Monday, February 15, 2016

Quality Myles! The Slí na gCopaleen Mini-Tour Ride Report

Slí na gCopaleen Ride
It was to be my first time leading an organised bicycle ride. And the evening before it, I became plagued with doubts about the route. I mean, six miles - really? What was I thinking! Even with all the talking I'd be doing as part of the guided "literary tour" (the ride was part of the Flann O'Brien, aka Myles na Gopaleen, festival in Donegal mentioned here earlier) it would be over in minutes surely. People would be disappointed, angered; they would pelt me with rotten vegetables.

Slí na gCopaleen Ride
Keen to avoid that scenario, I set off on my own before sunset to do a dry run, perhaps tweak and lengthen the route a bit. And in so doing I immediately remembered why I had kept the distance so short. It was basically a hill climb we'd be tackling. An uphill slog through remote Donegal bogscapes at a relentless gradient, followed by a winding, brakepad-burning descent.

"This ride is suitable for cyclists of all abilities," I had penned in the route description to a trusting audience. "We will pedal at a social, parade-like pace, with lots of chatting and stopping along the way."

Yeah. Six miles might seem like an awfully short distance, but these six miles would be plenty. For the miles in the hills of Gortahork are of the finest quality, presenting the cyclist with hardships and torment of the purest sort and thus inspiring Flann O'Brien's extraordinary novels. And to boot this was the middle of February, with chances of rain and gael-force winds at nearly 100%. Listening to the sounds they made against the slate roof of my cottage that night, I fell asleep with a clear conscience.

Slí na gCopaleen Ride
The following day, the Slí na gCopaleen Festival was in full swing in the village of Gortahork, with morning talks of a scholarly nature putting me into a civilised frame of mind - so much so, I was even inspired to wash my face and clean the mud off my boots before arriving at the designated meeting place.

Slí na gCopaleen Ride
With the time of year being what it was, I was hoping that 8, perhaps 10 hardy souls might join me that day. But in truth I feared that it would really be just me, and a couple of local friends, come out of politeness.

Slí na gCopaleen Ride
To my surprise, however, the bicycles - and riders - kept multiplying, until the number exceeded a dozen, then doubled again, and kept growing beyond that still. What's more, the crowd was positively brimming with celebrities - including painter Michael O'Nolan (Flann O'Brien's brother and only surviving family member), actor, writer and publisher Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde, comedian Hughie Mac Ó Duibheannaightravel journalist Sean Hillen, members of the Cosan Glas artist collective, and a certain glamorous Irish soap star whose identity shan't be disclosed. At the start I believe we had 32 riders in all, half a dozen or so canines (unleashed and amazingly well behaved), and god only knows how many bicycles.

I was thus presented with a challenge I had not anticipated: How to talk, outdoors, in 0° temps, and having just barely recovered from laryngitis, to an audience of that size who were scattered on bicycles. I proposed we should pedal in thoughtful silence, then stop in front of each landmark and wait for all to catch up - at which point I would gather the crowd close and whisper the interesting things I had planned to impart upon them.

Slí na gCopaleen Ride
Amazingly, this format worked pretty well. Before long we were all intimate friends, whispering conspiringly in front of our destinations after all had caught their breath to reach them. In this manner, I told of the House Where Flann O'Brien Stayed, of the spooky but really quite lovely Whalebone Gate, of the so-called Gortahork Volcano, and the fabled Hunger Stack Mountain with its hidden stashes of gold and artisanal whiskey. Finally we reached the abandoned railway station of the defunct Londonderry and Lough Swilly narrow gauge railroad, where we allowed ourselves an imaginary summertime picnic in front of its shambles premises, while discussing its history and expounding on the need for Donegal to turn the dis-used railway beds into rail trails.

Slí na gCopaleen Ride
In front of all of these places, I made hoarsely whispered speeches about their role in Flann O'Brien's writing. My audience, panting from exertion and shivering from cold, leaned in close for warmth, which flattered me in its resemblance to attention and interest.

Slí na gCopaleen Ride
Meanwhile, the glamour was oozing from our stately procession,

Slí na gCopaleen Ride
as we dazzled the local sheep and rock formations with our swathes of tweed,

Slí na gCopaleen Ride
all manner of colourful haberdashery,

Slí na gCopaleen Ride
and picturesque suffering in the low winter sun.

Slí na gCopaleen Ride
True, the weather disappointed us that day with its lack of Gaeltacht authenticity - depriving us of rain, or even wind of any strength worth mentioning.

Slí na gCopaleen Ride
I could only hope that the endless uphill trek on heavy upright bicycles made up for this in some small way, and the crowd was not too put out.

Slí na gCopaleen Ride
As we descended and reached at last the end point of our route, Teach Ruairi's pub, I heard more than a few riders exclaim to one another: "The likes of that ascent I have never pedaled and do not wish to again!" and "That damn near finished me!" in deeply satisfied tones. Only one rider within my earshot complained of the route having been "reasonable" and "nice." But really, you can't please everyone.

Slí na gCopaleen Ride
That afternoon's remainder was a blur as we warmed in the pub, the riders plying one another with buckets of hot ports and whiskeys. Our six mile route had taken us a good two hours to complete. It is a well-known fact that time flies when the miles are of high quality. And finer quality you won't find than in the steep, winding, crumpling, boggy back roads of Gortahork, in County Donegal. Whether you are fans of Flann O'Brien or not, perhaps next time you will join us!


32 comments:

  1. Just first rate all around! Lovely photos and droll wit. The photo of the tweed coat really had me doing a double take. At first, I thought it was a video showing rain or sleet, then looked again and saw that the coat shimmered when scrolling down on my notebook because of the apparently tech challenged retina display. Anyway, most amusing and rewarding post. Really special to spark, curate and share such a celebration. Thanks. Jim Duncan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The backwards buttons are a nice touch on that coat also!

      Delete
  2. Any ride that you've survived sufficiently well enough to have an afternoon full of whiskey is a good ride.


    Congrats on leading your first ride. That seems like a good turn-out.



    Wolf.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ba mhaith liom na "gael force winds." Myles would be wearing a grin a mile wide!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. : )

      {PS: and that is his brother in the patchwork jacket)

      Delete
    2. Is that right? A brother on O'Nolan side, or the O'Brien, na gCopaleen, Barnabas or Knowall sides?

      Delete
    3. cosmonauts and thatched cottages - you decide!

      painter Micheál Ó Nualláin
      http://slinagcopaleen.tumblr.com/paintings
      https://twitter.com/slinagcopaleen/status/698240032423985152

      Delete
    4. I wouldn't have expected any less of a mixture!

      Delete
  4. "32 riders...and god knows how many bicycles": I'm going to go out on a limb here and say approximately 32, give or take...

    ...sounds like a Flann-tastic ride, so it does.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wonderful photos and post - how could they not have enjoyed themselves in such beautiful countryside and with a guide who is a natural 'story teller'? I am happy all went well and I am sure it was of great satisfaction to you; thank you for sharing this with your readers - if we could, I'm sure we would have all been happily following you through those roads in County Donegal.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Constance! What a lovely, lovely, post: I felt warmed from within, my soul better off for vicariously sharing the 6mi schlep and whisper fest. Cracking pun, too.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Like! Six miles is plenty when the bike ride is about a couple of hours in the fresh air, the bike being incidental. Not all of us want to pop a vein or develop a six pack ... :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The only six-pack worth bothering with involves six bottles of Guinness.

      Delete
  8. What a truly lovely tale, well told, and one that exemplifies the conviviality of the bicycle as a tool, as that word was used by Ivan Illich. The photos in your last few posts have also been stunning. I pop in and out here, and it seems the landscapes are viewed with a broader lens, and the colors and contrasts are more vibrant.

    My mother's family is just a few kilometers south, in the Cliffony area of Sligo. I believe I shared here that one of my grandmother's brothers was a rural postman all his life, making his rounds via bicycle. Sadly, though most of my brothers and my sister have visited, circumstances have so far conspired against me; also, I don't have a great deal of wanderlust. Still, Ireland is the one place I would care to go, more so after being inspired by the stories and photographs on Lovely Bicycle.

    On the subject of short rides combined with a talk, to help raise the community's bicycle consciousness, I am planning a 4.5 mile ride this spring along a loop that starts on Main Street and runs along the creek, down to the Hudson River, and back to Main, which now features sharrows as part of the loop designation. We will stop at places of historical interest along the way, from the spot where Alexander Hamilton started work on the Federalist papers, to where Madam Brett's husband met his demise, to the industrial factories, one of which was converted into DIA:Beacon, a world class art museum. Again, thank you for the inspiration!




    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a fantastic photograph. I do not know Sligo too well, but the parts I have been to are lovely. Plans to finally climb Benbulbin this summer, too. I hope you get the opportunity to visit your family soon.

      Delete
    2. The three things of note in Sligo (IMO) are the Gleniff Horseshoe Valley, the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery and Knocknarea Mountain with the ancient cairn right on the top and the magnificent views across Strandhill and Coney Island.

      Delete
    3. Thanks. I have not been to any of these.

      Delete
  9. Loved seeing the variety of ages as well as styles (fashion and otherwise) on the ride. It sounds like a grand time. Congrats!

    ReplyDelete
  10. This post has a little of everything: a gathering of hardy, tweedy, rosy-cheeked riders, lots of cool bikes, including a Raleigh Twenty!, and plenty of great writing and photos. Nicely done.

    ReplyDelete
  11. That was lovely. Enjoyed every word and picture. Well done on your first group leader ride.
    There could never be a time when I can imagine anyone wanting to pelt you with rotten vegetables . Fresh ones are so much harder ( only joking ). The rain is lashing down outside here in The Peoples Republic of Cork , but You have brightened up my afternoon. Rotherman.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I admire the practical bend of your thinking. Fresh vegetables it is!

      Delete
  12. You used to make Boston sound pleasant and inviting. BOSTON for God's sake! I still think I might like to go poke around up there sometime even now, years after you've evacuated yourself to somewhere more reasonable.

    Now every time I look in here you're making it seem like the only way I will ever be content is to go all the way to freaking N. Ireland for a pleasant afternoon of freezing to death. It's unkind of you and I wish you would stop. My only consolation is in knowing you're making it all up.

    Spindizzy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey. Many people think Boston *is* pleasant and inviting.

      (And it is, sort of, if you make up your own version of it and live in that, grafting it onto reality.)

      I would also just like to point out that Northern *and* "Southern" Ireland are equally matched in delivering the afternoon freezing to death experience. And of course we on the border enjoy the choicest versions of that from each.

      Delete
  13. After perusing these photos once again, I started wondering whether the Irish are genetically predisposed to having ruddy cheeks, or whether the photographer might have used Photoshop to make them blush digitally.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A naturally occurring consequence of the exquisite foundering that is unique to these parts. Seriously, my skin looks so much nicer in Ireland than anywhere else; the tourist board should promote this beneficial effect!

      Delete
  14. Truly a happy day for the Gaels of Corkadoragh!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I'd love to see a map of your route. Tis a dream of mine to cycle there one day....

    Being a Nolan et al.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Any ride that you've survived sufficiently well enough to have an afternoon full of whiskey is a good ride.


    Congrats on leading your first ride. That seems like a good turn-out.

    ReplyDelete