Saturday 20 January 2018

Winning entry: Ard Fhear! A Neighbour's Inspiration

Easy writer: Tomás Ó hUallacháin, with Tomás Mac a t-Saoir, outside his father's pub, Tig An tSaorsaigh, Ballyferriter, Co Kerry. Photo: Domnick Walsh, Eye Focus Ltd
Easy writer: Tomás Ó hUallacháin, with Tomás Mac a t-Saoir, outside his father's pub, Tig An tSaorsaigh, Ballyferriter, Co Kerry. Photo: Domnick Walsh, Eye Focus Ltd

Two elderly customers prop the counter, their eyes fixated on their settling pints. Applying the crème de resistance is Tomás Mac a t-Saoir. Saddle sore, Tomás hands the men their pint of plain. 'Anois a bhuachaillí,' exclaims Tomás in his native tongue. The young cyclist, after his 3,053 mile exertion, is at his ease manning the bar of his father's premises in the Chorca Dhuibhne Gaeltacht.

Inspired that a 22-year-old neighbour could accomplish such an achievement, I have Tomás join me in the snug once his only afternoon customers are, like their pints, settled.

I asked what made him cycle alone from San Diego to Florida's St Augustine.

''When 16-year-old Kerry teenager Donal Walsh tragically passed from cancer in 2013, a charity in his name was established. I felt the best way to turn a hobby into an awareness mission was to cycle across the US to help raise funds for Donal's Live Life Foundation."

For 42 days, Tomás battled headwinds and punishing terrain on his epic journey, punctuated by only seven days' recovery. Departing on October 24, it wasn't until December 11 that he freewheeled to his finish line, having seen California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Tired imagining it, I asked had he any downtime whatsoever.

''In Austin, I took three days off and had a badly needed night on the beer.''

As someone who'd get lost in a shopping mall, my admiration for his effort soared. Curious, I asked how he managed those infinite, tumbleweed-accompanied US roads.

"Leaving Ireland, I was sceptical, scared about cycling in a different country. Yet I've met incredible people on the way.''

His inventory was limited: A bike bought in San Diego, sunscreen, two panniers, two pairs of bib shorts and an Irish team gilet. Two Donal Walsh cycling jerseys, three pairs of socks, runners and a light jacket.

Cycling shoes, gloves, some casuals and a tub of chamois cream completed the list.

Headwinds were a low point. "Thinking I'd have a westerly wind at my back, I cycled from west to east. If anyone wants to cycle across America, go east to west. The wind will be more generous!''

I asked Tomás about social interaction en-route.

"I experienced great warmth and generosity,'' he said. "Familiar with Americans from our family pub, I know they're great people. I was offered food, accommodation and was treated like a king. The American people have been absolutely incredible to me."

He called his experience "priceless," learning much of the diverse US cultures and landscapes, and significantly raising €3,907 for the foundation. For a young man who found cycling after his father banished him from the PlayStation, Tomás is an inspiration to us all.

As the old men beckoned our heroic peddler to pull another two pints, a line from their overheard conversation summed up my admiration.

"He's a better man than any of us."

- Tomás Ó hUallacháin, Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne

Irish Independent

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