The ‘Clare Stages’ motor rally will take place on Sunday 24 September “and will transverse some of the most scenic parts of the Burren Landscape in North Clare” state the organisers (Clare Motor Club). It comprises three routes, repeated three times, totalling 110km.
This will involve the closure of a significant number of roads, including some in the Kilfenora area. Click the links below to see the routes.
• Route 1: Boston to Carran including the popular scenic viewing point above Glencolumbcille
• Route 2 winds around the back of Caherconnell, past Poulawack cairn to Noughaval; swings north towards Cahermacnaghten fort; then veers south to end on the Kilfenora-Lisdoonvarna road
• Route 3: Kennedy’s Cross to Ballynacarragh, then south to Willbrook and ends in Corofin.
Road closures and restrictions also include several roads adjacent to the rally routes. Residents affected either need to vacate or will be unable to move that day between 8.20am and 5.45pm.
Information on the rally has only come to light recently, as there has been no communication programme with community organisations or tourism businesses in the area, including the official visitor information point at the Burren Visitor Centre. An obscure and hard-to-interpret proposal notice can be found on the Clare County Council website here, posted in late August (and where the route maps were included after the closing date for objections).
Motorsport fans will no doubt be delighted at the rally’s return after four year’s absence, post-Covid.
However they will be few in number as for safety and access reasons this is not a spectator event. Those able to see the rally will primarily be residents on the rally routes confined to their homes. Some local residents have stated that they objected strongly to the rally when initially approached by the rally organisers, as – apart from the personal disruption caused – they regarded the use of these type of roads as completely inappropriate. Unsurprisingly there is some shock to hear the event has been given permission to go ahead, among those residents actually aware of this.
Also up in arms are the minority of tour guides who have actually heard about the rally. These include guides with long-established businesses leading walking and cycling tours, given that the routes and access roads use parts of designated Burren cycling and walking trails. The financial losses they will occur runs into €1000s. Other tour guides, self-guided tourists and visitors passing through will not get advance notice, and may be in for a rude shock on the day.
There is of course currently widespread protest about road safety and lack of traffic management in the North Clare area. As Corofin councillor Joe Killeen said this week on Clare FM, there is pent-up frustration among community groups that their concerns about safety issues have not been respected over recent years. Adding fuel to the fire is the failure to manage the side-effects of heavily promoting the Cliffs of Moher. On top of the congestion on coast roads there is an explosive increase in traffic on the Burren interior routes that the rally will use, as tourist cars and buses get guided down single-track roads by Google maps because they are still rated at 80kph; “this rally is adding insult to injury”, one resident commented. In the wake of the tragic killing of Jerry O’Connor in Ballyvaughan, rising anger is also leading to direct action such as re-painting speed signs.
These points of concern, and more, were aired at the recent inaugural meeting of the Transport and Road Safety working party set up by the North Clare Communities Group, formed to enable collective action by 20 village community groups. One of the topics mentioned was the degradation of local roads due to the upsurge in traffic, putting greater pressure on overstretched maintenance resources; a high-speed motor rally may not help. The meeting was not actually aware of Council officials’ approval of the rally – that was discovered later.
Note also the current pressures by the National Government on local authorities to adopt responsible environmental policies. This includes reduced vehicle emissions, supporting more walking and cycling, and reducing the need for car-based tourism by greater provision of non-fossil fuel public transport.
Clearly this should lead to a lively debate with Councillors about priorities. It is perhaps ironic that the motor rally has been approved to take place along Burren walking and cycling routes on National Walking Day.