Dick O’Brien was a founding member of Cork Motor Club.
All through his life, he suffered from an incurable, and highly contagious virus- Motorsport. He passed on the disease to thousands of others- myself included.
With his widow, Catherine, they were pillars of Cork MC and of the West Cork Rally for Donkeys Years.
We loved him and called him “Grandad”.
Catherine & Dick raised their four children-Matthew, Anne, Tom & Helen in their home of over 60 years- inappropriately called “The Shambles”.
Nothing that Dick turned his skilled hands to remotely resembled a shambles.
A war baby born in England, Dick was sent to a relative’s farm near Millstreet to escape the conflict. He returned to England to complete his compulsory National Service, where he learned some of his engineering skills. In the fifties, he travelled by bus to the famous Nurburgring to see the Grand Prix. He was a skilled sportsman, and achieved distinction on the rugby field. He was called to the Final Trial for international selection, but National Service prevented him from attending.
Who knows what might have been? Rugby’s loss was motorsports gain.
On his return to Ireland, Dick worked as an engineer in a number of farm machinery businesses, before setting up his own garage in Rockgrove.
He threw himself into the then Munster Motor Cycle and Car Club, where he was CoC for almost every type of motoring event .
He clerked the Twenty Hour many times, was the COC for the first CMC event in Watergrasshill in 1977, and was also the first COC of the 1000 Shakes Rally. He was my Deputy COC in West Cork from 1978 to 1990.When I set up camp on my infamous toilet seat in Shanahans Garage, Dick was my eyes and ears out on the stages, and was the equivalent of today’s Safety Officer.
If Dick wasn’t happy, the stage wasn’t run.
As presenter of How to start in Rallying classes, he was instrumental in many competitors (including one of Irelands most successful navigators, James O’Brien- no relation) becoming involved in motorsport.
A very quick driver, Dick will always be remembered for the Firbog – a self-built Ford Side valve Special. It was fitting that The Firbog (driven by its current owner Chris O’Mahony and navigated by Dick’s first grandson- David) accompanied Dick on his final journey to Rallying Parc Ferme.
Dick did everything in the Firbog- races, hills, sprints,test trials, autocrosses and even night rallies. He enjoyed (hugely or course) many scraps with his pal- Frank Nuttall RIP who had a similar creation. He once drove the infamous Black Van in the Cobh single stage- finishing in the Top 10, and embarrassing many others- myself included.
He was better known as a navigator, sitting in with top class drivers such as Brian Coomber, (whom Dick irreverently called Cucumber), Demi Fitzgerald, Billy Coleman, Paddy O and countless others.
In 1974, when still one of Ireland leading navigators, he very kindly sat with me (a wet behind the ears virgin in every sense of the word) on my first proper night rally in Kerry. He guided me impeccably, I learned a lot (but not enough!) from him and we enjoyed a number of events together since – the final event being again in Kerry last year- the Tralee Déjà Vu. There, he still reminded me of some of the novice mistakes I had made some 48 years previously!
Dick had a number of favourite expressions.
He found it “hugely enjoyable “to describe “that absolute Bolloc*s “as having “Thumb in bum and brain in neutral”. A difficult task was to Dick- “A piece of piss”.
My favourite however is another …………
In 1979, Dick sat with me in the Welsh International Rally- to complete his Grand Slam of what were then called the Home Internationals. He has previously done the Circuit, Scottish and RAC with Demi.
This was a proper rally. We checked in to the overnight halt in Aberystwyth after two nights on the road, had the three ”S’s” -(sh*t, shower and shave) and went out for the fourth S-spuds. Our restart time out of Parc Ferme was 05.30 the next morning. We returned to the hotel around 23.00 and as we passed the bar, the sound of Denis Cardell (RIP) and his Welsh pals singing came, most unfortunately to our attention.
I looked at Dick ….. Dick looked at me.
I said “We shouldn’t “.
Dick then said “There’s always another day in us, Bonesie! “.
Result: We overslept our 5 am call. When we eventually arrived in Parc Ferme an hour late, there was just one lonely car there… ours! Somehow, Dick cadged a time out of the marshals and we set off leggedly last.
I am sad that there isn’t another day in you down here Grandad. However, you will now have lots more days catching up with your departed family members and your old pals-Frank, Demi, Tom, Sammy, Sean, Denis, Reggie, Paddy O , Father Jim and lots, lots more.
You left this world a better place after your 90 years here.
To Catherine and your family, thank you for letting us enjoy Grandads company for so many years.