Billy Keane: ''Ring' cycle a day out like no other and the jewel in Kingdom's crown'
Jimmy Duffy from Blennerville pedalled the famed Ring of Kerry charity cycle on an old-fashioned, throw- your-leg-over-the-bar bicycle.
Someone said the bike was so old it could have belonged to Michael Collins.
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There was a basket on the front, a carrier on the back and a bell Jimmy never rang, for fear of offending anyone.
Jimmy togged out in Kerry football shorts, an unbuttoned-up white shirt, ordinary socks and his going-to-Mass shoes pedalled him up mountains. There was 'ere a sign of lycra. Jimmy cycled to the town of Killarney, where Ireland's biggest one-day charity cycle kicks off on July 6 this year.
The Ring of Kerry Cycle is to Kerry what JP McManus is to Limerick. The event has raised nearly €16 million to date and there isn't a place or a person who has not benefited.
Jimmy might drink a pint on the way around the mountains and lakes and seas that God designed on the last day of creation. By then your Almighty, and mine, would have had plenty of experience of making beautiful places.
The Ring of Kerry is God's masterpiece.
The mountains should be framed and hung in a gallery. The colour changes the shades of the contours depending on the vagaries of cloud and sun, with the taller mountains peeping out over the shoulders of the foothills, all to get a better look at the wild or kind Atlantic.
I had two aunts living in Cahersiveen, the town that hugs the mountain. Sadly, they have both passed on now. I remember the size of the South Kerry big skies when I was a boy. I still have that sense of wonder. And I feel tiny but at the same time elevated spiritually.
The scenes out over the seas are like nowhere else on earth and when you look from the cliffs of Iveragh to the spit of Inch in the middle, and the Dingle Peninsula beyond, the cares of today, tomorrow and yesteryear are put on hold or explained.
There's splendour here around every corner.
I think it may have been Stephen Roche who was asked if he enjoyed the scenery of the savage Tour de France mountain stage to Alpe d'Huez. "I was just watching the wheel of the riders in front of me," said Roche.
The Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle isn't a race but you can race if you like. There's freedom to do as you wish. Most of you will take time to stop for a while on the road to, or in Cahersiveen, Kenmare, Sneem, Derrynane, Glenbeigh and Puck.
The Ring got too big and there were 12,000 cyclists taking part. The organisers meant well. They were doing their best for the charities but truth to tell there were just too many cyclists on the narrow roads.
This year's cycle has been limited to 8,000. More than 1,500 volunteers will help with feeding stations, medics and the locals who continue the tradition of hospitality.
My cousin Bridget Maguire is chairperson of the steering committee. She reminds me so much of her Aunty Mary, my Mom. Straight, but caring, no fuss and no drama. She is one of many but our family are deadly proud of her.
You can be certain the cycle will be superbly organised. There are staggered starts and the fast bikers who want to get off first get a free run.
The organisers hope to bring back the cyclists who maybe felt they were held up by the crowds a few years back.
But most stop along the way and some of the riders take up to eight hours to complete the spin.
The scene at the finish in Killarney beats the Tour de France. There are bands and food, hugs, and lots of love. Friends and families are there to meet the cyclists.
This is fun but it's tough too. The cycle is 175 kilometres and if you want that in miles divide by eight and multiply by five. You can make it as tough or as easy as you like.
Don't forget to call to see Betty Breen of Kelly's Cross who paints her home a different colour every year and gives tea to all.
The big thing though is you will raise money for charity and maybe find figuring out in the beauty of Kerry. This is a voluntary event, run by the people, for the people.
I am an ambassador this year for the Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, a place of great love where the professional counselling helps victims to find their way through the suffering. All of the named charities are worthy of our support.
This day has changed lives. The girl had a puncture near Sneem. The man stopped to help. They met up again at the finish in Killarney.
He gave her the engagement ring at the end of the Ring the following year. The committee surprised the happy couple with a guard of honour at their wedding in Fossa a year later. The bicycle wheels were formed in to an arch, in the same way hurlers toast the bride and groom with hurls.
Cathal Walsh, the friendliest PRO, who was on the first Ring with 34 others, told me that Jimmy, well in to his sixties, would cycle back to Blennerville via the Short Mountain.
The bike didn't have gears but Jimmy did. There was no empty light in the stamina tank.
The Short Mountain is a long old climb, but the hero always made sure to hydrate at The Shanty Bar in Ballyfinnane.
It was a day out like no other and still is.
He's gone now is Jimmy, but the cycle he loved, for the people he loved, keeps on giving.
- For more details on this year's event, go to www.ringofkerrycycle.ie