The freedom of two wheels!

There was a song, made popular by Katie Malua some years ago called ‘There are Nine Million bicycles in Bejing’.  There may be only a fraction of that in Clare, but in recent times the numbers have been growing!


World-wide over one billion bicycles exist, far more than the numbers of cars. In some areas of the world they are the main mode of transportation. The bicycle is a relatively recent invention, being introduced widely in the early 19th century.


Since the various lockdowns began over a year ago, cycling has become very popular.  With the extra time to spare people are conscious about getting exercise and many a bicycle tucked away at the back of the shed was dusted down and granted the light of day again. Bike shops, when they were permitted to open didn’t know whether they were coming or going with increased business and requests for their services.


There is something special about heading out on the bike.  The freedom. The fresh air. The sense of adventure in heading off, unfettered on free wheels. Hard to beat the healthy open air, the aerobic exercise and it is environmentally friendly to boot.


The recent efforts of the civil authorities in Ennis and other locations have been rightly lauded with the appearance of designated bicycle lanes and additional places to park and secure bikes.  The series of articles in this paper in the weeks gone by have also been of great interest and help in sharing the ‘good news’ of the benefits of cycling. The ‘bike-to-work’ schemes have also helped this worthy cause.


I’ve always loved getting out on the bike.  Fashions evolved from the days of the ‘High-Nelly’ in my grandparents shed to the ‘Raleigh Chopper’ that was the envy of every young kid of our generation. The sturdy mountain bike phase took over, followed by various forays into racing bikes of differing standards and then to the more recent trendy hybrids.  For those who are advanced in years and who might struggle on the hills, there’s no excuse as the motorised hybrids are gaining in popularity or for those who really want to cut a dash and for the less faint hearted the motorised scooter may be your cup of tea.


I look forward so much from time to time to heading for various bike paths, Greenways, hiring a bike during day excursions to the Aran Islands, Inishbofin, Clare Island or in recent years random trips around Ennis, especially dodging the traffic in the town at busy times.


There are so many excellent destinations within easy reach of Ennis that make for a most enjoyable and worthwhile excursion. Over the past year I have enjoyed the ‘mission’ of heading to so many such destinations and recording the highlights on YouTube.  Places such as, The Marian Shrines of Ennis, Drumcliffe Cemetery, Templemaley, St Joseph’s Wells in Barefield and Milltown Malbay, Mount Callan back west,Canon Island from Kildysart, Feenish Island and Fenloe near Newmarket on Fergus, Spancil Hill, Quin Abbey, Killone Abbey, The High Cross of Dysert, Dromore Woods, Mullaghmore, Lough Avally and various Burren walks along with The Twelve O’Clock Hills.  These and many more locations, all within convenient and manageable distance from our capital town.  Occasionally on these travels I come across remains of what must have been one of the most spectacular train routes in the country, the West Clare rail route.  I wonder what if any potential remains there or around that for resurrecting a possible new Greenway?


Last Autumn while getting the anti-flu injection I parked my bike on the foot path in the open street outside the GP’s medical centre.  After the job was done,  in tune with Covid-19 regulations I was directed out the back door. Because of the different route I forgot I that I had travelled on my bike and walked home. About two days later I went searching for my bike in the basement of Westbourne, ready to go for a spin. No sign! It was then I realised where I left it. I fully assumed it would be stolen, damaged or stowed away somewhere. To my surprise and great relief it was still there in the middle of the footpath, untouched and unharmed. Either the kind folk of Ennis are as honest and virtuous as the day is long or else they felt that my humble two wheels were just not worth bothering with!


I like these few lines of verse from a man called David Lewis that capture much of the joy of cycling.


My bike to me is a thing of joy,

More than just an expensive toy.

It carries me here, and there, and back,

On a road, a lane or cycle track.


I push the pedals and the wheels whizz along,

My heart soars with a joyous song.

Cares pass me by, my mind is clear,

My bike takes me where I choose to steer.


Moving as one in the fresh open air,

A physical exercise without compare.

Cycling keeps me healthy, happy and fit,

Perfect reasons for doing it.


So cycling to me is a wonderful thing,

In summer, autumn, winter and spring.

The hills may be hard with the wind in my face

But cycling is something that I will never replace.


Fintan Monahan is bishop of Killaloe


Clare Champion Article 7th of May 2021