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2022 – The Year the Wheels Came off the Bike

… or at least I did!

This time last year I had completed over 7,000kms on my bike around the country. As I faced into 2022 I had ambitions of covering even more ground on my trusty steed. I won’t forget the date of the 29th January. Kilcoo were due to meet St. Finbars in the All Ireland Senior Club Football Semi Final in Portlaoise and Carlow were playing London in the NFL. Tickets bought online at 9am and I planned an early cycle in beforehand to make a great day of it! Unfortunately I never made it to either game as I had a bad fall from the bike only 800 meters from home- it was completely my own fault. It always helps to watch where you are going… instead of O Moore Park it was Waterford Regional Hospital for me with a mangled arm requiring 3 plates and 10 pins inserted.

The consultant told me I’d be lucky to be back on the bike in 10 months. He did an incredible job on reconstruction and my rehab started almost immediately. Slowly but surely movement and strength returned and while I couldn’t cycle I could walk and I got an opportunity to do some nice rambles near and far from home.

Near Askamore, County Wexford, being watched over by the Boss herself..

Trips to National League games always included a walking route to keep some semblance of fitness and mobility.

Heading for Temple Stadium with Tommy Wogan, we had a lovely 6kms loop walk at Grange, just over the Tipperary border

Viewing point on Grange Loop Walk

The Blackstairs

I think my favourite walk is Shannons Lane. It’s a terrific access route for Mount Leinster and Knockroe. So many incredible views, so much history from ancient rock art to the Second World War…

This way to the cross on Knockroe

Hiking to Knockroe Cross with an intercontinental cast of my cousin Sineád (Germany), my uncle in law Peter Kearney (County New South Wales) and Sinead’s boyfriend Gaym (Eritrea).

Going to games always provides an opportunity as a spectator to add in a ramble and there is a really beautiful walk on Forth Mountain Wexford which I did on the day of Wexford v Dublin in the Leinster SFC.

Love the pink hew on these rocks at Carrigfoyle trail on Forth Mountain.

Often on my travels on match days I’m accompanied by my great friend Tommy Wogan. We go back a long long way; we have covered the country by bike and on foot, from the top of Carrauntohill to Rathlin Island. Great memories and more to come.

Tommy at the Lia Fáil stone on the Hill of Tara. The vibes were good & we were confident of an upset v Louth. It wasn’t to be.

Traipsing across the Wicklow Hills with Mary!

The Plains of the Curragh on the way to Conleth Park for Kildare SFC double header

All the walking and rehab work began to pay off and instead of being off the bike for 10 months I was back on the bike after less than four months. I was very cagey but delighted; I really thought the year was a write off and I could see that a big tour would be possible if I could continue to recover at the same rate.

The Barrow Track is my default route when getting back on the bike after time off. Loved the colours of this barge.

Probably the best Stones Concert of all time…

A great little hike to the Devils Chimney Waterfall, County Sligo

My plan from last year was that having completed Malin to Mizen in 2021 I wanted to cycle Coast to Coast (west to east) in 2022 but I didn’t want to take the flat and straight Galway to Dublin route incorporating the Grand Canal.

I wanted a route with lots of scenic views and historical sites to visit. I poured over ordnance survey maps and plotted a magical route – to start at Blacksod Bay, taking the north Mayo coast around to Ballina, crossing Leitrim, Fermanagh, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth to finish in Carlingford. The drumlins nearly killed me on those local roads! It was shorter than Malin to Mizen but I found it harder. The constant up and downs with some serious gradients and a possible lack of fitness made it a true test of character. I loved it.

The added bonus was meeting Unison MacCraith agus a bhean chéile Treasa Ní Ghearraigh in Glenamoy County Mayo. We had a marvellous few hours walking and talking along the cliffs above Portacloy. I got a lovely surprise when I got home as Vincent had posted me copies of his local history books and guides for the area. In 1983 Vincent lined out in goal for Rathvilly (and captained them) against Éire Óg, winning their first ever SFC Final.

At the Céide Fields

Despite Robbie Molloy’s request, Vincent didn’t push me over the edge and into the North Atlantic…

The Caves of Keash, County Sligo

Before heading into the clouds on the Ox Mountains … what a network of local roads we have for cycling…

Walking and cycling are a tonic and the combination of exercise, fresh air, fantastic sights, sounds and smells give a natural high. I love getting out, especially to new places – and there are loads of them still to be explored..

I didn’t go anywhere near the distance travelled in 2021, managing just over 3,000kms but 2022 turned out to be a great year between the hiking and the cycling and it has filled me with a burning desire to get moving again from today and explore more of the hidden corners of this grand little country. Any suggestions for routes in Ireland – on local roads or off road? I’m thinking about following the River Blackwater from source to sea as one..

Happy New Year all!

Sligo

So much to see in Sligo, so little time to do it! I had but a fleeting visit and I took in a couple of beautiful enchanting sights – I have to get back and do a cycling tour of this underrated county. So much beauty, history and folklore.

Carrowkeel Passage Tombs above Lough Arrow

The first destination was the Passage Tombs at Carrowkeel in the Bricklieve Hills. Its’ a grand easy 3kms walk in along a well defined path with breathtaking views. The approach is along a narrow gap with towering cliff edges on both sides. This is along the popular Miners Trail Walking route. The hill tops around here are adorned with cairns and mounds, all impressive sights and they mark megalithic burial chambers. No wonder WB Yeats was so influenced by mythology, legend and fairies – it was everywhere around him here in Sligo.

There are 14 passage tombs dotted around Carrowkeel and nearby are the Caves of Kesh which I visited on my Coast to Coast cycle during the summer. The passage tombs are linked to the legendary Moytura, battleground of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the ancient Gods and the Fomorians and their leader Balor of the Evil Eye! I still have Lady Gregory’s ‘Gods and Fighting Men’ on my book shelf so it was great to do this little hike and feel the ancient lore of this inspiring landscape..

A short hike takes you up to the passage tombs at Carrowkeel with stunning views across Sligo and Leitrim..
The walk in towards Carrowkeel
Bricklieve Hills, the passage tombs are on top
Entrance to Passage Tomb
Carrowkeel view
Taken using a selfie stick – I didn’t access the tombs

The next destination on this all too brief visit was Glencar. As you leave Sligo with Benbulben in front of you, take the Manorhamilton Road down through glacial Valley that cuts into Dartry Mountain Range with Benbulben on one end and Glencar at the other end. What a beautiful valley – it’s outstanding! Glencar Lake comes into view and it isn’t long until you reach Glencar Waterfall.

Glencar

Glencar Waterfall is part of the inspiration for the Yeats poem ‘The Stolen Child’.

I think we all yearn for a return to innocence, especially in today’s world! T

he landscape here is still much as it was in Yeat’s time and its easy drift back to when he wrote these words..

Where the wandering water gushes

From the hills above Glen-Car,

In pools among the rushes

That scare could bathe a star,

We seek for slumbering trout

And whispering in their ears

Give them unquiet dreams;

Leaning softly out

From ferns that drop their tears

Over the young streams.

Come away, o human child!

To the waters and the wild

With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

WB Yeats
Glencar Waterfall
The Devil’s Chimney – Ireland’s highest waterfall.
Glencar Lake looking back towards Ben Bulben
Yeats was enchanted by the fairy woods…

Coast to Coast Day 6

The final day and the longest cycle, 112 kms. Cavan town to Carlingford.

The hills were relentless this morning as I left Cavan town all the way to Carrickmacross but marvellous roads for cycling. I have nearly crossed the country but I have honestly only met a handful of cars over the 6 days, apart from in the main towns. It’s been brilliant, I always felt safe and relaxed. No one was in hurry, everyone had time for a few words; most people I spoke with were bewildered at what I was doing and how I wandered down their neck of the woods!

Shercock was my first destination for the day, a bit of a landmark, 45kms distant which meant I was definitely going to get this completed today. But it was again up and down all the way! I could easily have knocked kilometres off my route, and hills too, by taking regional roads but I wouldn’t dream of sharing those roads with heavy traffic and lorries. No, my way was hard but perfect for the bike. I was whacked when I got into Shercock and was glad the little cafe was open for a receiving milkshake and scone! Carrickmacross was the next milestone, alway a bustling thriving market town, bypassed now so not a place I get to pass through very often. This is border country, some would say bandit country too! I was surprised and glad that it was flat to Forkhill in south Armagh.

Market day, Carrickmacross

I was delighted the route passed through Inishkeen, birthplace of the poet Patrick Kavanagh – a man we all were familiar with from our Leaving Cert English. I loved his poetry, so evocative and descriptive of rural Ireland but also a harsh mirror to Irish society.

Inishkeen GAA Club, one of the finest club grounds in the country.
Inishkeen Round Tower

Traffic picked up from Hackballs Cross to Jonesborough. Whatever it is about these border counties – but they drive like lunatics! Coming over Flagstaff was tough but it was followed by a great downhill into Omeath and on to the Greenway, a nice way to end this Coast to Coast – that is apart from the bramble cuttings littering the path. I’m mystified by these greenways and how they are maintained. Why encourage bike travel and leave thorn branches on the gourd to puncture wheels? Carlingford is manic. It’s a real Mecca for tourists and getting a bed proved very difficult and expensive. Tip. Don’t stay here! Get a place down the road.

The Mountains of Mourne in the background from Flagstaff.
The end. Carlingford County Louth.

The rough plan was to cycle home from Carlingford, or at least to Dublin, but in truth I was jacked and next morning I cycled into Dundalk nice and early, caught a train to Dublin. I then had to cycle over to Heuston and caught a train back home. I had considered cycling out of Dublin on the Grand Canal but mentally the trip was done when I had completed the Coast to Coast. Full marks to Irish Rail – I found bringing the bike on the trains a really positive experience and I’ll be doing it again.

Total kms cycled 517.

Home in one piece!

Coast to Coast Day 5

I passed the half way point yesterday somewhere near Lough Talt, so I was feeling good this morning knowing that today would eat another big chunk off the second half of the challenge.

Boyle is a great base to explore a region that is very underrated. There’s loads to see and do around here; the only problem is there’s not much accommodation in the town.

Boyle or bust…

Getting our of Boyle was great – my route took me through Lough Key Forest Park, a place I have fond memories of from a training camp with Mary, Patricia & a bunch of their international team training group. Lough Key is on the edge of the Town and its a gem. Full of beautiful woodland and lakeside walks and activities. A really nice place. Lovely route through for me that took me onto the back roads of lovely Leitrim.

Passed this lovely and unusual octagonal house just after Lough Key Forest Park. Took a left here.

I’m going back to Leitrim at some stage. I like this county. Small. Understated. Beautiful. Quiet. Rural. Not flat – lots of small hills, I was moving into drumlin country. Some wise man described drumlins as akin to half buried eggs and he was right! Up and down, up and down and though not very high, the gradients could be challenging! The early part around the Shannon was nice and flat and beautiful surfaces for biking. Shortly after crossing the Shannon at Battle Bridge I rolled into Leitrim village the gateway to the Shannon Erne Waterway and is a popular stopping off point for cruisers.

The county is very sparsely populated and while I was travelling the back roads, it was even more isolated than expected. I had one 57kms stretch before I came to a shop!

Would the real Fenagh please stand up! We have our own lovely Fenagh village in the centre of Carlow and Leitrim has one too. Even smaller than our one! Its located close to the River Shannon and it wasn’t long before I reached a jetty near Keshcarrigan where I had a great chat with a guy cruising up to Enniskillen who was also a keen cyclist.

Between every drumlin there must be a lake! The route I took brought past so many pristine lakes, too many to have names! It really is beautiful biking country. But the hills are relentless, especially with full panniers. I broke at Carrigallen and had a well earned sambo.

If the hills in Leitrim were a challenge Cavan literally topped them! My elevation graph is like a printout of an ECG… and I thought I might need one of those when I got into Cavan! A bustling town, another place I have good memories of games in Breiffni Park. I though I would have no difficulty in getting a room in town but it bursting at the seams and I was lucky to get one in the Kilmore Hotel. It was my earliest finish yet to a days cycling which I was glad of.

Hands off Creature!
Back roads video clip

Coast to Coast Day 4

I finally got to leave Mayo – a huge county. I could spend a fortnight cycling around it to truly take it all in! Heading into the legendary Ox Mountains, a place I’ve been intrigued with since primary school. The name conjured up some kind of magic and I recall reading fables set in the Mountains. So I was looking forward to cycling across the range today.

Love the traffic free local roads and lanes!
End of the road?

The hills were shrouded in cloud cover as I made my way out of Ballina along the winding back roads of Mayo and now Sligo. Soon the roads turned to lanes that brought me right up into the cloud and the mist where giant wind turbines suddenly appeared

Up with the wind turbines. Where did the sun go?

It was a case of putting on and taking off layers for the early part of today’s route. Rain jacket on, sweating, rain jacket off… Eventually I got off the mountain and had a brilliant road descent down by Lough Talt. With rain falling I decided to divert off my planned route and went directly into Tubbercurry along boring straight regional roads. Not my style at all.

One of the places I want to visit was one that I have passed by on a few occasions going to club matches in Sligo. The Caves of Kesh. I was delighted I took this circuitous route to take them in. They are a dramatic site, a row of 13 cave openings perched on the western edge of Kesh Mountain, part of the Bricklieve Mountains. They have long been part of the rich folklore and myth of the area and are associated with Fionn MacCumhaill, leader of the Fianna. and the Tuatha De Danann. They can be accessed by a steep winding path and care is needed along the cliff edge. The effort is worth it as there is a certain mysticism in walking through the caves and the views are amazing from the cave openings. If ever in the area, be sure to make the Caves a stopping point!

Caves of Keash
Caves of Keash
Panting heavily after the climb up to the Caves of Keash!

The plan was to then go up into the Curlew Mountains to ancient Carrowkeel but it was raining and cloudy and the effort it would take wouldn’t justify today! Instead I crossed over the edge of the Curlews and flow down into Boyle, County Roscommon where the local arts festival was in full swing. Accommodation was scare but I eventually got a B&B out the road. Had some great craic in the Crescent Bar owned by Dennis Dodd. What a character! It was so enjoyable listening to the banter between Dennis and his loyal customers. Great entertainment altogether.

81 kms today.

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