Limerick Chronicle files: Early drivers had a need for speed

Sharon Slater, Limerick Chronicle Historian


Sharon Slater, Limerick Chronicle Historian


Assessing the damage to an overturned car in 1954

Assessing the damage to an overturned car in 1954

THE turn of the last century saw the arrival of the motorcar into Limerick. As with the stagecoaches from the previous century, these vehicles changed, how people used the roads in the city.

The registration of motor vehicles began in Limerick began on January 1, 1904. The owner of the first car registered, a white nine horsepower Renault, was James Pery Goodbody. His number plate read TI 1. By January 1914, there were 246 motor vehicles, including motorbikes, registered in Limerick. This had doubled in the next four years.

As the city entered the Roaring Twenties, the number of motor vehicles on the Limerick roads was reaching a thousand. With this increase came a call for improved road safety habits.

The Chronicle of January 13, 1923 published three related articles on the subject. The first tells of reckless driving in the city.

“Complaint has been frequently made of the reckless manner in which motor cars have been driven through the city, but without avail. Last evening a man named O’Sullivan, while crossing Patrick Street, was knocked down by a motor car travelling at a dangerous speed, and was taken to Barrington’s Hospital. Fortunately, he escaped with a slight injury to the right hand. It is about time that the public using the streets were protected from this peril, and until examples are made the driving of motor cars at a high speed will continue.

"It is satisfactory to know that District Judge Mr M J Flood takes a serious view of reckless motoring, and at the City District Sessions yesterday he stated that persons brought before his court who erred in this direction would receive from him condign punishment.”

Following on from the report from Flood’s court.

“At the City District Sessions yesterday, Mr Flood said that from his personal experience of the conduct of motorists in the city during the last two months they had shown the most utter and callous neglect for the comfort and wellbeing of the citizens of Limerick. He had noticed motorists driving through the principal streets of the city at a rate that compared easily with that achieved in the motor racing track at Brooklyn.

"There was a serious motor accident recently in the city and he wondered why in the circumstances they were not more frequent - it was not the fault of the city motorists. He was the custodian of the rights of the citizens, and he would do all he could to ensure that their safety in the public thoroughfares of the city should be preserved, and he would deal very severely with offenders.

"In any prosecutions he would be very strict, and he made arrangements which he hoped would be in force in a short time by which at the most congested centre of the city - William Street corner - a police officer would be placed for the regulation of traffic.”

On that same page though, the following appeared an article singing the praises of the new Ford cars and their great value.

“Attention is directed to an advertisement which appears in our advertising column this evening, giving a list of the new prices of Ford cars and new designs, which will be studied with keen interest by motorists.

The remarkable value now given in Ford cars marks an evolution in the motor trade. With every other product and commodity in the market nearly 100 per cent still over prewar prices, the Ford Touring Car is cheaper than at its lowest in 1914. In addition, the design has been considerably altered, and many improvements effected, such a lower seating, right hand drive, better finish in paintwork and upholstery, one man hood, double sloping windscreen.

In a word Ford Car is better value than ever, and nearer in appearance, and can be procured at a price within the reach of most people.

We would advise our readers to call and see the new models, which are on view at the premises of the authorised dealers - The Limerick Motor Works, Ltd, William Street.”

Two weeks later on January 23, 1923 a report came in the Chronicle of another crash this time in O’Connell Avenue between a motor car and a horse and cart.

“Last night a collision took place in O’Connell Avenue between a motor car and a light dray, with, fortunately, minor results. The vehicles were travelling in opposite directions, and when outside Ascot Terrace the motor, which, it is said, was not showing a light, ran into the dray, breaking the shafts but not injuring the driver or horse. The chauffeur of the motor was, however, injured by the impact, as he was hurdled against the windscreen and his face badly bruised and cut.”

Although the numbers of vehicles increased year on year it would take until 1948 before the discussion on traffic lights in the city began. These lights were not met with universal praise. This one set of traffic lights was allocated to the O’Connell Street, William Street, Sarsfield Street junction. In a meeting of the Corporation and reported in the Limerick Leader on September 15, 1948.

The Mayor, M. B. O’Malley, did not agree that the traffic lights should be erected at the busiest crossing in the city. While the city manager stated that the issue had nothing to do with the Corporation but was a matter for the Garda authorities. Cllr. Russell said that “You will not find traffic lights at the heavy traffic in Dublin”.

Cllr. Dillion brought up an interesting topic which led to this humorous interchange in the chamber.

“Mr Dillon - Traffic lights at the corner of O'Connell Street and William Street will cause a lot of confusion. What will happen when funerals are passing?

Manager - The authorities say they can regulate the lights to facilitate funerals.

Mr Dillion - Should a member of the Corporation die the funeral will be unusually large (laughter), and it would never do to have one half of the cortege at the cemetery while the other half would be held up by the traffic lights (lights).”

On Monday July 18, 1949, these traffic lights were switched on and it was reported that in the first two days traffic moved slowly but the concern for confusion was unwarranted. However, that calm was short lived as on Wednesday the first accident occurred at the junction.

The collision took place at about 6.30pm between a motor lorry and a Baby Ford car. The driver of the Baby Ford, from Sixmilebridge, was making his way down William Street to turn onto Patrick Street, while the lorry driver from Herbertstown was also turning onto Patrick Street from Sarsfield Street. Both man claimed confusion over the new lights as the cause of the accident.

It would not take long before there were traffic lights at almost every junction along O’Connell Street. The campaign for road safety continued in both the city and county as can be seen later in the archival photograph section of this paper.

Plans are afoot at the moment for a redevelopment of the main thoroughfare of the city, we will have to wait to see if these improve road safety for all users.