2016-08-06 (Day 51) Dublin – Donegal

Today’s photo shows a plane taking off from Dublin airport as the sun rises in the distance. This was the third time I had cycled from Dublin to Donegal and I have always stopped every other year to take a photo here at Dublin Airport. There is normally a plane taking off every 3 minutes in the early morning rush and you never have to wait too long to get a good shot.

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Total cycled on Thursday – 120km. Total cycled so far – 2120 km. Before setting out from Dublin to Donegal on Saturday morning, I went for a training spin on Thursday afternoon. The theme for the spin was a round of golf and I set out to visit as many golf courses as possible. Ireland famously has more golf courses per head of population than any other country in the world and many of the most famous courses are not too far from Dublin.

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Carton House golf course. First stop on my round of golf was at Carton House near Maynooth. Carton House has staged the Irish Open on a number of occasions and also has a golf academy. As well as a 18 hole golf course, the resort has a number of training pitches and facilities for other team sports. It often hosts the Irish rugby team before big tournaments and the Donegal GAA team once trained here as well. But the most famous team to stay here was Real Madrid in the summer of 2009. The same year both Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema joined Real Madrid and the first time they got together with their team-mates was here at Carton House during pre-season training. Both players later made their debut for Real Madrid during a friendly with local team Shamrock Rovers at the nearby Tallaght Stadium.

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K Club golf course in Straffan in Kildare. The K Club is probably the most famous golf course in Ireland and in 2006, hosted the Ryder Cup. The golf course is owned by Michael Smurfit, who made his fortune making cardboard boxes and who is one of Ireland’s richest men. There are 2 golf courses at the K Club, both designed by Arnold Palmer in the grounds of an old landlord estate, which was bought by Smurfit in 1988  In 2006, Europe won the Ryder Cup by 9 points here and if you want to follow in the footsteps of the victorious European team, it will cost you as green fees during the summer are €240.

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Dublin Mountain golf course. If the green fees at the K Club cause you sticker shock, then you can always save a lot of money by playing a round here at the Dublin Mountain Golf course instead. Founded in 1993, Dublin Mountain is set on rolling farmland and offers spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

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Sign for Kilternan golf course. I had hoped to visit Powerscourt golf course as well on my round of golf but suffered a puncture near Enniskerry. I have cycled all over Europe the last 2 years and the L1011 between Glencree and Enniskerry was the worst stretch of road I have ever come across. Fortunately, the puncture was in the back wheel as if it had been the front wheel, I probably would have crashed due to the speed I was going downhill. I can’t understand how the locals put up with such a bad road as this area has some of the most expensive property in Ireland.  Normally, road maintenance increases before a general election, but despite an Irish general election in February 2016 and a drop in the price of bitumen, there was very little money spent on the road network in Ireland last year. Perhaps this is one reason why the ruling party, Fine Gael, did so poorly in the election despite the booming economy.

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Stepaside golf course. Stepaside is literally in the suburbs of Dublin but even here there is a golf course and driving range.Within 3km of this 18 hole pitch and putt course, there are also golf courses at Stackstown, Edmundstown, Carrickmines, Leopardstown, Old Conna, Woodburn and Dun Laoghaire. There are almost as many golf courses in this small part of South Dublin than there are in the whole of France

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LUAS bridge in Dundrum. By now it was starting to get dark, so it was time to head back to Phibsboro. On the way, I passed under the LUAS bridge at Dundrum. LUAS is the name of the tram service in Dublin. At present there are 2 lines, the Green line from here in Dundrum in the south of Dublin to the city centre and the Red line between Tallaght in the west of Dublin to the city centre. A third line is presently being built to the north west of Dublin to connect Cabra and the city centre and is due to open in September 2017.

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Total cycled on Saturday – 250 km. Total cycled so far on this year’s Tour de Travoy – 2270 km. Last year, I cycled over 3,000 km so this year’s Tour de Travoy was a lot shorter though the total amount of climbing at around 22,000 m was about the same. Last year, I also cycled from Dublin to Donegal but due to the cross wind that day, I found it very tough. This year the wind was more a tailwind and it was much easier.

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Hazy shot of Croke Park at about 5.30 in the morning. There were few people about as I passed by Croke Park but just a few hours after I took this photo, the area around the stadium would be teeming with people. Over 80,000 spectators were expected to watch the All – Ireland Gaelic football quarter final between Dublin and Donegal later today. Tyrone and Mayo were also due to play their quarter final today and their game was scheduled to start at 16.00 or roughly 10 hours time. The Dublin – Donegal game was due to start 2 hours later at  18.00 and I was hoping to be home in time for it. But with both Donegal and Tyrone due to play on the same day, there was sure to be a lot of traffic on the road to Dublin today.

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Traffic was quiet on the M50 ring road around Dublin. The M50 motorway is the busiest road in Ireland so it is a rare sight to cross over it and not see even one car on it. Over 100,000 cars use this road every day but this morning, there were very few on it. This stretch near Finglas is only 5 km from Dublin Airport but even here it was exceptionally quiet.

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Carrickmacross bypass sculpture. After cycling for about 4 hours though counties Dublin, Meath and Louth, I crossed into county Monaghan and reached Carrickmacross. The 9 km long Carrickmacross Bypass was opened in January 2005 after 2 years work. The bypass cost €52 million and was named “Kavanagh Way” after the local poet Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967).  All recent road schemes in Ireland have spent 1% of their budget on a sculpture or some other piece of artwork to commemorate the road being built. This sculpture beside the Carrickmacross bypass is by renowned sculptor David Annand and is based on a line in one of Patrick Kavanagh’s poems “Come Dance with Kitty Stobling”. The poem describes a dream Kavanagh had in which some people were “cavorting on mile high stilts” as a terrified crowd looked on. The sculpture certainly brings Kavanagh’s poem to life and is a fitting tribute to the poet’s work.

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2nd puncture of the day near Donaghmoyne. The front tyre on my bike is a Vredestein and it is the original tyre that came with the bike. I must have done over 10,000 km on that tyre since I got my bike 5 years age and the tyre has displayed few signs of wear. But after getting 2 front wheel punctures this morning, I was worried the tyre was starting to fray and would not make it all the way to Donegal. Fortunately, after thoroughly checking the front tyre, I came across a tiny thorn wedged in the tyre. It was this thorn that had caused both punctures and after removing it, I had no more tyre issues for the rest of the day.

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Line of cars on their way to the GAA football quarter-finals in Croke Park..By now it was around 12 mid-day and there was a noticeable increase in traffic heading south towards Dublin. Tyrone and Mayo were due to throw-in at 4 o’clock and there were a lot of cars with Tyrone flags and the occasional Donegal flag on the road. There were probably about 5 cars heading south for every car that was heading north on the A2 between Castleblayney and Carrickmacross. Most cars were driving steady and I didn’t see any speeding or mad overtaking manoeuvres. From here to Dublin is roughly 2 hours drive by car, the same distance that had taken me over 6 hours to cycle so far this morning.

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Sign for country music festival in Castleblayney.  I was surprised this poster for a country and western festival in Castleblayney didn’t feature Big Tom. Big Tom McBride is from Castleblayney and is one of Ireland’s most famous C+W singers. I am sure he has played at the Glencarn Inn in his hometown many a time but he was not due to play there during this music festival. Tom famously is afraid of flying but in 1980, crossed the Atlantic in a boat to record an album at Nashville. Eventhough he had a heart attack in 2006, he still continues to tour. In 2016, he celebrated 50 years since his first big hit by completing a nationwide tour. He probably played at the Glencarn Hotel at some stage during that tour but this poster is advertising one of many C+W festivals held there throughout the year. Country music is huge in Ireland and there are 2 TV stations on satellite TV in Ireland dedicated to country music. Lisa McHugh and Mike Denver often feature on TV and would be well known throughout Ireland whereas Johnny Brady and Marty Mone would be much newer on the scene.

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Herd of cattle blocking old Dublin – Donegal road. Herds of cattle and sheep blocking back roads in Ireland is common and I am sure almost every tourist to Ireland has been held up at some stage by a farmer moving his livestock on some back road. But this road on the outskirts of Castleblayney is no back road and 10 years ago, this was the main road between Dublin and Donegal. 10,000 vehicles a day used this road before the Castleblayney Bypass was opened in 2009. Obviously, traffic is a lot quieter now and these cattle were keen to take advantage of the juicy green grass along the road’s verge.

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First sign for Letterkenny. This sign near Emyvale in County Monaghan marks the half way point between Dublin and my home in Donegal. My home is about 38 km from Letterkenny so I still had 135 km to go at this sign, which is exactly half the total distance of 270 km between Dublin and my home. All signs in Ireland are in both Irish (Gaelige) and English. Irish towns were often named after local landmarks and there names were then mangled into English following the Norman Invasion. On this sign, Doire means “The Oak Tree”, Leitir Ceannain means “Hillside of the O’Cannon’s”, Omaigh means “Open Plain” and Achach na Cloiche means “Field of Stones”.

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Crossing the border into County Tyrone. The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has to be one of the most underwhelming borders in the world. There is nothing to indicate you are crossing between 2 separate countries; no line on the road, no flags, no nothing except this sign for County Tyrone. This is deliberately so and was one of the conditions included in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 which effectively ended the 30 year Troubles in the North.

How the border at Aughnacloy used to look like during the Troubles. There may be no trace of the border nowadays but that was certainly not the case during the Troubles. Here at Aughnacloy, the British Army had a lookout post with a machine gun. At times, nearly every car was stopped and their boot searched by soldiers and custom officials. The British army base here was demolished in the late 90’s and there is no trace of it nowadays.

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Meeting up with the Knighthawks at small shop near Gortaclare. About 50 km from Aughnacloy, I met up with my support crew who call themselves the Knighthawks. The Knighthawks are a jovial bunch who like knights in times gone by, occasionally come to the aid of beleaguered cyclists. Their mission today was to meet up with me near Omagh with extra supplies. All day we had exchanged text messages as to my location and it was great to finally meet up here at the XL shop near Gortaclare. The shop sells coffee to takeaway and a hot brew was a lovely treat after drinking juice all day and just what the doctor ordered. The Knighthawks also agreed to take Travoy back to Donegal with them so it meant my bike was a lot lighter. With a strong tailwind and a much faster bike without the trailer, I was able to go a lot quicker.

Mellon Country Hotel was closed and up for auction. I was shocked to see the Mellon Country Hotel near Omagh up for sale when I passed by. It is one of the most famous hotels in Ireland and hosts many weddings as well as country bands and singers. The hotel overlooks the River Mellon and it always seemed to be busy anytime we passed by before. One of the biggest banks in America, the Bank of New York Mellon is named after the Mellon river in County Tyrone though I don’t think they had anything to to with the hotel. However, the bank was involved in providing finance for the Irish American folk park near Omagh which is located only a few km from this hotel.

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In Strabane, a stainless steel sculpture is located where the British Army checkpoint used to be. The sculpture features 5 figures, 2 dancers and 3 members of a band. One of the bandsmen is playing a fiddle, another a flute and the third a drum. The figures are known locally as the Tinnies and in 2008, the 2 dancers were decorated in the local Tyrone GAA team colors to celebrate Tyrone reaching the All Ireland final.

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The Tinnies sculpture decorated in the Tyrone colors. The Tyrone jersey and many other county jerseys are made by O’Neills sportswear here in Strabane. O’Neills is one of the biggest employers in Strabane and as well as supplying many GAA teams, they also supply the FC Lourdes rugby union team in France and the FC United of Manchester football team in England with their kit. Of course, Adidas recently made headlines by agreeing to pay  £750 million to secure the Manchester United kit contract for the next 10 years but as to how much the FC United of Manchester kit contract cost has not been disclosed by either O’Neills or the rebel football team.

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The old customs post on the Lifford road is now a garage and cafe. Of course, after the Brexit vote last year, checkpoints and custom posts could yet return to Northern Ireland. In her only comments so far about the border, the British Prime Minister has stated that the Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland will continue after Brexit. This dates back to the 19th Century when Ireland was part of the British Empire. However, the Common Travel Area was also in force during the Troubles and it didn’t stop the British setting up numerous checkpoints along the Border.

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Border between Spain and Gibraltar. The only other place where Britain shares a land border with the EU is between Spain and Gibraltar. Anyone crossing the border has to show their passport and in 2013, there were delays of over 3 hours for people trying to drive into Gibraltar. Interestingly, the residents of Gibraltar were allowed to participate in the Brexit referendum and 97% voted against it. Yet despite the overwhelming support to remain in the EU, Gibraltar has had to endure a hard border for many years and the same could also yet happen in the North if the Brexit negotiations between Britain and the EU turn nasty.

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Polestar roundabout in Letterkenny. Whatever about the Brexit negotiations, the weather certainly turned nasty after I crossed the border at Lifford. The forecast was for rain in the evening and sure enough, as soon as I got to Donegal, the heavens opened. By the time I got to the Polestar roundabout in Letterkenny, I was soaked through. In 2014, when I cycled from Donegal to Dublin, I ran out of juice near Lifford. At the time, I wasn’t too bothered as I had often cycled through Donegal without anything to drink as it is normally cool and wet. But that day, the sun was blazing bright and by the time, I got to Letterkenny, I was starting to hallucinate from the thirst. I had no lock for my bike but fortunately, at McDaids garage on the Ramelton road, there was a fuel attendant and he agreed to keep an eye on my bike as I raided the fridge. But there was no need to stop at McDaid’s today for something to drink as it was bucketing it down.

End of 2016 Tour de Travoy at Mountain Top in Letterkenny. When I got to the top of the Mountaintop in Letterkenny, I was offered a lift home by my sister. I hadn’t asked for a lift and unlike in 2015,  I was feeling fresh and could have easily cycled the remaining distance home. Last year when I cycled from Dublin to Donegal, I was so tired when I got to Letterkenny, it took me over 20 minutes to climb the Mountaintop. But this year, the same climb only took me 9 minutes. My record for the climb is 8 and a half minutes so even after cycling all the way from Dublin, I posted one of my fastest ever times on the climb. But it was now after 6 and the rain was getting heavier, so I reluctantly accepted the lift.

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Home in time for the end of Dublin Donegal game. About 14 hours previously, I had passed by an empty Croke Park near Phibsboro in Dublin. My target was to be home in time to see the game but due to punctures and the heavy rain, I ended up about 2 hours behind schedule. Only for the lift from Letterkenny, the game would have been long over by the time I got home. Not that I missed much as Donegal played poorly and only managed a goal and 2 points from play the whole game. Dublin’s attacking prowess is well known but defensively they are very solid too and restricting the last team to beat them in the Championship (back in 2014) to 3 scores from play was quite an achievement.

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Travoy back in Donegal. Perhaps it was fitting that Donegal’s end in the All-Ireland Championship also co-incided with the end of this year’s Tour de Travoy. The 2016 Tour de Travoy had started on June 12th with a lift in a hired van with my brother from Donegal to London. The same day, Donegal started their 2016 campaign by playing Fermanagh at Brewster Park in Enniskillen and we had listened to the game on the BBC Ulster radio station on Longwave while travelling through Galloway and Cumbria. Their next game against Monaghan, I was in Arvier in Italy and for the replay, I was in Nantua in France. The Ulster final took place the same day we went to see the Tour de France in Anglefort and I was able to follow the game on Twitter. Their loss to Tyrone meant they had to play a qualifier against Cork which I hoped to see in London but ended up missing trying to get a derailleur for my bike in Gatwick. Their sixth and final game in the 2016 Championship was only on Sky satellite TV so I didn’t get to see it either and instead listened to it on the radio. So while I didn’t get to see any of Donegal’s games all summer, I didn’t miss any of the action thanks to Longwave radio and the Internet.

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Actual route of the 2016 Tour de Travoy. Often a live game or sport, whether it is football or GAA or even cycling, is better reading about it afterwards rather than actually watching it live. Good journalists can bring a poor game to life by their writing in a way that TV commentators and pundits sometimes struggle with. Likewise, writing about a cycling tour after the event can also enliven what at times was actually very run of the mill and a bit lacklustre. The 2016 Tour de Travoy took me 2 months to cycle but it has has taken me even longer to write about it. For my next tour, I am hoping to write a lot more on the road when I am actually touring. This can be difficult as on an average day you cycle 8 hours and sleep 8 hours which only leaves 8 hours to do everything else. By the time you have pitched your tent, sorted your gear, had a shower, washed your clothes, done your shopping and charged up all your phones and other gadgets, there is only an hour or 2 left over to write about your day. Good writing takes time and therefore, I will have to try and allow for extra rest days on my next tour. Full details of the 2017 Tour de Travoy will be announced in May but for now I would like to bring the curtain down on the 2016 Tour de Travoy with an old Irish blessing.

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