Wednesday 28 September 2016

Turkish delight! – Irish cyclists raise more than €8k after trans-European adventure

Published 10/11/2015 | 19:49

The three cyclist on arrival of their 16th and final country Turkey
The three cyclist on arrival of their 16th and final country Turkey
From left: Steve Farrell, Cian Whooley, Brendan Ward, Ambassador of Ireland to Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan, Sean Rowland, Kieran Hanley
Another landmark along the way
From left: Cian Whooley, Brendan Ward, Ambassador of Ireland to Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan, Sean Rowland, Kieran Hanley

As Cian Whooley and Sean Rowland close in on nearly €9,000 raised for their charity cycle which began in Dublin and ended in Istanbul eight weeks later, the pair warmly reflect on the incredible undertaking.

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Cian, a native of Ahakista in West Cork, and his Accenture work colleague Sean, who hails from Bofeenaun in Co. Mayo, decided to put their plan, a mammoth cycle across Europe, into action while at the same time raising money for worthy causes. Throw in plenty of sight-seeing along the way, being in the midst of the migrant crisis and another friend, Kieran Hanley, joining for the second half of the cycle, and it was a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

“Our route was well researched and planned, but we had no idea of the support we would receive along the way, while being in Budapest during the migrant crisis was hard to put into words,” Sean admits.

"The volume of the migrants, the conditions they were living in as they made their way from Belgrade was a real eye-opener.  The risks they were willing to take to seek a better life for their families took us aback.”

A journey of 4,640km through 16 countries is not without its setbacks. Reaching towns too late to find accommodation, broken spokes and tyres, getting lost in Belgrade National Park, Kieran’s bike mislaid by his airline after joining his colleagues mid-way through the journey and getting unwanted attention from the odd wild dog were just some of the challenges encountered along the way, but this was more than balanced out by the generosity they received right up to the very end of their trek.

As well as pitching up at a number of campsites, couch surfing proved to be a wise choice of lodgings. Not only did it add comfort to the weary bodies, it allowed them to truly explore the towns and villages in each country.

Another landmark along the way
Another landmark along the way

“The guy we stayed with in Salzburg took a day off work to show us around, in Orleans in France we got a full tour and ended up at a birthday party, while in another place we stayed, the owner who we hadn’t yet met, left house keys out for us and told us to help ourselves to anything,” Cian said.

“In Serbia, one local fixed our bikes and took us to a restaurant and insisted on paying for us while we were in his town. It was like that throughout, and we couldn’t believe when members of an Irish society in Istanbul made contact with us not long after we left Ireland."

Going fancy dress in Bulgaria
Going fancy dress in Bulgaria

When Steve Farrell and other members of the Irish diaspora in the Turkish city discovered the cycle was ending in Istanbul, they offered the trio accommodation, held a pub quiz to add to the fundraising efforts and organised a civic reception with the Brendan Ward, Ambassador of Ireland to Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan, who travelled from Ankara to greet the cyclists.

“We had no idea that the guys in Istanbul would be going to such efforts for us. It made the final leg all the more enjoyable and made the finish much more of an occasion,” Kieran added.

From left: Cian Whooley, Brendan Ward, Ambassador of Ireland to Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan, Sean Rowland, Kieran Hanley
From left: Cian Whooley, Brendan Ward, Ambassador of Ireland to Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan, Sean Rowland, Kieran Hanley

It would not be an Irish trip without bumping into familiar faces in the most unlikely places. Cian happened to pass a former secondary school friend at the Serbian border, while Sean had a chance meeting with his neighbour, who lives in Austria, in Budapest.

The fund raising efforts have far exceeded all expectations. Currently closing in on €9,000, the final sum will be split between two causes very close to the cyclist’s hearts, Bantry Hospital and Special Friends Mitchelstown.

What they said:

Cian Whooley

In cycling terms, I left a boy and came back a man. From departing Dublin without cycling shorts, a water bottle and cycling shoes, I arrived in Istanbul a transformed individual.

Sean Rowland

Arriving into Istanbul and standing on the Bosporus looking at the Asian side of the city was one of the best feelings I have ever experienced.

Kieran Hanley

A brilliant experience. Getting to witness the Belgrade derby was unforgettable, such hostility on both sides. Reminded me of the rivalry between Barna and Salthill Knocknacarra in the Galway championship.

Brendan Ward (Ambassador of Ireland to Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan)

The Irish community’s ability to help and support each other throughout the world is something we have become used to over the years. It was great that the ex-pat community here in Istanbul were able to offer such support to Cian, Sean and Kieran after their incredible journey.

Unnamed Serbian dog

Woof…I’ll get the next cyclist that crosses my path.

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