On this day…7 April

On 7 April 1903 Joyce’s article ‘The Motor Derby’ was published in the Irish Times.

Joyce’s article ‘The Motor Derby: Interview with the French Champion’ was based on an interview Joyce conducted with Henri Fournier in Paris, around 5 April 1903. At the time Fournier was expected to take part in the Gordon Bennett Cup motor race in Ireland in July and was among the favourites to win.

In April 1903, Joyce was still living in Paris. Ostensibly, he was there to study medicine but he had already given up that pursuit and was living a hand-to-mouth existence with small remittances from his ailing mother at home and some money generated from book reviews and articles like ‘The Motor Derby.’ The Irish Times paid him thirteen shillings and ninepence for the article.

Joyce’s interview described Fournier’s garage on the rue d’Anjou in Paris, and Fournier was asked about the forthcoming Paris-Madrid race and the Gordon Bennett race. Joyce quizzed him about the type of car he would drive and its maximum speed, and about Fournier’s chances against the other competitors, including Selwyn Edge who drove for the British team. Fournier said he planned to visit Ireland before the race to check out the route, and Joyce asked him if he intended to spend any time in Ireland after the race: Fournier said no.

The first Gordon Bennett Cup motor race took place in 1900 on a route from Paris to Lyon. The race was named for, and sponsored by, James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald newspaper, who lived in Paris. Henri Fournier had come first in the Paris-Bordeaux Race (which was run in conjunction with the Gordon Bennett race) in May 1901, and had been a competitor in the 1902 Gordon Bennett race from Paris to Innsbruck. He had retired from that race after his clutch went.

Ireland had been chosen for the 1903 Gordon Bennett race to honour Selwyn Edge, the British driver who won the 1902 race. It was the first international motor race held in Ireland and took place on a 370-mile course around Carlow, Athy, Stradbally, Monasterevin, Kildare, and Kilcullen from 2 July 1903. Selwyn Edge was disqualified and the eventual winner of the race was Camille Jenatzy, a Belgian, who drove the German Mercedes car. He completed the course in 6 hours 36 minutes. Jenatzy had been the first man ever to drive at over 100km per hour in April 1899. French cars took second and third place, while a British car came fourth.

Joyce arrived back in Ireland from Paris on 12 April 1903, so he was in Ireland at the time the race took place. According to Joyce’s brother Stanislaus, Joyce did not go to watch the race, but the race and his interview with Fournier gave Joyce the background for his story ‘After the Race,’ first published in the Irish Homestead magazine on 17 December 1904.


Sources & Further Reading:

Joyce, James: Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Kevin Barry, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Lynch, Brendan D: Triumph of the Red Devil – The Irish Gordon Bennett Cup Race 1903, Dublin: Portobello Press, 2002.

Montgomery, Bob: The 1903 Irish Gordon Bennett – The Race That Saved Motor Sport, with a Foreword by Lord Montagu, Bookmarque Publishing, 2000.