TV Times

Life is pretty good at the moment, I am feeling very creative, have loads of energy, spinning too many plates and as usual when I get like this I worry that I am reaching some dizzy height before the fall. I am hoping that it is just my natural pessimism rather than recognising the natural pattern of my life. Every silver lining has a cloud.

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But why worry? Well because it is September, the summer is over and my garden, my life, is moving into that autumn phase, which here in Ireland it means damp soggy days and the build up to the winter storms ahead. There we go dark clouds on the horizon.

But if I am really honest I’m sat here going NO, not this year, not this time, I am so excited about what lies ahead I am finding it difficult to contain myself and even harder to express it as the white screen fills up with what I am writing. So where to start? Things might get a little jumbled, I’ll just jump in.

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On October the 3rd we have a TV program, Grow Cook Eat coming down to film at the Community Garden. If you have read my blogs before you will probably already know that I started a Community Garden down at our local community centre just outside the village. It wasn’t easy to set up, I live in a very rural area and most people are like, “why do a garden, what’s the point?” We are surrounded by land, it is a farming community and probably everyone has access to a potential garden plot, it is not like a city where growing space is at a premium. Well I think a community garden is more than just a growing space, it is a place where the community can come together and I have seen some initial signs of that.

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Most of the people and there are not as many as I had hoped, that have come down to the garden are not “local.” They are mostly people who have moved into the area, those who have chosen to move, not those who were born to this country lifestyle, these are often termed “blow ins,” which is a term that some think of as a negative label. Blow in and then blow out, transients not local. However I like being a blow in, I’m not here by an accident of birth, I’ve travelled all over the world and could live anywhere but this is where I decided to set down my roots and bring up a family, I’ve only got myself to blame but I know I chose well.

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The community garden is a place where everyone can come together and integrate; meet people who share a common interest. We can contribute and show pride in our community in a shared place that both displays the beauty that surrounds us and learn more about our environment.

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The garden is educational, we have had kids from the local playgroup & primary schools visiting the garden and we can show them some of the wonders that nature provides and maybe inspire the next generation to appreciate and consequently care for the world that surrounds them and God knows we so desperately need that!

I am hoping that I am preaching to the converted and that you are saying to yourself, well that’s bloody obvious, why is he banging on about it? But in reality I am having to explain why a community garden is a good idea and tonight I will be trying to express that to our local community councillors in order to get some support so when this national TV program comes to our small and very new community garden that we can show them that the community is right behind this project. Their program is all about encouraging people to grow, cook and eat local produce and I want our garden to be a place where people can learn to do just that and so much more.

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me with Grow Cook Eat presenter Karen O’Donohoe

They rang me a couple of months ago to ask if they could come to do some filming so I was prepared and have had it in the back of my mind and I have gone to the garden almost every day this summer as I volunteered to look after the 3 polytunnels that the community council use to provide vegetables to the social centre and our local meals on wheels scheme. But when they sent me an email last week saying would the 3rd of October be ok I have been galvanised to put some of the plans for the garden into action.

The wood for the fencing was delivered sometime ago, this is not only to define the limits of the garden but also a framework for the wind break material, this is badly needed as the site is exposed and the trees I planted for hedging will need protection if the garden is to thrive. I hope eventually that this mixed hedge of hawthorn and crab apple will do that wind break job and provide fruit but it will take time to establish in order to provide protection for the rest of the garden, I’m sure you get the idea.

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Well that wood needs to be put up and you would not believe how difficult that has been proving to be. There is the physical side of things, the garden is built on rock and the post have to go into that and along with that there has been some (a lot of) discussion on the best place for the fence, not by those who use the community garden but by those who seem resistant to even the idea of the community garden, hence this evening’s presentation to “persuade” the community council that the community garden is a good idea and help put up the fence.

There has to be some kind of analogy there with barriers being built and boundaries being crossed but I’ll leave you to make it yourselves.

I have got to say though the contrast in attitudes is amazing as there are so many people who share my enthusiasm about the garden inside and outside of the council and who are so supportive and helpful that I know the battles are worth it and they give me the energy to keep on swinging.

I don’t think there has been one day this summer where someone has not said something positive to me about the garden and complimented me on what I am doing and of course that is great and very encouraging but what I really want from them is not to compliment me but to take ownership and pride in the garden themselves, I need them to see it as their garden and their community and look what WE can achieve if we pull together. I know it only started in January and this will take time and I am hoping having a national TV series coming to this remote little corner of the country will go some way to achieving that goal.

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The signs are there, the writing is quite literally on the wall. We ran an “Adopt a Pot” scheme which has been so well supported it shows we are on the right track, over 40 pots now sit on the fence displaying names of local business, members of the local community as well as those from much further afield who for a myriad of reasons want to show support. We have a couple of pots which family members have sponsored commemorating those who have now left us and I occasionally get a little emotional that they have chosen our garden to remember them and I hope we can deliver a place where their memory will be honoured.

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One of our major plans has been building some raised beds for growing vegetables. This of course could be done in many ways and making a decision on the best course of action has been difficult and I would have rather had a few more people share that responsibility with me as it is a tough choice and spending our community garden money should be shared but I have decided to use recycled plastic wood. We have raised enough money through an award from GIY (Grow it Yourself Ireland) and Energia and a table quiz during the summer to buy materials for at least 4 raised beds and from day one I have been building up the soil in a corner of the garden to fill these beds and 2 weeks ago a local builder donated 2 tons of topsoil, which is a major step forward (shout out to the bad boys Diarmuid and Dáire of O’Regan Goleen Development Ltd).

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We have room for at least 6 beds so I have been asking around, the beds themselves will cost €100 each (not including delivery) so I thought I might see if anyone would like to sponsor a bed, this recycled plastic timber is supposed to last 40 years so it is not a bad investment for €100. We had a trade delegation from the US State of Maine visit our village. I know it sounds incredible, our village is tiny but we are well connected (Local man Michael Kingston brought them down to West Cork) and I asked one of the delegation representing a life science company (Julie) if they would like to sponsor a raised bed, would that not be amazing or as they say “awesome,” and I was telling our local TD Michael Collins (not to be confused with the famous dead one) the story of how audacious I had been in asking them and blow me down with a feather didn’t he reach into his pocket and sponsor one himself!

This got me thinking and I asked Mark at the spectacular Barleycove Hotel, who is always willing to support the community, if he fancied helping us out and the next minute I am walking out with another raised bed sponsored! So I will be ordering plastic wood enough for 6 raised beds! If I can get the others sponsored we can use the money saved for a seating area, I would so love to see some of the elderly members of the community sitting comfortably enjoying our garden on a nice sunny day, with maybe a couple of grand children playing or exploring the flower beds, what a scene that would make.

I know that most people who get my blog will probably have given up reading by this time, we have busy lives and who has the time to read my ramblings but would you believe there is a load more.

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I was chatting with a local man about the village and gardening and telling them about what we were trying to do in our community garden and a couple of plans I had in mind. I would love to see a proper path through the garden, one that those elderly people I was imagining earlier would use to get to that imaginary bench and he asked if I could show him what I meant. So off we went to the garden and I showed him the path I had dug out some time ago th

t is now over grown with weeds and full of stones I have taken out of the flower beds. Now he was the right man in the right place at the right time and he is Ritchie Barry who runs West Cork Civil Engineering, they do loads of construction work around the area and he told me that a path using 3/4inch gravel down and a compactor would do the job and leave it to him to sort this one out! I really can’t believe it, that dream, that imagining could just become a reality.

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He also told me that if we had a problem putting in the fence posts in due to the underlying rock that he might well have a rock breaker that would do the job. He is an enthusiastic gardener himself and he understood the purpose of the garden without any prompting from me. We chatted a bit more about the garden and I showed him round the polytunnels warning him about the leaky tap that has been the bane of my life this summer, the next day when I visited the tunnels I noticed the tap wasn’t leaking anymore, he had been in there and fixed it. That might be a small job for some people but to me it has been a thorn in my side and a real act of kindness from one gardener to another, I gave him a cucumber, seems like a poor exchange.

I started this community garden because I wanted to give back something to the community and gardening is what I do so it seemed logical. I am into self sufficiency, I often think that I have thoughts, opinion and views that don’t fit into the norm, I have learnt to be an outsider, a blow in and in order to get on I try not to rely on others so I won’t be disappointed if I don’t get any help. I set up the garden and fully expected that I would have to do most of it myself, what I didn’t expect was that there are others, more than I knew, who were willing to help and collectively we can achieve so much more. I am beginning to realise that some of the problems in regards to creating this garden actually lie with me, I need to learn to ask for help, I need to provide the opportunity for others to get involved, I know my attitude of self sufficiency gets me just so far and protects me from my own failures, I understand the garden bit but I have to learn a lot more about the community side of things, I have to start to trust in others and to open the garden gate and invite the community in.

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To this end I have got in contact with a couple of friends Adam and Kloe who have started their own incredible garden project over in Glengarriff (https://www.twogreenshoots.com/). Adam is a Royal Horticulture Society trained gardener with loads of experience and Kloe has qualifications in Zoology with Conservation, Sustainable Development and an impressive résumé working in various community groups, they are both so creative, enthusiastic and experienced, it might be a bit over kill for our small community garden but why not get the experts in to help with the planning and they have agreed to take a look and see if they can help us create a unique space within this unique and amazing community. Did I tell you I was a bit excited?

Oh and Art College starts today.

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College Compost

Woke up to pouring rain so there’s not much work to be done outside and I thought this is a day to catch up on my blog. It has been a particularly busy time recently.

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I am feeling quite pleased with myself as I spent most of last week clearing the ditches along the drive or what we call a boreen in Ireland. It is a pretty rough track of around half a mile from the main road and as we live at the bottom of a mountain it slopes downwards and it is steep in places. If the ditches are not well maintained the blue till surface can be easily washed away so it is an important job keeping them cleared but it is also hard work and not very glamorous.
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I usually leave it until the rain arrives which is really too late but this year I have managed to do the worst of it before the rain and I was delighted this morning to see small rivers of water running down the side of the road rather than across the surface. There are still places where I need to do more work but it doesn’t seem as daunting as it usually does. Unfortunately we share the drive with a local dairy herd and further up the boreen they have managed to create a blockage that will need some major repairs but that is enough about digging ditches!

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Yesterday I was digging again moving a 2 ton delivery of topsoil from beside the polytunnels to the Community Garden. The major problem faced with the community garden is the lack of topsoil, there is literally only about an inch of soil and then stone, so most of what was planted was done using bought in compost which really limited any plans I had for flowerbeds this summer.

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I had asked a few local builders and farmers if they would donate any topsoil at the beginning of the summer but it seems that it is in short supply and this lot only arrived the day before yesterday. So yesterday I spent 5 hours moving the soil into the garden. The plan is to eventually have 6 raised beds along the side of the lower fence to grow vegetables in and this soil along with the compost I have been making is to be used in those raised beds. However until they are built I have one long bed and covering it with plastic, I am hoping to use recycled plastic wood for some if not all the beds but it is expensive stuff so I may only get a couple done over the winter.

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Like all my growing experiences some things work better than others and my highlight this season are my water melons. I haven’t had much success in the past with melons as we just don’t usually get enough sunshine or heat but I certainly picked the right year to try again as it was the hottest summer I can ever remember and even though a lot of other plants struggled in the tunnel the melons loved it and what a treat to have fresh melon. The cucumbers, courgettes and pumpkins also loved the condition and we have been trying out some new recipes for chutneys and pickles to try and use up the surplice. If you have any ideas on how best to use pumpkin please comment below, I’ve never had sweet pumpkin pie but would like to try it.

Another hit were the helichrysums which took some time to establish but have produced loads of flowers that we have dried on strings and have made some wreaths and garlands. I love dried flowers as they bring a bit of summer throughout the colder bleaker winter months.

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So life is changing with the seasons as my eldest has left for her first year at university and my youngest started her first year at secondary school. I am also heading back to college next week to do a year of art. Juggling horticultural college, work, community projects and family was complicated last year and I admit it wasn’t altogether easy but it did open up a whole new world of experience. Art is something I have always dabbled in and I think it will certainly enhance my garden design ideas but more than that last year’s experience gave me an opportunity to expand my creativity and I felt more motivated than I had for many years, sometimes the gardener needs to grow and I am hoping art college will be fresh compost.

The World Turns

I know I haven’t blogged for ages; so much has happened this summer that I could write a book! I have been getting my “social media fix,” with my Instagram account soditblog. As I’m pottering around my garden and the community garden I take a few photos and post them on my mobile. I also follow a few other gardeners, herbalists, community gardeners and one that posts some amazing bird photos from around the world. Taking time out to actually write a blog with all that’s happening has been just too difficult.

It struck me today that the Summer has rattled past, I have been a passenger in an amazing train ride and we are gradually moving towards an Autumn destination where I will have to change trains. I have decided to go back to college again. I really enjoyed doing the Horticultural Course last year and I’ve signed up for an Art Course this year. It is a full time course but I intend to fit in my coaching work in the evenings and weekends which eventually worked out fine last year.

One of the lessons I learnt moving from city to country life was living in regard to the seasons. In the city I found it was easy to go through a year without much change, a coat and hat when it was cold or wet was about all I needed to do to acknowledge the seasons shift, I just got on with my life and only really thought about the seasons if they got in the way or there was a major event like Christmas on the horizon.

In the country my life changes according to the seasons. Jobs like clearing the ditches along the drive in preparation for the rain. Gathering the fallen leaves to make leaf mould, the blackberry harvest, pickling cucumbers, hanging onions and making jam all tell me what time of year it is.

I am sad to see the summer move on, it really has been the best ever and I know it will become a treasured memory.

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This was the year my heliotrope grew into a shrub, I have around 6 still flowering and even though the wind prevents the scent from lingering I can bury my nose in them and smell that heavenly cherry pie.

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I grew watermelons for the first time, we have only eaten one of those juicy fruit so far but there are at least four more nearly ready to burst. The pond is in and gradually being absorbed into the garden, the roses this year flowered all summer long. I cleared a whole load of areas on my “to do list.”

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The community garden takes more work than I had counted on but I managed to keep on top of it and the polytunnels have been productive. I could list all the things that didn’t work this year but you win some you lose some.

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My year doing horticulture at college enabled me to stratify the heliotrope seeds to germinate them, I had the confidence to try to grow watermelons, the motivation to build a pond and my roses were better fed and pruned than ever before and we were well rewarded.

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Life is good as the world turns, another chapter lies ahead.

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

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………..