Friday, December 28, 2007

Treasures of the Deep

The Sunday Press, 14th June, 1987

In the summer of 1987 I was part of a diving expedition to search for artifiacts from the lost ship "The Aid" which was wrecked close to the shore at Killoughter in Co Wicklow.

The photograph above was taken a few weeks before the expedition started as part of a publicity campaign. The photo was taken in front of the Dept of Zoology building and I happened to be around to be included - it was published on the back page of the now defunct Sunday Press on 14th June, 1987.

The 10-day expedition was a partial success. Some parts of the wreck were found, but the main body of the ship was not. It had previously been discovered by members of the Dublin University Sub-Aqua Club, but despite extensive searching we failed to locate it. We found lots of ballast stones and a few rusted bits. Probably the most interesting item was a broken lead tube of the type used to transport valuable paintings - it was rumoured that The Aid was carrying a Carrivaggio.

We had a mix of camping and staying in a local B&B - the campsite was located on the beach. There were about 20 people on the expedition altogether.

What I remember most was the heat and the algal bloom that occured just as we started. The bloom spoiled all our ropes and reduced visibility a lot. The sea current was very strong, so diving was confined to mid-tide. On one occasion I was washed down along the beach. I felt safe as I had a life jacket as well as my dry suit on - after a few minutes the expedition's came to the rescue. I wasn't really in any danger, but it did give us a reminder as to what the dangerous current can do. There were some follow-up expeditions, but I did not take part in any.

The article that accompanied the picture was written by Colm Keena, now a well known Irish Times journalist. He also graduated in Zoology the same year (1983) as me - small world.

There is also a report on the expedition in the Database of Irish Expedition Reports web site.

Monday, December 24, 2007

My Motorbike History

Honda 50
My brother Joe bought a Honda 50 from Damian Doyle of Carnew in 1977 so that he could use it to go to school in Bunclody. In one of those "small world" coincidences, Joe's son Niall goes to school with Damian's son Harry in Bunclody!

Of course, I got to ride the Honda 50 as well - I didn't know at the time how uncool this was, or that it would be the first of several bikes that I would ride. I remember feeling particularly cool once when riding home in the dark smoking a cigarette. The tobacco burned down inside the cigarette paper as the wind blew in my face. I was only 18 or 19 at the time, so to me this was cool!

The picture here was taken during a family summer holiday in Cork on which Joe took the bike. As well as the Honda 50, the picture features my Mum, Joe, our dog Pheobe, and me in very fetching flares!

Honda CD175

After the above Honda 50 Joe bought a new Honda CD175 - the picture shows Joe and me with the bike on the day he bought the bike (note plastic still on seat). Look at that hair! The bike is not yet registered - it was later to get the number 8923 NI. I still have the registration book. In the background is a Renault 4 van in which I learned to drive.

Joe bought a car within a few years - I think in 1980 and this bike "became" mine. I loved it and took it to Dublin while I was in Trinity. My landlady, Mary Dillon-Kelly, used to allow me to park it in her front hall! I used the bike to commute from Drumcondra to Trinity, and also going up and down home to Ballingate.

Sadly, this bike was stolen on 8th December, 1981. At the time I was staying in Rooms in Botany Bay at Trinity and used to park the bike in the shed beside the tennis courts. The previous evening I had returned from Ballingate and I remember the weather was really bad. To this day I am not certain that I locked the bike properly - so it was possibly easy to steal. I reported the theft to Pearse St Gardaí, but no trace was ever found. My motorbiking days were over for 18 years.

Honda 250N Nighthawk

In September 1999, the QBC on the Stillorgan Road was opened. The significance of this is that my morning commute from Blackrock to Clonskeagh was doubled in time as I used to use the inside lane to drive to work in my car. I didn't have the patience for this. One day I said to Roma "I should get a motorbike again" and guess what - she said "Why not!". In October 1999 I turned 40 years of age - some people think that there is a link here!

I went to a bike shop on Pearse St and after looking at several bikes I settled on a Honda 250N Nighthawk. It was blue and was the same as the one pictured here. I had it for a few weeks before I got a licence and insurance. My first trip on it (to Deansgrange) was very strange and wobbly! It took a lot of getting used to - soon however, I was riding like a natural and started the work commute soon after. One problem with this bike was that it was very light and used to fall over in strong winds when parked. Happy days - I loved the "freedom" that a motorbike provides and was delighted to be back on two wheels again.

Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Hugger
In January 2000 I was on a SmartForce trip to Scottsdale in Arizona. Now that I was a biker again I decided to visit a bike dealer near the Hotel - Harley-Davidson naturally. I was mesmerised by the colour and style of the Harleys - beautiful machines. I didn't have the courage to hire one. I did buy a denim jacket in the shop and I do remember joking with the Shop Assistant "I suppose I'll have to buy a Harley in order to wear this". I never had a denim jacket before and this was my reason for buying one. I also promised myself that I would investigate Harleys on my return to Dublin.

I visited Harley-Davidson Dublin soon afterwards and was interested in two second-hand Sportsters. However, they were expensive - one was almost £5,000, while the other was over £5,500. A new one was about £8,000 - so I decided to go for it. I bought a white 883 Hugger like the one pictured here. I was warned that everyone who buys a Sportster sooner or later wants one of the big Harleys.

My longest trip on this bike was to London for the "Last Ever CBT Systems Party!" in October 2002. This was just after SmartForce was taken over by Skillsoft and I had already applied for voluntary redundancy. It took me most of the day to get there and I had a severe hangover for the return trip.

I customized this bike a lot. But on my last trip to Scottsdale in Arizona I hired a Fat Boy and was bitten by the Big-Twin bug. With 2003 - the centenary year for Harley-Davidson - around the corner I decided that I would buy a centenary model Heritage Softail Classic.

Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic

This bike is the King of Bikes and is my most favourite thing that I possess. I ordered it in 2002 for January 2003 delivery so that I would have a special centenary edition. I spent a big chunk of my SmartForce redundancy money on this bike - but it was worth every penny. It looks just like the stock photo here. My number plate is 03 D 1903. You'll see elsewhere in this blog that I have travelled quite a bit on it.

I have added quite a bit of custom material to it. I have changed the pipes, added light covers, and lots of pieces of chrome. It has cost a hell of a lot to maintain - tyres are expensive, I have also torn the drive belt, and once destroyed a new tyre with less than 500 miles on it by riding over a metal peg in Booterstown. I would still like to customize it some more - I'd like higher handlebars that would help me to sit straighter on it. A new saddle would also help.

I don't think I'll ever change this bike for another - it's my dream bike! I don't know what will happen to it when I stop riding. I have promised it to Kate, or maybe I'll have some Grandsons who might be interested in it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Newspaper Clippings

All three of my daughters had notices of their births in The Irish Times. Claire (27th August, 1988), Kate (1st May, 1991), and Vicki (3rd May, 1995) were all born by Caesarean section in the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin.

I don't have a copy of Claire's birth notice, but here are the ones for Kate and Vicki.

I kept the newspaper of Vicki's date of birth and the paper in which this notice appears. I only have a (torn) cut out of the notice of Kate's birth.

I also have had one letter published in The Irish Times on 10th March, 1990. I had been working in CBT Systems in Mount Street at the time and used to cycle from Rathfarnham to work on most days (this was before we got a second car, and long before I got a motorbike).

To be honest, I'm not sure how many punctures I got, or if they were all in February - but there were a lot! I spent a lot of time repairing punctures in the cold - there were all caused by glass. I have always been facinated by the "Is this a record?" letters to the Editor of The Irish Times and decided to have a go myself. Much to my surprise the letter was accepted and published!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ballingate House Upper - Where I Grew Up

I grew up in the townland of Ballingate which is about three miles from Carnew in Co. Wicklow, and five miles from Bunclody in Co. Wexford. It is located here. Mum and Dad built the house where they now live in 1960 and moved in during September that year when I was almost one year old.

The house was built on the site of Ballingate House Upper - I don't recall seeing any photographs of it. For years as kids we played on the rubble of this house which was in a field between the farm and the main Carnew-Bunclody road - this mound of rubble is now gone. I know that the roof of the house was removed due to taxes - I believe in the 1930s or 1940s. Once this happened, the house fell into ruin and was demolished. Much of the outhouses and sheds still survive - they were used over the years as garages, hen houses, and store rooms. Mum and Dad now have their growing room for plants in one of these old sheds.

I came across a reference to Ballingate House Upper on the Buildings of Ireland website. This does not contain much information, but it does have two pictures that are interesting:

The first is a modern aerial photograph that I know is a few years old - this is because you can see two shadows of two Monkey Puzzle trees to the east of the farmyard. One of these trees fell down several years ago - much of the valued timber is now part of the stairs in my sister Kathleen's house in Kells, Co Kilkenny. Click on the photo thumbnail to see the photo on the Buildings of Ireland website.

The second picture is a reproduction of an Ordinance Survey map. Few features of the designed landscape shown on the 1836 - 1846 OS map are visible in aerial photography. It is almost unrecognisable as the house and buildings are long since gone. The layout of the surrounding fields is largely unchanged except that Dad had much of the trees cleared in the 1960s and 1970s. The two fields to the south of the house are part of a hill which is now covered in forestry. Click on the map thumbnail to see the map on the Buildings of Ireland website.

I have printed off a copy of the map and sent it to my Dad to see if he has ever seen it before. I know there is an early 20th century map in Ballingate which no doubt is very similar.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Where is my Grand Uncle Charlie?

Recently, while out for a walk in Dean's Grange I decided to locate the grave of my Grand Uncle Charlie (Monsignor Charles Hurley) while passing the local cemetery. He was my paternal grandmother's brother and I remembered his funeral being to this cemetery.

At the cemetery office I enquired if they had a map of all the graves and if it was possible to locate a grave knowing only the name and not a date. The office only has hand-written paper records of burials. A very kind lady offered to look through the books if I could tell her a rough date. We started in 1978 and worked our way through to 1985, but without success. Sadly, no luck that day. It is pointless searching for one grave in such a large cemetery and I continued my walk.

I decided to Google "Monsignor Charles Hurley" to see if there was any detail on the Web about him. I found a reference to him on the University Church website as follows:

Clergy Attached to University Church - 1856 to 2006
Monsignor Charles Hurley - 1960 to 1974. Mgr Hurley died in 1980.

I didn't know he was associated with University Church - I know he was Parish Priest in Harrington Street and in Ballybrack.

At least now I know the year he died and can go back to Dean's Grange cemetery and look up the 1980 books in more careful detail.

Outcome of this search will be posted here.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Proud of my Mum!

Long-standing Carnew Musical Society member feted

Mum made the Gorey Guardian Newspaper on June 24th, 2004 after winning the award for Unsung Hero at the Association of Irish Musical Societies (AIMS) Awards ceremony in Killarney the previous weekend.

The full article (minus photo which is only in the printed version of the newspaper) can be accessed here.

This photograph is an especially good one of Mum taken by a professional photographer in the sitting room at home in Ballingate for the newspaper.

Mum also plays bridge a lot and wins prizes too - here's one of several short articles that she is mentioned in having won First PRize!

We're all very proud of you Mum!

Lifeboat in two alerts - 1986

I'm on a roll in posting items on my blog - here's one about the time I made the Evening Press newspaper on 21st April, 1986, but for all the wrong reasons.

In the year up to when I got married, I lived in an apartment with my brother Brian on Strand Road on Sandymount. The sea was literally across the road. On a cold windy day Brian and I decided to go wind surfing.

We got on well and at one stage met for a chat quite far out to sea. We decided to swap boards - this was not a good idea. I was having difficulty with the new board falling in a lot. Brian of course headed off into the distance showing me how it was done! Needless to say I was getting tired - I also had a thin wetsuit on, and I was also getting cold.

Now the wind picked up, and it was an off-shore breeze. The tide was also going out - Eugene was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn't know it at the time but I was in great danger of drowning.

I kept trying to get the sail up on the board, but tiredness and cold (especially my hands) meant that I kept falling back into the sea. I was determined not to leave the board and to try to make it back to shore - so I decided to try to make my way back. The sea was shallow enough for me to walk, but with the wind and the tide in the wrong direction for me I was quickly blown further out to sea. Now I was getting worried. Brian could see I was in difficulty and bravely came out to me - I was never so glad to see him. We decided that he would go back to shore and get help - I was definitely scared when he left.

It's a weird feeling being on your own in Dublin Bay surrounded by a million people who don't know your life is in danger. Little did I know it, but several people on the shore saw that I was in difficulty and phoned the emergency services - this was in the days before mobile phones.

At this stage I could just about stand on the sea-bed on my toes and keep my face above water. The wind was in my face and was also whipping up the waves - splashing me with cold water. I'm certain hypothermia was setting in - I got the feeling of euphoria that is often associated with the cold.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I could stand firm and the water was only up to my waist - I had come to a sandbank. Now it was a lot easier to move. I could now work my way back to shore by staying in the shallower water - what relief. Brian came rushing out from the shore and took my board and sail - I could barely carry them. We were greeted at water's edge by a Garda in bare feet with his trousers rolled up to his knees! Despite my ordeal, I thought this was the funniest thing. He told me that there had been five separate calls to the emergency services and that the Dún Laoghaire RNLI lifeboat was out to sea looking for me. He was quickly satisfied that there had been a genuine danger and let me go back to my appartment across the road. I quickly got the wetsuit off and climbed into bed with two quilts to warm up. Roma came with glucose to speed the process up and in a short time I felt well enough to get up. She was not happy with me getting into such danger only five months before our wedding!

Ths clipping above, which I still have, reminds me of my mortality. Though I never met the RNLI crew who were looking for me, I have since had a great respect for these volunteers who sometimes have to put to sea to rescue people who do stupid things like going out windsurfing on a cold windy day.

Wicklow People 21st November 2007

Mum and Dad are in this week's Wicklow People Newspaper. They are pictured (right) with Pat Sheppard, their long time very dear friend.

This year also marks the 40th Anniversary of Carnew Musical Society of which both Mum and Dad have been active members since day one. Dad, along with other Society colleagues, was also recently interviewed on Wicklow radior station East Coast Radio. Unfortunately, ECR don't podcast their programmes and I missed the interview. Maybe I'll catch the 50th Anniversary celebrations!

The picture was taken in Jim Byrne's Lounge which is on the Main Street in Carnew. You can't see it, but no doubt there is a creamy point of the black stuff on the table in front of Dad!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

My Grandfather PJ O'Loughlin and the GAA

My Grandfather PJ O'Loughlin (mentioned in one of my other blogs) was a great GAA man and loved to be part of organizing games - in effect, he was one of a small army who helped to run the GAA, especially in his native Newmarket in Co Cork, and in Carnew in Co Wicklow. None of his children or grandchildren were to follow his footsteps into getting involved in running the GAA, though some of us did grace the football and hurling fields (I played football for FCJ School in Bunclody, and for the 2nd team in Trinity).

There's not much on the web about PJ. I first came across a website with his picture when looking to buy a Christmas present of a Wicklow GAA jersey for my brother Brian. Given Wicklow's lack of success, their jerseys are not much in demand and are hard to get! While looking at the Leinster GAA website, I came across an archive of old photographs. Much to my surprise, there is PJ pictured beside the victorious Junior All-Ireland winning Wicklow team in 1936 in his capacity as County Secretary.

PJ O'Loughlin was County Secretary of the Wicklow GAA from 1935 to 1940 - he is listed under the Irish spelling of his name (P.S. Ó Lochlain) on the History page of the Wicklow GAA website. Interestingly he is listed as being from Tomacork - this is the parish where he, my Dad Joe, and I grew up (and I served Mass in Tomacork church!). There was no GAA team in Tomacork - Carnew Emmets are the local team which PJ was involved with.

The only other place on the web that I found a reference to PJ is on the website of the local GAA team in his native Newmarket. It was a strange story that led me to find another picture of him - this time with the 1927 Newmarket football team.

Here's how I came across this picture: A Newmarket man called Dan Casey contacted my father who was looking for a death certificate for my Dad's aunt Mary O'Loughlin (who died in the 1940's). Apparently proof of her death was required in relation to a local right-of-way issue. During their conversation, Dan told my Dad that there was a picture of PJ on the Newmarket website. Dad has no access to the Internet so he asked me to look it up for him. I found the picture but did not see a great resemblance between a man in the photo called "Paddy O'Loughlin", and the 1936 photo mentioned above. I used the contact form on the website to enquire further and to see if I could get a hard copy of the photo. A man called Timothy Hourigan responded and was very helpful - offering to send me a copy of the photo. We swapped many emails and it turns out that Timothy and I are third cousins! His great-grandmother Bridget O'Loughlin is my great-grandfather's sister. Timothy's sister, Catherine, started this picture hunt as she mentioned to Dan Casey to say it to Dad that there was a picture of PJ on the Newmarket GAA website. It's a small world!

Anyway, I showed a copy of the photo on my computer to my Dad who instantly recognised his father. He also told me that though he was always known as PJ, that my grandmother (Kathleen) called him "Paddy". Timothy kindly sent a hard copy of the photo to my Dad. Timothy also amended the caption on the photo to refer to my grandfather as "PJ" instead of "Paddy" O'Loughlin.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wedding Message for Eugene and Roma - 13th September, 1986

On my wedding day (13th September, 1986), Roma's cousin Anne-Elizabeth Bourke sent a request to RTÉ radio for the Val Joyce Show. It was played just before our wedding took place - I was in the church (waiting), while Roma was an her way to the church (keeping me waiting!). Neither of us heard the request. Fortunately, Anne-Elizabeth recorded the message onto a cassette tape from the radio and gave us the tape several weeks later. It was a nice thought on a special day for us. We kept the tape and some years ago a work colleague copied it onto a computer and created a WAV version which I have converted to MP3.

To hear this message (22 secs) click on the "Play" button on the toolbar below:

Wedding Message for Mum and Dad - 22nd October, 1958

My maternal grandparents, Paddy and Kathleen Byrne, emigrated from Dublin to Toronto, Canada, in 1957 and were unable to attend my parent's (Joe O'Loughlin and Phil Byrne) wedding in Dublin on 22nd October, 1958.

Instead, they recorded a wedding message on a 78 RPM vinyl record which is still in the possession of Joe and Phil. I'm told it is the only known recording of their voices.

In May 1999, I had the 78 digitized and professionally copied onto a CD-ROM.

The message is one minute and 50 seconds long. To listen to Paddy and Kathleen's wedding message to my Mum and Dad, click on the "Play" button on the toolbar below:

My Grandfather’s Ice Cream

When Croke Park was opened up to rugby and soccer this year I thought of my grandfather, P.J. O’Loughlin, who died in 1965. Originally a Cork man from Newmarket, he was a GAA man through and through, and was County Secretary of the Wicklow GAA from 1935 to 1940. My father commented recently that you could generate electricity from him spinning in his grave at the thoughts of the hallow turf in Croke Park being invaded by so-called “foreign games”. Equally, he would not have comprehended the advent of the Internet. Recently, I was looking up the Leinster GAA web site on the Internet and quite by accident I came across a photograph of the victorious Wicklow team who won the 1936 All-Ireland Junior Football Championship. Much to my surprise, there was my grandfather, in his capacity as County Secretary, posing with the team. None of us in our family recall seeing this photograph before. It was a strange feeling to discover this photograph on the Internet for all the world to see, over 40 years after my grandfather’s death.

I have very few personal memories of my grandfather. He taught me how to tie my shoelaces – I still tie my laces in the way he showed me. I also remember the tricolour draped coffin at his funeral, and the shots over his grave – the first time I ever heard gunfire.

However, my favourite memory is of the occasion that he brought me to Croke Park for my first All-Ireland Final in the early 1960’s as a small boy. No doubt he wanted the GAA tradition to be kept in future generations of our family and he was starting me early. I was only 4 or 5 years old – the year was either 1963 or 1964, I don’t know which. I do know it must have been before June 1965 when he died.

I recall practically nothing of the occasion which must have been a very exciting one for a small boy – no memories of the trip from Carnew in south County Wicklow to Croke Park, if I was lifted over the turnstiles as was then the fashion for small children, what the atmosphere at the match was like, or the trip home. I have no recollection either of what teams were playing that day, who won, or what the score was. Indeed, I don’t even recall if the game was football or hurling.

The only thing I remember about the occasion was that at the end of the game as the crowd filtered out, my Grandfather climbed over several rows of empty seats to an ice cream seller. He came back to me with a small tub of ice cream, which had no little wooden spoon to eat it with. When I announced that I could not eat the ice-cream for lack of a spoon, he quickly showed me how to use the lid as a scoop and I savoured the moment, and of course the ice cream. An unforgettable memory!

Years later (in 1998), I was listening to The Gay Byrne Show on the radio – Gay was hosting a discussion about the previous evening’s Paul McGrath Testimonial football match at Lansdowne Road. There was a lot of discussion and some complaints from callers about the cost of tickets and that many children had to have the full adult price paid for them.

One caller told us that he had brought his young son to the match for the price of an expensive full adult ticket. When Gay asked him why on earth he had done this, the caller responded that he wanted his son to be able to say that he had seen Paul McGrath and many other stars play, but most important of all was that he would be able to remember that he was there.

In words that turned back the clock and instantly transformed me back over the years to Croke Park and my Grandfather’s climb for ice cream, Gay responded to the caller by saying: “If you want him to remember that he was there, buy him an ice cream after the match”.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

3,210 miles to Algarve and back

One of the reasons for getting a Harley-Davidson was to fulfill the dream of making a very long road trip. In the summer of 2005, I decided that I would ride my Heritage Softail Classic to our family holiday destination at Vilar do Golf which is near Almancil on the Algarve in Portugal. Roma and the girls took the easy option (by air) - the plan was that I would meet them there.

Wednesday 10th August

I set off from Blackrock, but not without a last minute scare. On the morning of departure, the gear lever on my bike started to get stuck. Panic stricken, I called the guys at Harley-Davidson Dublin who got me to take the bike in to their workshop. Upon arrival, Graham takes one look and says that all it needs is grease - moments later, I am on my way with a newly greased gear lever.

First stop was at St Helen's in Rosslare to meet my cousin Declan Quinn - he has a holiday home there. I got a great welcome and the bike was the centre of attention. After a satisfying steak cooked on his barbecue by Declan, I set off for the nearby Rosslare ferry to Roscoff in France. The ferry trip was uneventful. I started reading "Long Way Around" by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman for inspiration for the long road ahead (see my review of this book at Amazon).

Thursday 11th August

I had my route planned out well - the AA web site gave me all I needed. I had maps too - but not possible to read these while riding. These were examined at the regular stops at petrol stations (approx every 160 miles) in great detail. My first wrong turn was just after leaving the ferry in Roscoff at a roundabout (I was to have several problems with roundabouts). In any event, navigating mostly by the sun, I reached the coastal route down through France that I had planned. My destination at the end of this first day was a campsite that my brother Joe and his family were staying at. I had a very pleasant ride down. Once I hit the dual carriageways, I was very impressed by the discipline of the French in staying in the right lane. I found adapting to riding on the "wrong" side of the road quite easy. I did pull up along a 1960's style Volkswagen van. While I was admiring the paint work, I almost got run over by a car that came from nowhere behind me - an early warning to pay attention to the road.

I thought I was lost when I got to the area where Joe's campsite was. I pulled over to check my maps and happen to park right beside a local map at a tourist information stand - lucky. I figured I was close to that camp site and headed off. I stopped at the entrance and called Joe who came out to meet me - good to see him after a long tiring ride. We rode into his berth attracting the attention of everyone as we passed by. Straight away Joe pulls a litre bottle of very cold Heineken from the fridge - ahhhhhhhh! After another barbecue we went to the Camp Centre for a few brandies - a few too many. I kept the brandy glasses as souvenirs!

Friday 12th August
Next morning, I had a light breakfast with Joe - two mugs of tea cured me (almost) of previous evening's brandy. Miriam got up to say goodbye, but was not feeling the best and headed back to bed for a post-brandy kip. We said our goodbyes and I set off for Spain. Joe and I exchanged many text messages during the trips - a welcome link with family.

Leaving France you see the western side of the Pyrennees, some of the roads here were very twisty, so the pace was not great. Northern Spain is lovely - lots of trees and greenery. Lots of bikers on the roads too - most signal to me and I signal back in a feeling of brotherly connections with my fellow bikers. Some bikers who pass me stick out a leg in the same way as a dog peeing against a lamp post would. None of these are Harley riders and I assume they are insulting me in some way.

Destination today was Valladolid. I almost ran into the back of a car which slowed in front of me coming off a roundabout. I skidded, but managed to avoid hitting the car. I did wonder, what the hell I would do if I burst open my front tyre. I resolved to be even more careful. At a petrol station in Placencia, I accidently wiped my windscreen with the harder side of a sponge and scratched it badly right in my eye line.

I had little trouble finding the street where my hotel was - the NH Ciudad de Valladolid, but as it is set back a little bit from the road I passed it three times before I spotted it. After registering, I wandered about Valladolid and had tapas for dinner. I called Roma who was doing some last minute packing before leaving for the airport tomorrow. Exhausted, I went to bed early and slept like a brandy hung-over biker who had riden over 700 miles in one day.

Saturday 13th August
Next morning, I once again took a wrong turn at a roundabout. I stopped to ask a young person for directions, but surprisingly she had no Engish and did not understand my requests. Further on, I met an older man, he too did not have Engish, but he did understand what I was looking for and with use of hand signs he directed me back on the correct route. Almost an hour lost on what was to be a frustrating day.

Up to now, I had been riding mostly on motorways and dual carriage-ways - this ended in central Spain and I made a lot slower progress. I also had to go through towns without by-passes, this in the middle of a heat wave that was badly affecting Spain and Portugal. I saw many lakes almost dry, though thankfully none of the forest fires that were reportedly raging in the region. I was suffering in the heat.

At one petrol station I took off my jacket and found that I was soaked in sweat. I could not put my jacket back on and decided to ride the rest of the way in my tee-shirt - it was also approaching evening and it was getting cooler as I rode on southwards into Portugal. Fantastic roads in Portugal, though there were a lot of vehicles broken down at the side of the road - perhaps as a result of the heat.

I reached Almancil without further problem, but in the town centre I took a wrong turn. I asked for directions and got sent to Faro! I called Roma who by now was worried why I had not arrived - she and the girls were well settled into the villa. I asked for directions again and finally arrived at Vilar do Golf - very tired, dehydrated, and frustrated. I had arrived.

I used the bike quite a bit on the holiday. Roma and I did made a trip to Carvoeiro where we had been on holiday a few years ago. We did not get to have lunch in the restaurant we aimed for as it was closed - instead we had a nice lunch in the town square.

Saturday 27th August

After two weeks of holiday in Vilar do Golf it was time to start the journey home - I left Roma and the girls at their bus for Faro airport. They would be home before I was half-way to Valladolid. I touched 100 mph (for the first time ever) on the Portugese motorway briefly - a lot of vibration and a lot of noise (even though I was wearing ear-plugs). Once inside Spain I stopped for tapas in the filthiest bar I had ever been in beside a petrol station. In the petrol station, the attendant wanted to know everything about my bike - including how much I paid for it. The tapas were good.

I reached Valladolid without problem and found the same hotel as I had stayed at on the way down. It was here that I got a dreadful pain in the back picking up my shoes that was to plague me for the rest of the trip. A nasty end to a good day's riding.

Sunday 28th August
Aching badly, I set out the next morning for Poitiers in France - this was to be my longest ride on any day of my trip. I could just about ride, but the roads were getting better and the riding was easy enough. I had to stop in Northern Spain to put on my wet gear - the shower only lastest a minute, it was the only time I had rain. I stopped again a few minutes later to take the wet gear off. It was much cooler than the trip down and I didn't mind the long ride so much.

I made it to Poitiers and found luckily my hotel. The hotel had a Harley Davidson Road King as a decoration in the lobby - a welcome sight. I took a hot bath to try to overcome my back pain. Afterwards I went for a walk to find a place to eat - it took quite some time, but I eventually opted for a Chinese meal. I was the only person in the restaurant! I went to bed early hoping to sleep off my back pain.

Saturday 29th August
Feeling a bit better, but still doing everything in slow motion, I had breakfast and set out for the ferry in Cherbourg. I was a bit later than I had hoped, but I expected to make up the lost time on the road. After Le Mans, the road is no longer motorway, so the pace slowed again. Before I left the motorway I once again put the bike up to 100 mph - this time for longer as I couldn't resist it on an almost empty motorway road! Go me!

Not being on a motorway meant that I was now concerned about petrol - I started to ride economically. Despite passing a through a lot of towns I did not come across any petrol stations. Beginning to panic, my tripmeter registered 160 miles since the last fill, then 170, 180, and at 186 miles I had to switch to the reserve tank. Usually I get about 165 miles or so on a normal tank of petrol, so I was lucky to get 186. I pulled into a town and eventually found an unmanned petrol station - but my credit card would not work - I had to keep going to the next town. Fortunately, there was a petrol station in the next village and I filled up for the last time in France. I had lost a lot of time going slowly, and looking for petrol.

Now I was against the clock for the ferry - I rode as hard and fast as I could and made the ferry with about 20 minutes to spare. I passed by Bayeaux (I would loved to have stopped to see the tapestry), lots of signs for castles and intersting places, war cemetaries, and the 1944 D-Day landing beaches. I passed by them all. I had also planned to pick up a nice bottle of wine or two in a warehouse to bring home, but no time for this either.

Once on the ferry, I could relax. I bought a bottle of cheap wine, bread and cheese, and sat out in the evening sun to savour the last decent bit of sunshine I was going to get for another year. I was woken in the middle of the night by a banging door as the crossing past Cornwall was quite rough.

Sunday 30th August
Rosslare - back in Ireland at last. I called Joe from the ferry to thank him for all the texts over the past three weeks. I called into Mum and Dad in Carnew on the way back and got a great welcome. Needless to say, the bike trip was the main topic of conversation.

I arrived back in Dublin and after 3,210 miles (5, 136 km) was home at last. Great to see Roma and the girls again and I was proud of myself having completed such a long journey. I felt a great attachment to my Harley - we had been on such an adventure together. I have now done the long bike trip that every biker feels that they want to do.

Would I do the same trip again? No - I've riden a bike to Portugal and back - once is enough, next time I'll take the plane. Also, I tried to do too much each day - effectly, I did 500+ miles each day for three days on the way down - and the same on the way back. I missed so much - if I was to do a similar trip again, I would take 6-7 days to do the same distance and do just 250 miles or so each day. That way I could see more. For example, I passed through Salamanca in Spain in both directions -only on the way back did I see the massive cathedral up on a hill that dominates Salamanca - how did I miss this on the way down. What else did I miss? I passed by a lot of things, but saw very little besides the road.

I should have brought my camera to record more of the trip - I did take some photos with my new mobile phone, but somehow managed to lose these before trying to get them on my computer.

I would like to go to the South of France on the bike - probably take two days to cross the country. I'd really fancy having my bike on the Cote d'Azur.

Live to ride, ride to live!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why do I follow Preston North End?

Since the early 1970's I have followed Preston North End. I'm not certain of the date or exact year, but I think it was 1974. You see, I had been a Manchester United fan, but they got relegated that year (remember Man City's Denis Law back heel?). Since it wasn't cool to follow ManU anymore I looked around for another team. I had a photo of the 1971 PNE old Third Division Championship winning team, and also was a fan of Alan Kelly (Ireland's goalkeeper at that time). When Bobby Charlton became manager of PNE, I thought this would be a good team to follow - but they got relegated that year.

For over 30 years I have been checking their results as they went up and down the divisions. Occasionally I would get to see them on the TV in a cup game, but otherwise never saw then in action. I finally decided to go over to Preston to see the PNE vs. Wolves game on 10th February 2007. My brother Brian bought the tickets and I flew over to John Lennon airport in Liverpool on Ryanair, then got the train to Preston to arrive in plenty of time for the match. Brian and I went to the Football Museum which was great and then had a beer before the match.

Me at the Tom Finney statue.

Brian at Tom Finney statue.

Unfortunately Wolves spoiled my day by winning 1-0, but I loved the experience anyway. Wolves were much better and PNE's midfield was outplayed. There was a buzz every time David Nugent got the ball, but even he could not get a poor Preston team going.

I found it odd that it had taken me over 30 years to finally see a game at Deepdale and I was as excited as a kid heading up to the ground. I bought the PNE jersey to wear proudly back home where people have simply said to me "Preston North End???". I have made a promise to myself to go back to see another game next season - perhaps against one of the bigger teams like Sheffield United or WBA. I'll be watching out for the fixture list with interest. The season ended in disappointment and PNE just missed out on the play-offs - however, having seem them at Deepdale and a lot on TV this year I feel that they would have been certainties to be relegated from the Premiership straight away.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

N11 Memorials

I grew up near Carnew in south Co Wicklow and moved to Dublin in the late 1970’s. The N11 road from Dublin to Wexford through Wicklow is the road I’m most familiar with and travel most outside of Dublin – visiting my Mother and Father in Carnew and holidaying in North Wexford. The long overdue road improvements on the stretch of road between Bray and Gorey are welcome to me as a regular user of this road. Recently, works to connect the Ashford/Rathnew by-pass to the Arklow by-pass, and continue on to Gorey have begun. At last - an end is in sight to travelling the dangerous twisty roads near Redcross, Jack White’s Cross, Scratnagh, and Inch.

If you travel the 40 miles or so on the N11 from Bray to Gorey you will see 13 roadside memorials in the form of flowers, headstones, photographs, teddy bears, and a solar powered light, to 23 people. None of these memorials are located on the dual carriageways – instead, they dot the sides of the old twisty N11 like bits from a cemetery.

For years I have driven past these memorials – never stopping to see who they commemorate or when the accidents happened that claimed so many lives. These memorials always seem to be well maintained and have fresh flowers – family and friends continue to mark the black spot where their loved ones died tragically. For me, these memorials have a stronger influence on me to slow down and drive more carefully – a roadside memorial does a better job than speed limit signs, speed cameras, or Garda checkpoints.

Coming home to Dublin recently on a busy bank holiday weekend, traffic was so heavy near Jack White’s Cross that for several miles I was either crawling or stopped. I looked out of my car window at one of the four memorials in this location and saw a familiar family name from my youth – the memorial marked the spot where a young man from near Carnew died in August 2005. “Rest in Peace” the simple plaque said. Suddenly, these nameless roadside markings had more meaning – real people and real tragedies lay behind every one.

I made up my mind to stop and look at all the other memorials – what names, ages, dates, and fond messages were displayed at each location. I was struck by the fact that most of the dead were young – a majority in their twenties, and most were male. The messages of sorrow at each memorial pierce the heart:

Paddy – the “Daddy always loved”
Darren – “Sadly missed” by his loving Ma, Da, and family
Elizabeth - “Remembered by her husband and three sons”
Stephen, Ann-Marie, and Alex – “Sadly missed by their son”
John Paul, Peter, and Joseph – “Who lost their lives here”
Michael – “In loving memory from Mum and Dad, 10 sisters and 6 brothers”
Priscilla – “In our hearts you will live forever - Mam, Dad, brother and sister”

…the list of fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters goes on.

With the new road coming in the next couple of years, what will happen to these memorials? Will a bull-dozer erase each memorial in the name of progress and faster travel? Will we ever drive past these tragic black spots again – wondering who they are dedicated to? Will our driving behaviour worsen in the absence of these reminders of our mortality? The people who build dual-carriageways tell us that they are safer than the older roads – too late for the N11 tragedies.

It’s not just the N11 that is dotted with memorials – all over the country, roads are marked with crosses and flowers to remind us of the grim toll on our nation’s roads. This is also a world wide phenomenon – in the US, some states ban the practice outright, in California you must pay $1,000 to erect a roadside memorial. There are even web sites dedicated to showing pictures, messages, and discussions about roadside memorials.

I think I’d like a memorial to mark the spot should I die in a road accident – simple flowers and a message “To all who pass this spot – slow down and take care”.