RAY CLEERE marks the centenary of the birth of one of the greatest motor racing drivers of all time
The year 1953 was a momentous year for everyone in England at the time. There was the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth ll; Edmund Hillary climbed Mount Everest; and Duncan Hamilton pulled off a sensational victory at the iconic LeMans 24-hour race as part of the Jaguar team.
He was the first and only Irish-born person to win that race. And it was the first time that it was won at an average speed of more than 100 miles per hour, Hamilton averaging 105mph.
Duncan Hamilton was never as well-known as other Irish-born motor racing drivers such as Eddie Jordan, David Kennedy, Tommy Byrne, Derek Daly, Eddie Irvine or Michael Roe. Hamilton was a larger than life character, but was also one of Europe’s premier motor racing drivers of the post-war era. He was a gentleman racer whose skill behind the wheel was undisputable.
James Duncan Hamilton was born in Cork 100 years ago on April 30th, 1920. Aged two he knocked himself unconscious by crashing his pram down a flight of 38 steps. Later, while studying at Brighton College, he drove a schoolmaster’s car through a wall; arguably all useful preparation for his later years as a competitive driver of notable skill.
Hamilton’s autobiography, ‘Touch Wood’, published in 1960, is an incredible collection of uproarious anecdotes that shines on an effortlessly stylish and romantic era in motorsport history.
The family home was a converted monastery and was a target during and after the War of Independence. According to Hamilton, a friend of his father’s was shot at the front door and “more than once bullets splattered into the rooms”. As a child Hamilton was tied to his mattress so that he would not look out and become a potential victim of snipers who were operating in the area at the time.