In 1902 Selwyn F Edge won the Gordon Bennett Trophy (named after James Gordon Bennett Jr.) in a race between Paris and Innsbruck in Austria. It was a great victory for British motor racing and the first time that the French had been beaten. The victory also meant that the 1903 Gordon Bennett Trophy would be held in Britain. The disastrous Paris-Madrid race the following summer led the British government to ban all road racing in Britain and so the Gordon Bennett Trophy had to be transferred at short notice to Ireland in a small town to the south-west of Dublin.
The tradition started at Athy was to continue in both Northern and Southern Ireland and on the Isle of Man in the middle of the Irish Sea. It was on the Isle of Man that the first Tourist Trophy race was held in 1905. It remained on the Isle of Man until after World War I but then switched to the Ards circuit in Ulster where it remained until 1936 when eight spectators were killed in an accident. By then the Donington Park circuit, built on private land, had been opened and so the Tourist Trophy moved to the mainland.
It would return to Ireland in 1950 to a road course at Dundrod where victory went to a young driver in a Jaguar. His name was Stirling Moss. He would win the TT again in 1951 and 1955 and in the late 1950s - when the race transferred to Goodwood - he added another four victories.
The 1955 race at Dundrod was the last as a bad accident at the Deer's Leap Corner claimed several more lives.
While the British were forced to build permanent circuits, Ireland continued to rely on street track and road courses and so it was to suffer more when legislation was tightened up across the world following the dreadful accident at Le Mans in 1955.
The post-war years had seen a boom in racing with a wide variety of events being held at places like The Curragh, Skerries, Tallaght, Wicklow and Dunboyne, while in the north Long Kesh, Cluntoe, Donaghadee, Bangor, Bishopscourt and Ballyclare all hosted races.
But the most famous of the temporary tracks was in Dublin itself, in Phoenix Park. This has hosted races from the 1920s onwards and was the home of the Irish Grand Prix, which was run under a varied set of regulations and attracted stars of the caliber of Ruedi Caracciola and Sir Henry Birkin. Revived after World War II it continues to hold events each year, although safety has meant that the bigger cars have not been able to race there.
In Ulster the old airfield of Kirkiston became a permanent racing circuit in 1953 and is still used by the local racers, while Southern Ireland's only permanent facility at Mondello Park near Naas in County Kildare has been operating since 1968. The narrow 1.24-mile track was never a great financial success but after it was purchased by businessman Martin Birrane it has received considerable investment.
With so few circuits to use, most of Ireland's talented racers, north and south of the border, have headed off to Britain to make further progress. These have included John Watson, Derek Daly, Kenny Acheson, Tommy Byrne, Martin Donnelly, Eddie Irvine and others, notably Eddie Jordan, who gave up his own racing career to start a racing team and in the late 1990s had built it up into a successful Grand Prix operation.
The Jordan team's success led to suggestions that Ireland might build its own F1 track but to date that has been only talk.