Fatal rally crash ‘freak accident’, say organisers

Tributes paid to ‘leading light’ in Irish motorsport

The scene of the fatal incident. Gardaí are investigating  the crash that killed Manus Kelly (42) in the Donegal International Rally. Photograph: North West Newspix

The scene of the fatal incident. Gardaí are investigating the crash that killed Manus Kelly (42) in the Donegal International Rally. Photograph: North West Newspix


The death of a Fianna Fáil councillor who crashed while taking part in the Donegal International Rally was a “freak accident”, organisers have said.

Manus Kelly (42), a businessman and community worker from Glenswilly, outside Letterkenny, Co Donegal, was killed in a crash on Sunday afternoon at a stage on Fanad Head during the final day of the three-day race.

The father of five was described as a “leading light” in Irish motorsport. His Hyundai i20 R5 car, which he switched to recently, is thought to have left the road after hitting a bump near Baile na Brocar, before crashing through a hedge and into a field.

His navigator Donal Barrett was taken to hospital, where his injuries are not thought to life-threatening.

Brian Brogan, chairman of the rally organisers Donegal Motor Club (DMC) said safety is “always paramount” and the crash was “just a freak accident”.

“These things do happen every now and again unfortunately,” he told Highland Radio.

“Everyone in motorsport does their best for safety, and in this instance it was the same, everything was done to perfection,” he said. “There was nothing more that could have been done at any time.”

Biggest ambassador

Mr Brogan described Mr Kelly as “the biggest ambassador that Donegal Motor Club ever had”.

Eamon McGee, vice-chairman of the DMC and clerk of the course, said about 4,000 cars had passed over the same stretch of road where the crash occurred in previous rallies. “It was a bit of road you would never have marked in as cautious or dangerous or anything.”

Gardaí said they are investigating the incident .

Mr Kelly, who was defending his title, had won the rally the previous three years in a Subaru Impreza. Mr Kelly announced his switch from driving the Subaru to the Hyundai in February.

Earlier this month, Mr Kelly told Motorsport News that switching cars had its “ups and downs” so far. “The whole left-hand drive and left-foot braking has proven to be a much bigger challenge than I thought it would be, but it is such a great class and I will be looking to up the ante on home soil,” he said.

A spokesman for Motorsport Ireland, the sport’s governing body, said: “The gardaí will undertake an investigation and Motorsport Ireland and the Donegal Motor Club will assist them. Until the investigation is complete, we can’t comment any further at this point.”

Six-times Donegal International Rally winner Andrew Nesbitt also described the crash as a “freak accident”.

‘Everyone loved Manus’

“Manus was one of the leading lights in Irish motorsport . . . he drove at the highest level, always conscious of safety and so professional in everything he did,” he said. “Everyone loved Manus, he was a great man, a great family man, and will be sadly missed by everyone.”

Mr Kelly was elected for the first time to Donegal County Council last month,

Fellow Fianna Fáil councillor Ciaran Brogan said he brought “massive passion” to everything and would “have reached huge success” in political life.

“Manus was was a very special person. He was the local man who made good. The whole area is absolutely numb,” he said.

Mr Kelly started working life as a porter in Letterkenny General Hospital, where he went on to drive the hospital bus which transported cancer patients between Donegal and Dublin for treatment.

He volunteered with Donegal Down Syndrome, was involved in the local Glenswilly GAA club and helped promote road safety in local schools.

Mr Kelly was managing director of Tailored Facility Solutions, a company offering management, recruitment and logistics services, which employs 60 people in Letterkenny. He was also the proprietor of the town’s Uptown Café.

He is survived by his wife Bernie and their five children, ranging in ages from 21 to one, as well as his parents, Donal and Jacqueline, and eight siblings.

The Donegal International Rally was cancelled in 2010 after a driver Thomas Maguire from Longwood, Co Meath, was killed when the car he was co-driving went off the road.

In 2008, Richard O’Donnell (18) was killed as he tried to cross a road during the rally.

In 2002, the rally was cancelled after a crash in which two race marshals were killed: George Clarke, from Moville, Co Donegal and Gerard McKenna, from Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, both aged 22.