Monday 19 August 2019

Billy Keane: 'Fearsome Ring cycle is music to charities' ears - with a few bum notes along the way'

Keane's Kingdom

Most of the 6,000 were fed at Coláiste na Sceilge. I didn’t see even one cyclist pass the food station. The miracle of the loaves was in the organisation. Stock photo
Most of the 6,000 were fed at Coláiste na Sceilge. I didn’t see even one cyclist pass the food station. The miracle of the loaves was in the organisation. Stock photo
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Eighty-something-year-old Seanie Cool Orange brought Kerry Rose Sally Anne Leahy for a spin in an open-top red convertible.

We couldn't help but peep over the side when the happy couple parked up in Cahersiveen.

Gentleman Seanie, whose surname is O'Donoghue, kept a fleecy blanket in the front seat to keep the rose warm. There was a basket of sweets in the back. Seanie knows how to treat the ladies but, then again, he has been at it for years. And I know you're all only dying to know how it was he got his name.

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It seems that back in the days before there were bars in dance halls, Seanie often asked the girl he was dancing with if she would like a cool orange. He was dapper, with a bow tie and still handsome, as he escorted Sally Anne in to the party at Coláiste na Sceilge.

Seanie is one of 1,500 volunteers who help make Ireland's biggest cycle charity a massive success. We met all kinds of helpers on the 36th annual Ring of Kerry cycle, from nurses to lads directing traffic. The mechanics fixed punctures all day long. Hundreds served food.

Most of the 6,000 were fed at Coláiste na Sceilge. I didn't see even one cyclist pass the food station. The miracle of the loaves was in the organisation.

The local traders in Killarney organised the making of about 15,000 sandwiches in Killarney Racecourse. Like everything else on the Ring Cycle it was all voluntary, and the buttering was mostly done by a team of 100 youngsters. Teamwork fed the 6,000.

I was travelling around the Ring of Kerry with our driver, Johnny Rice, his wife Kathleen and my beloved first cousin Bridget Maguire, who just happens to be the chairperson of the organising committee. Bridget sat in the back seat taking it all in. I did feel a bit guilty when so many were cycling but, as a race ambassador for the Kerry Rape Crisis Centre, the plan was to get to meet as many people as possible. The drive took about 10 hours.

The stopover in Cahersiveen was more than a food stop. Friends who started out together in Killarney met up and checked to see if they were all right. There was a band playing lively music and the sun shone.

The cyclists were treated to only the best. The big treat in these parts is barm brack, even though everyone calls it barn brack. Most people took at least one slice because the brack was very nice and maybe to keep up with tradition. And we are a good three months from Halloween.

There was no ring in the brack but there was a fair share of chatting up going on. We were told of a couple who met here for the first time and they got engaged a year later.

But mostly it was a gathering place for reuniting with friends made on previous rings.

There's a lot of fun to be had on the ring. But the fun can be taken out of the cycle through the most beautiful scenery to be found anywhere in the world.

There was a young lad cycling in front of us and he was wearing Kerry football togs. Johnny, who had a tough job slaloming in and out through the cyclists on tricky roads, said: "He's going to have some sore bum." The thinness of the football togs' fabric didn't offer any protection from the friction. The experienced cyclists shovel on the creams and wear lycra for protection against saddle sores. And I always thought the lycra was part of a cure for the male menopause.

As we are on the subject of bums, let me tell you the story of the woman who was standing on the side of the road at Killorglin. Hundreds of cyclists came through the always friendly Puck, home to Fexco, one of the race's biggest sponsors. Peter Keane, the Kerry football manager, welcomed the riders through.

Thousands of lycra bottoms passed through. The men's bums all looked the same to me. The woman on the side of the road pointed at one bum in particular. The lady said: "That's my man." She knew him by his bottom.

The cycle starts to get tough on the climb to Coomakista, a high-up mountain pass. We met Marie Kehoe O'Sullivan in Waterville, another famed beauty spot.

"Say a prayer for me," she asked. Marie is a cancer survivor. She was tired. She was crying. Marie was cycling for Recover Haven, a charity which helps out cancer patients with their wellness. Marie was scared she didn't think she would make it to the top of the Coom.

The drummers beat a mad rhythm at the steepest part of road. There was no banter now. Most of the cyclists were out of the saddle. We got to the summit and there was no sign of Marie.

John Garvey from Foilmore was up at 4am and he filled a milk tank with spring water. His daughter Claire was helping out. The water was Adam's ale piped from the Garden of Eden.

Roibeard Pierse, cycling for Aras Mhuire in Listowel, drank several pints of John Garvey's water. Aras Mhuire, which looks after the older folk, will spend the money raised in the cycle on building more rooms to ease their waiting list.

It was then we spotted Marie. She was dancing on a table. Prayers answered. She's tough. Marie finished out the cycle in Killarney. There were more tears. Tears of joy unconfined.

We got some welcome in Kelly's Cross, where we were shown Ireland's most famous toilet. The Kellys allow the riders in to pee. And there was plenty of cake and tea. They have very sweet teeth in south Kerry.

The Black Shop near Sneem is also a pub. We couldn't pass the door. I could easily have given the day there. More tea and cake.

We stopped at Spillane's of Templenoe, home to more All Ireland medals in the one house than anywhere else on earth. Tom Spillane took over the family pub from Pat, the quiet brother. Tom told us the pub would re-open soon enough. That's the best news for ages.

I have 40 pages of notes here before me and every story is worth telling. The cycle isn't easy and near the end it gets very tough on the climb up to Moll's Gap. It's as if the cyclists are cycling on the one spot, like spinning in the gym.

We saw one older lady being towed by a young lad. But somehow, from somewhere between love and camaraderie, they all made it up to Moll's Gap.

The band played rock 'n' roll at the finish in Killarney. The thousands of cyclists who rocked and rolled up the Coom and Moll's Gap danced their aches and pains away in the balmy Kerry air.

Irish Independent

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