On the Thursday after Stephen Roche pedalled up the Champs Elysee and into the history books, at 4.15 p.m. at Ballybrit Race Course just after the Gaiway Hurdle, RTE’s producer Chris Darby in the outside broadcast unit gave the signal to the camera man on top of the main stand. For the next four minutes T.V. viewers from all over the country were witnessing the start of another cycle tour, which in its own way, was a page of history for the little West of Ireland parish, and its hurling club that had organised the tour.
Earlier that day on RTE’s Morning Ireland, club chairman, Jarlath McDonagh speaking to Cathal MacCoille outlined the reasons why a hurling club, just a few days before its best player was to help Gaiway cause a major upset by beating Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final, was seemingly turning its back on the national game and in ‘Don Quixote’ style was hoping to emulate the feats of Roche and Kelly by cycling a 1000 miles trip around Ireland.
Jarlath proceeded to explain that the parish and the hurling club had been scourged by emigration over recent years so much so that Boston could field a team of parish exiles good enough to compete in the present Co. Championship. In addition there were over seven hundred under thirteen years of age in the parish, so obviously the future employment prospects in the parish was of the gravest concern.
The hurling club being the most dynamic organisation in the parish had taken a decision to pilot their own employment programme. Indeed the club at that particular point in time was the largest employer in the parish with its Teamwork and Social Employment Schemes generating twenty five jobs. The club intended to build two Factory Units beside their new sports complex. The aim of the cycle tour was to raise both moral and financial support nationwide.
The units would be available to young people from the area with business ideas, or to any industrialist who wished to come into - the area, or to any exile who wished to return and invest his capital. This wasn’t going to happen overnight but as the motto
says ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’.
P. J. Qualter
Former intercounty player P. J. Qualter and myself decided in mid-June to foresake our Summer holidays and set about meticulously planning the venture. We were extremely lucky to have the services of the club development secretary, Breda McGrath, and the use of the club development office over the eight week period.
The success of the venture depended on the media coverage, which depended on how well it was marketed. This meant in turn that we needed good packaging. The party of twenty had to be extremely well geared wth proper bikes, singlets, tracksuits, vehicles, etc. for the national stage. This in addition to maintenance, fuel etc. would take the total bill up to £8,000. All of this was raised through business and personal sponsorship. The Tour carried the logo of these sponsors on their gear around the country.
By nine o’clock we were on the road again heading towards the Capital. Luck was with us as the Bank Holiday weekend traffic caused hugh traffic jams in all the towns along the way. Our efforts to cover Dublin that evening had to be abandoned as continuous rain washed us off the streets. An early night was needed as our target was the Leinster Final the following day. A special word of thanks must go to the ever popular J. P. Bermingham who helped us plan the best vantage points for our collectors. We were also joined by reinforcements, to boost the flashy IZUZU’S — John Holland and Teresa Burke arrived in a groovy looking SUBARU and Margie Monaghan also put her shoulder to the wheel. Sunday was a great success, the Offaly and Kilkenny supporters welcomed us with open arms. The photo in the Sunday World that morning did us no harm at all.
And so the week continued .— on Monday, Bray, Arklow, Wexford, New Ross and Kilkenny. We spent the night in the hallowed halls of St. Kieran’s College. How nice it was to see a bus load of our under tens, under twelves and under thirteens after they had played challenges against the famed James Stephens Club.
Tuesday was the longest stage, with Jarlath McDonagh visiting all the local radio stations on route to publicise our coming and Michael Delaney providing feeding stations along the way. We travelled through Waterford, Tramore, Midleton, Cork and stayed with the Patrician Brothers in Mallow.
Wednesday took us to Limerick and the hospitality of Pat Coleman and the Galwaymen’s Association.
Thursday was on to Tralee with an excellent welcome from the Cahemashelleeney man — Martin Nolan and his wife Liz. Our first night’s stay was in the Austin Stacks Clubhouse, courtesy of Kerry Co. Secretary, Tony O’Keeffe. Even though the rain also washed us out here we were rejuvenated by meeting a bus load of Fallon’s heroes down to support us. Former Turloughmore man and newspaper correspondent Joseph Langtry was also there to brighten the occasion.
On Friday it was on to Killorglin and Killarney. Here the collectors got much needed reinforcements from such versatile men as John Varden, Gabriel Delaney and Francis Whelan in addition to Rose Shaughnessy, Marie Donoghue, Rita Burke and Betty Qualter.
Saturday was an overland drive to Dublin with just a quick visit to the legendary Francis Loughnane in Roscrea.
On Sunday with our team doctor — Dr. Brendan Day now lending a welcome hand we manned Croke Park for the All-Ireland semi-final. When the game was over we collected our gear in Clonliffe College and headed for Turloughmore.
Meanwhile, the hurlers or should we say cyclists were in training under the watchful eye of local cycling enthusiast Tony Watts. Jarlath McDonagh as PRO for the tour was busy preparing press bits etc. for the local and national newspapers. He got great help from the vibrant Tom Gilmore and our good friend Jim Carney at the Tuam Herald. The pretty ladies down in Connollys’ were busy making the singlets, Sheila Gallagher was preparing the scenes for the printing of the logos; Monica Hession was painting the signs; Ken Ayres was getting vehicles ready; Gerry Greaney was wiring the flashers and P.A. Systems, etc., the list goes on and on.
At last Thursday came and the P.S. System with its repetitive call was turned on, a call which was to be repeated over 3,000 times over the next ten days. ‘The Turloughmore Cycle Tour from County Galway is now entering your town. We are cycling to fight unemployment and stop emigration, cycling to help the youth of Ireland. Funds collected on the tour will go to the building of a small factory for our own young people. Please give as generously as you can to our collections. Go raibh mile maith agaibh’. The tour was on.
After Mass at Lackagh Church on Friday morning the cyclists headed towards Portlaoise. The bonfires and waving wellwishers from the parish stirred chords of pride in the hearts of the cyclists as they sped through the parish and onwards to Athenry. For men like Gerry Holland, Seamus Qualter, Jimmy Burke, Willie Burke, Gerry Burke, Gerry Naughton, Michael Shaughnessy, Pat Burke, David
Collins, Noel Donoghue, Martin Naughton, John Holland, Martin Hurney, Willie Burke Senior, Martin McHugh and Michael Delaney it was to be one of the greatest achievements.
When we reached Athenry and the first humans were sighted, Willie Burke gave the sinaI and our crack regiment, the ladies, swung into action — Martina Holland, Ann Burke, Geraldine Delaney, Teresa McHugh grabbed a bucket and a roll of stickers. They entered every shop and pub, stopped every car, lorry, bus, bike and tractor, coaxed, begged, chatted or explained to every pedestrian. Within fifteen minutes the town was covered and already the buckets were straining their handles and so it went on town after town, sticker after sticker, after each town onto the bikes and off again.
Even as early as Athlone the squad were becoming professional. The secret was to find a traffic jam especially at traffic lights, cover the cars from all directions and put a sticker on each windscreen to avoid duplication.
In addition to the ladies Martin Hurney and Willie Burke were now getting the magic touch, constantly moving, waving, winking and chatting, “Fight unemployment”, “Stop Emigration”. “Thank you sir”, “Much obliged Miss”, “Here’s a few stickers for the children”.
After Athione, onto Moate, Kilbeggan, Tullamore, Portlaoise and into the good people in the Patrician College, Ballyfin for a cold shower and a stew fit for a King. Michael Delaney, the chef d’equipe was playing a blinder. It seemed as if we had just being asleep when the scent from Michaels pan curled its way up to the dormitories about eight oclock and provided the best possible alarm.
Once again our friends were out and gave us an overwhelming reception. Local Sergeant — Con Gillespie was required to co-ordinate the traffic jam. After a few well chosen words from Fr. Lyons we finished off the night with a bottle of Champagne and our own rendering of our Tour Song to the air of ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ backed by the versatile Kevin Cosgrove. We were blistered, saddle sore and tired but yet all felt a great sense of satisfaction in the knowledge that the youth of the parish were ten and a half thousand pounds better off.