Following Ireland's motorcycle pioneer
THE MACHINE was utterly beautiful and the sound it made really hit you. A deep-throated hubbub and then a satisfying rasping noise when the open throttle was turned down again.
And out of the exhaust (no namby-pamby silencer nonsense, thank you) there came a little dart of flame.
Not bad for a motorbike built in the early 1920s – a Henderson just like the one that Carl Stearns Clancy had when he completed the first around-the-world bike ride, which began 100 years ago yesterday in Dublin.
Which was why about 60 bikers gathered at the Joe Duffy BMW dealership in Finglas, Dublin. Galvanised by enthusiast Feargal O’Neill of Blessington, the bikers came from North and South to recall and retrace the Irish leg of Clancy’s epic 1912 journey.
“See that there,” said Paddy Guerin, proud owner of the immaculately restored deep blue Henderson, as he pored over some of the bike’s original papers, pointing at a diagram of the engine. “She runs anticlockwise,” he said. “Most engines run clockwise.”
Bikers get enthusiastic about such matters.
Guerin bought the Henderson about five years ago from a man in Bristol who had acquired it from Australia. It was in hundreds of pieces but is now restored to the showroom-standard vintage machine enthusiasts demand. Guerin wouldn’t say how much he paid for it but one changed hands recently for €35,000.
Sitting on the Henderson, on its beautiful, backside-shaped leather saddle, was Lisburn man Gary Walker, former motorbike racer, actor, stage hand and cameraman.
Yesterday he was decked out in a three-piece tweed suit and cloth peaked cap – pretty much what the Irish-American Clancy wore when he set off from the Phoenix Park on October 23rd, 1912.
There was a pennant on the bike like the one an Irish girl made Clancy when he crossed the Atlantic from New York and which he carried around with him. “Around the world,” it proclaimed.
Walker was also wearing Clancy’s original leather boots, as he revealed with almost boyish delight. “But I’ll never fill them,” he added.
Nearby, sitting on a BMW R1200 Adventure, was biker writer Geoff Hill. Next March he and Walker will set out to retrace Clancy’s entire journey – through Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain, then on through parts of north Africa before striking out for Sri Lanka, southeast Asia and, across the Pacific, the US.
“I’m excited and I’m frightened,” said Walker. “I’ve done many things on bikes and one of the things you want to do is an around-the-world.”
“Clancy started this whole adventure motorcycle thing,” said O’Neill, “and its amazing to think that the first bike to go around the world had an Irish number plate: RI 2016.”
Of the bikers who turned out yesterday, about half took to the M50 and then the old N3 to retrace Clancy’s and his partner Walter Rendell Storey’s Irish leg through Meath and Cavan into Fermanagh. The road through Co Dublin was lined with beech trees, smothered in warm autumnal gold and brown – leaves that won’t last the next gale.
Clancy and Storey spent their first night in Newtownbutler, in the Temperance Hotel at 44 Main Street. It is dilapidated now and on the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society’s at-risk list.
There is no sign now that it was once a hotel, and no mention of its place in motorcycling history.
Geoff Hill was already muttering into his digital recorder – the book is on the way.
Today the posse passes through Donegal and will visit the Slieve League cliffs, just as Clancy and Storey did. Then it’s on to Ballybofey and Derry and Northern Ireland’s wonderful coastal causeway route, right down to Belfast.
Hill is carrying Clancy’s boots. And when he and Walker are finished some time next year, the boots will have a place of honour in the US national motorcycle museum.