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Ryan's on his bike for SYSS

Loughshinny songwriter, Ryan O'Shaugnessy talks to Ken Phelan about why he is taking on a cycle across Ireland to support youth mental health


Dan Wolfe (left), Michael Matthews and Ryan O’Shaughnessy (right)

Dan Wolfe (left), Michael Matthews and Ryan O’Shaughnessy (right)

Ryan performing at Eurovision

Ryan performing at Eurovision


Dan Wolfe (left), Michael Matthews and Ryan O’Shaughnessy (right)

Loughshinny singer/songwriter Ryan O'Shaughnessy takes to the road again on August 1 - not on a world tour this time, but instead on a 255km 'East to West 2020' cycle challenge in aid of youth counselling service, Skerries Youth Support Services (SYSS).

SYSS offers professional counselling to youths experiencing mental health difficulties, with the service seeing clients from Skerries and from the neighbouring towns of Rush, Lusk and Balbriggan.

The charity holds particular resonance for 27-year-old Ryan, who lost a friend to suicide last year, and so he took advantage of lockdown to organise the event in order to raise vital funds for the organisation.

Speaking in the run-up to the 'East to West 2020' challenge, which runs from Malahide to Lahinch in County Clare, Ryan explains his motivation for organising the event: 'We're cycling the width of the country, it's 255km, stopping off overnight in Athlone. At the moment we have about 30 cyclists and we're going to be leaving on August 1st, so we've got the bank holiday booked in for it.

'We've got a garda escort and we've got support cars, all social distancing and everything like that applies to all the cyclists. So we're going in groups of 15, and we're just trying to raise as much money as we can.

'I think throughout the summer it's been hard for charities to raise money, not being able to hold fundraisers this year.

'So it's a really important charity. It's close to my heart, because I lost a friend last year in November and a service like this could have prevented that from happening, and I think it's a priceless service that's provided.'

He says: 'SYSS are after asking me to come in as an ambassador for the charity, so basically that means I'll be supporting the charity from here on in, in all the different things that they do, and I think that kind of with my profile as well from representing Ireland at the Eurovision and stuff like that, it's nice to be able to use the profile that I have, especially on social media and stuff like that to be able to help out a worthy cause.

'If we didn't have Skerries Youth Support Services, there'd be a lot of kids struggling and not knowing what is going on in their minds, so this service just helps young people to really understand that they're not alone in their struggle with their mental health, and as I said, not many people escape it, very few people escape having to deal with their mental health in some way, so it means a lot.'

With a target of €5,000 set for the fundraiser, Ryan says that any donations made will be greatly appreciated, with all funds going directly to SYSS and towards the work it carries out in the community.

Admitting that he himself has sometimes struggled with mental health issues, he believes that most people will have faced some sort of mental health difficulty at some stage in their lives.

He says: 'I think it's very rare to come across someone these days who hasn't suffered somewhat with their mental health, and I think at this time at the moment, it's very difficult for people because they might be out of work, they might be out of pocket and you know, people are a bit more isolated so it's harder to have human interaction.

'I think this cycle as well, it's a good opportunity for cyclists to kind of socialise, albeit at a safe distance, but even just to get out into the air. It's so important, because your physical health and your mental health go hand-in-hand, and I think a cycle is a very fitting thing to do.'

Ryan has been training for the 'East to West 2020 Challenge' since the beginning of June, he says, bringing together a group of like-minded cyclists who have been cycling 100km every Saturday in preparation.

The challenge involves a 120km cycle on Saturday Aug 1, setting out from Malahide with a stopover in Athlone, then 135km on Sunday August 2 leading the team to the finish line in Lahinch.

Originally a challenge he set out to do on his own, Ryan says, it very quickly took on a life of its own, with fellow cyclists eager to come onboard and raise funds for the Skerries counselling service.

Already, the event has gathered much media attention, with Ryan appearing on radio and the challenge itself being covered in the national press, affording great publicity for SYSS.

While athletes such as professional mountain biker, Dan Wolfe are expected to participate, the event is open to people of all ages and abilities.

Ryan admits the challenge itself will prove to be 'very tough', with cyclists running against a headwind all the way.

He's hoping for some good weather in Malahide on the morning of the first day, he says, and 'fingers crossed' on the second leg of the challenge. Either way, he says, 'hail rain or snow' everyone will arrive safely to Lahinch on Sunday.

Quite aside from his cycling, Ryan is an accomplished singer-songwriter, having represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2018 with the song 'Together', which he co-wrote with Mark Caplice and Laura Elizabeth Hughes. Mark qualified for the final after finishing sixth in semi-final 1, with 179 points, making it the first time Ireland qualified for the final since 2013.

Studying at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), he also undertook a music course as part of BIMM (British and Irish Modern Music Institute) in Dublin.

His music career kicked off in January 2012, when he appeared in the inaugural season of The Voice of Ireland, and in May 2012, he reached the final of Britain's Got Talent.

It was Britain's Got Talent which helped him secure a solo deal with Sony RCA, with his debut single, 'No Name' becoming a UK Top 40 hit as well as a number three in Ireland. In May, 2012, Ryan released his debut mini-album, 'Ryan O'Shaughnessy'.

In 2015, Ryan established Dublin-based record label Bayview Records, releasing his debut album 'Back To Square One' in November 2016 under the label.

Speaking of how his career is going so far, Ryan says: 'I'm writing and recording; I just finished a song,

'I do a lot of music production at the moment, so I just finished producing a song for an artist called Riain Walsh, and I released a track there about a month ago called 'Lucky One', which has got really good radio play and stuff like that.

'Then, as part of the cycle, I've actually written a song that I've dedicated to my buddy who died last November, so we're hoping to shoot a video on the cycle as well and put that all together.

'Some of the revenue from the song is going to be going to the charity SYSS as well.'

He says: 'I've been very blessed to have music with me throughout my whole life and to make a living off it too, so I'm very lucky in that sense.

'I suppose the last single I released, 'Lucky One' is all about the journey that I'm on in life, I'm very lucky to be able to do it.

'At the moment, as you can imagine, I've had a lot of gigs cancelled, so it gives me time to get out on the bike and train and cycle, but unfortunately with the Covid regulations gigging has become kind of redundant.

'We're hoping that kind of opens up again soon because as much as musicians need to play, people need music as well to go and listen to. So we're hoping that opens up again soon.'

Ryan has found lockdown to be quite a productive period, he says, and, like everyone else, has been 'just trying to make the most of it.'

He has also been able to devote more time to his music and to focus on a number of projects he has in the pipeline.

Most importantly, he has been able to focus his attention on SYSS, organising a fundraising event they will without doubt greatly appreciate.

Fingal Independent