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Monday 22 July 2019

'Everything stopped as the news came through. It was awful' - Manus Kelly death

Manus Kelly with co-driver Donall Barrett
Manus Kelly with co-driver Donall Barrett
Laura Lynott

Laura Lynott

About 152,000 spectators were soaking up a carnival atmosphere at the Donegal international rally when the crowd suddenly fell into silence with the news that a father - a driver - had perished.

Manus Kelly (41), a newly elected Fianna Fáil member of Donegal County Council, had won the event the previous three years.

Many in the crowd had come to see him race once more, hoping he'd again carry the flag for the county on the same day Donegal would go on to win the Ulster SFC Final.

Families and friends from across Donegal and Ireland, plus rally tourists from Germany and France, were all lining the track, watching the event that got under way on Friday and was due to last until Sunday.

Tributes: Manus ‘Mandy’ Kelly had been recently elected to Donegal County Council on his first foray into politics and was ‘widely respected’ by the rally community in Ireland. Photo: Philip FitzPatrick/Sportsfile
Tributes: Manus ‘Mandy’ Kelly had been recently elected to Donegal County Council on his first foray into politics and was ‘widely respected’ by the rally community in Ireland. Photo: Philip FitzPatrick/Sportsfile

Onlooker and photographer Jerome Keeney told the Irish Independent that Mr Kelly and a host of other competitors, including famous American rally driver Ken Block, were major draws.

"It's one of the biggest sporting events of the year but it seems to go under the radar in the national media, though it's a big deal in the rally media and across Europe," said Mr Keeney, who has been involved with the event since the 1970s.

"Everyone had been so excited about the rally. There's something in the blood up in Donegal. It's part of our culture. We've loved motorsport since it was invented and this is a real time to get together."

Camper vans full of European tourists were parked up in locations across the nearby area and hotel rooms were full.

For a county that so often struggles economically, the rally ensured the tills would be ringing across Donegal.

But the track fell silent as announcements were made over the tannoy. Mr Keeney estimated it was about 12.30pm when he and everyone else there realised Mr Kelly had died.

"I stood in a group when the news started to filter out over Twitter," Mr Keeney said.

"Within half an hour, everyone knew what had happened and who had died. There was no official announcement for hours, but everything stopped.

"It was awful. People started walking away from where they were standing at the different stages.

"There was a huge traffic jam on the way out. It was just so tragic.

"It affected everyone and even today, the atmosphere is so solemn. People aren't speaking. The area had been so busy only a day before.

"Manus had won the event three times, he loved rallying - it's just such a terrible loss to the community."

The car Mr Kelly had been driving with his co-driver, Donall Barrett, was a Hyundai i20 R5. It was the first rally he'd driven with this car, having previously won in a WRC Subaru Impreza.

The cage inside probably protected Mr Barrett, who was treated in Letterkenny General Hospital after and said to be "in shock".

The car was estimated to have cost about €132,000. Well-established businessman and new politician Mr Kelly and his team had invested greatly in this event.

No one could possibly have known the terrible outcome which would see the rally mark its second death in 10 years.

In 2010, navigator Thomas Maguire (26), from Co Meath, died after the car he was in crashed.

Irish Independent

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