10 things a cyclist notices about rural Ireland
From the Gathering’s benefits to Co Monaghan’s overlooked charms, here is what can be seen from the saddle
Brian McIntyre: thinks the heart of rural Ireland is shifting from the church and the pub to the GAA, post office and supermarket. Photograph: Eric Luke
During the month of August I cycled the coasts and borders of the Republic of Ireland, a distance of about 2,000km, keeping my eyes peeled as I went. Here’s what I noticed.
1 The Gathering is working on a micro level. Families, friends, neighbours have come together north and south of the Border, and their motivation is connection, not commerce. We need one every 10 years.
2 Lone Irish women are nervous and defensive when encountering a man on the street when he himself is alone. Women around the country rarely engage in pleasantries or make eye contact as I pass.
3 The official star system for rating B&Bs is largely irrelevant and fails to capture the power of the internet. While the system worries about availability of credit card payments and the option of an evening meal, it is the web that tells me what I really want to know: how was the welcome; would you go again, and was it value for money?
4 Ireland does not wake up until 11.30am on Sundays, apart from newsagents and some bleary-eyed parents who lost the toss.
5 In places where economic hardship seems to have hit hardest, the painted walls of houses become more garish in colour. This I take as a sign of hope, even defiance.
6 Ireland’s single best descent on a bike is largely unknown: the downward slope from Mizen to Durrus, looking out on Dunmanus Bay, is one of the great gifts of nature to the cycling classes – undulating, peaceful, breathtaking and safe.
7 Irish people are obsessed with ice-cream when the sun shines. I have seen grown men shiver with delight at their 99s with added raspberry sauce and grown women attacking Magnums with terrifying focus.
8 Our country is staggeringly beautiful in a way that does not depend on the sun. Cycling Inis Mór in mist, or the Beara peninsula in the drizzle, or the Donegal Rosses in the rain – each is a thing of beauty, wrapped up in a little grey.
9 The vital heart of rural Ireland is shifting – from church and pub to GAA, post office and supermarket. The GAA energises communities in a visceral and powerful way, the post office is often the last service standing, and SuperValu can transcend marketing rhetoric to actually play a committed, genuine role in small towns. I have also witnessed many communities teetering on the brink.
10 Co Monaghan is a wonder to behold. Domain of hills and lakes, cows and manure, its stony grey soil and ardent people have riches to offer, in a humble manner that is truly affecting. There is a stillness in villages such as Latton and Inniskeen that feels special, and a warmth to be found in a people whose lives do not revolve around servicing tourism.
Read more about Brian McIntyre’s cycling trip around Ireland at rotharrepublic.wordpress.com