ill and cursed British Rail whenever he had the time. We came into Holyhead just about midnight and in the shelter of the harbour had six good hours of sleep.
Tuesday morning we had breakfast on board while the bikes were being unloaded and after passing through customs without trouble picked up petrol and set off home on the A5. The day was brilliantly sunny but soon after crossing the Menai Bridge out of Anglesey we began to see cars with snow on them. Outside of Bangor we rode into the mountains beautifully covered in snow and shining in the early morning sun. There was not much on the road but we rode slowly to make the most of the scenery, stopping with two motorcyclists from Leeds to take photographs. It was very pleasant to meander through these mountains in warm sunshine with the day before us.
At Chirk we stopped to explore the aqueducts. A narrow boat approached as we walked up the towpath and out across the bridge. When the barge drew level the crew, five young girls on holiday, invited us aboard and we had a boat ride high over the cricket pitch below. We were loath to leave such pleasant company but the boat, steadily moving upstream to Llangollen, was getting further away from our bikes.
We stopped a few miles further on to investigate the canal tunnel and twin aqueduct and railway viaduct before pressing on into England. We stopped awhile for lunch at a transport cafe and also just before Hinckley to look round the camping displays before the final leg home.
It was a perfect end to a perfect rally. In fact that week we had as much fun in five days as we usually get in a fortnight at any other time of year. That's the Irish.
More about the Shamrock Rally, including photos, in the Rallies Section.