No I haven’t joined the lycra brigade. Let me explain.
Never refuse an invitation has been one of the mantras that I have followed since I started living in Ireland and I know I have written before about some of the surprising encounters that have resulted. This was demonstrated yet again one wet Saturday in early April.
A couple of days previously I had received an email from a friend telling me that the organisers of the Cliffs of Moher Cycle Challenge were looking for musicians to entertain the riders during their lunch stop in the very north of Clare at Ballyvaughan. Without knowing anything about the event of course I agreed.
The instructions were simple. “Be at the Hall at 11.30”. It’s about an hour’s drive from Spanish Point and as I headed north of course, sun turned to rain.
This event, hosted by the Riverside Cycling Club Ennistymon, is in its 6th year. It has built up to become an important part of the Clare cycling calendar with 630 participants this year. The Burren and the Atlantic coast of Clare hosts some very popular cycle events such as the Tour de Burren, Ring of Clare, SRAC Atlantic Challenge and a ladies only ride Turas na mBan.
It’s not surprising really as the route is rated as one of the finest in Europe. There were a number of shorter journeys of 40 and 80 km but The full loop started and finished in Ennistymon and takes in the Cliffs of Moher (of course) and other iconic Clare sites such as Doolin, Fanore and Black Head on the spectacular Burren coast road, Ballyvaughan, Carran, the hairpin bends of Corkscrew Hill and spa-town Lisdoonvarna.
So I arrived in Ballyvaughan with the rain just in time to see the first riders arrive.
Some kept going, not bothering to take a break but most were diverted to the National School Hall for an inviting spread of sandwiches, fruit and warm tea.
And who could resist the local smoked salmon on soda bread and the piles of home made sandwiches. It was also time to exchange stories, meet new friends and check progress.
I joined a small group of musicians belting out jigs and reels with a mighty Kilfenora rhythm. How could it not be so with Anne Rynne (a member of the Kilfenora Ceili Band) and her family leading. It was so much fun to be part of. The riders seemed to enjoy it though I am not sure they realised that despite the youth of a number of the players , the music was world class.
It is a surprisingly small country Ireland, and the music world which I am part of has strong links across other activities. I think of it this way. Traditional music is like a strong thread in a patchwork quilt that seems to stitch everything together. From farming to football. To illustrate, there in the crowd was my friend Thierry, a keen cyclist and fiddler, who, still clad in riding gear, helmet and gloves, just couldn’t resist the temptation to borrow my fiddle and play a few tunes. Best of both worlds.
A great cross section from all over Ireland turned up. Even the Mayor of Clare was there, wearing not his official garb, but riding colours. This was a charitable event and a community event. There were no winners and everyone was a winner. Oh God. Did I write that!
I headed back home, but not after a little bit of drama leaving my fiddle behind in the hall. Retrieved it eventually.
I ran into the cyclists again on my way back (figuratively speaking that is) as the sun dramatically re appeared occasionally. I stopped at the beautiful Carran Church on the roof of the Burren to watch them ride past. You have to admire cyclists’ dedication. Still plugging away, only 40 km to go, I wonder how many were in the frame of mind to take a look at the stunning scenery or was their mind focused on the formidable Corkscrew Hill just a few kilometers ahead.
I finally ended up back in Ennistymon around 4pm as the last riders were triumphantly ending their 125 kilometer journey. 6 hours and 12 minutes is a long time to be peddling a bicycle.
These events take quite a lot of organising. Route marking, food and drink stops, publicity, traffic management and a host of volunteers contribute in all kinds of ways.
A very pleased Committee posed for me outside the Community Hall.
I hope the cyclists had as good a time as I did. Like I say, never refuse an invitation.