Thursday August 16th 2007 saw 56 ‘leisure’ cyclists join the legendary Seán Kelly at Cork’s City Hall to be waved off by the Lord Mayor at the start of the 7th edition of the annual “Tour de Munster” Charity Cycle.
The chosen beneficiary for this year’s edition was the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland and its CEO, Godfrey Fletcher, as well as its Fundraising Manager, Martin Cahill, were joined by Cork County Chairman, Paul Higgins, and local volunteer collectors to witness the start of the event. Dr. Barry Plant, a heart and lung specialist in Cork University Hospital, was also among the special guests present. Alison O’Brien of Fuzion PR did a marvelous job in coordinating photo-shoots and interviews and the entire spectacle was covered by Mick Mulcahy on Cork’s 96FM as well as in the Examiner Newspaper. Lovely ladies in 96FM jeeps were even giving out lollipops which made some of the cyclists look dead cool.
A lap of City Hall was escorted by Gardai and the 96FM jeeps before the group departed the City on route to the Dunkathel roundabout. A couple of ‘strays’ were picked up at the Silversprings Hotel before Kevin Hegarty led the group through Glanmire where he was greeted by some waving family members. Although who’s family they were is a bit of a mystery because his own were supposed to be in Kilgarvan!
Unfortunately the sun which thankfully shone for the ‘Grand Depart’ quickly gave way to sultry skies and a heavy rain shower required a quick stop in Watergrasshill because not all of us are brave enough to don our rainjackets while cycling in a peloton (or otherwise). And not many of us are crazy enough to wear a rainjacket when there ain’t no rain! Some lads seem to want to dehydrate!
Just before Rathcormack Martin Cahill made a fair attempt at taking down the peloton by driving alongside the Garda car which was escorting us and attempting a conversation with the driver. Fortunately we survived to be greeted by CFAI bucketshakers before Ger Desmond, one of our daytripper Freescale colleagues, rounded for home and ended his brief debut appearance at an event which we hope he’ll soon complete. Paul McSherry failed to notice Ger’s departure and accidentally ended up in Fermoy, cursing the solo journey which would take him home. Austin Cassidy had taken refuge much earlier than Ger and a planned three-man chaingang was decimated.
Local Gardai got us through Fermoy and the North-Westerly which had chilled us beforehand now started to work in our favour as it pushed us to Lismore for a planned ‘pit stop’. A front wheel rub and a partially overheard conversation suggested my brakes had been tampered with. Gerry Murray’s laughter confirmed that Seán Kelly had decided that I needed to slow down the peloton a bit for Denis O’Kelly and Paschal Moynihan who were very sorry for missing the Saturday training spins. Paschal was even more sorry that he holidayed in Majorca at the same time as me and thus ended up in the Tour at all. After a bit of adjustment I was sure I was back on track and with Mary Morrison on the remote controls we settled in for a long drag up the Vee. The pressure mounted as we neared the junction with the Cappoquin road and an early hammer-drop was required to get folks from cycling four abreast! What’s that about? – We can’t all be first and surely survival is more important than being 10th up the Vee on a charity cycle!
Seán didn’t bother contesting and the honours predictably fell to Mark Nolan but Mick Buckley ensured he didn’t get them without a fight. Subsequent arguments centred around the variation between the summit and the finish line with Mark claiming the first and Mick the second. An earlier spat saw a tangle between Fiona Meade, John Casey and Will Cooke and apparently involved a ditch.
A gang of us waited at the top ’til Dave O’Riordan signalled from the van that further delay was unnecessary so we took off to re-join the group in Clogheen. We saw Diarmuid Carew along the way and assumed he was assuring his mother that he was OK to continue and would be home for dinner.
Dave Redmond, Managing Director of Freescale, Ireland, took leave of us in Clogheen before re-tracing his tracks over the Vee and then throwing in Tallow and Dungourney for good measure. Meanwhile a couple of ‘uncalibrated’ participants jerked around the pace a bit on the front and made the rest of us sorry that they missed the Saturday training spins too. Sometimes I think cyclists deliberately misbehave on the head so we won’t leave them there long; I’m probably just bad-minded. Either way a lot of us were hungry enough to eat a small child by the time we made an eagerly awaited lunch stop in Cahir. Robert Scannell and the folks in the Cahir House Hotel put on a fine spread and local CFAI volunteers led by Mandy Quigley came in to greet us at lunch.
Mick Howard made a late but very welcome arrival just after lunch, claiming that if Seán Kelly was leaving then he needed a quality replacement. The Gardai gave us great assistance to get us safely to Tipp town where we made a brief stop to add visual impact for the collectors. Some of them spent time chatting to cyclists about CF and the devastating effects it has. Many of the cyclists were moved to tears and any prospect of self pity was seriously postponed. There was a close call with a cargo strap at some road works beyond Tipp but happily no injuries were sustained. Somewhere around Oola we stopped to let Stephen Egan get into ‘the pocket’ and he was very sorry for missing so many Monday, Wednesday and Saturday training spins. Medical advice from Tom English was interrupted with an instruction to “cowboy up!”. Coincidentally we were outside Liam Walsh’s brother’s home so Liam had a brief natter with his sister-in-law and nephews and nieces. We had to leave when Gerry caused Liam’s sister-in-law to have a panic attack by asking her to put on tea for 50 cyclists.
A brief scheduled pit stop in Pallasgreen lasted a little longer as we waited for Siobhán, a local young lady with CF, to come along and meet us. Siobhán had heard about the Tour on the radio and simply wanted to say a big thanks to all the cyclists involved. It’s embarrassing to find yourself so caught up in the cycling that you need to be reminded of one of the main reasons we’re doing the Tour.
We were supposed to turn off for Abington a little before Boher but none of the locals bothered to tell us where. I got suspicious when we passed Pa McGrath’s pub and had to call a halt when Caherconlish was back over our left shoulders. Arthur Schmid and Gerry Murray were chuffed with the navigational cock-up which left them with less distance to do against the wind before they’d be home in Limerick and Patrickswell, respectively, for a night in their own beds, away from all the skullduggery. There was a brief discussion centring on whether we should stick to the main road but Gerry recommended that we stick to the publicized route. There’s no arguing with someone of his wisdom and he is, after all, the unofficial president of our unofficial club and chief counsel to the Tour organizers. Experience has probably told him that if you give way on one route change then you’ll have to give way on another and before long the stages are whittled away and we may as well all stay home.
There’s a T-junction around Abington where we turn right. It’s claimed victims before so someone decided to brake hard even though an approaching car was turning left and therefore was no real threat. Anyways Mick Howard had an old lapse in concentration and ‘took out’ poor Mary Morrison. Paul Burke jumped in and before long the Gardai were required to break up the fracas and ambulances had to take away lads with bicycle frames wrapped around their necks. Alright, it didn’t get that bad but apparently Mary was almost angry and most of us have never seen that before. Except Paul! And God knows he has to deserve it – we’re talking about a guy who’ll argue that he’s justified in calling ‘left’ for an obstacle in the centre when he’s on the right of a two-abreast chaingang. No wonder Gerry said to Mary “it isn’t too late!”
We proceeded when Mary pronounced Mick “half-stage” Howard forgiven and rolled on through Newport where a lovely blondie Garda waved us through. Hugh McKee was a gentleman on some of the steep hillocks which preceded our arrival at the dreaded junction in Birdhill. Happily the lovely blondie Garda was present again to ensure our safety if we managed to keep our eyes on the road and not twist our necks too much. A sudden rain shower necessitated a quick stop for the jackets and I was disappointed to be feeling so bloody knackered after ‘only’ 118 miles. Forementioned lovely Garda was in Ballina to manage traffic but she must have taken a dislike to us because she sent us up an unwelcome hill which we’ve always avoided on a shorter route to the Lakeside Hotel. A positive side effect was the sight of an even prettier pedestrian on the hill. Or so I’m told anyways.
The Lakeside did a superb job on the check-in process and loads of cyclists were in the pool by about 7pm. Having traveled from Crusheen in Co. Galway, Deborah Kett, the mother of a little girl with CF, Hannah, was at the Hotel Reception to greet us on our arrival because she wanted to say a personal thanks to all the cyclists. We couldn’t persuade her to join us for dinner so she waited with her husband Patsy and 3-year old Michael while the rest of us had dinner with would-be assassin Martin Cahill. When dinner was over we introduced Deborah and she gave a very matter-of-fact description of life with and for a CF child. It was heart-breaking to see little Hannah so full of life and bouncing all around the place with her little brother and to know that her life was pre-destined to be shorter than any of ours. If we ever prayed for a miracle then we did it with Deborah Kett! Men don’t cry, right, but I had some job choking back the tears as Deborah spoke and I know I wasn’t alone. Muscle aches withstanding we all rose to give Deborah a standing ovation and hopefully resolved as one to do our best for CFAI and for Hannah!
I was well knackered before dinner and were it not for Deborah I’d have been feeling right sorry for myself and retiring early. Then it occurred to me that Seán Kelly had probably ‘adjusted’ my back as well as my front brake during his Lismore mercy mission. I’d have to wait ‘til morning to confirm my theory but if I was right then I’d just done a load of resistance training and hopefully earned a few pints of Guinness after a shot of Lucozade to restore sugar levels. Of course if I was wrong then some real trouble lay ahead but at least I had made most of the Monday, Wednesday and Saturday training spins. Short of taking EPO I couldn’t have done much more to prepare.
Kevin Hegarty had done Sunday’s stage on Wednesday and had a sworn affidavit to prove that he was now already over half way through his version of Tour de Munster ’07 and well due a celebration. Well if he only left the swearing with the affidavit and took the tonic without the gin then I might have been spared some of the abuse which he’d been storing on too many Monday, Wednesday and Saturday spins!
I escaped to my bed in the knowledge that I’d be buzzing with the excitement of a little boy at Christmas well before 8am. Sure enough at 7:30am I was wide awake and eager to get breakfast into me. It took a while to settle the Hotel bill and it became apparent that it was a mistake to give Kevin a room to himself when a phone call to his room left him with less than 5 minutes to wake up and get ready for the 9:45am start. He was a sad sight when he arrived in the van outside my parents home where I woke my folks from their sleep to say a surprise hello. OK, it wasn’t really a surprise but I had told them I mightn’t have time to stop. But they’re my parents and I love the bones of ‘em so everyone could wait a couple of minutes.
We still made it to Cruises Street on time to meet the Mayor of Limerick, Ger Fahy, and a journalist and photographer from the Limerick Leader, not to mention the lovely Olivia Finn, an off-duty garda whose sister died of CF at the age of 27 and who wanted to help us with traffic management. The legendary Christy Enright also turned up on his bike and Kieran Burke, the man who got me into cycling and drinking Guinness, arrived on his Paganini. It was great to see Helen Stapleton too who had come along to help us by joining the army of bucket-shakers. The sight of Helen, Christy and Kieran brought back many great memories of Matt Quinn’s “Into the West” charity cycle and especially a great night in Tournakeady on the shores of Lough Mask.
Leaving my home city should have been a straightforward affair, even after almost 8 years living in Cork and saying ‘boy’ instead of ‘sham’. But to Arthur Schmid who’s lived there all his life it should have been a cakewalk: Up William Street, right at John’s Pavillion, past the CBS, through Janesboro, around Thomond Shopping Centre, left after the Quality Hotel, past Carew Park and out the Adare road. Within minutes we were in the countryside and cruising along with our special guests, Christy, Kieran and Trish’s friend Kama, in tow. Long before Adare Christy came to the front and showed that in his 61st year and with more ailments than a small hospital, there’s still life in the old dog yet. James Mangan said he was only a young fella and should stay at least ‘til lunch but Christy now has a peloton of greyhounds and peeled off at the Manor to head for Fedamore.
Kama left at the same time as she was heading back to Killaloe where she’d joined us. I was a bit worried that Kieran would suffer the same fate as Paul McSherry so we stopped at a garage on the other side of Killaloe to wave off another great man. He protested bitterly and cursed the young fellas in the Bad Asses for not maintaining a more active presence in a Tour which they’d get a helluva kick out of. The youth of today!
‘twas only as we were about to leave Adare that I realized we were missing about half our peloton, My biggest concern was that Mary wasn’t present and where would I be without my reference, my remote control? Hell, all the Limerick lads were missing. Damian Schmid had pleaded to be admitted at the last minute; Was he involved in a feud and trying to escape? Had his attempt been foiled and was half our peloton now facing an uncertain and harrowing future? Only time would tell! Of course I could have just checked my text messages to see a note from Gerry complaining that Arthur had led a load of our cyclists astray and brought them on some half-baked mission to the Cresent Shopping Centre so he could continue a chat with a collector he’d met in Cruises Street. Someone please tell Arthur why they invented phones!
They were never going to stop when they finally reached us in Adare and Gerry simply called out “Everyone got a bike!” – Great cyclist and comedian too! Mark Nolan had wanted a breakaway and now they had their chance. Of course ‘twould be interesting to see if we could close them down and keep a steady gap. So it was “game on!” It took a bit of effort and Arthur and Damian, not wishing to be found in an off-side position, fell back into the chase group. Gerry directed the breakaway to relent and fears (or hopes) that they’d miss the turn for Ardagh were dispelled.
Denis O’Kelly got a buckled wheel and took up riding shotgun in the van which Kevin had vacated. Stephen Egan seemed to be in trouble and Gerry reckoned a few miles on my wheel would sort him or else his hopes of completing the Tour were going to be in serious doubt. Someone had spread a rumor that this was a flat stage but West Limerick is anything but flat and a sorrowful Kevin did his penance by helping with the pacing through the wind and rain.
A Garda escort going into Listowel quickly saw us ground to a halt so we thanked the driver, excused ourselves and singled out past John B Keane’s to commence our search of the town square for the Listowel Arms Hotel where John Costelloe, CF Kerry Branch Chairman, had booked us in for a fine lunch. John Slattery was too busy searching to notice a curb which caused him to fall off his bike, much to the amusement of his Tour ‘friends’. The hotel itself is a fine establishment and the owner, Patrice, was understandably insistent that we remove our cycling shoes before ruining her hardwood-floored lobby. She gave us a very generous donation so there must’ve been no hard feelings. Before long we were all back in our shoes because no-one seemed to want to miss the planned photo-call with the Rose contestants in Tralee. Even Denis O’Kelly got his wheel trued up and was ready for action when ‘play’ resumed for the 16 mile dash to Fell’s Point where the Roses donned some of our smelly helmets and got on some of our dirty bikes for some great shots. Gerry reckoned ‘twas the highlight of their week.
Seán O’Kennedy, national chairman of the CFAI, interrupted his family holiday to take them to meet the cyclists at Fells Point and thank us for our efforts. Even the Mayor of Tralee turned up and said she’d have the kettle on next year. Deirdre Waldron and Greg Canty of Fuzion PR made sure that their labours bore great fruit and before long we were off again. We stopped at Blennerville to see if the fast charlies wanted to let off steam in a breakaway group. As it happened a big enough group had spent longer in Tralee and swished by to make the discussions superfluous; Anyone wishing to catch the break was going to have to catch the breakaway. So there was a mad dash accompanied by plenty of profanities before peace was restored in Blennerville and the rest of us quietly got up the road, taking comfort in the fact that the gale which had picked up wasn’t quite a headwind. We waved at Mrs. Allman’s house as we passed Curaheen and hoped that her grief was somewhat lessened by the healing hands of time. The kindness she showed us on a couple of tours where she treated the entire peloton to ‘high tea’ will never be forgotten. John Casey still reckons Mrs. Allman’s rhubarb tart was the best he’s ever tasted but he’ll kill anyone who tells his mother.
Mick Howard is about as fine a companion as you can have beside you on the road; We seemed to make light enough work of the road to Cloghane with him talking for Ireland and encouraging everyone to keep the chin up in conditions which were about as bad as you could fear. Seamus Hoare had gone up the road with the fast charlies only to turn around and head back to Tralee for the comforts of home. His ‘fly-by’ was very impressive and probably earned him extra spuds in Knockmoyle – fair play to him.
Despite the usual level of cooperation from Basil Fawlty, Mark Nolan had the lodging assignments worked out well by the time we got to Crutch’s hotel and all overflow cyclists were quickly dispatched to B&Bs in a waiting bus. The same bus had us back in the hotel for a superb dinner followed by a few pints but there was no hint of another one as late as the previous night. Dave O’Riordan took leave of us at the end of his two day ‘apprenticeship’ and much appreciated sub duties for Brian Padden who made a greatly appreciated return to drive the van over the most challenging sections of the Tour. Gerry Murray also ended his 2007 Tour and arranged for Charlie O’Neill to play in his position. Big shoes, tall order. Some guys really are irreplaceable! James Mangan too had stuck to his plan and left us in Tralee. No-one could sub for a gent who, at 62, puts us all to shame with the quiet and unassuming manner in which he simply gets on with the cycling and never appears to be over-extended. James forces us all to face the reality that opting out of the Tour on basis of age is just kidding ourselves.
Young Patrick Crean from Camp turned up on Saturday morning to make a donation to the cause and cycle a bit of the Tour with us. If he ever raises his saddle then he’ll do the whole thing no bother. Denis O’Kelly’s wheel was a bit the worse for wear but 10 minutes of messing saw it fairly close to true. Mark Nolan and Amy Wolfe had a contingency which would see them leave the Tour in Dingle, make a mad dash to Slane for the Rolling Stones, and rejoin us in Lauragh for the full Sunday stage. Stone mad! But first there was honours to be battled for on the Conor Pass. Mick Buckley, a true phenomenon and just in his second year of cycling, had victory on his mind but told me he’d need a long hammer-drop to realize it. Fair enough. Everyone was warned that Mark only had 16 miles of cycling to do that day and anyone attempting to wrestle with him could find themselves severely depleted later in the Tour’s toughest day. They were also warned that the hammer-drop would come early and it might be best if they had gone in the advance party to see how the competition unfolded. Drew O’Brien, Mick Crotty, Tom English and Charlie O’Neill might have a ringside seat if only they knew it. Others were stuck to and over toilet seats as some bug appeared to have got in on the peloton. Ray White reported for duty with a complexion reminiscent of his surname. Mick Murphy did likewise but both were determined to give the Conor Pass a lash. Only they’d leave it to Mick Buckley to keep the pressure on Mark.
How early the hammer-drop came surprised even myself, and I called it! There must have been about another two flat kilometers after it before the ascent began in earnest and our tail-end group settled into a fine rhythm with a very pleasant level of banter. All ‘twas missing was Mick Howard! Up and up we went, passing Gordon Thomson who was busy making photos, along the way. Some people will do anything to avoid cycling but the shots are great! Denis O’Kelly’s wheel got the better of him on the Pass and he accompanied Brian in the van for most of it. We fitted a spare Will Cooke wheel at the top and he was back in action. Betty and Tom Hand from Dingle were at the top to cheer on the cyclists. They lost their 23-year-old daughter Mary less than 12 months ago and around the same time the other two contemporaries with CF in Dingle left this world. And here they were finding loads of words to encourage us when we could find no meaningful words to comfort them. Perhaps in our physical endeavor they saw something of the fighter which was in their daughter and hopefully took some comfort in the fact that we were at least doing something, however little, for CF.
The Conor Pass had sheltered us well from an unmerciful wind and rain which made the descent quite challenging, if not dangerous. Thankfully everyone made it to Dingle without mishap and pretty soon I was enjoying a great cup of coffee thanks to Pauline Brady who had listened to me moaning the night before. Shame on me!
Having survived the Conor Pass, our departure from Dingle quickly led to a considerable tailback and we split the peloton to limit the traffic congestion. One group took more decisive action and detoured to The South Pole Inn in Annascaul to see where Tom Crean spent his final years, having experienced hardship even worse than cycling up the Conor Pass. Joking aside, read “An unsung hero” and learn about human endurance beyond belief. When a mountaineer like Rheinhold Mesner says Tom Crean and company were truly great then you know the lads weren’t wasting time by visiting his pub and perhaps soaking up some of the spirit which must survive.
That Conor Pass wind helped us a bit towards Castlemaine and it got right behind us to push us to Miltown. The list of sick people seemed to be growing as we picked up a new garda escort and pushed on for Killarney and a lap of the town to draw attention to the collectors. They were doing great work, as proven by a subsequent tally which put their takings over €7,000! Up the Kingdom!
Lunch was in our usual venue, the International Hotel, and the laundry yard was as good as ever for warming ourselves while we parked our bikes. Rose and Brendan and their colleagues fed us like royalty and Terence Mulcahy gave us a very generous donation before yet another lovely garda ensured we got on our way safely with her colleagues escorting us to the Muckross Road. Mick Murphy was very unwell and decided not to re-join the peloton and Ray White, who had always planned to give Sunday a miss, cut his Tour in Killarney. Two great lads laid low by something unkown but there was no shortage of theories.
Ladies View and Moll’s Gap lay ahead of us and advance warnings of the impending hammer-drop were sounded as early as five miles before the tunnel which would mark the ‘game on’. A couple of dangerous overtaking moves in the face of on-coming buses warranted a verbal warning before our tail-end group settled down for the climb and marveled at the strong winds blowing every which way around us on the many sharp bends that led us to the top of Ladies View and the edge of the National Park. And we had Mick Howard back with us so life was good. The worst (or is it best) of the climbing was now behind us and there’s even a bit of respite before the final ascent to Moll’s Gap. The wind and cloud at the top made viewing both unenjoyable and pointless so we quickly begun our down-hill pursuit. Alex Brophy gave it socks while Stephen Egan heeded advice to stay pedaling, albeit he was pedaling backwards; Some folks does be needing very explicit instruction.
Entering Kenmare was inspirational with all the local CFAI branch members out on the bridge collecting thousands. Kevin Hegarty had completed his Tour and was ‘home’. Mick Buckley borrowed his bike for the final day because he broke his own in his efforts on the Conor Pass. Oh yeah, that battle ended with Mark first to the summit but he claims no moral victory because he had to draft off Mick for a lot of the climb. Their duel isn’t over and it’s going to take one phenomenal challenger to get between or ahead of them. Might go in the advance party myself next year. Unless of course Aidan Murphy is up there filming an epic. Charlie O’Neill had arranged to end his ‘Etape du Tour’ in Kenmare as well. Fair play to him for making the appearance after a bloody rough winter on the health front and getting sfa done on the bike.
‘twas cold leaving Kenmare but at least it was dry and Tom English spun us up to a nice temperature fairly quickly before announcing his intent to get to Josies early and took off up the road with a fine gang of hammer-droppers in tow. He’s always loved that last climb before Lauragh whereas it always kicks the proverbial out of me. So I wasn’t taking any chances and used Stephen’s breathlessness as an excuse to wolf down a Turkish Delight bar. There seemed to be an increasing number of patients around the place and I failed to notice that Will Cooke had slumped over his bars before working up the courage to set off ahead of us again.
Getting folks to leave the Síbín and cycle the remaining few miles to the Hostel in Lauragh is always difficult; Some don’t have to go because they’re staying in the B&B above the pub or just up the road in Sheila’s Mountain View. But with enough prodding Declan and meself were finally able to set off for the final overnight resting place. Trying to get away from him discretely to find a bed in a dorm which wouldn’t be kept awake by his infamous snoring was the next challenge. A very impatient motorist almost solved the problem but happily we made it to the Hostel unscathed. John Slowey and Ayesha Lee arrived around the same time and treated us to their now traditional bottles of beer in what has to be one of the sweetest spots on earth. Reports of more sick cyclists emerged from the hostel and Will Cooke didn’t even make it to Josie’s for the finest food anywhere. The talent of Josie Corcoran and her daughters combined with the friendliness of her personnel and the sheer beauty of the view of Glanmore Lake conspire to make “the Last Supper” a truly wonderful experience. Her cooking is only topped by her generosity and complimentary Irish or Bailey’s coffees preceded a very large donation to the the 2007 TdeM beneficiary. Josie is truly a legend and each year re-affirms that the Tour route should always include Lauragh. Thomas Hartnett’s bus was on hand after the meal to relay us to the pub, B&B’s and hostel. Unfortunately all too many were only fit for bed and ‘twas clear that some nasty bug had got into the peloton. But a fine quorum made it to the Síbín where Frances welcomed us all on our now annual visit to her pub and Martin Cahill even got up and did a bit of singing while Mary, a collector from Kenmare, interviewed prospective husbands for her daughter whom she had “taken off the shelf and dusted” when she saw so many men heading to Lauragh. All she wanted was a man with “a bit of (road) frontage”. The craic was good in the Síbín but unfortunately it wasn’t followed by the traditional singsong in the hostel kitchen. We should have known then that all wasn’t well with Declan because he’s always there in fine voice. Brian Padden was bitterly disappointed and went to bed wondering if the cycling had gotten way too serious all together!
Sunday morning saw a dry but cool start to the final stage. Breakfast was laid on in Josies for everyone staying in the hostel. And what a fine breakfast it was too. Unfortunately quite a few cyclists were unable to face it and there were a few people with serious stomach trouble when we assembled at the Síbín for the 10am start. Some of the walking wounded had elected to go early and get the Healy Pass done. Mark Nolan and Amy Wolfe made a remarkable effort to get all the way back from Slane in time for it and Marks’ chief regret was that Mick Buckley wasn’t on hand for the final battle in the King of the Mountains ‘competition’; Mick had stayed in Kenmare after attending a stag and planned to go directly to Glengarriff. It was a pity he wasn’t there to comfort his poor wife Joyce or Fiona Meade who both became the latest victim of “Beara Belly”. These ladies are tougher than old boots and have proven grit, determination and fitness levels beyond compare. The pain etched on their faces was enough to tell anyone that they wouldn’t be cycling the final stage. It wasn’t a decision either took lightly as they were fully togged out in their cycling gear before wisdom prevailed. Declan must’ve thought hard about joining them because he was incapable of straightening himself out. Instead he adopted a curved position on the bike and set off up the Healy Pass with a plan to try to keep ahead of the peloton for much of the day.
A couple of punctures on the Pass ensured that Declan and everyone else who went up the road pulled out a fairly good lead and Pauline Brady ensured our rag-tag sweeper crew worked for the scones and coffee in Nancy Harrington’s Maple Leaf Bar. Happily we got a bit of a reasonable peloton together as we left Glengarriff and Mary Morrison ensured that a bit of normality was restored. At least until the Pass of Keimanagh when she decided to put manners on her fiancée. Paul maintains he was sick but it was an impressive victory for a lady who didn’t own a bike five months beforehand. The top of the Pass is the start of a fine decent before the turn for Gouganebarra and a cyclist could easily have missed the turn for lunch. Happily no-one seemed to over-run the turn but a few were barely able to keep their eyes open during lunch and ‘twas clear we’d need to have a very short stop for the late arrivals. Mick Lally was entreated to say a few words of encouragement and with his weather-beaten look he looked like he could well have been one of us. His booming voice, however, set him apart and we could hear why he’s at the top of his game while we struggled to complete ours.
Inchigeela or Ballingeary provided us with wonderful encouragement as the people of Mick Dinneen’s neck of the woods gathered outside his local. Armed with banners and flags they came to give him heart-warming cheers which provided us all with an enormous lift. Well outside the town there were sporadic pockets of people with signs for “Mícheál Abú!” which were a testament to the popularity of this gent both on and off the bike.
Macroom came soon enough but probably not quite as soon as Stephen Egan would have liked. Or maybe a bit too soon because his protests suggested that the pace could well be more relaxed. Tom Moore went to his aid and with great and encouraging words and tones helped us find a pace which Stephen could maintain while keeping us on schedule. A reasonable break in Macroom saw Declan re-integrated in the peloton and ever grateful to Tom English, Mick Crotty and Nick Mulcahy who, among others, had shepherded him to that point. Along with so many others, he knew that once we got past Lissarda then he would be on home turf and a half reasonable pace should see him over the line for his 6th consecutive Tour finish. Arthur Schmid and meself were happy to make ourselves useful for a few miles and enjoyed the bit of banter until we hit the off ramp for Ballincollig. Paul Higgins and Co were collecting along its streets and Stephen’s family were sure to be with them so we prevailed upon him to lead us in and take the salutes. Reluctantly he agreed and his son was very impressed to see his Dad “winning the race!” His wife Louise proclaimed we were very kind to let him take the front, shattering illusions all round. An All-Ireland semi-final was keeping people off the streets as we set off for the final leg to the Silversprings Hotel. In keeping with tradition the surviving ladies led us the final kilometer and an exhausted but very pleased Mary Morrison completed a truly remarkable achievement.
Deborah Kett drove down from Co. Galway to again thank the cyclists for their efforts on behalf of people with CF. She brought Hannah with her. Another teenager with CF was also present and their incompatible conditions meant that Deborah and Hannah had to leave. It drove home the curse of CF; It’s not just physically debilitating but it’s also socially debilitating as the risk of cross infection is a serious health risk. If ever we needed proof that isolation units are essential then we saw it first hand when a little 5-year-old had to return home without getting to mingle with cyclists who symbolised hope for her future.
All cyclists put in a tremendous fund-raising effort and for the first time ever all full-Tour participants were eligible for the Joe O’Carroll raffle. This fund-raising effort raised over €105,000 for the CFAI, with more than €23,000 coming from the tireless efforts of the bucket-shakers. But the real fund-raising heroes were Mick “half-stage” Howard, Kevin “single room” Hegarty and Stephen “bad knee” Egan, who between them raised over €20,000, with Stephen alone accounting for over €10K. What do they say about last shall be first…. Medical examinations subsequently revealed that the man did have real ligament (IT?) damage. So his performance both on and off the bike was exceptional; He had truly “cowboyed up”!