Summertime

The summer is racing along, after such a late spring there is just so much to catch up on that I haven’t kept up with my blog. I have taken up Instagraming at https://www.instagram.com/soditblog/ where I can post my pictures from the garden. I am very much a novice but I do enjoy posting and getting feedback from other keen gardeners. I tried Twitter for awhile but it didn’t really suit me. Anyhow here is a selection of some of the photos I have posted over the last couple of weeks while working in both my garden and the Goleen Community Garden. By the way I got a phone call a couple of days ago and we have a TV crew coming down to film a piece about our new Community Garden which in one way is great but in another I feel a bit under pressure to get the Community Garden looking a bit better for when they start filming and without much topsoil it is a real challenge.

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My Garden

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Our School Died Today

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photo by Paddy Mulchrone

That strange building at the end of the road with the white tower, turn right there just after the school, that’s what I’ve been telling all those who have tried to find our place. There are no children there anymore, closed for the summer, closed forever, no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks, school’s been blown to pieces.

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Others will tell of the history, the 60 years of the new school, the children and what became of them, got married, grown old, gone away, found the grave. Wise men, good men, wild men gone, gone gentle into that good night. I want to rage against the dying of the light, old age should burn and rave at close of day but this gem has slipped through our fingers like grains of sand upon the beach beside, the timer was turned one last time this year and each and every grain has fallen on the shore from whence it came.

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Life changes, time moves ever on towards a bright future, eager faces and hanging off the bars, waving at the cars at break time, the old huts, that battle ground of childhood has finally crumbled. Great were goals scored on that hallowed turf, the imaginarium of the south west, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Croke Park, for some it was Landsdowne Road others the Aviva but there will be no revival here now, no reprieve, no last minute match saver, the final whistle has been blown and it’s all over, move along now, nothing to see here, it’s time to leave.

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I had all four of my children schooled at Lissagriffin, their names are proudly etched in wood like a badge of office and my youngest is the last in the school to graduate, a feeling of loyalty filling her with pride. The others have all gone onto to do well at the “big” school in Schull, well grounded, well learnt, well played. Their teacher Richard guided them, inspired them and taught them well. I have no regrets, when I first went to see where I now live I passed that strange white building and thought even then, what a great place to send my future children and 30 years on it was, it served us well.

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I am pleased my kids were raised on grass, with mud on their knees, they were raised in the open space under blue skies with the smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves. They explored knowledge like the rock pools along the shore line excited and thrilled by what they might find. An education is not just words from books but where those words come alive in the imagination of the individuals who are touched and inspired by the new fresh world around them, needing room to grow they grew tall and strong.

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I have been asked to write an article about the closing of the school, but I am still in mourning, denial, anger, blame, bargaining, depression and acceptance all in equal measure but it’s the anger I am most unsettled by. How could this happen? How could a community let this go? No fight no raging against the dying of the light? I will be as one with the sea, when the sun sets on the ocean blue, remember me as I will always remember you, as the sun rises…go live life as full as it can be.

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Last day at school (Photo by Paddy Mulchrone)

A Life Journey: Last Legs

So where was I? I was now sat looking at my efforts of weeding in the Chinese Garden contemplating driving up to Killarney to watch my wife cross the finishing line of this remarkable race. If I left around 9pm I would be up there for 11pm which would give me plenty of time if I wanted to stop along the way and to find where the finishing line actually was, sunset is around 10pm so I should be well into the mountains of Kerry by then.

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Bantry is one of the main towns on the road to Killarney from my place and it is well represented in Irish music, singing the praises of the Bay, overlooked by Bantry House and the canons facing towards incoming ships. From Bantry you drive along the coast to Glengarriff there is almost a sub-tropical climate and it is the home of both the Bamboo Garden and Garnish Island Gardens which we visited in an earlier blog. The road then climbs out of the shadow of the woods to the rocky outcrops and the full drama of the mountains. You really know you are going somewhere special as you pass through the tunnels which open up to the mountains of the Kingdom. Of course coming back the other way you are also going somewhere special, the long finger like extremities of the peninsulas, the bays and the hidden coves of West Cork.

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The road leads down past Druids View and over the bridge and on into Kenmare. I love Kenmare, we had a very happy time around there when I was around 12yrs old and recall the cart rides we took into the hills for the day and rowing out the small flat bottomed boat in search of Mackerel and Pollock and the odd crab hauled up on a simple hook and line. Summer days were slow and long and the sun shone all the time! And we are having one of those summers where the heat on your back evokes the memory, simple pleasures of haymaking and cooking over an open fire.

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These thoughts and more came to mind as I travelled up once again into the mountains leaving Kenmare bustling with visitors sitting outside sharing pints in the warm late evening. I wanted to get through the pass and see the iconic Ladies View before the sun fully set, I would normally avoid this road during the summer, the surface has improved since I last went this way and the sheep fencing seems a bit more secure but the roads during the day are usually full of coaches negotiating the mountain roads and since the Wild Atlantic Way has brought even more visitors I imagine driving this road during the day could be a little frustrating but at 10pm on a Tuesday night it was a cruise on the open road, with only the occasional motor caravan but they were parked up in one of the many lay-byes.

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I got to Ladies View, I think its name has something to do with Queen Victoria’s ladies walking up to take in the view over the lakes of Killarney on her famous visit to Muckross House but I might be wrong. I wonder what those women would have made of a female cyclist in Lycra shorts and sleeping in fields?

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The view is lovely especially in that light, I couldn’t quite capture it on camera the full moon on one side and the fading pastel sky reflected off the surface of the lakes, the imposing mountains, shoulders of stone and just below the gateway to Killarney through ancient woods. The road narrows significantly and twists its way along the lake shore line. Always good to take that slow so you can appreciate the lake light through the trees but also to avoid getting in the way of any stag darting across the road at dusk.

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I find Killarney itself a bit of a disappointment. Killarney is without doubt the centre of tourism in Ireland challenging even Dublin as the number one destination. Its reputation for being surrounded by breathtaking scenery is well founded and Muckross House is a great place to visit and in order to cater for this level of interest the town has to accommodate a lot of Hotels and Bed Breakfasts, the place is wall to wall with them, a bit of a jolt for me who had been lost in the grandeur and magnificence of mother nature for the last couple of hours. In college my tutor mentioned that Killarney in the Irish language Cill Airne, meaning “church of sloes” and sloes are the berries we collect off the blackthorn in the Autumn, they are great for making that lovely pink demon Sloe Gin but that’s another blog.

I had timed it just about right and the last of the evening faded away as I arrived at the hostel outside Killarney that Audax Ireland was using as their central hub a simple and unglamorous beginning and end to an event set to challenge the will, the body and the spirit of the participant to their very limits.

As I pulled into the entrance of the hostel I recognised the chipped and weathered concrete pillars and the potholed bóithrín from the video of the start of the event posted on Saturday morning 88 hours or so earlier. If I’m honest I was a fan but I have come to think of cycling as a drug riddled commercialised narcissistic and somewhat comic pursuit and in my case that is down may be unfairly to Lance Armstrong, someone who to me was to be admired and then who fell from those heady heights, I felt betrayed and my image of cycling has been tainted, how your heroes can fall.

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But Audax Cycling seems a bit different. Audax comes from “audacious.” It started in Italy as a day-long challenge, how far can you go in a day? I found this out when talking with Senan Burke, with the very grand title of President of Audax Ireland. However I don’t get any of that grandeur off him or in Audax which does to me sounds like some kind of cleaning product. These Audax people or what I think is more evocative randonneurs are not a flashy breed, this is not glamorous, this is tough, gritty down and dirty cycling. Randonneurs are bold, brave and courageous, there is a whiff of a delightful valiant endeavour with subtle undertones of madcap, wild, reckless and eccentrics thrown in. A band of brothers and a few sisters. This is not competitive in the usual sporting sense, I didn’t get any indication that first over the line was of any priority it was more competing against your own physical and mental limits. To push yourself to your limits, to go to the mountain and return a better version of yourself and everyone wanted to help that happen in the time allowed.

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That damn clock, I know I wouldn’t see Kate for at least another hour but I kept checking to see the time and hoping she had managed to keep her average speed up enough to make the 2am deadline. My friend Eamon came across very confident in his text. But he had also said that she had 124km and it was flat. I overheard a few of the randonneurs recounting the awful climbs they had done that day and how tough the course was. That didn’t sound like “flat” to me and Kate had to have kept up a 20km/hr average. I believe Kate’s riding style is more tortoise than hare, while others fly past there’s Kate still peddling, still going, still moving, never give up and by my reckoning she had just kept going on 5 hours sleep while those rested in the wee small hours, there was the tortoise, just keep going, just keep turning, 89 hours complete.

It was past midnight, I must have dozed off on the bench opposite the entrance to the youth hostel. Another arrival, the shuddery headlight and crunch of gravel of another randonneur crossing the line, greeted by a quiet hand clap from the two volunteers helping them off their bikes. You could feel the quiet sense of pride and achievement, an understatement and a release of exhaustion. Just through the doorway and into the old building their details were checked and cards stamped. I could see them one by one or two would arrive together, it reminded me of those old black and white films waiting for the pilot to return from a mission over the channel, one engine out as they limped home to their loved ones. It was late and my mind had little to do other than to get lost in more and more imaginings, where Kate was, how far down the road, is she just turning into the drive, it better be soon, is that her there with the crunch of gravel and the glare of headlight? No he’s an American and he is very relieved to be back staggering a little as he dismounts.

I can hear your man, the American as he enters the canteen and there is a buzz of applause that must be where they are gathering and recovering. There are a few walking around the car park outside talking on their mobile phone, telling their girlfriend, partner, family or friend that they are home safe, yes they completed it in time, yes I am alright, just a bit tired, sure tell them I love them and I’ll be home tomorrow or I’m staying on a couple of days, me and a couple of the guys are going to see some more of this country while we got the chance.

Be safe, be safe Kate. God she really should have been here by now she is cutting it very fine. What if she doesn’t make it? How is she going to feel to come so close? Wow just to finish is pretty amazing, even if she doesn’t do it in time. Time, she has to be here in 15 minutes. I had my camera ready, there was one bright light glaring across the entrance way to greet them as they arrived I and the finishing control was illuminated in such a way I might be able to take a little bit of video when she arrived, if she arrived, two more are pulling up, it’s not them I can hear their voices joking about leaving it to the last minute, a habit with these two by the sound of it as they joked their way inside.

There is no one about now it is very quiet and there are only a couple of minutes left as I look at my phone checking the time counting the minutes. There is the sound of a drone a man launched a couple of minutes ago, strange he would leave it so late in the day, just hanging there above the finish its red light winking in the night sky. Nearly everyone is back only a handful left out there, somewhere in the dark, knowing they are not going to make it before the clock ticks over the line, how does that feel? Is it so close but so far or I nearly made it, its ok, I might try again in 4 years time.

Was that the gravel, no must of been the wind, no that is gravel and there is a headlight and another, there’s two heading up the drive, come on, please be Kate, please, please, that’s Beaky, bloody hell that IS KATE, its 1:58am, they made it, they made it, God damn they did it! Well done girl, that is amazing, go on get inside, you done it, you done it!

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There are times in life, special moments, those emotional sweeps you know will stay with you forever. To some they may not be significant, someone has nearly always done something bigger, longer, quicker, greater but to set a goal, to test yourself against yourself and to return a wiser, stronger person, is that the reason they put themselves through this? These Grande Randonneurs, this happy breed, to feel alive, to face the challenge, to sleigh the demon, to endeavour and to be audacious.

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My view of cycling has definitely changed. I as always will continue to smirk at those lycra legends who are scattered all over West Cork these days, I will always slow down and make sure I give at least 1.5m distance when overtaking but now I will also wonder if they could have the heart of a Randonneur, my amazing and totally mad wife Kate does.

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I would like to add a special thanks to Kate’s friend Beaky. He trained with Kate over the months leading up to this event, he had to pull out of the event at an early stage when he got heatstroke and he spent the next day in bed recovering but it was Beaky who I saw first that night leading Kate up the garden path, he stuck with her, he drove her, brought her back home safe. Thank you Beaky.

Racing the First Leg

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Life has been getting in the way of the garden over the last few weeks. I dreamt of spending the lazy days of summer pottering around doing all those jobs with secateurs in hand, a bit of pruning here and weeding there but it has been a little more complicated than that. We have certainly had the weather for it, we as a culture are obsessed by the weather. I imagine it is the same all over the world, but as a farming community we are never truly happy.

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We are having some amazing temperatures for Ireland. I heard on the radio that it has only reached 30 degrees a handful of times over the years and I can’t remember a spell of weather like this. What with the storms of the winter and the snow the seasons which normally blend into an all year round mild climate have really been establish themselves and this year we are having a “real” summer.

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I don’t often mention my wife Kate in my blog, we probably take each other for granted after 30 odd years but every now and again something happens that makes me review and I see another side of things. Like me Kate has her interests, they don’t always overlap, we don’t watch the same films or read the same books and we have a whole range of hobbies that don’t involve each other, which I think is very healthy for our relationship.

 

Kate got into cycling a few years ago, it has become a very popular activity and these days the roads are literally peppered with a whole range of brightly coloured lycra clad enthusiasts. Her interest started gradually and then built towards triathlon, where she was swimming running and cycling but it was the cycling that really caught her imagination.

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Kate & Meurig at Race Across America 2013

Her brothers were both cycling enthusiasts and one of them became an international. One year she announced that she was heading off to America to be one of his team as he took on the Race Across America (RAM). I think that was a major turning point for Kate and her experience was amazing, not just the cycling part of it but getting the opportunity to see the US from one coast to another.

 

She has done the same over here in Ireland and done our much less impressive equivalent, the Malin to Mizen from the northern most tip to the most southerly just down the road on the Mizen Head. That’s a bit less than 600km. As a family we just take for granted that Kate will head off regularly training or taking on some challenge or other with her cycling buddies. It’s hard to being “mum” to 4 kids all the time and the bike gives her a much needed break and time to be herself, the garden is my sanctuary the open road hers.

So we didn’t take an awful lot of notice when she said she was going to sign up for the Mile Failte 1200, looking back now I am sure she told us all about it but I for one didn’t really take much notice. She was going to be away for at least 4 days so I was more concerned with how I was going to get kids fed, the school run and fit in my working day. A pain in the arse but we’ll just get on with it, I was away the week before for 4 days at the Ireland Special Olympic Games and family life just has to go on as ever.

I run a Facebook  for my local village Goleen and I try and keep it updated with various activities and local news so I thought I’d tell everyone about Kate’s cycling event and to do so I needed to look it up to get a few bits of info. It was only then that I realised what she was attempting to do. It should have been pretty obvious that it was going to be a long cycle, anything that takes 4 days and the 1200 part of the name was the amount of kilometres, I hadn’t really made the connection, my head had been in preparing a squad of athletes for the Ireland Games not on Kate’s upcoming cycling trip.

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The Mile Failte 1200 is an Audax event, which is an unassisted cycling event, which in turn means that you have to take everything with you on the bike and if you break down you are on your own so to speak. You have a set distance and a set time in which to complete it and in this case it was 1200km and 90hrs. There were four circuits centred around Killarney which were approximately 300km each and took you north, south, east and west and Killarney is basically surrounded by some of the highest mountains in Ireland, the Ring of Kerry is one of the most spectacular roads I have ever been on and attracts visitors from all over the world. I looked up the list of entries and noticed that the field was made up of cyclist from all over the world, America, Australia, Japan and Europe and Kate was just one of 4 women taking on the challenge. With all the attention these days on female empowerment and a family of 3 daughters we are very conscious of all things women in our house and gradually it dawned on me that this was no ordinary cycling event. Kate has never been one to blow her own trumpet, she just quietly gets on with things, one of her many qualities I admire, there is very little fuss and bother with Kate, tenacity, a quiet determination and a resolve that could temper steel.

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I wasn’t too worried that she had taken on something she couldn’t complete as she had been training for this with a couple of her cycling buddies for some time but working it out this was not just a Malin to Mizen, this was a Malin to Mizen and back again taking in the scenic route with a number of Ireland’s most challenging climbs and having to do it all in a time limit. After the first day I got a message that both of her cycling buddies had dropped out one due to hyperthermia and another due to heatstroke! This was not going to be a walk in the park.

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The next message was the next day to let me know that she had cycled through the night and was going to take a short nap in field somewhere along the route. The route was to take her nearby and on the second day I texted her brother and sisters and gathered up the family and we went out to meet her at one of the official checkpoints.

I had difficulty finding the checkpoint as I had expected there to be a few officials hanging around and maybe a water station etc. But I eventually discovered that this was an unmanned checkpoint and that the competitors had to stand by the village sign and take a time stamped photo to show that they had completed that section.

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We saw a few coming in and taking a selfie at the sign and then eventually Kate rolled in on her own as though she was on one of her regular spins. This was virtually the halfway point, 580km and 45hrs of cycling, she had been to the Burren in Co. Clare the day before and was now heading back to Killarney over the aptly named “Goat’s Path” and along the peninsula to Castletownbere and into the mountains of Kerry. She talked about trying to get a couple of hours sleep at one of the checkpoints ahead, finished a cup of tea and thanked everyone for coming, mounted her bicycle and peddled off into the distance.

I had slipped a power charger into her small saddle bag as her phone battery was nearly out so that she could let me know how she was getting on but it wasn’t for some time that we heard from her again.

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I must admit I was getting worried, not whether she was going to complete the race but that she was alright and hadn’t ended up in a ditch somewhere along the way. She had been tired in Tormore and that was only halfway, she was heading towards some of the toughest cycling country in Ireland and the temperatures were getting higher and higher. I managed to get hold of one of the officials on the phone and he gave me an update. Kate was the only woman left in the field, she had 124km to go and 6 hours to finish. A quick calculation and that is 20km/hr, I know little about cycling or what sort of times Kate can do but that seemed possible. I remembered in Tormore she said she had started off at around 20km/hr but that her time had dropped to 18km/hr, so could she take it up a notch? It was going to be a night and on unfamiliar roads and there was the small fact she had been out on the road for 84hrs and had covered over 1100kms. There was a bit of good news as she had hooked up with a couple of other cyclists and that might help her keep up the pace she needed.

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I hadn’t planned on going to the finish. She was due in anytime between midnight and 2am that being the 90 hour mark and Killarney is around 2 hours away, coincidentally around the same distance she had needed to complete since I had last heard and I had the to take kids to school and work the next morning. But there again, I had been swept up by this event and I had begun to acknowledge just what my wife was trying to achieve, as I said earlier the road to Killarney from here is amazing, the sun would be setting and it has been a long time since I had driven the Ring of Kerry.

 

I have to take the kids to work and school so I’ll post part 2 later………..

A Coaches Eye View

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I am back home again after a long weekend away at the Ireland Special Olympic Games. I listened to a summary of the coverage from one of our National Radio Stations Newstalk on my way home and it was quite emotional to hear all the interviews with athletes, coaches, volunteers and family members and get a taste of the games from a wider prospective, as during the games I have to concentrate on just my little corner of it all and that’s table tennis.

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This event is an extraordinary experience, one of the hardest events to be a coach for but one of the most rewarding. Having responsibility for all my athletes has its pressures with their hopes and dreams as well as their friends and families but when it goes well it is a high like no other but as is the nature of all things that means the lows can be very challenging. As Head Coach the buck stops with you, you have to be so vigilant, there are procedures and regulations in place unique to Special Olympics in order to prevent the errors but even so there are always at least one or two occasions things don’t go to plan and you have to be on your toes at all times, just in case, as the consequences can have a very significant effect on those relying on you to be at your best.

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Thankfully over the years I have gained quite a bit of experience and “know the ropes” so to speak, also the management team of Munster is truly excellent. These are the behind the scenes people, the event is all about the athletes, as it should be, but behind them are people just like me trying to make sure they get their chance to be the best they can be and in Munster we have a great team.

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Athlete & Coach

Above me this time was Frank who I could ring at any time for advice and information and he was able to provide me with what was needed, this was the first time I have worked with him and I’d give him 10 out of 10.

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Shaun is one of the permanent Munster SO Team and I have worked with him for many years down in Munster, I should know what his role was at the games and I’m sure I should know his official title but to me he is the “main man.” I saw him everywhere! From taking breakfast bowls to the accommodation block to getting us on the right bus, you couldn’t really chat to him for 5 minutes as he was either taking a phone call or sorting out some other problem. Always a reassuring and caring voice focused on what was best for the athletes.

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Thankfully I am not alone with the table tennis and I got to have a great team of coaches and chaperones this year. They are not “table tennis heads,” other than Ivan who I have worked with for more years than I like to remember but their skill is with dealing with the athletes and I relied heavily on their experience in this department.

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Coaches, Family and Athlete celebrating Gold

They made sure they were watered, fed and ready to go when needed; they dealt with medication, recreation and preparation and they were magnificent.

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Coach & Athlete

This event is Special as every athlete has a remarkable story, they are faced with so many challenges each and every day. The Ireland Games brings this into the public arena and gives us a chance to marvel at their fortitude and to celebrate them as athletes. Life is not easy for anyone with an intellectual disability.

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The truth is on a day to day basis they are often at the end of the queue and at the bottom of the social ladder, many in society feel awkward dealing with someone different from themselves but at this event they are the stars, the centre of attention and their difference is appreciated and celebrated and they get to shine.

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It may only be a small thing but the on the journey to the opening ceremony we all travelled by bus with a Garda (police) escort, lights flashing, horns blaring it was very exciting for the athletes (and me too). What struck me was the waving from so many of the passers-by, I don’t think some of them knew what all the fuss was about but with all the commotion they looked up from their mobile phones and the vast majority smiled and waved back.

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For some of these athletes it was a new experience to be the centre of public attention and to see smiling happy faces. This event brings intellectual disability into the light and into the public consciousness it also highlights the importance of volunteers.

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I met many enthusiastic volunteers over this weekend who were volunteering for the first time and that’s not just for Special Olympics. I have worked for a few community organisations over the years and they all struggle to get people to spend a small part of their time helping out, these organisations all have one thing in common, they are there to try and make our society a better place.

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The Special Olympics do volunteering really well, there is a massive feel good factor and a feeling that you are truly “making a difference.” People often talk about a “legacy” for events of this nature, I hope the legacy of these games is that those that volunteered don’t wait for another 4 years to “share the feeling,” but use their experience and training and get involved with their local community to make ours a better and a more caring society.

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Now back to the garden………

 

Photos: Special Olympics Ireland, Gerry Maloney, Fiona Sorenson & Owen Kelly

Some thing a bit Special

 

So I am out of the garden and I’ve travelled up to the big city, Dublin. Once every 4 years, for the last 20 years, I get to put on a uniform and do the best job in the World. I am very proud to be the Head Coach for Munster Special Olympics Table Tennis and we have our National Games which this year has brought 1600 athletes with Intellectual Disabilities together from all over the country to compete at 13 different sports.

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I have coached table tennis nearly all my life as my father was a table tennis coach and I was wielding a bat and helping him out at his school and club sessions from a very early age. Over 20 years ago I went on a Coach Education course and was inspired by one of the speakers who gave a presentation on Special Olympics and asked if anyone would be interested in getting involved. I had no previous experience with Special Needs athletes but with some great support from our local services I jumped in and have never regretted doing so.

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All those years ago Special Olympics in Munster had very little idea of how to organise table tennis and the first competition I went to they had a group of badminton umpires scoring the matches and scoring them as you would badminton, which is a very different way of scoring! It was great to be able to help out and get things sorted out and I found my knowledge and experience was much appreciated.

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As is often the nature of volunteering I have got so much more out of it than I put in and working with Special Needs athletes has taught me an awful lot about life and I have made so many good friends and had some wonderful experiences.

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Yesterday was the opening ceremony and there was a great party atmosphere with music, dancing, a fly past from the Air Corps, a Garda escorted journey across Dublin and much singing and laughing. The President of Ireland Michael Higgins gave a great speech and the anticipation and excitement was built to a crescendo.

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There are so many individual athlete stories, of overcoming difficulties, of hard work, tears and joy it is an emotional rollercoaster and being in a position to help anyone fulfil their dreams is both a responsibility and a pleasure.

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I have 16 great athletes who have been training for the games since last year’s Munster Games, I have one athlete who has been trying to represent Munster for 12 years who has finally got his chance and today he along with the others will take to the table and compete. I have no idea how the results will pan out but in the words of the Special Olympic motto I know they will try to win but if they can’t win they will be brave in the attempt.

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A Trip Around The Garden

I haven’t posted many photos of my own garden so far this year so today I took a quick camera tour.

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Chives

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Golden Hops

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A New Flower Bed

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Across The Stream

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Foxgloves

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The Secret Garden

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I am not alone!

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Double Trouble!

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A Wagtail Waiting For Mama