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"Is Caoineadh Me an Rothar" agus "Mo Rothar Dearg"
By "Butch"
23, Jun 2003 - 10:08

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"Is Caoineadh Me an Rothar"

Is Caoineadh me an Rothar. Not the contemporary multi-coloured, shock absorbing, all around anti lock disc brakes, full hydraulic independent suspension, 47-speed, hi-teck, bullet proof, space age technological wonder. Aircraft grade aluminium alloy frame. Utilising, stabilizers of zirconium, and ultra- light weight properties of magnesium, and lithium. Pick it up with your pinky! Leather saddles filled with duck down to soften your Irish ass! Factory installed "Global Positioning Sytem". Which can come in very handy for instance, if you are leaving a pub in Ballintubber, and have an appointment with a Cailín in Balla, but had, imbibed five pints three many, instead of the one you promised yourself you were only going to have. But after you hit the double out, you were bound in honour to give your opponent a re-match, which of course you lost, and stayed for an other round of pride and pints. And being the prudent pinter you are, realising the frailties of man, you had already pre-programmed the G.P.S. system for Balla. Pushed the green button activated the gyroscope for balance to ward off the Gardai, switching over to nuclear power; giddyup there Nellie! Collapsible of course, fold it up, stick it in your handbag, and off down Grafton Street you go!

NO! I lament the bike of my forefathers. It was a no-nonsense bicycle, black, built for business, and functionality not for entertainment. You rode it on the road then. The road belonged to us then! (again). The bicycles were sturdy and simple. Transportation to and from work! Paddy McGough, and Peter Cawley SR. attendants at St. Mary's on their well-maintained bikes. Going to work on Christmas day. Transportation in and out of town, and mobility around and about the town. A carrier on the back for a small bag of groceries The ladies bike might have a basket in front for additional storage. The carrier also provided an additional seat for a small passenger! My Grandfather's bicycle was always parked under his bedroom windowsill. It had a bell that worked! And a pump that attached neatly to the frame. There was a small pouch underneath the saddle containing various tools for emergency road repair! Plastic Macs had the malleability that allowed them to be compressed to the size of a comb, and were stored in the pouch also, ON THE OFF CHANCE IT MIGHT RAIN! The bicycle had an electric headlamp powered by a movable, generating dynamo, affixed to the back wheel. It had mud flaps, and around the hub in the middle of the wheel was; what can be described as a wide rubber band that kept mud and dirt from accumulating, and getting into the ball bearings by rotating or flapping with the rotation of the wheel. Sturdy black mudguards, with required light reflector on the rear, were firmly attached to the bicycle frame. Brakes had plenty of rubber, always? And the tip of the front mudguard was set off by a small piece of shiny chrome. And a small crest beneath the headlamp said, "Raleigh! " It was to be years before I was tall enough and trustworthy enough to be allowed to ride Grandad's Bicycle.

It was no coincidence that a well maintained bicycle such as his, was tended to by a bicycle shop on a regular basis! And that this, bicycle shop; for purchase or repair, was conveniently located to "The Tansey Inn" a local watering hole of renown frequented by my Grandfather and many others. { * } "Mam!" he said from the front hallway, in front of the mirror straightening his collar. "What!" she said from the rear scullery! "I have to go into town to drop off the bike at Teddy's, I'LL! BE! BACK! FOR! MY! TEA! And the front door closes to the sound of buckets and curses!

Ladies bicycles were designed without a bar when in fact it should have been the other way around. I will testify now before the court. As glossey female magazines in the supermarket checkout, trumpet at you. From cosmopolitan to vogue anouncing the findings of '10 new errogenous zones'! Well.. as I pulled up rather abruptly on a bar bike outside Archbishop Neary's grocery shop in Blackfort one day, slamming on the brakes to avoid running over Jimmy Mongey I slid off the saddle onto two of my erogenous zones! I can assure you I felt no pleasure at all!

I did think at one time, that the spokes on a bicycle were for decoration. 'The illumination to the phrase "Idiot Light' ('Yellow' - "Oil!") came on when my car growled to a halt pouring out thick black smoke, never to run again! The most frustrating malfunction on a bicycle for me was a pedal whose ball bearings had ceased up due to lack of lubrication and refused to rotate. Try playing darts with only two darts.

I was stalked consistently by my nemesis, 'The Flat Tire'. Consequently I became proficient in the art of fixing 'The Flat'. Three spoons to remove tube and, invariably a borrowed pump, to put air back into the tube. Quickly rotating tube thro' a pan of water watching carefully for the telltale bubbles gurgling from the guilty hole. Chalking the spot. And began the vulcanisation process.

The chain falling off was a given and the black grease stayed on your hands all day - We had just arrived at the foot of 'Nephin', when someone got a flat. Gussie quickly delegated the Victim to solicit water and pan from local friendly native, and another with kettle for tay to ask for to boil. Mountain climber I am not. Last or second to last to reach summit on both missions!

As usual I am chasing the clock, one winter's morn. Can only find one glove with holes, and have to pull sweater down over the bar handle to cover other hand from biting wind and cold. Now flying down Byrne's Hill trying to make up for lost time. The anticipated torture for failure to appear at St. Gerald’s College on time spurring me onwards with reckless abandon. Black ice everywhere. Gripping the handlebars with clenched frozen fingers to stay vertical. When a loose nut and screw that secured the rear mudguard decided to divorce each other at Mangans. And the mudguard slid under the rear wheel transforming the bike into a sled and I slid for fifty yards before crashing into the bridge above the spring well. I picked myself up then and always. Tossed the SLED behind the ditch. Arrived at Gerald’s past 9. 30. Opened classroom door quietly and sat quickly at my desk at the very front of the class! He was scribbling algebraic raimeis on the blackboard. His draconian presence permeating thro’ every pore of every boy. Monastic silence now descended upon the room as he turned slowly around and approached my blazing frozen person. Blackness now looming over me. With both hands he grabs the hair of my locks and pulls me upwards out of my seat making sure I don't rise fast enough to neutralise his pleasure.

"Well Jamie" he whines from Cork. "What happened to the bicycle this morning? Was it the tire or the chain?"

"Yes Brother" I replied thro' dry tears. I had had enough of the torture chambers, Jerry Ryan's famous c-clamp, left black and blue up and down my arms. He made sure your wrist was exposed when that thick black leather whip came down hard upon the sensitive vertical line of fingers, palm, and wrist – instead of the more merciful horizontal stroke. I headed for Tipperary where I received corporal punishment in privacy, not pleasure in public! Ugh. -------. P. S. Joe Gillmartin will always be remembered kindly, and his yellowish Volkswagen, God Bless Joe.

Many, many Moons after, I was heading down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, having departed my local "'I only had TWO beers Ossifer") The road home was downhill all the way for three miles. I was on the sidewalk as usual (pedestrian on wheels!). I was on a Schwinn racing bicycle. Making wind I pulled on the front brake to slow me down! I felt myself leaving the saddle serenely doing a perfect summersault and landing flat on my arse. Picking myself up no worse for the weather, admiration for the symmetry of it all, the fall. And continued on my journey home. Admiration soon fell to dismay as I realised that the corner I was to negotiate was coming up too fast. So I pulled on the front brakes to slow down, and the bike threw me onto the road like a javelin, stabbing the asphalt with my chin! Screamed out with pain. The headlights of the oncoming car exiting the freeway and bearing down rapidly upon me said, Home or Heaven Butch? I picked myself up more rapidly then ever ever before, grabbed my bike and spurted for safety. I walked the rest of the way home. And in the morning walked back, black, blue and bloody to the hospital and had my wound stitched. A year later, I accidentally hit my chin on a door jamb, and for a brief moment all the lights went out. I believe I have what is known in boxing circles as 'A Glass Chin'.

The Moon continued its journey: It was late afternoon as I left my mind behind in the safety of our apartment, in 'Middleburg Heights’ Ohio, to go to work. Not ten seconds from home I realised too late! With great dismay I had left the safety of the sidewalk as the dreaded water drain trap loomed in front of me its parallel bars exactly on the geometric vector I was heading for. (Downhill as usual). The front wheel slid between the bars and locked solid like a vice grip. I hit hard. But was so furious for my mental lapse, I blamed the bicycle for leading me astray and started kicking the damn thing when a kindly couple drove up and asked, A: If I was ok? And B: If I needed help? No thank you I grumbled in my pain and anger. I had bent the crankshaft but only bruised my Mayo Shtump of a leg. I never did like that particular bike. The shaft turned, off kilter, but workable. I climbed back on and rode slowly but painfully to prison. **** Ceann le an Bothar.

One moon later, same state different suburb, before sunrise, moisture in the air, Barleycorn on the handle bars as usual when I lost my balance (Never!) and slid off the bike onto a grass lawn made slippery by the early early morning dew and slid in wonder and amazement for nearly 10 yards on my belly. There were no witnesses, just the moon and the birds and they whistled in admiration! Amen.

Mo Rothar Dearg

The old man had been working feverishly in the garage more than usual, I had paid no attention to the bicycle frame he had been sanding to the bone. He was always working on somebody's, electric pump or electric clock. Repairing piano keys was one of his specialities. Neighbours would drop off their malfunctioning appliances, from steam irons to electric lamps, N.C.! More vegetables though! One day he invited me outside slyly and there leaning against the house wall was a shining, cardinal red, bicycle. He was an artist! I was delirious with joy as red was my favourite colour it was a ladies bicycle that shined with brightness. First thing I did was to go over to Granny's and forage for an empty box of Carrolls #I and inserting the folded box between the spokes and attaching the box to the frame pedalled off into town to show off. The machine gun rattle from the spokes announcing my arrival.

It was the morning of the day before the race (sponsored by the boxing club). I was in the back of the car. My Father was driving and John Hamrock was in the front seat and they were discussing the upcoming event. I pretended not to be listening as they were discussing the handicaps and were using code language I perceived. Suddenly Hamrock turned his head back to look at me, and I quickly turned away to admire the view of the Pound Road. "Does he understand this?" he asked the old man, "Nah 'Replied the old man who had very good reason to doubt my mathematical powers (I could never get it! If a train left Westport at noon travelling at 60mph and arrived in Dublin at three pm how long would it take the same train to travel to Cork going at 100mph if the driver was drunk?) I drive I guess. Now my ears perk up as the old man tells John that the first group will have 30 before the next group, and the third group will have one and a half! If I may be permitted to explain. First of all it's a bicycle race, and some competitors had racing bikes some people were shorter and younger therefore the handicaps were an attempt to achieve some sort of equal parity. So I said. So I sat down with my abacus and after a gruelling ten seconds, broke the code. The first group would have 30 seconds before the second group left, and the third group would have 1 minute plus 30 seconds before it would be allowed to s tart. My first strategy was to strip the red rocket down to the minimum. I reduced the slipstream quotient by the removal of two mudguards and increased the velocity factor by tightening the spokes! Plus dousing all moving parts with a generous dose of 3:1 lubrication. The 'Rocket was Ready'.

Was I ready? I decided to reconnoitre the route. Afterwards I decided there were only two obstacles facing me, and of course "The Unspoken One"! He was the 'Rocket'- part of MY- bike, where I was just the cosmetic 'red'. He sped up and down Main St, nearly as fast as any car, weaving in and out of danger on his "Schwinn Ten- Speed! " Mothers gathered their babies and lifted their truffles and skirted quickly at his coming. The dawn arrived too soon. That brief flit of insider trading thorn of conscience that I had- I had not- I had -I had not- I had -I had not a.m. I had "Kellogs Keatings" for breakfast, and was 'Reaady Ready to Roll" The stage was set! I could see the first group up ahead. About fifty yards back from McGowan’s petrol pumps. Spread across the road. Traffic had been diverted by the local Gardai. It being a Sunday afternoon and all. The road was ours – and soon would be all mineehehehehh! I scrinched behind at the third group, for one more time boys on men’s bikes with pumps! And the racers! "The Rocket" was distracted in idle conversation and took no notice of attention, mine. The call to readiness was announced, My group, though I really didn’t see them that way, what was the point of getting chummy? I thought, when I had every intention of leaving them in the dust from the get-go. We were about twenty yards from the third group and about the same distance from the first group. The third group was about opposite The Welcome Inn, to be. It was not raining. The race master stood opposite the first group, raised his pistol and shouted "On Your Mark! Get Set! Bang! My second clock started ticking immediately. One second, two second, three second…. The racemaster was now opposite us… but I knew there were still fifteen seconds left……3, 2, 1-Bang I was off!

It was ten! seconds to the beginning of the first obstacle a long sloping gradient that led to the Turlough Road. The second obstacle would loom in approximately 30 seconds – a very steep gradient that made a 90° degree turn near the top of the hill. I had to overcome both obstacles very quickly, so that they were behind me before the expiration of one minute and thirty seconds after the 'big bang'. Instead of pacing myself and storing energy for the final effort my strategy was to use up every ounce of power at the very onset of the race. For in my scouting trip the previous afternoon, I observed there was a 30 second reprise between the first and second obstacle At the completion of the second obstacle, the local terrain played right into my hands, a steep grade downhill!! For ten seconds at maximum speed catapulting me left into a country road wide and decent, relatively straight and not a single hill on it! All the way to the Pontoon Road and victory! The big silos of diesel, and petroleum were a blur as I forked right and began the descent up to the Turlough Road. Off the saddle now pummelling pedal power with legs, I'm at the top, getting too tired, to count. Just imagine, 1 min 30secs and less and less, I see the first group they haven’t reached the bottom of the second hill yet, I have to beat them to the top! I am on the straight away now pedalling as fast as 'billy oh' and catch them wiggling halfway up the hill. My luck I see an opening on the inside so I don't lose time going to the out, I pass them out like sitting ducks knowing the pleasure that awaits me up top, I hear cries in passing, "Where the hell did he come out off?" I replied "You better hurry up lads!" or "They’ll catch up to you pretty soon" I felt absolved at this contribution of insider trading to the masses. Adrenaline was peaking now, at the top of the hill, seconds left. As I got ready to go to warp drive, and disappear. I did! and I had promised myself that I would not look behind me until I reached the half way mark, a brief glance behind me at that point. And All I could see was road! Energised, pedals pumping power, neurons carrying loads of coal to the boilers. The Pontoon Rd was visible now on the horizon! Preceded by a sharp incline of five or less seconds at full speed no need to slow down and cheque traffic. It was blocked. A dramatic demonstration was in order, I hit that ramp at full speed and went airborne. I swear. There was the, Public Address car urging me on. For say they victory was just ahead (The unwitting accomplices!) they said. That was until my eyes re-focused, in amazement when I saw a solitary cyclist about a hundred yards ahead of me, putting aside the where how and why? I pedalled quietly faster, he hadn’t seen me yet, and now, instinct made me quickly look behind me! And there he was behind me, "The Rocket!", his black shadow already moving swiftly, and grimly along the Pontoon Road. By now up ahead "The Mystery Rider' had spotted me and had picked up speed, however I was gaining on him as I had made my move sooner, he was on a sound bike with bar. Unbelievable as it seemed, it looked he was wearing his Sunday suit, with out the jacket! His previous laconic position on the bike seemed to indicate fatigue. I was getting ready for the kill, when a sudden thought came to my mind. What if I should win I thought? Then I would be only able to keep the award cup for one year, before I would have to return it. But if I came in second! albeit, I would only get a smaller cup, but it would be mine for ever!! I positioned myself between the two remaining opponents, so that I would arrive over the finishing line in second place.

And was no sooner enjoying the adulation of 2nd place victory when a hellion, whom I did not recognise then or now, yelled out after me that because my Father was involved in the race we had fixed it and somehow found a short cut. And much to my astonishment and implied guiltyship was accused by a young hellion who shouted out for everyone to hear that because my Father was involved in the race that he or we fixed it, cause I must have used a short cut! I did, in my brain!

Author's Desk: There was an official photograph taken of all the participants. A special shoot was arranged in the middle of Main St. between the two Wynnes. I believe the day before, which did NOT show the winner to the best of my recollection. I did have this photograph in my possession. Alas, I have not seen it for many, many years. However you never what know you stuck between the covers of a book once, or to find upside down in the back of a drawer. (Incidentally I would like to thank the contributor responsible for the hurley photographs great find! The expressions on the faces of the individuals in the 2nd shot deserve a second look, as most ham it up for the camera and some view the occasion as a solemn event) I digress. I can only guess at the name of the "Mystery Cyclist", (Walsh from Derrywash?). I can still see his Sunday suit! Hugh O'Malley was of course "The Rocket" he got third place and a medal, and invited me to tea afterwards, where I probably spilt the beans. The cup eternal! Half empty? Half full? It overfloweth, haven't seen it either, for many a mooon!

[Ed: This was first posted on the Castlebar Nostalgia Board where you can reply to Butch and add your own cycling nostalgia.]

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