Circumnavigating Ireland’s Torso

3rd August 2021

I almost showed up in Naples, not Navan, yesterday.

Three days ago, I sat having a bite to eat with my nephew, arguing the toss.

It’s drizzly and 16 degrees if I hit the road on the bike, I explained. But it’s 31 and threatening firestorms in Napoli.

I am a creature of neither hail nor heat. My weather vane is tuned to 20 degrees without wind; 23 if you factor a southwesterly.

As he attacked a soggy west-Dublin bruschetta, Ross made the case for Italy.

‘Granny would want you to do what you love most’, he said, smiling.

We had just been talking about our dear departed Mum and Granny, so much loved and so clear on the role of pleasure in life. She once polished off a box-full of Spanish finger biscuits as a worthy alternate to dinner. It was a commitment to delight which left its mark on her grandson.

Italy was a compelling option, to be sure – the promise of pastel motorbikes and gelato, sparkling by the silver sea. Yet the draw of Ireland’s midlands from two wheels also has its pleasures, rough as they may be.

There’s the muscular tingle of hills in the legs at the day’s end; the aggravating joy of being lost despite the clear instruction of Ordnance Survey map #42; the peace in narrow lanes scattered with colourful water pumps hiding nettles bent on kissing calves as you sally by.

Ross dipped his soggy bread into the black tapenade – a culinary rescue which I silently doubted. Teens are so accepting of whatever calories arrive to their plate. Flexibility is, I decide, one of their super-powers.

The Naples flight departs at 7.50am, I note, implying a 5.30am wake-up. If one searches for snags, they assemble in legions. I began to seek more.

Suddenly, I feel Navan calling.

But it’s not just Navan. It’s a little cycling project I dreamt up during lockdown, in which I circle the girdle of Ireland on wheels.

I took the lid of a sugar bowl and placed it over a map of the island on the kitchen table. Around it I traced a circle, the diameter brushing the commuter towns of Dublin and Galway, and reaching from Monaghan to South Tipp.

This, I decided, was Ireland’s torso. I would cycle its perimeter. In so doing, I would tie a thread around the core of our country – its heart, lungs and other vitals held within.

In these early days of August 2021, as the maddened crowds unwind in the west, I volunteer, unasked, to man the torso ramparts with my bike, assuring that all will be safe until their return.

There is pleasure in the simplest things; sponge fingers, soggy bruschetta, Leinster lanes.

My mind is made. Vesuvius, hide your fires.

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