1902, Early Motor Car Trip in the North of Ireland

On doing a search for the first motor car to be seen in or near Portglenone, I came across this delightful old letter from September 1902.

Mrs E. C. Herdman, writing from the Red House, in Strabane, on Thursday 11th September 1902, recounts a trip that she and her husband had taken on their little motor quadricyle.  Ok, it’s not exactly a car, but it is a 4-wheel motor vehicle.

Quadricycle (see the photo further down this page) was a term used to describe a motorised four wheel bike-like vehicle. They existed around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. An engine powered the back wheels. Henry Ford made one of the more popular ones, his first effort at a quadricycle was released in 1896.

The First Cars in Ireland

Before 1898, Ireland didn’t have any cars on it’s roads. The first car in the country was a Benz Velo, which arrived in 1898. By 1904, six years later, thirty-eight cars were on our roads. But the growth of car ownership took off over the next decade. 1911 saw 5,058 cars in Ireland, and 19,554 by 1914.

The number of petrol stations in the country doubled between 1901 and 1914.

Kids stand beside an early car on Main Street, Portglenone

Mrs Herdman, in our article, would not have needed a car license, or insurance, for her 1902 trip. But the following year, 1903, it became compulsory for car drivers to hold a licence. Those over 17 years of age could get a license. But although there was no driving test, the license did cost five shillings.

The Motor Car Act also ensured one had to register your car with the local authorities. It introduced penalties for reckless driving. Speed limits were raised to 20MPH (previously it had been 14MPH).

Insurance only became compulsory in 1933. The once-quiet roads were now increasingly dangerous places, with many local accidents making the newspapers.

Mrs Herdman’s Trip

Ok, back to the trip in question.  Mrs Herdman and her husband, while riding their quadricycle during those three days in early September 1902, took in many towns and villages, including Portglenone.

Mrs Herdman goes on to explain the trip:

It might interest some of the readers of your paper to see an account of a run done by my husband and myself last week on our little motor quadricycle.


Trip – Derry to Belfast

We left Derry on Friday at one o’clock for Belfast, going via Limavady, Garvagh, Kilrea, Portglenone, Randalstown and Antrim.

We did not make any record run, as the roads were very heavy owing to the recent severe rains, especially nearing Randalstown, where for about three miles the road was completely washed away down to the very foundations. We arrived in Belfast, about eight o’clock, after an uneventful run.

Next day, taking part (at a gymkana) in a competition, called “Motor Driving for Skill Through Posts,” we were lucky enough to secure the second prize, being two and a half seconds only in time behind the first car, which was owned and driven Mr. Allen – a 20 horse power Milne’s car. Eleven cars and three quads competed.

Return Journey – Belfast to Strabane

On Sunday, we made what we consider, quite a record run. Leaving Belfast at 9.45am, we arrived home at our own door at 4.29 in the afternoon, having done a non-stop run of 100 and a quarter miles – via Antrim, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine and Derry, taking the mountain road from Coleraine to Limavady and the Carrigans, St. Johnston, and Porthall road to Strabane.

The road from Antrim to Coleraine is in good condition, except about three miles each side of Ballymena, which is very bumpy, and was also greasy owing to the rain on Saturday night. A rough road over the mountain to Limavady, and fair on to Derry; good from there to Lifford.

We had a delightful run, and never stopped once, which I think is a good record, and shows what can be done, even on a small machine.

                         Londonderry Sentinel 16th September 1902


"I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

2 thoughts on “1902, Early Motor Car Trip in the North of Ireland

  1. William,
    I love these old pictures, and the same journey in the same type of car would also be an adventure today. On Google Streetview, the setting can be viewed, and compared. Not a lot has changed! At first sight, the width of the road seems excessive for such a small vehicle, until you see the horse-and-carts in the background, which needed considerably more maneuvering room. The current road is actually narrower.
    Remember the days when Ireland didn’t have a network of major trunk roads?

  2. Barry, happy to hear that you enjoy the old photos. I love finding and cleaning these old images up in photoshop. I have many more pics/articles as works in progress.

    It’s also nice to be able to find an old newspaper article that goes with the image.

    Yes, main street in Portglenone was, and is, pretty wide (relative to other village streets). I am not old enough to remember any less roads, or back as far as dirt roads. The thing that sticks out to me, is the lack of traffic on the old roads. It’s a VERY DIFFERENT story today! Rush hour is now all day long.

    One hundred years makes some changes.

    Oh for less cars on our roads, and a slower pace of life.

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