Brian Foley was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a son to his parents, a brother to his siblings, an uncle to his nieces and nephews, and in those roles he was universally loved.
Brian was a writer, a journalist, a publisher, a raconteur of great wit and humour, and a living encyclopaedia of motoring and motorsport in Ireland and far outside the island, and in those roles he was widely respected.
He was also a great travelling companion, whether on a drive at a car launch on strange roads in foreign lands, or over dinner, or at the bar afterwards, and in that role very many of us in the motoring journalism field, in motorsport, and in the motor industry, enjoyed hugely his company down through the decades.
Brian’s timeline has come to an end. But it is a very full one. One which has left a very significant imprint in all the areas I have just mentioned. And it is so not because he had a burning ambition to be the best. Rather that he wanted to enjoy doing everything that interested him, enjoy the company of friends, of business acquaintances, whoever and whatever came through those interests. Most of all, though, he wanted to, and did, love his family and friends.
I first got to know Brian back in the late 1960s, when he and Mary would come in to The Hideout, our family pub. They were, of course, great fun company, and I do recall many nights — it could be argued too many — that the three of us ended up finishing a bottle or two of Chateauneuf du Pape together. In later times, when I arrived in the motoring journalism arena, I found that none of us had kicked that particular habit.
But Brian had been making his own waves long before I knew him. From his home in Carlow, his motorsport activities during the late 1950s had him competing in autotests in MG Midgets, later an NSU Prinz, and in 1966 he conceived, designed, and built his own special trials and autocross car, with the help of Liam Maddock. It was actually street legal, with Ford running gear, shocks from an NSU Prinz in the front and from a Royal Enfield motorcycle in the rear. That was Brian, never content to make do with off the shelf, he liked to push the envelope out a bit.
And that was the point where it almost came to an end. His very longtime friend Frank Keane recalls that Brian had been involved in a very serious crash, with a crossing lorry, on the Naas dual carriageway. He was in a coma for two months, but fortunately for all of us here today, he recovered.
With the opening of Mondello Park in 1968, interest in motorsport in Ireland blossomed, and it was during his own involvement in events at the track that he met Mary Schwer, who was into karting at Mondello. They married in 1969.
Brian had already taken to motorsport journalism, beginning with regular reports in the UK-based magazine Autosport. In 1966 he established his own Irish Wheels periodical, which he and Mary expanded into Auto Ireland Magazine. The title still publishes, and both Mary and he were involved with it right up to the time they each died. As his longtime friend and motorsport colleague Martin McCarthy says, it is ‘an invaluable history of the glory days of Irish motorsport’ and a complete set is archived by the RIAC. Martin also recalls that Brian wrote for the American magazine Road & Track during the 1970s, and one article is credited by John Crossle for the runaway success of his race cars in the US during that decade.
Apart from his publishing, Brian was a motorsport correspondent for theIrish Independent from the 1970s, and in recent years, for more than a decade, wrote a regular column for the Irish Times.
All his life, Brian had a fascination for Grand Prix, and he and Mary attended many Formula One races, especially favouring the glamorous Monaco Grand Prix. Through this he not alone got to know many of the greats of the Formula One circus, but especially appreciated the Irish successes of Derek Daly, David Kennedy, Tommy Byrne, and, of course, his very great friend Eddie Jordan.
It wasn’t all motorsport, though. Auto Ireland was a ‘full service’ motor magazine, with news, reviews, and technical features. This brought Brian and Mary into contact with all aspects of the motor industry, in Ireland and abroad. From the motoring PR world his good friend Don Hall, who motorcycled up from Baltimore last evening to pay his respects, recalls Brian as ‘an ambassador for all that is good in Irish motoring journalism’. “He was a man welcome in the boardrooms of the motor industry worldwide,” he says, “a man who could always be relied upon to represent his profession with dignity and distinction.”
Brian was a founder member, and proud member, of the Irish Motoring Writers Association, which has included amongst its membership the foremost automotive journalists in Ireland through some four decades.
Under all that, the man. Like any of us, what we are and what we become is a complex reaction with those whom we meet and interact with. Brian Foley as many of us knew him was gentle, witty, and occasionally devilish. As Don Hall puts it, ‘he and Mary were perfectly matched, his more reserved style a foil for the sense of glamour and excitement that Mary brought to every occasion’.
The reactions of some others to his death also reflect the particular light that Brian brought to those around him.
Jeanne McGann of Nissan Ireland: “He will be greatly missed — such a superb, thoughtful, kind and interesting human being.”
Aidan Doyle of Kia Ireland: “Mary and Brian are nearly the last of the old fashioned bon vivants. There was no one better than him in his day for motorsport.”
Raymond Leddy of Skoda Ireland: “Very sad news. A real gentleman, he will be missed.”
Ian Lynas, a motoring journalist friend from Northern Ireland: “Brian will be greatly missed, his knowledge of all things Irish motoring was more than impressive. Always a story when in his company, and he greeted me as ‘The Man From the Wee Black North’.”
Gerry Boud, for many years the motoring correspondent of the Sunday World: “A fine friend and a great motoring colleague. He leaves many happy memories. Rest in Peace, my friend.”
Motoring writer Gerry Murphy, with whom he was known to divert from test drive routes abroad to visit the ‘shrines’ of motorsport: “This is the saddest day in my time in motoring. A fountain of knowledge and wit and a good guy.”
Those and many other comments reflect the professional side of Brian Foley. He will be missed by all concerned.
But more importantly he will be missed by those closest to him, the family and friends he loved so dearly. His daughter Sinead and his grandson Ronan, who have been so much a consolation to him since Mary died. Now they will need all those memories as consolation themselves. The extended Foley and Schwer families, thankfully a very close-knit and supportive bunch. Rosemary Smith, one of Brian and Mary’s closest friends since long before I knew any of them. His very very good friend Hugh Maguire, who visited every day during Brian’s last days in hospital, who will particularly miss their chats about shared motorsports passion. By Dougie Hughes, an iconic companion in motorsport journalism for decades. And by many more, both here today and those unable to attend.
He will be missed by the friends in the Kilcullen and Brannockstown area where he and Mary came back to live. Jock Kelly will miss those chats over endless cups of tea in the Kilcullen Canoe Club, where Brian cam3e to so much enjoy Ronan’s success in canoeing, of which he was also so proud. And many others with whom he made his typically instant connection.
We’ll all miss him. We’ll miss his ability to recite off a full poem from memory at the drop of a forgotten stanza. We’ll miss his endless fount of stories and witticisms. We’ll miss that sudden twinkle and pixie-esque smile that showed you had just lost a debate point with him.
But any of us who had any contact at all with Brian Foley will never forget him. May he rest in peace, with his beloved Mary.
Eulogy delivered by Brian Byrne at Brian Foley’s Requiem Mass in the Church of the Sacred Heart & St Brigid, Kilcullen, on Wednesday 12 August 2015. Images from Dougie Hughes