IN their autumn years, a married couple living in Kildorrery are undertaking a cycle of more than 1,000km around Ireland to raise money for Irish humanitarian aid organisation, GOAL, which is working in Ukraine.
Annie, 73, and Eddie Quinn, 74, both retired teachers, have already raised €2,000 before they start, and hope donations will come to at least €5,000. The money is specifically “for people stuck in Ukraine who are living in horrendous conditions,” says Annie.
Annie, originally from England, taught at St Brid’s Special School in Castlebar, and Eddie, originally from Belfast, taught art at Regina Mundi College in Cork. “I took retirement when I met Eddie (a widower). He was already retired. I moved to Kildorrery in 2011.”
The pair, who have a camper van, are leading very active lives. They have half an acre of land around their north Cork home where they grow vegetables. They used to do a lot of hill walking “but the cycling has almost taken over from that”.
It was Eddie’s idea to fund-raise for the plight of Ukrainians.
“As with so many people lately, the conflict in Ukraine caught our attention and we felt we had to do something,” he said.
“There’s lots of great causes in need of support, but I think the images coming out of Ukraine made it impossible for us to ignore.
“Images of devastation and the dreadful situation that people are in, were in front of our eyes every night - we couldn’t avoid it.
“We’ve completed a number of long-distance cycles in Europe. We were thinking of our next trip this summer and decided to make it a fund-raising drive for Ukraine.”
Annie explains: “We were planning to go around cycling and visiting people. We had a route we wanted to do, but couldn’t because of Covid. Now, we’re going all the way up the west, visiting Eddie’s aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters with a big reunion in Belfast.
“A few weeks ago, Eddie said ‘Let’s do it for Ukraine’. So that was it.
“We will mostly stay in B&Bs, which we’ll pay for ourselves as our contribution to the fund-raiser. We have family in Westport, Belfast and Donegal. So they’ll give us a bed for a night or two.”
Annie expects that the cycle will cover “a lot more than 1,000km” and adds: “We’re not daunted by the cycle, but Eddie hates the rain. But when we did long cycles before, we were very lucky as we seldom got wet. And if you do get wet, Lycra soon dries out.”
Previous cycle expeditions have seen the couple go to Amsterdam, cycling through France and Belgium.
“Obviously, we got the boat to Cherbourg. We have done some camping, right down the west coast of France and into Spain and back again,” says Annie “That was 3,500km.
“We also did the England coast to coast walk with our camping gear five or six years ago. You set off in Cumbria in the west coast and walk to the far coast of Yorkshire. That was pretty tough, walking with our gear. The tent was very heavy. But then we discovered that there was a minibus and, for a tenner each a day, they would take your bags and bring them to your next stop-off point.”
Eddie and Annie, who have ten children between them (five each from their previous marriages) and 17 grandchildren, are clearly quite fit.
“I would have exercised all my life,” says Annie. “I used to be a long distance runner and did a few marathons.
“Eddie actually reclaimed himself. He bought a bike at 60, just before he met me. He was three or four stone heavier than he is now. Then he started hill-walking with me.
“We’re both about the same weight, just over 11 stone. I’d say we’re fairly fit. Eddie (who used to be a heavy smoker) is always active, digging the vegetable plot and helping me with the garden - in between his painting.
“He’s quite a successful artist. He sells his work and the price is going up all the time.
“In the winter, Eddie paints but in the summer, we do other things.”
Annie never anticipated that she would have such an active retirement. Their cycle for Ukraine will see them cover at least 50km a day
“That would be low level for us,“ she says. “But bear in mind that we’ll have our panniers on our bikes. It’s surprising how pyjamas and some clothes all mount up in weight.
“We’ll have locks for the bikes and Eddie will be carrying quite a lot of maintenance stuff, so the bikes will be heavy.
“We’ll probably finish cycling at 3pm each day. I have to insist that we take a few breaks. Eddie would keep going until he reached the B&B.”
The Quinns’ cycle had been due to start tomorrow, May 11, but has been delayed for a few weeks after Eddie pulled a calf muscle.
He wasn’t on his bike at the time “he was just pottering about, in his slippers, on grass,” says Annie. “We hope it will heal in a month or so.”
When it starts, they will head towards Limerick, then Clare, Galway, Mayo, Donegal, Derry, Limavady, Belfast and down the east coast of Ireland to Waterford before returning home.
“I have a son in Westport so we’ll stay there for a night,” says Annie. “Eddie has a sister in Donegal so we’ll have at least two nights there, and then we’ll head north-east towards his elderly aunts, who are scattered around the north of Ireland.
“Eventually, we’ll end up in Belfast where there’ll be a big reunion with Eddie’s family. He’s one of 11 children. We haven’t seen these people since before Covid. We’re really looking forward to that.”
Meeting each other relatively late in life has been an enriching experience for this active couple. “My life was full of stress before I met Eddie. He nursed his wife for five or six years before she died. I had been on my own for 12 years before I met him.”
Now, life is easier - although cycling over 1,000km may be tough. But Annie and Eddie are very much up for the challenge.
To support the fundraiser, visit: goal-ukraine-appeal.raisely.com/eddieanniequinn.
The conflict in Ukraine has resulted in the displacement of more than 12 million people since late February.
As part of its humanitarian response, GOAL delivered first aid kits, food kits and other essentials to those affected.
Currently the only Irish aid agency registered to operate in Ukraine, with an operational base in Lviv, GOAL will provide cash and voucher assistance, legal advice and psychosocial support to internally displaced people in the eastern part of the country and will quickly expand its programme to western Ukraine.
“We thought the fact that we’re a good age might lead people to support more,” Eddie said. “It might also help people of any age to realise they can do something like that themselves. We feel a story like this has the chance to touch people’s hearts - this old couple willing to do this to try and help people in need.”
The couple are finalising their planned route and are anticipating conditions they may encounter on the trip.
“We always look for the safest road that we can, but that isn’t always possible,” says Eddie. “There will be roads with fast traffic, rough or hilly terrain, trucks, tractors, cows and what have you. One way or another, we’ll raise some money for this great cause. In the end that is what it’s all about - to help people in Ukraine whose homes are being destroyed.”