This week our motoring columnist Brian McDaid discusses how Rory Kennedy sat with rally legend Paddy Hopkirk in the Deja Vu Ulster Rally.
When it comes to navigating and finding the road ahead they are few more professional in this county than Rory Kennedy. On Monday, he came to a complete roadblock. He had no problem telling me what he would be doing this weekend as himself and Gary Jennings head to the North of France to complete in their fully repaired and ready to ‘Go’ Subaru.
Try as he might, Rory could not find a path that would take him to where he could tell me what it was like to sit on with Paddy Hopkirk in the Deja Vu Ulster Rally last weekend.
A portrait of the late Jim Kennedy sits on the wall of the newly refurbished reception office at Donegal Oil Company in Letterkenny. That’s where Rory works now as a part of an energy efficiency team.
On Monday evening, I sat in the exact same place in the waiting area to meet with Rory as I sat to meet his father Jim many years ago. If it didn’t say on his picture that Jim Kennedy died in 2001, I wouldn’t believe he’s gone so long.
I could hear Rory’s voice in the front office trying to wind up the meeting that was running late. His voice had the same hoarseness to that of his late father Jim had from a distance before he appeared in reception to wave me into his office for our meeting.
Something like meeting Bobby Charlton in soccer terms came to mind as Rory tried to put into words what it was like to be asked to co-drive for someone like Paddy Hopkirk in rallying. All this admiration from one of the most successful co-drivers in Irish rallying
If there ever was a picture that said a thousand words, it was that of three smiles on the Déjà vu Ulster Rally at the weekend. The face of that little red Mini that achieved so much as an icon, as a statement and as a rally car, which was equally matched by the smiles of Paddy Hopkirk and Rory Kennedy sitting in looking out enjoying the pure craic.
Paddy Hopkirk landed in his native Belfast this weekend and had a wonderful time at the Titanic Déjà Vu Tours Rally, retracing old rally stages from both the Ulster and the Circuit of Ireland Rally, with Rory on the notes.
He was delighted to meet up and pose for photos with the late Graham McConnell’s family – his wife Patricia & daughter Gina, alongside Paddy’s 33EJB replica which was used on Saturday that was built by the late Graham Mc Connell before he passed away.
Even with 40 years of navigating in the passenger’s seat, Rory has never seen Paddy Hopkirk competing. Paddy’s rallying career was in full swing even before Rory was born, and that ’s not today or yesterday. Between 1958 and 1967, Paddy won the circuit of Ireland rally five times, three of which were in a Mini Cooper.
Back to school.
On Friday evening, Rory headed to Belfast a bit apprehensive about meeting and sitting on with Hopkirk.
So he was lucky to have Jim Callaghan on board with him for the journey up, who was also navigating in a Sunbeam with Harold Thompson.
Jim Callaghan has a wealth of knowledge on the rallying scene and the great achievements of Paddy Hopkirk. Callaghan also happened to be the first teacher that gave classes in navigating and co-driving, where a budding Rory Kennedy was a student in the old Ballyraine Hotel in the 70’s.
Rory’s worries about not getting on with Paddy were dissolved as soon as they met. Both are rally mad and it didn’t matter which era they came were from they could have chatted with each other until the cows came home about rallying.
Paddy even at 85 years young was all into the technology available to navigation today, as Rory showed Paddy an app on his phone that could replace the old Halda trip masters.
Rory and Paddy headed off from Belfast up the North Coast as other motorist took time to look and wave at the replica of the little Red Mini Cooper that made Paddy Hopkirk a household name in January of 1964 starting as car number 37, he went on to become the outright winner of the Monte Carlo Rally.
The Mini and Hopkirk were a winning team and even to this day, some 54 years on Paddy is still a brand ambassador for BMW, who now own Mini. Paddy still drives a Mini to this day and is supplied with two Mini’s, one of which is all electric.
Another Donegal connection
This will be the first official time that both Rory and Paddy have teamed up to do a rally together, but both of them were part of different teams in 2006 and never met!
When a fundraiser for the Donegal Hospice was organized, Rory Kennedy was one of the two local celebrity rally navigators who was asked to lend their support for the “Mini to Monte Carlo”.
Rory and Seamus McGettigan navigated at the start and the finish of the drive from Letterkenny to Monto Carlo.
My brother Nelius and I drove the car down through Scotland and England and could not believe our luck when Paddy Hopkirk invited us to his home in Oxford to meet us with our little Red and white Mini. This was a great boost for our fundraising drive as we headed on down through France and ended up at the Mediterranean at Monte Carlo.
That red Mini, which Tony Kelly lent us 12 years ago, lifted a total of €46,000 for the Donegal Hospice and this would not have been possible was it not for people that believed in us.
Memories are powerful things and for once Rory couldn’t find the words to describe something in rallying that he has spent his life doing so well. Sitting on with heroes like Desh McDaid, James Cullen, Vincent Bonnar and Bertie Fisher to name but only a few.
A run in a Mini Cooper complete with it wooden steering wheel and sliding glass windows along with that posh Belfast accent of Paddy Hopkirk, Kennedy was experiencing a heaven few of us could enjoy on earth.
Happy Motoring Folks