Centenary Celebrations at Loughgall – Saturday 14th May 2022

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We were very pleased to receive an invitation from the officers of the Ulster Pre-War Austin Club to join in with them in their celebration of the centenary of the manufacture of the ubiquitous Austin Seven which came about in 1922.  We circulated our membership beforehand.  Whilst a good many owners for one reason or another were unable to attend, nonetheless there was a very respectable number of our members more than willing to turn up, some just day trippers but for the most part the majority made a week end of it. 

We were guided to stay at Armagh City Hotel and Geoffrey Livingstone kindly made the provisional booking arrangements, fixing good deals for us too.  The hotel was splendid in all respects.  Out of interest, one of four of the consortium set it up in the first instance was none other than the late Bertie Fisher, a Northern Ireland rally driver and businessman, a four time winner of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championships from 1992.  Their family hails from Co. Leitrim.

General assembly time was 10:00 am where the array of pre-war arrived in solid numbers reaching the point where the vast majority were in place at Loughgall Country Park.  For your general information, Loughgall Country Park is a rural haven of relaxation and recreation.  A diverse spectrum of activities ranging from golf to walking, fishing to tennis make this spacious complex a mecca for families, sports enthusiasts and those merely in search of a helping of tranquillity. The emphasis, indeed, is very much on family pursuits.

Walking, cycling, a children’s play area, golf, fishing, an adventure trail, trim trail, football pitch and tennis courts are just some of the amenities on offer.  There’s something for everyone, from the zealous sports lover to the casual visitor who relishes the outdoor life. The extensive facilities offer considerable scope for pursuing a healthy lifestyle while at the same time providing an invaluable recreational outlet for children, even those of a very young age. Picnicking, jogging, exercising and just lazing are the optional extras, and these are free of charge!

The Austin Sevens formed a crescent shape at the centre line of the football pitch whereas the larger and more prestigious Austin 12s lined up in formation style, with two additional rows of Austins and others.  The array was splendid.  A very happy atmosphere soon developed with a circulation of owner drivers mixing freely with one another, catching up with old acquaintances and meeting new fellow enthusiasts.  For many of us, newish to the Seven family, this was our experience.  And how good it was to receive the warm welcome from fellow seveners and celebrate the historic occasion.

We had the pleasure of meeting all sorts of interesting characters. Valerie Millington has been driving her Austin Seven AZ-1677 from the age that she was allowed to vote, has carried out her own repairs & maintenance and has travelled all over Ireland in special endurance trials, such as Ireland North-South and East-West.  She even headed for New Zealand in 1996 with her canary coloured steed for10 days.  The group of six Irish cars, toured both islands together with a mass of 1,500 old car nuts from across the globe, all based in Christchurch.  We are delighted to accept Valerie as a member of our Club. 

David McCullagh, Chairman made us feel especially welcome on the occasion of our visit up North and introduced us to Wesley Lamont Secretary and Geoffrey Livingstone, committee member.  Our chairman Declan Grogan did all the introductions and in short time we were relaxed and chatting in the very fine sunshine and wonderful park, so suitable for the occasion.

The good folks of St. Luke’s Parish Church, Loughgall were to hand feeding the hungry masses at lunchtime.  Delicious bun burgers, adorned with chopped onions and cheese were on offer together with an assortment of liquid refreshments.  The team consisted of Doreen, Rhys, Philip and Mary to whom we extend our grateful thanks for their culinary expertise in meeting our unmet lunchtime needs. 

David Hassard related the story when in the early hours of the morning, exceeding the urban speed limit in Buttevant, Co. Cork, he had to reverse back along to meet with An Garda.  “You must be in a hurry” he proclaimed as he requested sight of his driving licence.  On inspection, and seeing his address was Enniskillen, he enquired whether he knew of Garda William Hassard whom it transpired was a colleague serving on border duty at a time way back yonder.  Of course, David knew exactly who he was; he also knew his wife Evelyn who ran a bed & breakfast house in the town.  A smile reached An Garda’s face for it was there he had lodgings while he served his border duty time.  He then sternly said to David, “do not let me hold you up, I am sure you are in a hurry”.  Common sense did prevail !

Liam O’Connell from Mallow brought with him an Austin Ruby where the first and only name on the brown tax book is a resident of Loughgall.  We had the pleasure of meeting with a senior citizen who related the story that the car owner, a very proud man and sole car owner on the street, did tend to look down his nose at fellow neighbours.  Perhaps a half truth; just wondering what they thought of him !

Your scribe had the good fortune to meet with John Donnelly of Donaghmoree Magnetos & Engineering who was ably assisted by his wife and young children.  His firm is a small engineering business concentrating on engine and precision machining and are specialists in vintage magnetos and dynamo restorations and parts manufacture.  When presented with a BLIC magneto, for some unknown reason that had ceased to spark, John quickly pointed out, on opening the distributor cap, there are two carbon brushes, not one .  These old caps and rotors are by now after 100 years showing their age.  John has commissioned the creation of a mould and is working on the injection moulding process for the reproduction of these essential items that make a early engine sing.  He has a customer for the first one.

Paul Armstrong was also to hand with his stand of an assortment of new and used Austin 7 spares. To those of us not in the know, it is very reassuring that parts for our now century old cars are readily available.  His firm is based near the world famous Ards TT Race circuit in Co. Down and was set up by enthusiasts to supply whatever is required to keep the Sevens going in tip top form.  The website is continuously updated with all sorts of information and is worthy of a look www.austin7ulster.com

We had the pleasure of meeting with Ella McLoughlin Honorary Secretary Ulster Pre War Austin Club.  Ella was in full regalia, sporting all the traditional cloths and bonnet which a lady would adorn herself in during the roaring twenties.  Well done madam. 

On signing in to the country park we were all presented with a souvenir program, highlighting the centenary of the Austin 7 and Austin 12 together with a bottle of John McAlaister’s apple juice, no doubt a product of the apple groves that abound County Armagh.  Everywhere we looked there were apple trees, carefully pruned in anticipation of the ripening and picking season, in full pink apple blossom.

Our chairman presented all Irish Austin Seven Club members with a printed version of the club’s insignia which he placed on our cars.  All comers could see for themselves the presence of our club, a one marque club catering especially for our beloved Seven.  Out of interest we are two years on the go and have accumulated 50 members so far, who hail from the four corners of the Island of Ireland.  We plan to hold an event each month of the touring season and will be open to suggestions for our calendar.  2022 is shaping up well and we hope to be out and about all over the country enjoying our selves and the experience of our ubiquitous cars.

It was open season for members of the public to visit and inspect the fine array of almost 130 beautifully presented cars of a bygone age.  Many a person paid compliments to the exhibitors remarking how wonderful it is that such a large bunch of enthusiasts keep the spirit of yesteryear alive.  The three hour window soon reached its closing point whereby on a gradual basis the cars departed leaving plenty of stragglers biding adieu, feeling really well, in the comfort that the event was worthwhile and a credit to the organisers.  Thank you all so much for bringing this about which we in the old car community really appreciate.

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A one marque organisation, catering for the Austin Seven, is what makes The Irish Austin Seven Club unique. Prospective owners are always welcome to make contact with our membership who will be pleased to present and demonstrate the Seven’s special characteristics and driving experience.

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