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!