Thomas McGauran paid a unique tribute to a late friend in September when he completed the rally the two of them started half a century ago.

Thomas and Rory Faughnan from Belleek, County Fermanagh took on their first rally, the 1969 Erne Safari, in a Mini, but went off the road on the Ballintempo stage.

Rory, known as Rolo, lost his life in a fishing trawler tragedy off the coast of Donegal in the mid-1970s, and Thomas gave up rallying then, and went on to focus on his expanding quarry business and family life.

In recent years, he has renewed his interest in rallying as his sons Damien and Thomas Junior have been competing in Toyotas and BMWs (with Honda engines) and that led to an invite from Gerry Cavanagh, the clerk of the course for the Lakeland Stages, successor to the Erne Safari, to take part in this year’s event, in an original Mini.

Thomas liked the idea and, with the support of Enniskillen Motor Club, and his sons, Damian as mechanic and Thomas as co-driver, he started this year’s rally at number 95, with a memorial card to Rory Faughnan fixed to the dashboard of the Mini.

An old style Mini is a rare sight on the forest stages now, and the McGaurans and their immaculate red version attracted a great deal of attention on their way to the finish of the Lakeland Stages.

The Mini ran smoothly throughout the day, and there was no repeat of the incident that ended that Erne Safari event for Thomas and Rory in 1969.

Unfortunately for the duo, their off-stage moment that time was captured on camera and a photo was published in the Impartial Reporter of October 30, 1969 (see above, right).

Gerry Cavanagh said: “Tommy was most indignant that the only camera on the whole event was on the corner he went off! Sod’s law!”

Explaining the background to this year’s Mini adventure, Gerry said: “Tommy was talking to me about getting his [competition] licence back. He has driven at the airfield [St Angelo] in his son’s BMW, but the licence to drive in hillclimbs and sprints is different from a rally licence.

“A National B Stage Rally licence is what he needed, so he was talking about getting it, and I said I would help if I could.

“Anyway, he said he was building a Mini, and I said, ‘you’re not thinking of taking it out on the Lakeland by any chance?’. And he said he would.

“So I said if you can get your National B licence back, and you’re building a classic Mini, and you’re going to take it out on the Lakeland - I’ll give you a free entry.”

That deal done, the McGuarans got busy in their workshop in Mulleek, a few miles from Belleek, and three weeks before this year’s Lakeland Stages, Damian (Thomas’s son) rang Gerry and said, ‘does that offer still stand for Da’s free entry?’.

Gerry confirmed that it did, and on asking why, Damien replied: ‘I’m hanging the doors on the Mini as we speak.’

“We give away very few free entries, I can assure you, but every competitor and everyone I talked to said ‘proper order’ - there wasn’t one begrudger,” said Gerry.

That was clear on the day as the little Red Mini made steady progress across the six stages in the Fermanagh forests.

Understandably given the speeds of modern forest rallying, and the age of its driver (!), the Mini brought up the rear, but to finish first, first you have to finish, and that’s exactly what the two Thomases did.

It brought to a successful conclusion something that started 50 years ago, but Thomas Senior’s Mini adventure might not be over yet. He was unable to confirm any plans to return to competition, but we hear he is thinking of doing sprints or hillclimbs in the future.