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A Cycle on the Celtic Fringe … Part 56

My very being had slowed down. There was no sense of chase, no needing to be there. From pushing at the pedals I now let them find their own pace, their own rhythm. It wasn’t hell-bent and straining; the blue lights flashing and the sirens wailing. The wind was behind me now. Turned to be at my back and gliding me along roads that gave me a feeling of a glorious centre. It was a wind in a bag I had been given by two wise men in Shannonbridge and I wasn’t going to let it escape.

They were philosophers in the truest sense. They allowed thoughts time to reach conclusions and the conclusions drawn were that not much can be achieved by rushing that cannot better be achieved by slowing things down a little bit and seeing the world around you at the same time.

But no WH Davies were they. More wise judges who could see a thing, and have an appreciation of its importance through sense, feel and experience. It seems to me that one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century was the mass spread of the motorcar. You see nothing in a car, You have no sense of the world you are passing through. No feeling of being a part of it.

I have a clear sense of not just passing through, but like a swimmer in the sea, a real sense of the world and me being as one.

Earlier in the day I had been a ailing, struggling pedaller wishing away the miles and feeling an antagonism to the world around me. My gripe merely being that I wasn’t ten miles further on. If I had been ten miles further on, I would have wanted to be somewhere else. Now, with the sun on my face and the breeze at my back, I couldn’t wish to be anywhere nicer. The fields were green, the trees were tall and the rivers ran free.

On the route I’d taken, most of the farmland had been pasture, but here there were some fields where crops had been grown. Huge bails marked  recently harvested wheat, a little further along corn cobs began to fatten, but meadowland remained predominant. I cross the River Brogna and find the little road that John had pointed out to me. The houses along here were mostly single storey, beautifully kept and the sort you’d happily move into tomorrow and spend the rest of your days writing verse under the trees.

And now the acres stretched out, almost to the horizon with peat bogs. Bricks of peat carefully cut from ditches and drying in the warm breeze. Hundreds of thousands of them. Surely not bound for fires, though small tractor loads passed me from time to time that suggested a warm hearth and a well told tale. Two large factories, almost neighbours, tell the more modern story. One producing bags of compost for the gardeners of Europe and one producing briquettes for the barbecues that will be lit once the compost has been dug in and the lawn and flowers grown. My scanty general knowledge had told me that peat had been outlawed as a garden product, but here it was been dug on a huge scale from a bog the size of Bassetlaw.

I’d been taking photographs the whole way round but, it is as I pedal through the peatlands, that I first wonder whether I’ve captured enough of what I have seen. I’ve diligently spent two or three hours every early morning writing down the detail of my memories from the day before, but I had so few pictures.

I was brought up to see the camera as a luxury that came out on family outings. A roll of film had twelve exposures and that might last a year. I’m worried that the memory card may fill up. I really am a most inexperienced camera man. All the time I’m being economical with the snapshots, I could be buying a second, or even third memory card for the price of a packet of cigarettes. I hadn’t taken pictures of Ballinasloe, of the kind fellows back in Roscommon, of my philosopher friends at Shannonbridge. And now, even as I cycled on contemplating this, I was failing to take photographs of the peat bogs, of the trees and pasture lands, of the idyllic cottages and even of the glorious old road sign for a level crossing with a hurrying steam train on it. (Shovelling white steam over its shoulder.)

A huge lorry has left the causeway of the road and is axel deep in peat. Two cars from the local Garda have sealed the route but let the cyclist through. Two massive breakdown trucks have been called to the scene. Everything is in hand. No blaring worry. The lorry driver is sipping tea from a flask and letting one of the policemen know how it happened.

The miles that dragged in the morning as I pedalled as fast as I could (not very fast at all) now fly by as I cruise along and I’m in Birr before five o’clock. It is far enough. I’m ready for a rest, a soak, and wander around the streets. And, anyway, the road ahead has some big mountains. Any thought of going further tonight is going to meet with some proper climbing and I need to get my body ready for that.

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The receptionist At Dooley’s Hotel is new to her job. This is never a good thing. The more experienced the person on the desk, the more likely you are to get the best of bargains. Yesterday, I got one of the owners and ended up with the best room in the hotel. Today, I get a very pleasant young girl who probably feels she’s done a good job, in getting the money off the cyclist, without giving up any of the better rooms. I’m stationed in a room that technically passes as a double, as they have managed to fit a double bed into it, with a view out the back over rooftops and yards. When Dame Nellie Melba stayed here they gave her such a welcome that she sang to the crowds from her bedroom window. I could do the same but I’d only annoy the jackdaws.

She’d greeted me in the way the Irish have of making you feel very special. “Hello. And how are you?” All the stress being on the last word as though “you” have been the person they have been waiting for all day and you’ve finally arrived. It was like being welcomed by Brenda Blethin at her gentlest and kindest.

To be fair, I was offered the bridal suite when I’d asked for “The best room you’ve got for the money I have.”

With hindsight, I can see why I was given the servants’ quarters.