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Cultra: Motoring with panache – The Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club Motor Meet and Hill Climbs 1905 to 1911

By Paul Robinson

2023 review by Autolycus

This small softback book in A5 size and with just 54 pages is a delightful and well-researched record of a hitherto little-known aspect of motoring competition – namely early hill climbing in Northern Ireland. The author, a graduate of the University of Ulster, is a true motoring enthusiast, having competed all over the UK in classic Triumph sports cars that he restored himself, including several times at the hill climb held in the grounds of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum Cultra.

Which brings us to the location of this book. From 1905 to 1911 the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club organised a Motor Meet and Hill Climb every year for cars and motorcycles. The link between yachts and motor competition is totally understandable and skilfully brought to life by the author: the wealthy members of Northern Ireland society naturally acquired the latest new-fangled plaything, the motor car – and perhaps the slightly less well-heeled acquired a motorcycle. The hill climbs were the perfect social occasion at which to show off and try out these machines in the earlier days of motoring. The Cultra course was held on private land belonging to Mr R.J. Kennedy, CMG, DL, RNIYC member and diplomat.

After a short introduction and background, the book is divided into chapters for each year. It makes excellent use of newspaper reports of the time to provide the detail of the events, the categories, the protagonists (among them, some of the cream of local society) and the results. But it is in the revelation of the social norms of the age that the book delights the most. To give only one example, although ladies were welcomed as drivers, there was every year a separate competition for them: in the early years, ladies (as passengers only) were given potatoes to throw into baskets arranged around the course, while later their competition was to guess the first six finishers in the hill climb. Neither does the author forget to explain the political situation at the time: hill climbing in Northern Ireland declined before World War I, and we are told that the Dublin press suggested that Ulster motorists were too busy gun-running…

The next remarkable historical record in this book lies in the lists of cars and motorcycles that competed each year, their fiscal horsepower and the categories in which they ran. There are of course the usual suspects from the time – Daimler, Darracq, Clement and Oldsmobile to name just four – but there are rarities too: Nordenfelt, Speedwell (a Lacoste & Battmann assembled car) and Weigel have appeared on this website or in Aspects of Motoring History before, but Chambers features many times in the book and we have not covered it before. It was an important make, built in Belfast between 1904 and 1927. It is in Georgano, of course.

The illustrations, although naturally not always crisp when they date from the early 1900s, give a further excellent impression of a bygone age, whether of the vehicles or the fashions. The text is small but eminently readable and makes it possible to cram a lot of information into a small space and keep the price of the book down to a completely affordable £10 plus postage.

It is finally worth mentioning that the book has been published with the financial assistance of the Michael Sedgwick Memorial Trust – good friends of  the SAHB.

The author is currently working on several more books covering aspects of motoring history in Northern Ireland between 1913 and 1933. On the evidence of this first one, we have more treats in store.

Publisher: Robinson Books

Price: £10 plus postage, from the author’s website.

Description: softback (210 x 148.5mm), 54 pages; black & white images.

ISBN: 978-1-7393118-0-3

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