Why West Cork is worth crossing the Atlantic for

He may be fronting DirtFish's ARA coverage this weekend, but 10 years ago Brenten Kelly was on the other side of the pond


Seeing the pictures from this weekend’s West Cork Rally has brought back some amazing memories for me. Ten years ago I was fortunate enough to get across there to compete in Ireland for the first time. It was out of this world.

I’d been working with an Irish co-driver called Stephen Quin who had been competing over here in the US – he helped me and my co-driver Billy Irvin come up with a deal to drive a Ford Ka in West Cork. To be honest, I had no idea what a Ford Ka was – we don’t get them in America, but I didn’t care. I’d never done a Tarmac rally and I’d never driven right-hand drive. It was going to be a baptism of fire, but what a place to be baptised!

Growing up in the US, I’d always been told Ireland was where the heart of the rallying was (I’m sorry if that offends our friends in Finland – I’m hoping to make that pilgrimage soon!).

Irish rallying is pretty big here in Michigan and back in 2014 there was an unbelievable number of World Rally Cars competing in the championships there. The number of Subarus and Fords and so on was just amazing – all of that in a country that’s the size of Lower Michigan. I had to check that out!


BK's Ka generated plenty of interest in Clonakilty ten years ago

Stephen was co-driving Michael O’Brien in a Ford Focus RS WRC on the event. I got the chance to go and watch their test and I jumped at it. Craig Breen actually showed up and helped Michael with the car set-up. It was back in the time when he was part of the Peugeot Academy, so he showed up in all his Peugeot gear. It was so cool to meet him, he was a lot of fun.

As you probably know, the rally itself was based out of Clonakilty, right on the Atlantic coast. I’d grown up on shores of Lake Huron, Michigan, it was a place that really resonated with me. I was surprised, I’d expected quite a small fishing town, but when I got there it was pretty big and the amount of rally history there just blew me away. I loved it.

The sport is so ingrained in the culture there, and the whole layout of the rally is really cool. There are stages which just hug the coastline and then go inland through some of the most inspiring and awesome countryside. The scenery was insane, this place was fantastic. Billy and I went exploring and every time I saw an old building I’d want to pull over and take a picture. It felt like there were castles everywhere and for an American coming from a country with such a young history, everything felt hundreds of years old. I think some of the locals thought we were a bit strange taking photographs of everything. And yes, I did kiss the Blarney Stone.


Many of the West Cork's stages hug the dramatic Atlantic coastline

Driving the rally car from the right-hand seat felt odd. It was so foreign to me, it felt like I was using someone else’s toothbrush. I kept grabbing the wrong gears, but I got the hang of it eventually.

Tarmac rallying was a great experience, and to see the number of people out there, the bars that were right there on the road, it was just cool. Like you can imagine, there were a few differences, like 30-second gaps – and not being allowed to run GoPros on the outside of the car. We were about to start the first stage, 10 seconds to go and the marshal knocked on the window and handed me the cameras: “You can’t have these on here…”

It was very eye-opening and such a great experience. We managed to finish the rally in our little Ka, and even brought it home second in class. That’s something we were really proud of.


Win or lose, there's always a great after party in Clonakilty 

The after party? What do you think… it was amazing as well – what else would you expect from a rally on St Patrick’s Day weekend?

The only downside? I have to say, black pudding. It seems this blood sausage is a speciality. It was going OK the first time we tried it, until somebody told us what we were eating – my co-driver spat it out! I kept on with it, but I’m not sure I enjoyed it.

But what a place and what a rally. Would I go back there? In a heartbeat.