08 September 2011

Eolaí and his Painting Tour: Week Ten

So, as you'll remember from last week, the brother was in Sligo, where, nine weeks into his Painting Tour of Ireland, he'd taken a trip out to Lough Gill, there to squint across to Innisfree. It was at Lough Gill that he saw a sign warning him of cars crawling, like Scottish plesiosaurs, from the lake, a phenomenon first documented by Yeats in his lesser-known work, 'Car Pool'.

Friday saw the Brother missing a Dalkey Open Bottle night and poring over maps and unfinished paintings as he plotted an ambitious week, taking in more counties than any week thus far. He'd opened with a five-county week, as you'll surely recall, but since then he's lingered more, visiting two new ones in his second week, one in each of his third and fourth weeks, two in each of his fifth and sixth weeks, none at all in his glorious Galwegian seventh week which included what may have been his favourite ever day in the saddle, one in his eighth, and one in his ninth. Fifteen counties he'd covered, but with time running out, he was needing to make plans, and hopefully plans that wouldn't entail him painting, like Picasso, while riding a bicycle.

With the poring and plotting done, it was time for him to stary pedalling and painting, cycling out to Ballygawley there to buy some potato cakes and perplex me by describing it as our namesake, but given its proper Irish name, he's absolutely right. Onwards then to Riverstown in the rain, aptly enough, where he shook his head at the superabundance of hanging baskets, that hallmark of the typically tidy Irish town, and carried on past Lough Arrow and into Roscommon, his sixteenth county.

This week we shall be mostly seeing lakes. And rain.

Onward he pedalled past Lough Key, where he'd had a holiday with the lads from over the road back in his early teens, and though he'd been hoping to make it to Carrick-on-Shannon, reason and the rain won out and he stopped in Boyle, sodden, starving, and saddlesore. Seemingly, it wasn't quite as devoid of people as photographic evidence would suggest. With a busy evening's painting ahead of him, he found a B&B and swiftly went in search of food, settling for a rather dangerous-sounding choice in Shop Street's Troy Deli: a twelve-inch pizza, festooned with kebab meat. Perhaps not advisable fare for normal people, but if you're touring Ireland under your own steam, I reckon it'd be safe enough. It takes calories to cover ground, after all. And, you know, it might be tasty.

-- Is that your bicycle, he was asked.
-- It is, yes.
-- There's a fair length on it.

And that was Friday. Saturday saw him waking up to a lovely view of Boyle Abbey, and then carrying on south-east, hitting Carrick at noon or so, crossing the bridge into Leitrim and pedalling another hundred yards or so to be treated to lunch by someone who's been following the Brother's exploits here -- and thank you so much! -- in the company of his brood, who were very impressed with my the Brother's beard and his energy. As the Brother later said, 'Today a stranger stepped out of the internet into offline life to treat me to lunch on the road. Follow @gkcwsc Make him love the twitter'.

Although the Brother had crossed over into Leitrim for his lunch, he didn't count that as a seventeenth county, feeling that being barely a hundred yards into a county hardly counted, especially when he'd be covering more ground there soon enough, so he cut back to Roscommon, carrying on through Kilmore and Forest View, crossing the Shannon at Termonberry, and entering his real seventeenth county, that being Longford. South he cycled then, through Clondra, Kilashee, and Lyneen until he reached Kenagh, his base for the night.

Kenagh, in case you're wondering, is where a youthful Dave Allen lost a chunk of a middle finger. I have no idea whether or not it's anywhere to be found in the neighbourhood, but if it is and you come across it, I imagine you'd be allowed to keep it. I learned this when I stayed in Kenagh myself a couple of years back, visiting the same friends who hosted the Brother on Saturday evening, a lovely couple whose wedding I once blighted by falling asleep in a way that did me no honour whatsoever. If you're good, I may tell you the story someday.

Sunday morning saw him being graced with an immense breakfast of rashers and eggs and lashings of sausages, all washed down with a balthazar or so of tea, and then settling in for some serious painting in the rain while my friends took themselves off on a cycle of their own, an organised 50 kilometres tour of Longford. Regretting the time constraints on the trip, not least because he'd not be able to get out to see the Corlea Trackway, a second-century BC road in the bog near Kenagh, he saddled up again, and set off, this time heading north. The rain was gone, he felt, and it was time he was too.

Off he went through Longford town, with its sinister courthouse and foreboding cathedral, and north through Drumlish and into Leitrim, which this time earned itself the title of Eolaí's Eighteenth County to accompany its prior title of Ireland's Only County Without Traffic Lights. Onward he rode, north to Cloone and then east through Carrigallen, before turning north again, edging his way a mile or so across the Leitrim border into Cavan, his nineteenth county, there to stay in Doogarry, a stone's throw from this charming spot.

His arrival was clearly a special event, with his host's nine-year-old son preparing for it by cleaning the bathroom for his first time ever. This must be what Billy Connolly had in mind when he said he reckoned he thought the Queen thought the whole world smelled of fresh paint...

Like I said. Lakes. Get used to it.
If Sunday had been notable for being his first three-county day since he made his way from Kerry to Limerick via Clare in the fifth week of his Odyssey, Monday's most memorable feature was to be the rain, it being the wettest day of the trip so far. It didn't start that way, though. No, first there was some painting in the sun, fuelled by tea and with a nervous eye on the sky, and then it was time to push on through the most diabolical of conditions. North he rode, lakes to the left and lakes to the right, pedalling on through Bawnboy and on to Swanlinbar, there to recover with potato cakes after a detour and a mudslide on a road that just wasn't there.

Over the border, then, into Fermanagh, the twentieth county of the trip, heading north to Letterbreen, and then west, through Belcoo to Cavan's Blacklion, but back then into Belcoo, more drenched than ever after the wettest day of the tour, there to spend the night in his twentieth county.

By this point it was getting difficult to tell where the puddles stopped and the lakes started.

Tuesday saw him making his way back through Blacklion again, cutting across Cavan along the southern shores of Lough Macnean. It wasn't long before he was back in Leitrim, with the wind almost blasting him under a van as he cycled through Glenfarne to Manorhamilton, and the rain swirling and crashing about him. A break in Manorhamilton was well deserved, as was the rather peculiar lunch that presented itself on the menu: a chicken, bacon, mushroom, and banana sandwich.

Yes, you read that right.

While the Brother was fighting with the elements and sampling gastronomic oddities, plans were being made for his return to Sligo, this time to stay with Annie West. Seeming, she had big plans for his arrival. According to her Twitter feed, she had contract cleaners, an interior designer and a couple of plasterers all getting things ready, while she herself was sorting out some William Morris wallpaper and a huge consignment of eighteenth-century Italian furniture for his room, all the while fretting about whether she'd be able to install an Adams fireplace before the Brother pedalled up the path. And that's not to mention the time she claimed to be putting into training the dog and cat to avert their eyes appropriately. Call be sceptical, but I think she might have been exaggerating ever so slightly, at least about the trumpets, bugles, guns, and bunting. Mind, I've not met the lady, so who am I to judge?

Before braving the elements once more, the Brother saw fit to delight the Battlestar Galactica fans among us with a fine Leitrim shot, and then it was off he set again, back into what he described as the 'windiest, blusteriest, paininthearseiest' day of cycling thus far. This time he left the main road, taking a quieter road to Glencar, past the lake and waterfall of 'The Stolen Child' fame, soon reaching Sligo again, turning north by Drumcliffe to be greeted by miles of bunting, trumpets, bugles, a twenty-one gun salute, and buckets of tea* as he brought to a close a rare and tempestuous four-county day.

Happy and safe and warm and dry that evening, he pored over maps and delighted to see that while he'd been battling against the elements, the tale of his Painting Tour, as told by John Lee, had been picked up by the Huffington Post.

After Tuesday's exploits, yesterday was very quiet, with hardly a tweet from the Brother, other than an understandably glum comment about how dispiriting the weather was -- there's not much joy in cycling in such apocalyptic conditions, especially when the nicer side roads have to be shunned in favour of the bigger, faster, dirtier roads, where puddles and vans can combine to such soul-destroying effect. To judge by Twitter, you'd think he'd ended it with his bike tended by ducks,  rumours starting to spread that he'd been kidnapped and wasn't to be allowed leave.

The Brother's favourite bike shot of the trip, taken during Wednesday night's dinner.

Instead, it seems he'd indeed spent the day painting Annie's house while she worked in her studio, before going up the road to stay with Donal Conaty, the Man Behind The Mire, there to dine and paint and chat and sleep.

And as for today? Well, the Brother started the day reckoning it'd be hard to leave Sligo -- and not because he was trapped in a Misery-style situation by a wannabe Kathy Bates, but just because he liked it so much there and weather looked to be getting ready to take arms against him yet again.

Still, the weather was good to begin with as he was taken for a drive by Streedagh Strand and up to the Horseshoe Pass; unfortunately his camera decided to pack in, leaving him to describe the day as the best he'd ever had for photographs he'd not taken. Back from the drive he had to race against time to manage a very hasty painting of his hosts' house before leaping onto the bike to make it Donegal town before sunset. The afternoon dash hit a hitch almost immediately, as soon after Mullaghmore he was struck down with stomach cramps, and so forced to rest on Leitrim's tiny coast, there to let his stomach settle and to take some tablets to help his left leg. The terrain may be easier now than it was in Cork and Kerry, but the weather can't be making things any easier on the Brother's legs -- when you have to fight with the bike to make it move, you're heading for trouble, and especially with the days getting shorter and there being less time available to cycle and to paint.

The tablets having done their work, and after his first ever power bar, he set off again, winding his way into Donegal, his twenty-first county, through Ballyshannon, and eventually arriving to a bunting-festooned Donegal town.**

Six counties in a week. You can't help admiring that. I'd still not put money on him managing every county in the country, given the logistics of what's left of the trip, but as Meatloaf would probably say, thirty out of thirty-two ain't bad. Or twenty-nine or twenty-eight, to be fair. The clock's ticking, and time shall be money.

So, what does the next week hold? Truth be told I'm not entirely sure, save that he's clearly planning on heading across Tyrone into Derry and from there into Antrim and Down. Other than that, I really don't know.

Still, if you think the Brother might be passing within twenty miles or so of where you live, especially if you're in Down, Armagh, Monaghan or, well, anywhere else that looks even plausible over the next fortnight as the Brother makes his way home to Dublin, and if you have a bed to offer and fancy a painting, do get in touch with him. As long as you have a kettle, tea, milk, and somewhere to doze, he'd love to hear from you.

There's only a fortnight left of the Painting Tour, and if you want to get onboard, you can follow it on the Brother's blog and above all on Twitter, where the hashtag's #paintingtour. The Brother's Facebook account's worth a shout too, but Twitter's where most of the real action is. 
Don't be afraid to give Ireland's first digital nomad™ a shout -- the tour's about Irish social media as much as it is art and the Irish countryside, after all.

* Or at least one of the above, after stopping cycling in sodden terror, but yards from his destination, with a storm bellowing around him, trucks roaring past, and his hostess waiting across the road in her car, having come out to look for his body.
** No, really. Look at the picture.

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