Tayto Park unveils its wooden highway to heaven ... or hell
Published 05/06/2015 | 02:30
There is a gentle creak of yellow pine, the soft sigh of a breeze and a pause of deathly silence following our slow and rumbling journey to the top.
With views over the green, undulating landscape of Co Meath, I convince myself that I am on the viewing platform of a particularly swish treehouse. Nothing more scary than that.
And then I emit a squawk of sheer terror as I plunge into an unending abyss, leaving my stomach trailing helplessly somewhere behind me, along with all my hair.
After that, I am not a reliable witness to what transpired. I couldn't get my eyes to reopen. Or even my head to straighten up.
The 10-year-old boy sitting in front of me with his mum, on the other hand, seemed to enjoy it very much.
Roller coasters are resolutely Not My Thing.
Last time I was on one was in Hamburg, Germany when I was 21. My brother, sitting beside me, thought I'd blacked out because I had slumped, motionless, on to his shoulder.
There were no roller coasters for the guts of two decades. Until my boss put me down to review the Cú Chulainn, the new wooden roller coaster - Europe's largest - at Tayto Park.
"Aren't you a fan?" he asked incredulously, as if to say "Isn't everybody?"
If the queues of happy enthusiasts eagerly awaiting their turn on the Cú Chulainn are anything to go by, then the answer is a resounding yes.
As a precautionary measure I skip breakfast.
My first glimpse of the towering wooden edifice comes as I try to park my car with hands already trembling with fright. It looks like it is artfully constructed out of pick-up sticks and Jenga bricks. Not the most reassuring image. But it is elegant, without a doubt.
Mr Tayto, standing at the entrance, gives me a cheery wave and, as I walk by, a high five. I look closely at him and suppose that I am imagining the gleam of sheer malice in his round eyes. Surely Mr Tayto is no sadist?
All of a sudden I can empathise with politicians ambushed by the cuddly mascot during the 2007 General Election campaign.
Then Ray Coyle, the founder of Tayto Park and also of Largo Foods, owner of Tayto, emerges to welcome our group. He hopes this roller coaster will stand for 100 years, as many wooden ones elsewhere have.
Privately, he admits that he is not a massive fan of roller coasters himself - but says this one is not an extreme ride.
Lead roller coaster designer from the Gravity Group, Korey Kiepert, designed the Cú Chulainn from his office in Ohio in the States.
"When you see people come off with smiles, you really feel it's worth it because there were a lot of late nights," he says.
In the front seats for the first taste were Ray himself, along with Cian Harty (11) from Castlebar, Co Mayo - who has Cystic Fibrosis and whose wish to ride on a major roller coaster was facilitated by the Share A Dream Foundation.
He couldn't sleep with excitement the night before.
His face is radiant as he steps off afterwards. Ray looks pale. "I'd go again," said Cian. "It was really fast - I loved the adrenaline."
Two rollercoaster enthusiasts Dan Cox (23) and Charlotte Phillips (20), who work at Alton Towers in the UK, are here "just for fun" rather than to check out the competition. They are impressed.
As is Richard Bannister of the European Coaster Club, which has a couple of thousand members. They do it as a bit of escapism, Richard explains.
He spends his holidays travelling around different theme parks and even met his girlfriend in a theme park.
"Coaster enthusiasts are crazy," he acknowledges.
This is his 2,137th ride and his verdict is that it is "well up there with the very best in Europe. I loved this because it went on and on," he said.
And then it's my turn to be strapped in. I feel like I'm a terrapin that's been tossed into the air by a crocodile, just waiting for the long, slow descent to the inevitable end.
For two-and-a half minutes.
Parts of it are actually pleasurable. The bits at the end when we begin to slow down, that is.