How Donegal answered Ireland’s WRC question

DirtFish was happy to do the Irish government’s homework in the country's stunning northwest last week


Dear Mr Byrne,

We come to you with good news from the world of rallying: turns out it makes complete economic sense for Ireland. Maybe you were expecting something a little more in-depth, probably anticipating some sort of fiscally focused cost-benefit analysis? Stick with us, we’ve cut through pages and pages of reports to bring it to you straight.

Tell us, Thomas, were you in McCafferty’s on Friday night? Did you make Knockalla on Saturday morning? Any chance you were resident in the Mount Errigal on Sunday night?

No to all of the above? No worries. We’ve got your back. I understand we’re looking at five-mil for the World Rally Championship? No problem. A thirsty Friday night on the biggest week in Letterkenny’s year delivered that target figure, give or take. Future investment? Sorted: ring-fenced by Sunday night’s post-Donegal International Rally party.

Evans and Fans Donegal

Meirion Evans thrilled a packed Knockalla crowd with his Toyota GR Yaris Rally2

And the tourist aspect? One hairpin smashed it. Walking and talking to fans standing stage-side in Knockalla, it became very obvious that folk had come from very far and even further wide to watch rally cars in Ireland’s stunning northwest.

Now, we’re not financial advisors here, Minister, so we’re duty bound to let you know the value of your investment can go up, as well as through the roof. And if you’re still not convinced, join us for the next round in Cork and see for yourself.

OK, just to be clear, here at DirtFish we weren’t really in Donegal working on an economic impact study for the Taoiseach. The above needs to be read with a pinch of salt with the tongue parked firmly in cheek. But, joking aside, Ireland is more ready than ever for a WRC round, from what I saw.

I’m ashamed to say last week was my first ever visit to Donegal and my visit in far too long to a round of the Irish Tarmac Championship. I won’t be leaving it as long before I’m back. And neither should the WRC (2009 in Sligo was the last time). I’ve seen some open goals in my time, but nothing as wide, wide open as last week. The level of enthusiasm and appreciation for rallying is enormous, with participation right back to where it was at the height of the two-liter World Rally Car era in the early Noughties.

Admittedly, we were a couple of pints in when we began our analysis, but the thinking is that there’s definitely more Rally2 cars per head of population than anywhere else in the entire world. A couple of pints on and we actually counted them: turns out there’s 62,367 (including a handful of remodelled R5 cars). We were going to phone a friend to confirm, but we weren’t sure Motorsport Ireland president Aiden Harper would accept a collect-call from McCaferty’s…

Irish rallying has been through the darkest of times recently. Nobody can ever replace Craig Breen and it’s hard (to the point of impossible) to imagine a driver ever having the kind of presence he had – and continues to have – on a nation utterly in love with rallying. The hurt and the sorrow of last year’s tragedy will never leave the place, but there’s now the overwhelming sense of appreciation to have known Craig and to have had such a character to call Ireland’s own.

Ireland deserves a round of the world championship and, as much as the sport needs the financial investment from the likes of Saudi and Paraguay, it needs the pure sporting fever of a country like Ireland. I talked to every generation, from Eamonn Kelly to James Cullen (and I’m not suggesting Eamonn’s the youngest and James the oldest – just to be clear), but there’s not an eye that doesn’t twinkle at the mention of the WRC returning.

Special mention has to go to Killian Duffy. Is there a harder working fella in all of Ireland? If there is, I’ve yet to meet him. His onthepacenote service via Facebook live is exceptional. It was a pleasure to see him and his team on the event – again something we’re looking to be doing a lot more of in the future.

Fans Donegal

This is what we're talking about – folk coming from far and wide to pack Irish streets and appreciate the best sport in the world

So, Thomas and Aiden, do your digging and do your sums, but the result will be the same: the WRC needs to come to Ireland. Aiden, you and your team have done an outstanding job of building the sport of rallying back to its biggest, best and brightest; Thomas, now’s the time to capitalize on this. The wave’s coming, my friend. Pick up that board and ride it.

But… just before you don the wettie and dive into the tube, we should probably fill you in on the details from the weekend: Callum Devine played himself very much back into the fight for this year’s Irish Tarmac Championship title with a second series win in succession. Switching to a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, he and co-driver Noel O’Sullivan mastered three awesome days of sport in typically changeable weather conditions.

What of his title rivals? Both Keith Cronin and Matt Edwards led the event early on. Cronin crashed his Ford Fiesta Rally2 out on the fifth stage, while Welshman Edwards slapped a wall on the first run through Atlantic Drive on Sunday morning, dropping his C&M Motorsport Fiesta from first to fourth at the finish.

Meirion Evans (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2) and David Kelly (Volkswagen Polo R5) joined Devine on the podium, while Declan Gallagher turned in an outstanding drive to land a class win and ninth overall in his rear-wheel drive Toyota Starlet.

Stay tuned to for a full review – in association with onthepacenote – of the event later in the week.

Donegal 1

The rock at the side of the road says it better than anybody else. Welcome to Ireland. Over to you, Thomas...