Cycling clubs, just like cyclists themselves come in all shapes and sizes. Some focus predominantly on racing, others on touring whilst some focus solely on the social aspect of people getting together to go ride their bikes. One of the best clubs in the country to take all of this in and more is The Burren Cycling Club, organisers of the An Post Tour de Burren who are based in Ballyvaughan County Clare. Last Saturday they came en masse to Dungarvan for one of their annual club outings and I was fortunate enough to accompany them on the cycling part of their visit. (The cycling is only a small part of a Burren CC weekend away.)
Meeting up outside the Park Hotel in Dungarvan there was an atmosphere of camaraderie and good humour. Track pumps at the ready bikes were all being primed for a challenging day ahead. Every ship needs a good captain and Patrick O’Donoghue seemed to be at the wheel as he marshalled everyone together for a team photo before setting off on the bright autumn morning. The larger group headed off towards The Pike whilst a more leisurely group made their way towards Lismore and the lunchtime rendezvous point.
Setting a brisk pace at the front were Patrick and Conrad, one of the most inspirational cyclists that I have ever come across on my travels. Conrad was born with Down Syndrome, which affects balance, a key requirement to cycle a bike. The persistence of his parents and family to enable Conrad to follow his dream of becoming a cyclist enabled him to achieve his goal. And achieve it he has done in a very impressive manner. As a key member of the club he looks out for the other riders just as much as they look out for him. Whatever the distance of the spin Conrad is there, sharing the pacesetting and encouraging others along. A truly remarkable character who has put just as much effort into becoming a good cyclist as any Tour de France rider.
Half way up The Pike who should come along but the two Kellys’ from Carrick on Suir, Sean and Vinnie, who turned on the road to join the group. Sean knows the Burren club well from their trips to his training camp in Mallorca and proceeded to give them a guided tour of ‘Kelly Country’ as we approached Mahon Falls in the heart of the Comeragh Mountains.
Anyone who has taken part in The Sean Kelly Tour of Waterford is well versed in the task that awaits any cyclist facing the climb to the summit of Mahon Falls. There was optimism in the bright sunshine as we looked on up ahead at the cascading white waters of the Falls itself, way off in the distance form the lower slopes of the climb. A small group detached itself off the front with the promise to wait at the top for those following on. The Burren club are well used to hard climbs like Corkscrew hill and made light work of one of the most difficult climbs in the land.
What goes up must come down, and the entire group made little of the twisting narrow descent that has challenged many a fearsome descender in the past. With the sea off Dungarvan bay stretching out ahead there was little time for looking around as everyone concentrated on making it down to the next crossroads where the Kelly boys turned for home once again. As they bid farewell Sean pointed towards a mast on top of a mountain in the far distance which signified the next challenge facing the group.
The climb up to the top of the Mama road was next. A long gradual climb with a good surface where many a ‘Strava’ hunter has spent their summers trying to set ‘the’ time. A headwind on the day would negate the possibility of joining the leaderboard but that did not deter a few of the strongmen and women from The Burren from taking on the climb with gusto. Over the top they were gone, out of sight not to be seen again until the groups once again merged shortly before the foodstop in Lismore.
Approaching Lismore we met the other group from the Burren coming against us having had their lunch already and now setting off for Dungarvan once again. In their midst I spotted Fiona Cooke, one of the organisers of Ras na mBan who had driven form Kilkenny to meet up with friends from the club who give great assistance to the running of the event that has been based in County Clare for the past few years.
After a sociable lunch stop it was time to get back on the road as two kids on the front of a cargo bike took as much interest in the group as we did in their unusual form of bicycle transport.
Dungarvan now beckoned and the brisk tailwind made for an enjoyable spin back in the road. Chatting away to different members of the club as we rolled along I found that just like many clubs around the country it is made up of people from all walks of life. From vets to civil servants and from farmers to inter county footballers they all have a place in The Burren Cycling Club.
But what makes this club special can be exemplified by their itinerary for the weekend. After travelling down on Friday evening with their spouses and partners they all got together for a few sociable beverages. Next morning they went on a challenging bike ride. That evening they visited Paul Flynn’s Tannery restaurant before heading on for another sociable evening. Then the next morning after a hearty breakfast they detoured via Galtee Mór on the way home to climb to the summit of the 3015ft mountain.
The Burren Cycling Club are all inclusive in every way. Anyone is welcome to join and will be encouraged and looked out for. They cycle and socialise together and do more on a weekend away than many will accomplish all year.
They also have one of the most inspirational members of any club. Just watching Conrad power his way up Mahon Falls given the obstacles that he has had to face leaves very little room for excuses in the lives of any who witness it. He epitomises all that is good about cycling and the Burren Cycling Club in particular.
A full gallery of all of the pictures taken on the day can be found here