Life-long biking enthusiast and committed family man
Ernie Lyons: March 5th, 1914 – February 7th, 2014
Ernie Lyons had a life-long passion for all motorcycle sports, but was best known for his superb win in the 1946 Manx Grand Prix.
The “Kildare Demon”, as Myles na gCopaleen once described him, was the cut of a film star. Born at Kill, Co Kildare, Ernest William Lyons was educated at Kill and Rathmore national schools and later at Naas CBS. He might have become a teacher, but instead joined his two brothers in the family sand and gravel business.
In 1947 he was head hunted by newly formed Clondalkin Concrete and would rise to managing director in 1963, retiring as chairman in 1977. His down-to-earth pragmatism earned him warm respect among the workforce.
Ernie had three brothers and two sisters. Alan, the eldest brother was the first to get a motorcycle, a 1912 499cc TT Triumph, with a single gear, no clutch, belt drive and an adjustable engine pulley.
Soon after, in 1932, Ernie set off on it for a local road race, the Straffan 60, but not far from the house it broke down. “By the time I got to the circuit everyone was coming home again!”
Next time he made it and managed a lap time of 47½mph. He modified Alan’s TT replica 1927 “Big-Port” AJS 350 so that it would do over 90mph, and used it in road races, trials, grass track and scrambles, North and South, for two years without a single retirement. Grass-track racing was always his favourite sport, particularly when he retired from road racing – the many cash prizes were a great help to the impecunious teenager.
1946 was a golden year for the “Kildare Demon”. Before a crowd believed to be the largest in either TT or Manx Grand Prix history he won the Senior Manx Grand Prix on the 493cc Triumph Twin, averaging 76.74mph in appalling weather conditions. He retired from road racing in 1950 to devote more time to business and his future wife, Doris Roycroft. By then he had competed in Holland, Belgium and Switzerland riding a variety of works machines. His parting shot was: “Company or no company, I’m not giving up the bikes!”
The void was more than filled by grass-track racing, motocross and trials riding which brought success after success until he finally hung up his leathers in the early 1970s. Remarkably he had escaped injury, despite some close shaves.
In 1963 he bought a farm adjacent to the one on which he was born and, on his retirement, built a house on it. After the death of his first wife Doris in 1960, he married Bessie Ovington in 1966. She died in 2008.
In later life he continued his involvement with motorcycles, rebuilding several veteran machines, including a rare Edwardian Irish-made Tredagh, and welcoming visitors who dropped in to chat about bikes. He served as president of the Irish Veteran and Vintage Motorcycle Club, Dublin, and District MCC, Manx GP and TT Riders Association.
Throughout his long life Williams had many interests: motor sport, business, farming, gardening, St John’s Church of Ireland, Kill, but above all he was a devoted family man.
He died a month before his 100th birthday and is survived by his sons Trevor and Richard, daughter Melinda, sister Mabel, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, and great-granddaughter.