On this day…2 July

On 2 July 1903 the Gordon-Bennett race took place in Ireland.

The first international motor race held in Ireland was held on a course in the midlands on 2 July 1903. Joyce used the race as the background for his story ‘After the Race,’ which was published in the Irish Homestead in December 1904.

The decision to hold the race in Ireland was to honour the British driver, Selwyn Edge, who had won the race in 1902. Edge was born in Sydney but grew up in England, and came to prominence first as a cyclist. He started motor racing in 1900.

The course was over 300 miles long starting from Ballyshannon and finishing at Athy. Edge in his Napier car was the first car to start, setting off at 7am. The course went through Carlow, Athy, Stradbally, Monasterevin, Kildare and Kilcullen in several stages during the day. For safety reasons, the cars had to follow behind bicycles when passing through towns on the route.

The race was won by Camille Jenatzy, a Belgian, who drove the German team’s Mercedes. He finished the course in 6 hours 36 minutes. Four years before, Jenatzy had been the first man ever to drive at 100km per hour. French cars came in second and third and a British car was fourth. Selwyn Edge came in fifth but was later disqualified.

Earlier in the year, the French driver Henri Fournier had been tipped to win the race. Joyce interviewed Fournier in Paris and wrote an article that was published in the Irish Times on 7 April 1903, under the title ‘The Motor Derby.’ In the end, however, Fournier did not compete in the race.

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.