Northern Ireland

Carrickfergus Castle besieged by 3000 Vespa scooters

The Vespa World Days event is being hosted in Belfast's Titanic Quarter Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The Vespa World Days event is being hosted in Belfast's Titanic Quarter

It has weathered more storms than any parka, so it is fitting that Carrickfergus Castle has witnessed a cavalcade of more than 3,000 scooters during the Vespa World Days extravaganza.

The ancient and modern have provided a backdrop for the Vespa in countless films, whether it be Audrey Hepburn travelling in style in Roman Holiday, or Sting straddling the vehicle [whose name translates as wasp in Italian] in Quadrophenia.

Now, as Northern Ireland's own movie industry continues to thrive, the Italian icon is finally being showcased in the region by its aficionados.

A colourful swarm of drones created its own spectacle as they left Belfast's Titanic Quarter, a short distance from the production studio of Game of Thrones, before making the trip along the County Antrim coast.

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Media captionVespa-loving Shar Pei dog Mia

Ulster Vespa Club representative Ricky Darrah said: "There are people from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and Indonesia - one guy is even shipping two bikes from Moscow in Russia.

"Each Vespa club from around the world bids to host one of these events.

"One of my colleagues in the Ulster Vespa Club, Mark Cooke, made the bid to host it, the first World Vespa Days event he was at was in London in 2012.

"My first European rally was in Treviso in Italy in 2008 and it completely opened my eyes to a different scene, each country has its own flavour.

"On the cavalcade there were 10,000 Vespas, it was a spectacular sight in the Italian countryside.

"I travelled in a group through France and Switzerland into Italy over the Alps on a 200cc scooter - I was the only one from Ireland there."

Image copyright Ricky Darrah
Image caption Ricky Darrah attended a scooter rally in Treviso in Italy in 2008

Mr Darrah said the original Ulster Vespa Club's roots dated back to 1954, but that it had fizzled out in the 1960s, as "four wheel vehicles started to become more affordable and scooters became more of a luxury".

Along with Mr Cooke, he helped spearhead the revival of the club in 2007, which is a branch of the Vespa Club of Britain, after delving into its history.

"There was a revival in the 1980s, spearheaded by the fashion of the time and music groups like The Jam, which saw a resurgence in the popularity of the scooter," he added.

"Lots of my generation were swept up in that, but as the fashion and music faded for the likes of myself, there was still the love of the Vespa scooter.

"The popularity of the scooter in the 1950s was at the time of the Mods, who in their sharp suits were the polar opposite to the Rockers.

"We are trying to get as many people, including those from the original club in the 1950s, to come down and witness the cavalcade as a spectacle - this would not have happened without them providing the inspiration."

Image copyright Ulster Vespa Club
Image caption The original Ulster Vespa Club was formed in the 1950s

John Hill, 83, from Belfast, was one of the original members of the Ulster Vespa Club, and he recalls weaving in and out of obstacles in a County Down car park to enhance his steering skills, as well as journeys to the Mourne Mountains.

The highlight of his time in the club was a sojourn to Europe in 1956.

"We went over to Liverpool by ferry and then travelled down to Dover to get the ferry to the continent," he said.

"The Vespa was a much bigger movement on the continent where clubs were two a penny.

"I remember in Paris at the Arc De Triomphe, some of our people got in the inside lane in their scooters, but they couldn't get out of the loop and kept going round and round.

"They had two or three laps around the zone of the Arc De Triomphe, before they could get out, because of the traffic.

"We also went to Belgium and Luxembourg on the same trip."

Image copyright Ulster Vespa Club
Image caption Members of the club planning their route
Image copyright John Hill/Ulster Vespa Club
Image caption John Hill is a former secretary of the Ulster Vesta Club

Mr Hill, who was secretary of the club, said that as marriage loomed, his scooter was put on the backburner, with one particular incident possibly accelerating its demise.

"The club were out one weekend, and I was on the scooter with my wife to be," he said.

"We had gone through Dunmurry to Lisburn and were heading for Newcastle in County Down - it was sensible riding.

"When we slowed down, the two guys behind us rode into the back of our bike.

"Their front mud guard jammed into the space just below the pannier on our scooter which made the scooter rear up like a horse on its hind legs.

"I slid off the bike with my wife and landed on top of her - I don't think she has ever forgiven me.

"The bike ended up in a ditch, with a cracked windscreen, but we got back on it and went to Newcastle.

"I didn't carry on with the Vespa too long after that. We went on our honeymoon in an Austin A30, and that was the end of the Vespa."


Five facts about the Vespa

  • The scooter was originally presented to the public in 1946
  • Piaggio, the firm behind the Vespa, turned to motorcycle manufacturing after its aircraft factories were bombed during World War Two
  • In 1951, an Italian student, Giancarlo Tironi, rode his Vespa to the Arctic Circle
  • In the film, Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck weave through the Eternal City on a Vespa 125
  • The scooter has been the travelling companion of a range of film stars including Raquel Welch, Charlton Heston and Matt Damon

Vintage Vespas from the 1940s and 1950s formed part of the cavalcade to Carrickfergus, with a number also being housed in a special museum at Titanic Belfast over the weekend.

"There will be scooters dating back from 1948 right up to the modern day scooters," Vespa World Days organiser Mark Cooke said.

"There is a scooter from 1948 in the museum, called the Farro Basso, which is worth about £15,000, another bike there has been made from copper piping by a Belfast artist."

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption People have travelled from various countries to Northern Ireland for the event

Like many of the former inhabitants of Carrickfergus Castle, Mr Cooke has travelled extensively, and he said the global gathering of scooters in 2013 at Hasselt in Belgium provided the inspiration for the Northern Ireland bid.

"I thought if they can do it, we can do it."

Image copyright Vespa World Days
Image caption Mark Cooke will lead the cavalcade of more than 2,000 scooters

He grew up in Carrickfergus, and surely felt like a king, or in Mod parlance, an ace face, as he led the cavalcade.

"I was brought up there and I wanted to bring it to my home town, and for my family to be part of it, they still live there," he said earlier.

"I started off in a scooter club in Carrickfergus in my early teens.

"I will lead the cavalcade and immediately behind me will be the presidents of clubs from 37 countries around the world.

"It will be a great buzz."

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