An efficient bus service from Dublin to Galway 1 took me virtually door to door from the airport to The Eyre Square Hotel, but as we had driven across the flat lands of County Meath we headed into the rain for which the West of Ireland is notorious.

I slept well but woke anxious that I wasn’t going to get a soaking, although the grim, dark sky over the Atlantic told me otherwise. After a full Irish breakfast (same as a full English) I made my rendezvous with the lads of the Go North Team at Woolfe Tone Bridge (named after the leader of a quashed rebellion against the English in 1798). They had already ridden around Southern Ireland from Dublin and had experienced varied weather, so being acclimatised thus they were less worried than myself and very considerately lent me some extra waterproof layers! This outfit had to be worn as forfeiture by anyone who was deemed deserving and as I had turned up 3 days late, the dubious honour was all mine.

Around Ireland
88 miles, 18 mph average24 May 05Day 1
Galway - Sligo

The forecast was looking poor all day so we decided forego a picturesque detour through Connemara in favour of a direct route to make the most of a good tailwind. Everyone was keen to move on and as we climbed steadily from sea level it was clear that there would be no time to dally. Within the first few miles we were all soaked through and the only means of keeping warm was to press on to a planned stop at Tuam 2. We piled into the first teashop leaving puddles and muddy footprints on the tiled floor. It could have been the Leprechaun outfit or just the sight of such sad and sorry looking Englishmen, but the Gaelic speaking locals treated us with a great deal of humour even though we were leaving a dreadful mess behind us.

Once duly refreshed we set off at a pace even more furious than before, in strict peloton order, each taking a turn to set the pace at the front. The land rose and fell gently through the bog lands of Roscommon. I was certainly glad to have fresh legs as each time I glanced down at my computer the speed was in excess of 20mph and I thought what a peculiar sight we must have made flying at full tilt loaded-up with all our panniers and touring gear. Ever northwards we chased through Ballyhaunis 3 and south of the Ox Mountains to Ballymote 4 to reach Sligo 5 by mid afternoon. Once we had left the main roads, we had the countryside to ourselves and its true that this area has been experiencing a gradual exodus ever since the days of the great famine when the potato crop failed in the three out of four years between 1845 and 1849. After a little confusion with directions we found the hostel for the night where the manager kindly arranged for our sodden cycling gear to be laundered.

Sligo is noted for being the home of the poet WB Yeats and its pubs famed for their welcome and traditional music. Unfortunately there was an ‘important’ football match on that evening so we headed into the town to a soulless bar with wide-screen TVs. Had it not been my first night with the lads and not wishing to endure the fancy dress again the following day, I would have made off in search of the ‘craic’ on my own.

Around Ireland
108 miles, 15 mph average25 May 05Day 2
Sligo - the North Coast

Sunshine! The day looked full of promise, so after a breakfast of local soda bread we headed east to see Lough Gill and the 17th century Parke’s Castle on its banks. A stiff 2-mile climb was rewarded by a seemingly endless descent towards Manor Hamilton where the earlier controlled pace was unleashed once more as we all soared down at over 40 mph. Quiet roads and lush green scenes took us rolling into Belleek 7 for lunch at a gorgeous café, but largely ignoring the local pottery works and tourist shops. Amazingly none of us had realised that we had passed into Northern Ireland (i.e. part of the UK) and likewise none of us had brought any Sterling. Fortunately the landlady was quite used to this occurrence and gladly took our Euros and pointed us to the nearest cash machine.

The next 10 miles to Kesh 8 proved to be some of the best cycling yet. The road cruised along beside Lough Erne and our tailwind pushed us along through this truly emerald land. We took a short diversion onto Boa Island to see the pre Christian carved heads in Caldragh cemetery. The climb into the western Sperrin Mountains seemed to last forever with constant false summits and by Castlederg 9 I was beginning to feel the pain from 150 miles of fast riding. We crossed the River Foyle just south of Strabane 10 and followed the valley into the town. This border town had a real frontier feel to it and even though ‘the troubles’ were settled for now I could still sense an air of tension. The town seemed terribly depressed and even though it had three bike shops, two had closed down and the third was on a half day. By now we were down to one spare inner tube between eight of us and several of the bikes (mine included) were starting to make strange noises. When things couldn’t have looked any grimmer, we passed the Police station. A full-blown fortress of a building, complete with high razor wire, lookout turrets and armoured vehicles. It was a sad reminder of less stable times. Strabane was also the first town where we set eyes upon the political murals ubiquitous throughout the North. They are most often painted on the end of a shabby terrace of houses and depict heroic scenes somewhat reminiscent of 1960’s Eastern block propaganda.

After the pretty village of Claudy 11 we started to climb out onto deserted high moor-land and just before 5pm, about 2 miles out of the town happened upon a cycle shop set up at the back of a house and quite literally in the middle of nowhere! We bought up his entire stock of inner tubes on the spot. Ten miles later my rear hub bearings gave up and every turn of the wheel was accompanied by a cracking and grinding that sounded like the whole wheel was about to collapse. It was too late to turn back now so I resolved to sort it out the next day and continued north past the mighty Ben Benone that stands guard over Lough Foyle and on to Benone Strand on the coast where jaunty cars still race – a legacy from the eccentric 18th century Bishop of Derry.

Our hostel for the night was right on the beach at Downhill 13 with an excellent view of the Mussenden Temple built as a library for the same Bishop in 1785 although local rumour has it that he used it as a boudoir for entertaining his mistress! About half a mile along the cliffs from the village a cataract tumbled down over the cliffs adding the icing to the cake of a day rich with great scenery.

The group had gradually fragmented through the day and when we were reunited we discovered that there was no shop or any place to eat in Downhill, but a pizza shop in Coleraine could run deliveries. We were all starving so ordered one of their largest pizzas each. Two hours later the massive meal arrived with two extra pizzas with bags of chips free for the wait. We descended on the feast like a pack of ravenous animals, tearing at the boxes and ripping apart the doughy flesh within! After we were all stuffed and the staff and other guests in the hostel were fed there were still three giant pizzas left over – but they made great packed lunches for the following day.

Around Ireland
140 miles, 13 mph average26 May 05Day 3
Northern Ireland & the Mountains of Mourne

My hub wasn’t going to mend itself so I set out early on my own having to forego the trip to the hexagonal basalt columns of Giants’ Causeway and Ireland’s most ancient whisky distillery at Bushmills. Coleraine’s 13 cycle shop didn’t make any repairs but the owner recommended I return to Limavady 15. Roe Valley Cycles could not have been more helpful. They diagnosed the problem and had replaced the bearing within the half hour it took me stop for tea and cake, and they only charged me for the parts. I was worried now that the group would be getting ahead of me, so I hopped on the bus to Dungiven 16 planning to meet near Castledawson at the NW corner of Lough Neagh. When I arrived in icy pouring rain I was dismayed to discover the guys were still at Coleraine – at least two hours to the north. I was frozen and stuck in a cold, wet remote place. The rain was showing no sign of abating but I could see clear skies to the east, so I caught another bus to Belfast 17. The little I saw of Belfast confirmed its reputation as a dire dump of a city - dull, depressed and downbeat. I was glad to head south to the coast, especially as I was now dry and it had indeed stopped raining.

I reached the coast at Clough 18 and rode on to the resort town of Newcastle dominated by Slieve Donnard the 852m peak rising directly from the sea. The coast road was a delight – relatively flat with views of the Irish Sea to my left and the foreboding Mountains of Mourne to my right. The team were in Portadown now but had been reduced to three due to the foul weather – the others having taken the bus directly to Dublin. We arranged to meet in Newry 20 so I pressed on past Carlingford Lough but when I arrived they were still about 20 miles further north having stopped to eat. I knew they were much faster than me so I decided to go on slowly. Each time I phoned, they had been getting closer but by 8pm we lost contact when their battery died.

After crossing the River Boyne at Drogheda it was getting dark and I had no lights so I moved on looking for somewhere to stay on the road south. Typically there was nothing for miles but the first hotel on the road was holding a wedding that was now in full swing. The sudden appearance of a lycra clad cyclist was too much for the Guinness fuelled guests who surrounded me and insisted that I stay, join the party and have a drink on them. Sadly the hotel had no available rooms and I didn’t fancy my chances with any of the bridesmaids, so I carried on to the next place in the dark!

Around Ireland
15 miles, 7mph average27 May 05Day 4

I was a little disappointed not to have finished the night before, particularly as a vicious headwind had picked up over night and it took more than 2 hours to get into the centre of town. I wasn’t helped by some very inconsiderate driving from the locals, who seem to have no regard for cyclists or cycle-lanes whatsoever.

Once in the centre I headed for O’Connell Street named after Daniel O’Connell who organised peaceful demonstrations against the mistreatment of Catholics in the early 1800’s. The city has recently benefited (as has much of the South) from EU grants and has been widely renovated, the centre being dominated by The Monument of Light, a stainless steel spire rising 120m – it makes an ideal reference point for any stranger in town. Oddly the grandest building in O’Connell Street is the palatial Post Office, centre for the 1916 uprising, but another highlight is the Georgian Customs House with its 14 carved keystones personifying the rivers of Ireland and sited itself on the north bank of the River Liffey.

Having ridden though Yeats country in the North West, Dublin most famously belongs to James Joyce, author of Ulysses and Dubliners – both works typically recording the gritty daily lives of Ireland’s capital city’s inhabitants.

© 2008 site by mjrcreative
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