Tuesday 17 July 2018

Obituary: Brian Foley

Irish motoring and motorsport's great recorder

ESTEEMED: Brian Foley
ESTEEMED: Brian Foley

Martin McCarthy

Brian Foley, who died earlier this month, aged 82, was a wonderful motoring and motor sport chronicler in Ireland over the last 60 years. His magazine Auto Ireland recorded all the great motorsport dramas of the last half-century - from the incredible ascent of Derek Daly from Formula Ford to F1 in 13 months in 1978, to Billy Coleman's memorable third place in the 1979 European Rally Championship, as well as all new road car launches, from the 1968 Jaguar XJ6 to the 2015 Ford Focus.

He was an avid Grand Prix fan who interviewed many of the greats, including Enzo Ferrari, at a meeting arranged by Joe Gantly of Fiat in Maranello in 1978.

Brian Foley was born on October 30, 1932 into a business family who ran a general store and pharmacy on Tullow Street in Carlow. He had two brothers, Joe and the late Jack. Brian went to Terenure College as a boarder.

Brian worked in the shop in Carlow initially, but in his spare time he competed in test trails in MG Midgets, the NSU Prinz 4 and other cars. He even built his own Test Special with Liam Maddox.

Brian's fine photographs of the young hot shoes of his day in action at the Dunboyne race (1958-1967) are a testimony to his skill with the camera and were recently reissued in a book by Eddie Fitzgerald.

Robins Rennicks, Frank Keane, Michael Smurfit, John Watson, Rosemary Smith and others were part of a trailblazing troupe whose racing exploits Brian brought to the Irish public.

He became 'Eire correspondent' for Autosport in the early 1960s and contributed until recent years.

Rallying in the mid-1960s was capturing the public imagination, with Rosemary Smith's wins in the Tulip Rally and Paddy Hopkirk's Monte Carlo Rally victory bringing the sport into every home in Ireland via the newspapers and RTE.

In 1968, Stuart Cosgrave and others opened Mondello Park and the Formula 2 successes of Ken Fildes, Brian Cullen and John Watson helped Brian get his monthly magazine Auto Ireland launched in 1968

Auto Ireland covered all branches of motorsport - rallying, racing, karting, mudplugs, sporting trails and bikes. It also covered new cars and was the authoritative guide on which new car to buy and the new developments among the manufacturers and distributors.

In 1969, Brian married near neighbour Mary Schwer and together they built Auto Ireland into Ireland's most successful car magazine - it is still being published very successfully today within the Harmonia stable of Norah Casey, with the wholehearted support of Chris Hanlon of First Citizen Finance and others.

Brian and Mary attended all the major new model launches and were respected ambassadors for Ireland in the boardrooms of the major car companies. He met Henry Ford II and visited Japan to see the Toyota system in operation.

Brian chronicled the progress of the racing Irish in the UK - then as now, the heart of worldwide motorsport. The stellar cluster of Derek Daly, supported by Derek McMahon, David Kennedy, supported by John Hynes, Michael Roe and Eddie Jordan made the mid-1970 and 1980s a great era for Brian's weekly Irish Independent newspaper column and Auto Ireland.

Brian took his work seriously and he had huge influence, which he used well. The late John Crossle recounted in Plum Tyndall's magnificent book Hidden Glory how an article in the US magazine Road & Track in 1975 prompted a US race school owner to come to see the Holywood factory and take on the US agency, making the Crossle the biggest-selling Formula Ford car in the world.

Brian and Mary adored their daughter Sinead and in recent years he loved to recount to the motoring press the progress of their grandson Ronan in canoeing. He missed Mary greatly when she died in 2012, but persevered until a brain tumour led him to Naas Hospital, where he died on August 10.

The incredible turnout at his funeral of luminaries from the motor industry, every discipline of motorsports, photographers, the media and friends from North and South was a testimony to the esteem in which Brian Foley was held. The journalist Brian Byrne's eloquent eulogy noted the dozens of industry leaders who attended or sent condolences to the family.

Brian Foley was a founder member of The Irish Motoring Writers Association in 1975 and was active in the association until his health started to fail earlier this year.

Sunday Independent

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