Thirteen cars assembled in Wexford near the port of Rosslare on a cloudy Sunday afternoon, three from either Northern Ireland or Dublin airport and cars arriving via the Fishguard or Pembroke ferries. Most had taken two days to reach the Welsh coast in kind weather, a test in itself for the cars. Those arriving via air were picking up cars already in Ireland. David Cook had recently participated in the Shamrock rally as had Nick Ward from Northern Ireland. Ian Polson picked up Andrew Boland’s 110 DHC which was on loan for the rally. What a lucky man.
Someone on the tour said “it is not about the cars”. That is absolutely true as the success of a club tour requires detailed advance planning, a great deal of luck and weather to suit. However, without a fantastic mix of participants, the success of a tour can miss its mark. In this case, we began our five nights in the Talbot Hotel, Wexford, assembling in the Ballast Bar for pre-dinner drinks. All present, no-one in vehicular difficulty and no-one late. As the organiser, this is the moment when you judge that, notwithstanding all the fretting, it’s going to be alright. The first pint of Guinness amongst kindred spirits seals the bargain.
Below are the accounts day by day of the challenges and discoveries.
Monday 3rd June: Margaret and Spike Pike
This was our first trip with the Talbot Owners Club. Newly made acquaintances, whom we had met the night before over drinks and dinner at the aptly named Talbot Hotel, fuelled us with a positive feeling towards the day ahead. The proposed route on the second day was 130 miles from Wexford to the Trident Hotel at Kinsale Harbour with a mid-way stop at Dungarvan. We set off at the suggested time of 9 a.m. following brief directions from locals in the car park to find the N25 heading west.
New Ross and Waterford were passed in good time before we thought about finding somewhere to stop for coffee, so we headed south towards Stradbally where we caught a glimpse of the Woodhouse Estate to be visited later in the week.
Then onwards via the R675 to the south of Dungarvan town, thereby missing six of the seven roundabouts to be encountered on the N25 and reducing the number of gear-changes on our 1927 Darracq DTS.
We spotted seven parked Talbots by the sea in Dungarvan, the lunch stop. We saw no colleagues during the long and uneventful journey until we arrived at the Trident Hotel.
That evening we heard a few interesting accounts from fellow travellers. Stephen Lee had been amused by his confusion when he spotted what he thought was a brightly coloured ice-cream van that turned out to be a Garda speed-control vehicle. Richard and Shirley Newby on their visit to the star shaped Charles Fort, Kinsale, encountered the very steep narrow hill back to Kinsale and, on encountering downhill traffic, had to reverse most of the way back down with some concern for their brakes. After Reno and Linda Gatto had visited Charles Fort they took the strategy of driving up the same very steep hill in second gear with warning lights flashing with absolutely no intention of stopping and the downhill traffic just got out of the way.
Our stay at the Trident was very comfortable with a view over the harbour and the Darracq parked in view at the sea-wall, part of the remains of a Royal Naval dockyard.
Tuesday 4th June, day at leisure: Vivien and Malcolm Fishwick
After two long driving days in our faithful 75 saloon, the first to Pembroke and yesterday the drive from the Talbot Hotel in Wexford to the lovely Trident Hotel overlooking the Kinsale Harbour (not necessarily sticking to the given route), we decided to spend the day locally and join the Heritage Town Walk with guide, Dermot Ryan, in Kinsale. We met our guide at 10.30 along with Hugh and Eve Gregg, Nick and Susan Ward, Reno and Linda Gatto. While gently strolling round and through the oldest area of Kinsale, Dermot regaled us with a potted history of the town at the start of the Wild Atlantic Way. It has been a centre of population, trade and fishing for centuries; earliest records show a small walled town as early as the 12th Century in Anglo-Norman times and it received its Royal Charter from Edward III in 1334.
The Battle of Kinsale in 1601 is the most famous event in its history - 3,000 Spanish fought with the Irish under O’Donnell and O’Neill to challenge the power of the English (hence business names like The Spaniard, The 1601). It was after this that the two forts, Charles and James, were built to guard the harbour entrance. St Multose Church, 1190, is one of the oldest Protestant churches in Ireland with the extra bell tower built onto the original keep. The Court House, known as The Market House, housing the Regional Museum with its Dutch style upper floor, was used for collecting taxes. We saw the Convent and the splendid Catholic Church, old signs of the fishing industry where women used to clean and prepare fish, and heard the story of the earthquake in Spain which caused a tsunami surging the sea level toward the Market House up Short Quay. We were taken through the centre discovering beautiful highly coloured and decorative painted houses and shops, all part of the Irish Tidy Towns initiative.
After our walk, it was coffee and cake for six, before driving towards the Old Head peninsula to the Lusitania Memorial Garden and Signal Tower, only to bump into Stephen and Marilyn Lee who were just leaving. The Tower is one of 81 built along the coast in 1804 between Dublin and Malin Head and is dedicated to the history of the Lusitania, torpedoed on May 7th 1915 and sunk in 18 minutes. The centrepiece of the memorial garden is a 20m long bronze ribbon-like sculpture in the form of a curved wave. The names of every one of the 1,962 Crew and passengers are inscribed on it, followed by either a lifebelt for those who survived or a wave with a cross on it for those who died. The flags of 35 nations flutter nearby, representing the nationality of those who perished. In February 2016 a stanchion from the Lusitania got caught in a fishing net and it is now placed pointing due South to where she lies in 90m of water about 20km due south of the Old Head, the nearest point of land. We found the whole memorial very moving and beautifully done.
After a cup that cheers in the little tea room, we returned to the Trident to find Ian Polson and others sorting out the gearbox problem on Reno’s car, which was thankfully resolved. (Writer’s note: one sentence does not do justice to the five hours it took to ‘resolve’). Many others went on to Clonakilty, a very pretty town with some lovely artisan shops, Ireland’s first ‘autistic friendly’ town. Some went on further to Skibbereen along the Atlantic Way.
The day ended with all of us walking into town to the High Tide restaurant for our evening meal. We had exclusive use of the family-run restaurant. Good food and drink in the company of fellow Talboteers - what more could you wish for!
Wednesday 5th June: Susanne and David Cook
We awoke to sunny skies and after a splendid breakfast in the Trident hotel we set off on our journey to Waterford. We had promised ourselves that we would avoid the main roads where possible, and we were in for a treat with really quiet roads and stunning scenery.
Just a few miles into our journey, we took the ferry to Cobh and, although we had to pick up the N25 briefly, we then turned off at Castlemartyr and enjoyed a lovely run to Youghal where we stopped for coffee. As we saw no other Talbots, we moved on to Ardmore where, surprise surprise, several other Talbots were to be found. Joining some of our fellow travellers in a café, we discussed the merits of walking up to St Declan's monument on the outskirts of the town. This proved to be a good move as the steep climb up to the monument afforded us spectacular views.
We had to be slightly conscious of the time as we were to meet at the Woodhouse Estate at 3pm, but we couldn't resist heading off-piste before approaching Dungarvan where we enjoyed several kilometres of deserted single-track roads.
North of Dungarvan we turned onto the A675 and had some 'delightfully Irish' instructions to follow! We were instructed to drive for about 10 kilometres then turn right. So far so good, then to drive for 5 to 6 minutes till we came across a gate on the left, which we had to ignore. There would be a 2nd gate further along... we should ignore this as well, but take the next gate after a bridge. Happily, we all managed to find the correct gate and what a treat was in store for us.
The history of the Woodhouse Estate was covered in the last edition of the TOC Magazine and the initial purpose of the visit was to see the restored 1929 Talbot which had started its eventful life here. However, I'm sure that even the most enthusiastic Talbot owner would agree that there was so much more to our visit than the car! We were greeted with tea and cakes, many of us commenting that the fruit cake was the best we had ever tasted. The owner of the estate, Jim Thompson, invited us upstairs into a beautifully restored lecture/conference room where he explained some of the history of the estate and his mission to breathe life back into it. The buildings are amazing and the quality of workmanship quite incredible. As we were leaving, Jim casually asked if we would like to see the walled garden, which of course we were keen to do. This was a remarkable sight, especially as seven years ago it was a wilderness. I can't begin to name all manner of flowers and foliage, but it was quite stunning and led on to an orchard. We walked back by the river and Jim spoke to us about the work that had gone on and how peaceful it was by the river on a summer’s evening. I know that we all appreciated his time and hospitality and were amazed what could be achieved in a few years with the right vision, rigour and deep pockets.
On leaving the estate we took the coast road to Tramore which was a driver’s delight! Dramatic roads, sometimes along the cliffs where visions of smugglers in days gone by were easy to imagine. Heading North from Tramore to Waterford, we had another ferry trip to our overnight stop, The Waterford Castle Hotel.
Here we were staying in Luxury Lodges, but we did not have too much time to admire our surroundings as it was an early start to the evening. Reno had suggested that we should wear attire that was in keeping with the age of our cars—which certainly did lend itself to the old-world ambience of the castle. Very Downton Abbey! Armed with our drinks, we settled down to one of Martin Bryant's illuminating talks, this time on the activities of the Talbot dynasty in Ireland, in particular John Talbot. Martin has that ability to impart historical facts in a way that is not just informative, but so interesting and understandable. Afterwards, and not for the first time, I overheard David say " If only I had had someone like Martin for my history teacher I might..."
Another suggestion that Reno made is that we might like to compose a limerick, to be read out tonight and this proved to be a great source of entertainment and leg pulling. The evening meal was excellent, as were all the meals on this trip. We headed back to our lodges reminiscing over what had been a brilliant day.
Thursday 6th June: Martin and Hilary Bryant: A day of three towers.
Thursday dawned differently. The wind had changed and the sky hosted an unexpected visitor - the sun. ‘An aero screen day ahead’, I said to myself. The Castle did not disappoint with its sumptuous breakfast and we were soon on the island ferry to the mainland. First port of call was the Waterford glass shop - a veritable palace of crystal, showing off the full range of their exquisite products.
Tower number one was the unlikely named “Reginald’s Tower” - a sturdy Norman construction standing in the site of Vadrafjord’s wooden Viking tower. It claims to be the oldest complete building in Ireland and I can believe it. Whilst the curator and I were swapping tales of medieval “derring-do”, the Cooks flashed by. Soon we were enjoying an organic coffee together on the harbour front. It was then hot-foot to Passage East and a romantic ferry ride across the fast-flowing River Suir.
Tower number two was something of a Talbot magnet. Most of the party had congregated at the picturesque ruin of Tintern Abbey - a 13th century branch office of its more famous Welsh parent. A post-Reformation “repurposing” had turned it into an imposing fortified tower house, dominating the tranquil valley. For the Talboteers the cafe, with a sun trap garden, was a welcome pit-stop. Those who ventured into the large walled garden were overawed by the spectacle of the place and the dedication of the volunteer gardeners bringing it back to life. All in all, a most fortuitous discovery.
Whilst most sensible people took the direct route to Wexford and an early Guinness, we turned the trusty Talbot south and headed down the implausibly narrow Hook Peninsula - seemingly directly into the Irish Sea. The views of water, with mountains in the distance, were quintessential Ireland. On the headland stood our third tower - the Hook lighthouse. Based on a fire platform used by monks since the 5th century, the current tower was built in 1207. As its constructor was my medieval hero, William Marshall, this was more like a pilgrimage. That it remains intact and in daily usage is nothing short of miraculous. We marvelled at the strength of its construction and the ingenious spiral staircase running inside the walls. The light keeper’s observation deck seemed to float above the Atlantic, although we wondered if the nickname ‘Head of a 1000 wrecks’ was really the best way to promote a lighthouse!
The drive back to Wexford was one of the best - warm air, sun behind, empty roads and a purring Talbot. Not much wrong with life that day. The Talbot Hotel soon hove into view. Excited Talboteers swapped tales in the bar and the hubbub continued over dinner. Reno and Linda were duly thanked for their tremendous organisation and presented with a pair of Waterford Crystal highball glasses on behalf of all the grateful participants. All agreed it had been a splendid tour and that Ireland did indeed cast magic spells.
That concludes the individual recollections, but before finishing, a couple of closing items. Firstly, we cannot leave the story without referring to the research done by Martin Bryant on the inaugural Irish Automobile Club race event on Rosslare Strand in 1913 where a 25hp Talbot single seater, IC 104, swept all before it with a staggering average speed of 104mph on sand. Please go to the club website and look at the rear section of the Tour Roadbook for many photos.
Finally, no modern tour should be conducted without WhatsApp.
(See more photos on p32.)