WEST Cork pals Joe McCarthy and Sean Gordon may have been saddle sore as they neared the end of their 2,500km charity cycling odyssey earlier this month, but they were riding high too after raising €10,000 for Pieta and West Cork Rapid Response.
“And we’re still friends!” says Joe, aged 23, from Drimoleague.
He and Sean, aged 22, from Rosscarbery, have been firm buddies since meeting in first year at secondary school. They’ve worked side-by-side together at the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery for three summers.
And their friendship has now lasted a 2,500km loop around Ireland on their bikes — even though they are novice cyclists.
“We got a bit grumpy when we got hungry; but that didn’t last very long,” says Joe.
“People along the way were very good to us despite the Covid restrictions and they couldn’t be nicer. Farmers let us camp on their land and we always got well fed.”
Sometimes the lads had more salubrious accommodation, apart from the great outdoors sleeping during starry, starry nights.
“After mountain climbs in the Arklow mountains, we were very glad to avail of the offer of comfy beds from the Arklow Bay Hotel,” says Joe. “And kind people looked after us.”
They had many adventures along the way.
“We cycled through Wexford town onto Waterford and struck up to Callan,” says Sean. “That’s when Joe’s prediction of being chased by a dog finally came true. He just about came away with all his toes intact!”
But Joe and Sean’s intent remained intact on their 2,500km mission, which ended with their trumphant homecoming in Rosscarbery on September 7.
“Another morning when we woke up, we were far from fresh,” says Sean. “The sound of a car doing doughnuts late at night in the nearby beach wasn’t exactly conducive to a good night’s rest!”
But the lads, undeterred, had a remedy for this.
“We went for an early morning swim that freshened us up nicely.”
What brought on the month-long trek the novice cyclists undertook, which began on August 10?
“We’re not really cyclists,” says Joe. “Far from it! We were learning on the go. And let’s say our bodies were very tender the first few days.”
The plan was to travel further afield before continuing their studies. Joe studied Animal Science in UCD and is going on to study Veterinary Medicine in UCD in September. Sean studied Applied Maths and Physics in UCC and is going to France this month to study Computational Neuroscience.
“We planned to travel to Europe,” says Joe. But because of the virus, we couldn’t. The cycling trip was very last minute dot.com!”
They didn’t have to think very long about raising funds for Pieta and West Cork Rapid Response.
“We knew the charities we wanted to support,” says Joe.
The lads improvised to get on the road around Ireland, doing a 2,500km loop to raise funds for the two worthy causes.
“Sean borrowed his dad’s bike and I bought my first bike since I was 11!” says Joe. “It was a bit light for a long road trip, but I got there!”
Sean’s dad made a good purchase.
“The bike is 10 or 15 years old,” says Sean. “But dad knew what he was doing when he bought it. I didn’t! He did! It’s a great bike for long distance. I’ve never done long cycles before now. Once I cycled to Schull and back.”
He’s making up for lost time.
“It took me a while to hang to get the hang of it,” says Sean, laughing. But nothing was going to stop the two lads in their tracks.
“We wanted to help alleviate the negative impact of the pandemic on the community,” says Joe.
“We decided to be pro-active around the general feeling of depression round the pandemic.
“West Cork Rapid Response and Pieta House are two great charities that do brilliant work both at a local level and a national level. The Rapid Response medical team has saved lives up and down the country getting to accidents quickly. Dr Jason van der Velde is sound.”
Do the lads’ families think they are sound, cycling 2,500km without much practice?
“They think we’re bananas!” says Sean. “But once we decided; we couldn’t back out. It’s good to help charities in need who help people in need.”
Pieta House has helped people up and down the country.
“Pieta is always there for every family,” says Joe. “Everyone knows someone in trouble or suffering a bereavement who was helped by Pieta House.
“So when Sean I decided to strike off, we had those charities in mind.”
The lads got a great send off from their colleagues at the Celtic Ross, and then delighted in taking in the scenery along the Wild Atlantic Way and the Ancient East.
“We passed the most amount of Lycra middle-aged men I’ve ever seen!” says Joe. “I have to say they are onto something; the views were absolutely spectacular. Cycling the Wicklow Mountains was the highlight of the trip.”
The lads got into their own rhythm
“We ate, slept and cycled,” says Joe. “It was actually fine. Deciding on a Monday morning where to go that day was brilliant.”
They didn’t spare the rations or spare the horses. “We ate enough for a small army!” says Joe. “Being on the go all the time was our new normal. We just got used to it and we took no day off for 14 days straight.
“In Galway we met a friend and went for a few pints. So that was good.”
Getting soaked when Storm Ellen and Storm Francis hit wasn’t much fun though.
“We got soaked to the skin sleeping outside in the tents!” says Joe. “We were roughing it but really enjoying it too. The flexibility every day is great and getting to meet lovely people has been great.
Stopping off for breakfast or for a quick swim was par for the course.
Joe had another good reason to stop off in the capital.
“We headed to UCD for Joe’s graduation!” says Sean. “He swapped the helmet for the graduation cap for the day!”
Joe got funny looks.
“I ordered the gown and sat up on the bike! It was far from a traditional graduation! But I’m out the gap.”
Joe and Sean were delighted when the finishing line was finally in sight.
“People have been very generous and everyone at the Celtic Ross Hotel has been very supportive,” says Sean.
“I know lots of locals would liked to have welcomed us back; but look, we saw everyone socially distancing along the road on the way into Rosscarbery en route home.
“We were looking forward to cycling the last stretch home via Waterford and east Cork.
“It was something we wanted to do and something that we really enjoyed.”
Robin Gifford, operation manager at the Celtic Ross, says there is get credit due to the lads.
“We are super-proud of our employees,” said Robin. “They’re sound! Joe and Sean have been working together in food and beverage here at the hotel for three or four summers. They are great lads.”
All good things come to an end.
“This will probably be their last summer together before they go their separate ways to continue their studies,” says Robin.
“Wearing the Celtic Ross tee-shirts, other hotels around the country got in touch with us to offer Joe and Sean a bed for the night. I think they were thrilled with that! We were really looking forward to welcoming them home.”
To donate: see GoFundMepage Doing the Loop.