Well rested after a night in Corrigan’s B&B (highly recommended), the weather took a turn for the worst with heavy morning downpours as I retraced my path back to Bellanaleck and 5kms back along the road towards Derrylin taking a left turn towards Carrybridge, crossing over the River Erne. From there I kept up my habit of sticking to traffic free local roads that ran close by the side of the Lough as I headed into Lisnaskea, a busy little market town.
The rain began to dry up and I deviated from my plan to head for Newtownbutler, instead opting to travel cross country to Magheraveely where I picked up the Kingfisher Trail once again.
It was stunning with all the beautiful autumn colours on display along the hedgerows of rural Fermanagh, helping to distract me from the ever more bumpy drumlin terrain as I made my way to the Ulster GAA mecca of Clones and onwards towards Monaghan Town. This border country was very isolated, with little traffic or people about – the route crisscrossed back and forth, and it was impossible to know where the invisible line actually lay. Not many around here take much note of it anyhow. The stretch between Killevan and Three Mile House was tough going after a long day in the saddle and I was glad when I eventually rolled into Monaghan Town.
The town of Virginia was founded during the Plantation of Ulster and was named after Queen Elizabeth I of England, the ‘Virgin Queen’. It’s a busy spot with a lot of through traffic towards Cavan and the road to Ballyjamesduff is very narrow with heavy traffic.
I found a lovely way to avoid that by cycling through Deerpark Forest Park – 160 hectares full of fantastic trails along the shores of Lough Ramor. After 6kms I exited out onto the Oldcastle road where I took a left and continued for 2kms taking a right then just before a sharp bend. This brought me on another isolated bóithrín, perfect for the bike which took me almost all the way into Ballyjamesduff, made famous by the poet and song writer Percy French, whose statue adorns the main street.
The network of minor roads is just brilliant for cycle touring in this country and I was able to head on to Cavan town again on stunningly beautiful quiet bóithríns by taking the road towards Crosserlough and taking a right after 3kms onto another even smaller road!
A few small hills added to the variety of the route which I welcomed after so long on the level ground of the central plains of the Leinster.
Mention Cavan and the O Reilly clan name is closely associated with the county – so many great footballers down the decades! Kingspan Breffni Park is one of the great GAA venues. It’s a natural amphitheatre that draws thousands in support of their teams during the Ulster SFC.
The town itself was founded by the O Reilly’s and is unique as it is thought to be the only medieval Gaelic town. It’s a good stopping off point with plenty of accommodation and hostelries before travelling onwards.
I again took liberties to devise my own route that kept off the main roads and weaved a magical path through the Cavan lake lands and drumlins. Its an area planted with lots of native beech and oak and is terrific cycling country.
It’s approximately 30kms to Ballyconnell along these quiet roads with only the village of Milltown for resupplies. I loved this section of the route, so quiet, peaceful, and scenic. I picked up the (sometimes well signposted) Kingfisher cycling route into Ballyconnell.
Ballyconnell and Derrylin are at the epicentre of the former mighty Quinn industrial empire and the road between the two is busy with heavy goods vehicles entering and leaving quarries and factories. Thankfully, the road is wide and straight for the 9kms to Derrylin in County Fermanagh.
I took the main Enniskillen road all the way to Bellanaleck, 13kms away. It is possible to exit off it and go via Kinawley, but I reckoned on that road also being busy. Accommodation is thin on the ground in the village, so I headed out to Cleenish Island on Upper Lough Erne and found the perfect place to stay in Corrigan’s Loughshore B&B, on the shores of the lake. It was a Godsend!
Cleenish Island is one of the important sites associated with Saint Columbanus for he spent some time here at the monastery of Saint Sinell. Sinell was a significant monk famous for his holiness and learning and it appears to have been here that Columbanus opted to receive some further studies before he entered the monastic life. Sinell was a student of our old friend St Finnian of Clonard, who we met previously in Myshall and in Clonard County Meath. Perhaps the Myshall connection was significant.
There are some ruins in a small wooded graveyard on the lakeshore but nothing else to identify the monastery. Upper and Lower Lough Erne are some of the most beautiful places to visit and it is easy imagine the attractiveness of Cleenish as a monastic site.
The island has some other interesting history too and recently there have been some stories of ghostly sightings among the abandoned houses that dot the island!
As I cycled my way across the border counties of Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Armagh and Down from Thursday to yesterday, the invisible border beneath my wheels was often on my mind.
I thought of the impact of Brexit on these communities and those thoughts were interspersed with thoughts of the construct of another invisible border, 350kms away, by an Association that prides itself on creating and supporting communities, the importance of the parish and the county.
By the time I weaved my way towards Armagh, where I met young Ciarán Corrigan, All Ireland U131/2 Road Bowling Champion practising road bowls with his brother and father, around a bend of the old Navan Fort Road, the deed was done.
We had been fenced off. Excluded. We are now Associate members.
The British people were sold a pup by Brexiteers. The establishment pushed a spurious argument that will have consequences for years to come. Self inflicted harm on a national scale.
Brexit is an illusion.
So too is the tiered Championship.
When a competition has to be dressed up – (curtain raisers in Croke Park, All Star Tours) to be sold to counties it is because it does not stand on its own merits. We are told this competition is to support the ‘weaker counties’, give them a realistic opportunity of winning silverware…..
This is not going to do anything to promote, improve or develop football in the affected counties. Rather it will weaken it, irreperably.
TWO COUNTIES have harvested 13 of the 19 championships played since the new millennium began. Just two counties.
Isn’t it shocking that the other ‘weaker counties’, rated from 3 to 16 have no such competition to participate in and give them a realistic chance of winning….
If this tiered competition is so necessary and correct, surely the logical extension now is to also exclude these counties from the provincial championships….after all the history books will show that the provincials are also dominated by a small number of counties. Yes even the Ulster Championship, which has had just four counties win the Anglo Celt Cup since the year 2000…..
I find it truly amazing that suddenly money can be found for more ‘All Stars’ Tours when the weaker counties struggle to make ends meet. These junkets are a sham. Meaningless, non productive, a vulgar display of wealth by an Association that cannot devise more equitable ways of distributing largesse.
When a county owes Croke Park for ticket sales, the funds must be handed over next day. No ifs or buts, yet when Croke Park owes counties money, it’s a struggle to get reimbursed despite the strains on cash flow in most of our counties. City Hall truly is all powerful.
The relegation of counties to tier two is going to affect their ability to attract sponsorship. They find it hard enough to do so currently when there is some opportunity to have a big name county visit and create massive promotional opportunity for the locality. Take that away….. we could literally be looking to the local chipper to buy a set of jerseys…..
There is nothing in the new structure that will replicate the promotional opportunity that we had when playing Qualifier games with the likes of Tyrone and Monaghan in Netwatch Cullen Park. These games were bigger than the result and the impact on children, on our clubs, our supporters cannot be replicated anywhere else. Players from both sides mingled with both sets of supporters on the pitch afterwards. Don’t tell me that Tyrone or Monaghan got easy wins either. They got real tests. But sadly that will NEVER EVER happen again.
There is no need for a second competition based on tiers. The league is the tiered competition. How difficult is that to understand? The Championship was never about that and in the new reality it still isn’t – for counties 3 to 16 it is still about ‘the big day’, an opportunity to cause an upset, a shock and create a little bit of history, to try make a little progress. They are not going to be winning All irelands under the new set up either.
This new tiered competition is going to rehash the national league fixtures to a large extent. What is attractive to the public about Carlow travelling to Carrick On Shannon or to Limerick, or to Corrigan Park? What if players cannot justify in their own heads that the effort required does not match the reward on offer? These are the true amateurs after all.
If it is not attractive enough then attendances will be small.
It will still cost these counties the same amount of money to prepare for the Tommy Cooper Cup as for the All Ireland Qualifiers, but with less income to offset the level of expenditure. This competition will be a loss leader. Playing the finals as curtain raiser to the All Ireland will not result in one euro additional income to the GAA – Croker will be sold out anyway!
Make no mistake central funding by GAA will be concentrated on the teams taking part in the Sam Maguire. The gulf widens further.
What are the chances of a reduction in allocation of All Ireland Final tickets to the tiered counties!
There is no development for counties in this structure. Playing the same teams year in, year out is not going to improve the standard in these counties. Croke Park has given up on us. We are not on their radar or if we are, we are that pesky drone that has invaded their air space and needs to be taken out.
The only way to improve is to test yourself against teams at a higher level. This ensures it will NEVER happen. EVER.
How could counties vote for this??
They say history repeats itself. It’s certainly true in the GAA. The same counties dominate. The likelihood is that the tiered championship will be dominated by the teams that sit on top of Division 3. The Leitrims, Wicklows, and Carlows may never win it, mighty never make a final. How attractive will inter county football be then to players and spectators in these counties?
I am sure heaven and earth will be moved to start this tiered championship with a bang, promises will be made but soon forgotten.
Much talk is made of the success of the Joe McDonagh Cup etc in hurling but ask Carlow and Antrim about how promises turned to dust. A day in Croke Park isn’t the measurement of the success of these competitions.
The GAA is in crisis. All of it of our own making.
Some of the biggest reasons are dreadful competition structures; the only learning we seem to take on board is how to make them worse.
We love to play God and tinker with playing rules, yet cannot address the most problematic, the tackle.
We eulogise about the Club but crucify it with how we have pursued elitism in the inter county game – we are in danger of killing the goose that played the gold egg.
The push is on to become more elite. We cannot sustain it.
Those at the top envy the internationalism of other codes and are chasing the exposure and opportunities those codes can attract – TV rights, corporate sponsorship. In doing so we move further and further away from the objectives for which the Association was founded.
We don’t need to ape them. We have something they do not have – a vibrant community based grass root structure that is at the heart of everything that happens in our parishes and counties. Kill that and we are no different.
Some more photos of a fantastic cycle along the proposed Turas Columbanus: