Remembering Rosemary Smith, An Irish MotorSport legend

Remembering Rosemary Smith, An Irish MotorSport legend
Alanna Cunnane
Alanna Cunnane

A legend of Irish motorsport passed away yesterday at the age of 86; join us in looking over the tributes and remembering Rosemary Smith.

The Dublin woman is one of those trailblazing figures that everyone seems to have a story about, and it’s no wonder given everything she achieved on racing circuits and rally stages, but also away from the track in inspiring the next generation.

One of the pioneering women in motorsport within Ireland, she picked up the ladies’ prize at the Circuit of Ireland Rally in 1964 and in 1965 her and her co-driver, Valerie Domleo, won the Dutch Tulip Rally.

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To this day, they remain the only women ever to have won that race.

In 1969 she tasted victory in the Cork 20 Rally, and also raced to success at the Scottish Rally, the Alpine Rally, the Canadian Shell 4000, the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon and the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally too.

President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins was among those leading the tributes to the extraordinary driver.

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In a statement he remembered her as “one of the most fearless and remarkable Irish sportspeople to have graced the international stage.”

“In an extraordinary motorsport career, she defied all expectations of her time in becoming a renowned force in a sport then, as now, so heavily dominated by men,” he continued.

“Rosemary’s achievements continued up to very recent years when in 2017 she became, at the age of 79, the oldest person ever to drive a Formula 1 car.

“Rosemary Smith’s induction into the FIVA Heritage Hall of Fame in 2022, the first Irish person to be honoured in this way, was a fitting recognition of a truly distinguished contribution to Irish and global sporting life.”

He concluded in offering his sympathies to her family, friends and colleagues.

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also shared his condolences, mentioning too about the impact Smith’s phenomenal career might have on future generations.

“May her legacy continue to inspire future generations,” he said.

Minister for Sport, Catherine Martin, echoed that sentiment, remarking that Smith was “renowned internationally” and a “trailblazer paving the way for women in motorsports.”

On X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, many people within the world of motorsport, media and Irish life also paid tribute to the incredible woman.

Irish Times writer, Róisín Ingle provided some heart-warming colour to the condolences, recalling that her mother Ann and Smith “became great friends with her while ghostwriting Rosemary’s memoir, Driven.”

“She was amazing. Michael Fassbender a huge fan. Some woman for one woman,” she finished.

 

“Here she is aged 80 at Mondello Park, when we staged a two car race. She came 1st, but I came a very creditable 2nd. She will remain an Irish rally legend forever. R.I.P.,” wrote broadcaster John Creedon.

Fellow RTE colleague Des Cahill also shared his memories, calling her a “wonderful rally driver who marched into the male-dominated sport in the 1960’s & made her mark without batting an eyelid.”

“Not just a pioneer, but fantastic, cheeky, fun company as well. One of the most colourful characters I ever came across in Irish sport,” he added.

Exemplar women in sport advocate and renowned journalist Clíona Foley took to the platform to share her thoughts too, citing that “if heaven exists she’ll have screeched through the gates on two wheels.”

Speaking with Her Sport back in 2021, current Irish female racing driver Nicole Drought reflected on working with her childhood hero Smith for a campaign at the time.

“I was in total awe,” she said.

“She was so elegant and fierce.

“She’s an absolutely amazing woman and you can just see that fight within her. She would have needed that fight back when she was rallying because I’m sure she had to put up with a lot of crap within the sport.”

There’s no doubt she did.

RIP to Rosemary Smith, the first lady of Irish motorsport.

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