Racing in Dublin’s Phoenix Park has a unique history unparalleled by any other motor racing venue in the world. With the first event being held there in 1903 it can boast more than a century of use and is one of a handful of venues with such a history.
The story began on July 4th 1903 when just two days after the famous Irish Gordon Bennett Race Speed Trials were held along the main straight – Chesterfield Avenue – of the Phoenix Park. A huge entry of cars and motorcycles took part and the day was remarkable for a new speed record of 86.4mph set by Baron de Forrest in his Mors racing car.
Motorsport returned to the Phoenix Park at the imitative of the Royal Irish Automobile Club in 1929 when the Irish International Grand Prix was staged there on a circuit laid out by Henry Segrave and the two famous Guinness Brothers, Algernon and Kenelm Lee, three of the most famous racing drivers of the day.
The Irish International Grand Prix was a tremendous success and was held between the years 1929 and 1931. A change of government and a consequent lack of financial support brought the series to an end but one could argue that it had already achieved its aim of sowing the seeds of motorsport amongst the Irish public. Irish motorsport clubs now came to the fore and the ‘Park’ was run successfully between 1932 and the outbreak of WWII in 1939.
In 1949 motor racing in the Park was revived with a Sprint held along part of what is now the ‘Oldtown’ circuit. The following year a full race meeting was held on the ‘Oldtown’ circuit. In subsequent years right up to the present day, various circuit layouts have been used but perhaps the best known was the ‘Hawthorn’ circuit used in 1959 and 1960, 1967, 1978 to 1982 and between 1988 and 1991. The circuit was so named as it was laid out by Ferrari World Champion Mike Hawthorn just before his untimely death in a road accident. This year racing will take place on the ‘Oldtown’ circuit once again. This roughly triangular circuit has been used between 1950 and 1955, 1983 and 1985 and from 1993 to date.
Today the Phoenix Park is totally unique in providing drivers the challenge of racing at a venue where so many of the ‘greats’ of motor racing history have raced over the same roads. Long may this unique motorsport venue continue in use!
RIAC ARCHIVE – 2005 – Bob Montgomery