A full 24 hours back in Co. Donegal and it still feels a little surreal to be sitting here in our family living room looking out over that achingly familiar yet constantly adjusting vista of Donegal Bay. Surreal, but oh so very good!
The last 7 days from Wales and finally into the hallowed hills of Ireland have been a heady build up of fond welcomes climaxing in a truly unforgettable arrival into Donegal town last night.
One of the unexpected benefits of cycling slowly through the UK and Ireland has been the opportunity to connect with family and friends who we would usually visit all too rarely, and some we’ve never had the pleasure to meet before! Each time we’ve been showered with good food, booze, comfy beds, hot showers and long gossips. All those things we knew we missed but perhaps didn’t realise how much we craved. Of course, there’s been some cycling (and rainy, windy days!) too, but they’ve altogether paled into insignificance against the evening shenanigans!
The shenanigans went full throttle at Flannery’s in Dublin where wonderful crowd donated over E1000 to ‘Room to Read’ with the irrepressible assistance of our auctioneer James Fegan and storming band Proudfoot. Pete and I were feeling pretty sensitive on the bikes the next day for the first stage of our ‘family tour’ to Donegal. With a warm send off from Phoenix Park, the cycling felt so much easier with biggest brother Kev, and Dad for company, and mum manning the support vehicle. Even better that two local cyclists, Tom and Doreen, were able to lead us out of town far better than we could ourselves!
Arriving in Dad’s birthplace, Carrick-on-Shannon, we were treated to another warm welcome and send-off from a rarely-visited but fondly remembered branch of our enormous extended family. At every stop we’ve been showered with the kind of warmth, good wishes, and generosity that we’d really missed after 6 months in the company of only ourselves and foreign strangers. Having the company of other cyclists for brief sections was a real treat, particularly to be joined by the budding cycling talent of our cousin, Conor Brennan for a day to the beautiful Rosses Point.
And so, our final night on the road. We splashed out on a plush hotel in honour of our parent’s looming 40th wedding anniversary and felt thoroughly rested for our final 70km into Donegal. So much so that I couldn’t resist a quick lunchtime swim at our favourite surf spot of Bundoran on the way through.
We were met by a great posse of Donegal cyclists for the final few familiar hills into Donegal town. What a pleasure to be a part of such a happy, interesting peloton for our final 30km! And the pleasures kept unfolding. First, a little crowd of McCaffertys & co. complete with bonfire, welcome signs and champagne gave us a few minutes celebration after our final climb . Next, our nana and family complete with loud hailer met us not far out of town. We were blown away with all the fuss, and it was only just beginning. Uncle Paul turned off the loudspeaker (for a sec!) to prep us for what was to come…and I’m ever grateful that he did or I wouldn’t have held back the tears with all the surprises in store.
First off the Gardai appeared to check our ‘Donegal visas’ (!) and provide our first FRIENDLY police escort of the trip, complete with flashing neeeeeenaaaaaaw for the final stretch! Next up the mayor and local favourite, Everton footballer Seamie Coleman appear for some photos and handshaking. With all the cameras and crowds it felt a bit like being back on duty as the ‘only blonde in India!’, only a lot more fun this time! Finally the town marching band led our lap of the Diamond with real aplomb before some fantasy champagne-spraying and, in case we were thinking of turning back for India, a feast of samosas from the local curry house.
A brief slide show reception at the Abbey hotel and a few pints didn’t help our motivation for the final 5km to our family home in Mountcharles village. But we got our heads down in preparation for the final final hill, a steep little ascent up the driveway. None of us wanted to finish the journey pushing our loaded bikes up the drive and fortunately, despite the beers, we didn’t have to, but only just! We had been treated to one of Donegal’s warmest sunniest days of the year but, as if to remind us of our good fortune, the heaven’s opened as we stored the bikes in true Donegal style.
We haven’t given ourselves much of a rest before heading back to work (and play!) but these couple of days feel all the better in the after glow of this incredible welcome. To describe it as a hero’s welcome would imply a certain heroic feeling on our part. I don’t think either of us have ever felt like heroes on this journey but we were certainly made to feel like them by the wonderful people of Donegal town. We will never forget this wonderful end to our dream trip.
We’ve raised a total of $ 10,202 so far, only just short of our pledge to raise a $ for every km cycled. A huge thanks to everyone who has donated, your donation will really help change lives for children who really need the help. We are still accepting donations, just click on the donate button to right of screen. Pete will be doing several slideshow presentations in BC this summer, dates/location will be posted when available.
At every stage of this journey it has been the people who’ve really made it so memorable and enjoyable. There are too many people to mention here but to everyone who hosted us, supported us and welcomed us along the whole way. THANK YOU! We couldn’t have done it without you.
Final Geek Fact:
km cycled: 11,848 (Pete)
km cycled: 11,306 (Keara – a little cheat across Greece to catch my buddies!)
Pete’s multi-trip Km cycled – 24,848 km
$ raised so far for Room to Read: $10,202