On a cold and damp January morning, in a windswept farmyard in the shadow of the Comeragh Mountains a wooden door opened just as the first brightness of dawn arrived.
Looking accross the yard at a blue Ford 5000 tractor with its white cab, and a perspex rear window slightly ajar, the young man now walking through the door is thinking of the year ahead.
For many, New Years resolutions are made on January first only to be discarded and forgotten within days or weeks. This man is not one for resolutions but understands the importance of having something to aim for. A direction to achievement that would lead to success far removed from the hardened life that the farmyard will have in store if another route to making a living and a life is not found.
Since he was a boy there was a festival which took place each year a few fields away from the rear wall of the farm house. A Holy Well attracted up to 1000 people each July to hear a mass said and to be entertained. There was also a purgotorial challenge that was undertaken by the brave and strong. Nine times a route from the rising waters of The Mothel well along the rocky stream bed to the furthest point of the field and back was traveresed by bare footed pilgrims. It was said that a favour asked for woulld be attained if this task was completed. Many tried and many failed, but for those who managed to complete the test of endurance there was a regular pattern of success and healing which enticed more to take on the challenge each year.
Whilst many who attempted the challenge in the heat of July failed, few if any took to the icy waters at other times of year. That was until this January morning.
The desire for success within the young man was so strong that he was willing to take up the challenge of the Holy Well on a cold and wet winters morning.
By nine am a pair of black wellington boots with socks rolled up inside were discarded beside the Holy well and a man named Sean Kelly entered the water. Immediately two feet froze and became blocks of ice. Sharp rocks and stones dug painfully into the soles of his feet but he continued on. Reaching the end point for the first time offered relief and the contemplation that the easy thing to do would be to go home and forget all about this challenge. But that would be giving up, that would be quitting. Two scenarios alien to the nature of the man who would become King Kelly.
Kelly walked the well nine times that January morning. The year was 1984. Within weeks he won Paris Nice, then Liege Bastogne Liege, Paris Roubaix, The Tour of Switzerland, The Tour of Catalunya, finish 5th in The Tour de France whilst winning the Green Points jersey along with many more victories on his way to finishing the season as the Worlds number 1 cyclist. A wish had been fulfilled.
Did the walk at the Holy Well play a part ? Who knows, but if he went back in time to the January morning once more he would do the very same thing again.
Kelly is not the only cyclist to have walked the walk. Kurt Bogaerts, Directeur Sporitve of the An Post Chainreaction cycling team has also completed the challenge. A local lotto winner had also walked the well prior to his good fortune.
Perhaps it’s time to add a few more cyclists names to the list. Soon, there will be another trip to the well and it will be interesting to see how many of those who regularly pass nearby on the Ballymac loop will be there. What will be even more interesting will be their results afterwards !