Cycling Tour of Ireland – 1978

Eire tour 1978
Eire tour 1978

After being at University for a year money was really tight so in 1978 we could only afford a short tour of Ireland. The original plan was to cycle to the ferry at Stranraer but this was going to take too long so we jumped on a train at Perth. We caught the ferry to Larne then a train to Belfast and then another train to Dundalk where we really started our tour.

We headed West through some very rural areas and beautiful countryside. I remember at one point cycle down a country road to see one of the biggest bulls ever coming towards us followed quickly by a little old lady, who looked about 90 waiving a stick at the bull and screaming at it. We quickly dismounted as the bull and it’s pursuer passed.

The most eventful episode of this trip has to be our time in Westport, a small village on the West coast. We found a really nice campsite then headed on into the town for something to eat and, more importantly something to drink. We spent most of that day and night in and out of bars and got very..very drunk. It seemed like a good idea to ride our bike back to the campsite but there was one small problem, we couldn’t actually get on them. I remember falling and trying to pick up my bike which for some reason was really difficult and Magnus racing past me standing on hips pedal and running straight into a wall. We got back to the campsite and I spent some time, in the dark, drunk trying to get my bike chain back on…with no luck. I woke the next morning with my hands covered in oil and slowly the events of the night before started to come back to us. I rushed outside the tent to find my bike upside down and the rear wheel buckled, well almost bent at a right angle really. It slowly dawned on me that the reason my bike was so difficult to pick up the night before was because I was standing on the rear wheel whilst trying to lift it. I needed a new wheel but this was Sunday and no shops were open so we wandered around and somehow found an open air music festival at Westport House with the headline act of Colm C.T. Wilkinson, who it turns out was Ireland’s entry into the Eurovision Song Contest that year coming in 5th place, (I only just found this out). 

We also met a young lad who seemed to know us and as we struggled with his accent in our still fragile hung over state it became apparent that he’d helped us with our bikes the other night commenting that we were a bit the worse for wear and he had a great laugh at the state we were in. The next day I had to borrow money from Magnus to buy a new wheel, then we were on our way again heading eventually to Dublin.

We parted company there with Magnus heading South towards Cork and me heading North for the long trip home. I caught the train to Belfast and had to change stations to get the train to Larne for the ferry. I managed to get horribly lost in Belfast at one point queuing up at the cordoned off central part of the city and being ordered to empty my panniers on the pavement by a British soldier. The army presence was still high at that time and there was a great feeling of edginess in the air, certainly after I’d been told to unpack my bags I felt a little uneasy. These delays meant I missed my train to Larne and had to hang around the station for a good two hours or so. This made me feel much more uneasy with every passer-by watching me. I needed the toilet but couldn’t find one in the station so I went to the bar round the corner, it had a steel door with a sliding hatch. I knocked on the door and a guy with a very broad Belfast accent asked what I wanted, I told him I was looking for a toilet, he took one look at me with my denim cut-off jeans and plastic bag in hand and told me “we used to have a toilet but they blew it up” then slammed closed the hatch. I eventually found a quite alley to relieve myself but by now I was really feeling very jumpy.

Finally the train arrived and whisked me off back to reality, the ferry and the long ride home.