I don’t ride a bike to add days to my life. I ride a bike to add life to my days.
The final day. A sense of exhilaration floods the senses. Looking forward to a great days cycling, of great sea views, of the last few hills to climb, thinking of rounding that last headland and the Atlantic Ocean stretching out endlessly ahead of us. Friday’s Bantry Market is famous and it was setting up just as we started. It looked like a great place to grab a bargain! Pádraig and Celine Dooley, who are on holidays close by, popped in to wish us well on the last leg and kindly stayed around to see us at the finish. It must have been the giddiness of anticipation that saw us head 12kms down towards Sheep Head instead of onward to Durrus; we put a nice few extra kms on our route plus a nice climb over the peninsula to get back on track. But again these deviations from plan always seem to work out for the better. We had great views across to the Beara peninsula before we turned inland and over the brow of the hill. A tough climb but with a great tail wind so we weren’t too put out and we were soon rolling into Durrus.
The tail wind became a head wind soon enough and only the stunning coastal scenery kept our minds off the pain! Views of Barley Cove, Cape Clear, the mystical lonely Fastnet Rock inspired us with every turn of the pedals. Just one breathtaking view after another.
Goleen was buzzing; two large groups of cyclists passed us in the opposite direction with support vehicles, presumably head to Mizen! Once we turned at Goleen the wind was relentless; almost stopping us in our tracks. Ronan passed by, coming down to collect us. Pure adrenalin kept us going at this stage.
Eight days after leaving Ireland’s most northerly point, Malin Head, we crossed the finish line at Mizen Head. We didn’t kill ourselves, took our time, enjoyed the scenery, the fresh air and the exercise, getting stronger each day. I can’t recommend a bike trip like it highly enough. There are so many reasons to go on a long trip. The sense of complete freedom and independence on the road means travelling is so relaxed. It’s just you and the road. You decide when you go and how far you go. Its your schedule and not some tour company. It’s never about speed or time on the road. The pace of life away from the busy towns and tourist areas is a joy; people move slowly, cars stop behind you and are in no rush to whizz by. Things go wrong and you improvise. You get lost in your own thoughts; there’s a lot of public emphasis on wellness and mental health; I guess that’s what bike touring actually is when you boil it down. it’s good for the body and good for the soul! Thanks to all who have followed the blog – I hope it gave you a flavour of our trip and encourages you to try it someday for yourselves! Now where to next Mary?
Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike
John F Kennedy
So many reasons for cycling Malin to Mizen. Nothing is as exhilarating as riding a bike. You feel the warm sun on your face; even on the warmest, gentlest of days you feel the cooling breeze. There are days you want to cover every part of your body from the wet and cold and on other days you just want to don just a t shirt and shorts. Take in the fresh air, smell the honeysuckle in hedgerows, admire the stunning Irish vistas unfolding slowly before your eyes. Living. Over the week all our senses were overloaded with nature at its best; in a kilometre on the bike you will appreciate the great outdoors more than you would in a 1,000 kilometre car journey. Over 700 kilometres, it’s a veritable sensual feast.
The finish line is fast approaching and today is one of the days I most looked forward to. Heading back to Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh where I spent the most wonderful month attending Irish College in 1973. Getting an early start set the day up nicely and we quickly made progress out of Millstreet, so good we missed our turn for Ballyvourney! But sometimes it’s for the best and we ended up on a marvellous route. Realising we were gone too far, we stopped to look at our map when a lady pulled up and advised us to continue on to Macroom or if we preferred hills she recommended another road through Clondrohid which brought us over by Renaree! The local roads always appeal best and we had a nice long 11km pull to the top of Renaree with the added pleasure of a great 5km downhill to Ballingeary.
Great memories of my time in the Gaeltacht with a lot of my class mates from CBS Carlow. Céilís, football, hurling, hikes and treasure hunts…. it was a magical month that left an indelible impression on all of us. The next time Ballingeary came onto my radar was the explosion of John O Driscoll on the International Rules game in 1986. He was only a kid but won the third test and the series for Ireland with his lightning pace and his 15 points haul. He went onto play for Cork for a good number of years after.
We left Ballingeary and headed out to Cork’s Glendalough… Gougane Barra. Saint Finbarr built a monastery here in the 6th century on an island in the lake, the ruins of which are still there beside the beautiful oratory with its stunning stained glass windows. The Lake is the source or Cork’s famous River Lee.
We reluctantly left Gougane Barra behind and cycled back out to the main road and we were straight into the famous Pass of Keimaneigh. In the 19th century this road would have been much more difficult as it passed through the rugged but it still retains its beauty today. Cath Céim an Fhia was a famous poem we learned in school about the Battle of Keimaneigh.
Once we crested the Pass it was virtually downhill all the way through Kealkill into Bantry. Heavy rain from Kealkill meant we were glad to roll into the square in Bantry for our final overnight stop. Just 54kms to go. But who’s counting!
Rain is one thing, but wind on a bike is another! The mind can play tricks with you when it comes to wind; we always know when we have a headwind but never recognise a tailwind. Today was definitely the hardest day so far. Powerful gusts battered us all the way from Aherlow to Millstreet. It didn’t matter if we were descending or ascending, the wind whipped around us and our concentration was on controlling the bikes and moving forward, however slowly.
The Glen Aherlow is just a great place to visit; its a Mecca for hill walkers with a myriad of routes but it is also a great cycling base with the Kilmallock Cycle Hub and Ballyhoura cycle routes all close by. The Glen itself has some fascinating heritage sites worth a visit in their own right. None more fascinating than St Berrihert’s Kyle which I visited on a previous occasion but worth including here.
This simple circular stone enclosure contains an amazing collection of cross and decorated stone slabs. I’ve never seen anything like it. Not many have, as it isn’t signposted (might be a good thing, as these crosses and slabs would be easy remove). The atmosphere here is very special. It has a presence that is seldom experienced. To get to it we had to cross a couple of boggy fields and over a number of stiles. It is obviously a place of local pilgrimage as there are many holly bushes used as rag trees both in the enclosure and outside.
We were shortly into our 13th county of this north to south tour when we crossed the border of Limerick, just after we passed the important ruins of Moor Abbey. The history of Ireland’s oppression can be summarised in the history of this poor ruin which was destroyed during the Desmond Rebellions by a half brother of Sir Walter Raleigh (no wonder I don’t have one of their bikes!) and later by the devil incarnate, Oliver Cromwell. The R.I.C. attempted to blow up the ruin in 1921.
Lost in the mists of time is the reason for the name of Galbally. The Town of the Foreigner (An Gaillbhaile), is not the only town with reference to a newcomer or foreigner to an area, Donegal, Ballygall, spring to mind. We were again following the Beara – Breifne Way signs and a little road brought us past Galbally GAA grounds. A constant theme of our journey was the central presence of the local GAA club in communities. It’s extraordinary how important the GAA is to the fabric of each parish and it’s a great connection when visiting other parts of the country.
This was a magical bóithrín that connected us to the next village of Ballylanders.
‘cow path, a path made by a meandering cow or sometimes man made
These local roads crisscross the country and make cycling a joy. With a little planning it’s possible to traverse the country from north to south or east to west along these traffic free roads.
With the weather deteriorating and heavy thunder showers accompanying the wind, we had multiple shelter stops in hedgerows as we diverted once again and we took the protected side of Slieveragh. It definitely protected us from the worst of the weather. We were glad to eventually make it into Limerick’s highest village, Kilfinnane, after a 5km climb. The Golden Vale, which we entered around Tipperary Town covers parts of Tipperary, Limerick and Cork. It’s some of the best dairy farmland in the country and the heartland of the dairy industry. Great herds of friesian cows dotted the hillsides of the Ballyhoura Mountains on way into the attractive market town of Kilfinane.
Kilfinane is another great village in the Ballyhoura area to base yourself in and the Town Square has very attractive shop fronts and street art to welcome the visitor.
We moved on and the 15kms or so to Ballyhea in County Cork, our final county, was a good flat run across on quiet roads. Ballyhea is situated on the busy N20 Cork to Limerick road. We were glad to cross it and head over through Churchtown.
We headed into a fierce headwind on the way across to Liscarroll, home of the Donkey Sanctuary and an imposing Castle ruin, right at the centre of the village. The Donkey Sanctuary has done fantastic work since 1987 and has saved over 1800 donkeys in that time. Lovely to see and hear them as we passed by! No photos as we were struggling badly at this stage! Our planned route was to continue west and uphill but the wind was ferocious and we decided it was best to head south instead. Delighted we did as this was a long hard day and we took the R580 into Kanturk. That meant that we would then have to travel the busy N72, the Mallow – Killarney Road, for 7kms but the compromise was just about worth it given the wind. Not a comfortable ride but needs must at times. We were glad to turn off and take a much quieter road down into Millstreet, host town to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1993, which was won by Niamh Kavanagh with her beautiful song ‘In Your Eyes’. Hard to believe it was that long ago. Ireland won three in a row 1992-1994 and then 1996. We can hardly qualify these days! A relief to get a room in the Wallis Arms after a day we struggled badly on! 590 kms completed, just 116kms to go!
Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
There was a symphony playing on the window pane when we woke. The weather had broken yesterday evening and it wasn’t letting up any time soon. After a hearty breakfast – ate slowly, we decided to give it another 30 minutes before departure to see would the clouds lift at all. They didn’t; it got worse! The thought of cycling in the rain is much worse than actually doing it and it was actually enjoyable; there’s a great sense of achievement in getting out and just dealing with the elements. We were on the eastern shore of Lough Derg and great gusts of wind were driving sheets of rain across the lake from County Clare and blowing us all over the place. We were saturated. It was a tough 27kms to Nenagh. And as Murphy’s law would have it, the rain stopped as we arrived! The break was only temporary. We changed our planned route to avoid a long steep exposed climb in the Silvermines. Instead we took a long diversion to Toomevara and onto the busy Borrisoleigh road. After 10kms we were delighted to see the Beara Breifne signs intersect the road and we followed those up into the hill country. It was delightful. The BB Way is well signposted and the scenery in this hidden corner of Tipperary is delightful. Beautiful country side all around as we reached Templederry. This peaceful village was home to the fiery rebel priest Fr John Kenyon (1812-1869). He was a fierce advocate of physical force and an outspoken opponent of Daniel O Connell, impacted as he was by the devastation of the famine in the surrounding countryside. But his efforts to relieve distress during the Famine endeared him to his flock. The local GAA Club is called Templederry Kenyons. That’s the beauty of the bike! You learn so much more about where you are passing through.
We were heading into very remote countryside now and still climbing gradually. Rain was still falling but it was majestic! Our diversion turned out really well and it was one of our favourite sections of the entire route. There was a lot of climbing today, almost a 1,000 metres in foul weather but it added to the whole sense of the journey. As I rounded a bend in the road a voice beckoned from 50 metres ahead ” How are ye? Will ye buy a lotto ticket?” We stopped and bought a couple, crossed our fingers, but Sean Treacey’s GAA Club haven’t been in touch so I guess we had no luck! I hope they have better luck in the Tipp Championships this year!
We eventually linked up with my original route at Hollyford, a busy centre for the timber industry. Another big climb had us pushing our bikes yet again but at least the rain had stopped and we had fabulous views across the hill country.
While Fr Kenyon had a reputation as an advocate for physical force our next stopping point was the village of Cappawhite had earned a world wide reputation for faction fighting in the 19th century, so we approached with caution!
We decided to not delay just in case the locals had ideas of resurrecting the practice and we kept moving forward following the BB Way signs which made navigation very easy and we soon reached Tipperary Town, gateway to the Glen of Aherlow. The climb up into the Glen was the toughest yet and we were both gasping – and that was pushing the bikes, not cycling! But it was great to crest the hill and enjoy the freewheel down as far as the Aherlow House Hotel where we had good grub and the luxury of a bath to look forward to! Another day down. 500kms completed, 205 kms to go!
We hadn’t made any arrangements about breakfast the night before and when we woke we discovered we were locked in to the pub! With miles to go before we slept again we had to let ourselves out and arrange to pay later – which we did! Bikes were packed and we were on our way by 8.20am. We were neither north nor south now. If there is such thing as the centre of this island it has to be around Ballymahon, Moate and Clonmacnoise and being the midlands we looked forward to speeding along the flat open roads of Longford, Westmeath and Offaly. But Ernest was right, what appears flat while driving in a car is often an illusion and it wasn’t long until we were cresting waves of tarmacadam, small bump in the road followed by more bumps. Old mariners tales claim waves come in groups of seven with the seventh being the biggest of the bunch and the pattern was similar this morning as we sailed merrily onwards between the stone walls of the back roads, there was always one little hill that caused us to frantically slip through the gears trying to find a gear we could turn the pedals in.
It wasn’t long until we were cycling into Moate past the beautiful Dún na Sí Amenity Park, which recently featured on RTE’s Tracks and Trails. Moate brought back great memories from my distant youth, of one of my first epic cycles with my great friend Tommy Wogan. We had got a lift to Moate with Tommy’s brother Michael and cycled west to Cong in Mayo, then down through Galway and Clare to Ventry in Kerry. We did it in three days – we were fit in those days!
The Old Rail Trail facilitated our exit from Moate and we had an easy four kilometres before reaching our turn off. It is straight as an arrow. Personally I find the Greenways to be boring and prefer the local roads for character and colour. We were happy to get off the Trail and head to one of the places I most wanted to visit on this trip, Clonmacnoise.
St Ciarán founded his monastery on the banks of the River Shannon in the 6thCentury. The monastery flourished and became a great seat of learning, a University of its time with students from all over Europe.
The ruins include a Cathedral, two round Towers, three high crosses, nine Churches and over 700 Early Christian grave slabs – the largest single collection anywhere in Europe. It’s a stunning location for a monastery, perched just above the meandering River Shannon, would have dominated the area and was strategically located alongside the great Slí Mhór that traversed Ireland from East to West, running along the Esker Riada.
An inspiring place, it fills me with wonder how well educated these monks were, proficient in many languages. It’s incredible to think of the impact these Peregrini had on European civilisation as they departed these shores with their books and learning. You could say they were first Consultants to royal courts of Europe as their advice was greatly valued!
We were now following the River Shannon south as far as Lough Derg. Roads were good and we made rapid progress to the next village of Shannonbridge. As the name suggests the Bridge is the focal point and its a beauty. Constructed in 1757 the massive bridge is an impressive sight. Between boating on the Shannon and its proximity to Clonmacnoise, Shannonbridge has a good footfall of tourists during the summer season. The ESB and Bord na Móna though have been the mainstay of the local economy for over 50 years. That’s all changed with the recent closure of the peat powered ESB Station that towers over the landscape for miles around. Locals are taking it in hand to reinvent Shannonbridge; it has great tourism potential and we wish them every success.
Grey clouds were gathering at this stage, a change of weather was imminent – well says I to Mary ‘that beats Banagher’. Our lovely sun was disappearing on us and we were a little concerned we might not make our destination of Terryglass today. At least we would make Banagher, another busy boating centre on the Shannon. Wasn’t long until we were flying through Banagher and heading into north Tipp.
We made great progress but had to take the busy Birr – Portumna road for 7kms, which we dreaded; it’s twisty, has no margin and is not a good cycling road. Add to that the rain was coming down, heavy. On the plus side we were edging closer and closer to Terryglass and I would finally get to drop in on the tiny village of Lorrha. I don’t know why but I was aways curious about Lorrha. I think it had to do with John McIntyre, the Tipp hurler and former Galway hurling manager! Lorrha is a parish steeped in history that flourished in the peaceful days of the saints and scholars from the 6th to the 9th century, was raided and pillaged by marauding Vikings, recovered to become a major monastic settlement only to be overrun by the bete noir of Ireland, Oliver Cromwell. It’s great to see the storyboards popping up in our villages that give some information about the area and its history. They are really helpful in promoting these small villages and giving an insight to the locality. We saw our first signs for the Beara – Breifne Trail here but more about that later in the journey.
We were in touching distance of Terryglass, just another 7kms away and we were relieved to finally make it into Terryglass around 7pm. With the rain bucketing down we were praying to find a B&B for two wet cyclists; our luck was in, the first door we knocked proved successful and we had a lovely host in Patricia in Woodview B&B. Just 100 metres from the local bar and restaurant. Just perfect.