23 September 2011

Eolaí and his Painting Tour: Week Twelve

Well, the Painting Tour is over, and like Odysseus, our weary wanderer is home. It's been nearly three months since the Brother set off on his cycle, during which time he's visited twenty-nine of Ireland's traditional counties, clocked up more than three thousand kilometres in the saddle, painted a hell of a lot of paintings, met huge numbers of wonderful people, lost a few pounds, got more familiar with the Irish weather than any man should ever do, and drank prodigious amounts of tea.

Not bad going, eh?

Last time we heard of him, he was in Antrim, having been collected by Grannymar just north of Cushendun, and with his giant bike stashed into her little car, had been taken home by her, there to be met by a king's feast of buttered tiger bread and Barry's tea. It was to be a packed couple of days.

Friday was a day for sightseeing, with Grannymar driving him hither and thither, to the Hole Stone, Lough Neagh, Antrim Castle and its gardens, Gleno Waterfall, Randalstown, and William of Orange's landing point at Carrickfergus. That she did all that driving after her recent fall amazes me; God only knows what she could have done if she'd not had a tumble. Still, as she said to me, the Brother's visit was just the distraction she needed from her cracked bones and numb face: she loved seeing the world from his perspective.

The bridge on the river Maine

Saturday saw him visiting Glenariff and Waterfoot, there to indulge in Thai yellow soup on the strand, before heading off leaving a briefly broken internet and an otherwise deeply impressed lady behind him; Grannymar's own take on the visit is well worth your perusal.

And he's off again...

He cycled south, and whizzed through Belfast as he chased the sunset into Down, his twenty-fifth county, there to settle for the night in the safety of Helen's Bay.

Chased and caught. Mission accomplished.

Sunday morning was spent painting one of the trips most beautiful paintings, a suitably blue take on the Hollywood shore, and then he got another lift, his second shortcut of the trip, this being a straightforward necessity at this stage: time was running out and the days are getting very short. Cycling even in the dusk is far from wise, as the Brother learned all too painfully fifteen years ago.

An atypically blue sky for the Brother, perhaps inspired by events in Croke Park...

Of course, there was more to Sunday than cycling and painting. The Brother naturally wanted to see the All Ireland Football Final, with Dublin in it for the first time since 1995, and beating Kerry by 1-12 to 1-11 with almost the last kick of the match.

Cycling through Armagh, his twenty-sixth county, he arrived in Newry as it was darkening, it being the last hostless night of the trip and the Brother seeking advice over somewhere to stay that wouldn't break the bank and that'd guarantee him a wifi connection. Suggestions were hurled from all sides, and in the end he found his spot and got stuck into a night of painting and more high-tech shenanigans.

Monday began with a colossal breakfast of sausages, eggs, black and white puddings, rashers, potato cake, soda farl, mushrooms, tomatoes, toast, and croissants. And, of course, tea. There's a reason why Ulster fries are the stuff of legend. Once he'd fuelled up for the day he got stuck into a commissioned painting, did some research and plotting for the way onward, and then was off again. Southwest he pedalled, across Armagh through Camlough, Silverbridge, and Crossmaglen, taking him back over the border into Monaghan, his twenty-seventh county, where it was raining. Again.

He made his way around the north and east of Lake Muckno, through Castleblaney and on through the rain to Ballybay, there to stay with John McGuirk, doyen of the new Irish right, to spend the evening eating Viennetta ice cream, watching telly, and teaching his host about politics.

Now this is what we in school used to call 'undulating countryside'.

The early hours of Tuesday were spent poring over maps again, and then it was once more time to paint. Monaghan, he said: the whole county. Deeming that impractical, he settled instead for a very wide view of McGuirk's farm, nestled as it is in drumlin country. Off he set then, confidently, having been advised by the Norwegians to expect sun.

(The Norwegians, it should be clarified, are not these merry fellows from Bergen, but are in fact an extraordinarily useful meteorological service. The Brother's reliance on these was just another example of just how high-tech this superficially old-fashioned painting tour was.)

Off he set then from Ballybay, keeping his eye out for Patrick Kavanagh's bank of youth, notoriously burgled by Monaghan's stony grey soil, he looped back to Doohamlet and followed the back roads to Lough Egish, leaving Monaghan by way of Carrickmacross and entering Meath, his twenty-eighth county, near Drumcondrath. On then, through Lobinstown and near Wilkinstown, racing against the darkness as he pushed himself on towards Navan, the heritage capital of Ireland.

Gorgeous though it is, I'd not want to be risking country roads in this light.

Wednesday was a day to surprise those who haven't been paying attention, an oddity that saw the Brother ending the day further from Dublin than he'd began it, which is perhaps a bit counter-intuitive, but is what happens when the counties are in the wrong order. As they are.

The Brother cycled into Navan proper, crossed the Boyne, and then cycled northeast along the river to Ardmulchan where he crossed over to its northern bank, cycling on through Tankardstown, Ivybrook, and Grangegeeth. Sadly, unlike Dustin the Turkey who lamented how he'd never been to Meath, the Brother merely lamented the weather, as it hammered down on him as he cycled, leaving him drenched right through to the Boyne*; he coped, but after the last couple of weeks he had to admit that he was getting rather tired of the weather.

Fwiw, this is Met Eireann he's looking at. The Brother isn't entirely faithful to the Norwegians.

And, to be fair, who'd blame him?

He pushed on through the incessant rain into Louth, his twenty-ninth county, making his way through Collon, Whiteriver, and Dunleer to his friends in Castlebellingham, with the weather suddenly deciding to brighten up towards the end, like someone who's sulked all day and then suddenly shows up with a breezy smile, as though oblivious to the fact that they've been ruining everyone else's fun. Finally, in deceptively gorgeous conditions, he reached his destination, and settled in happily at his hosts' house, there to enjoy a night in the final new county of the Painting Tour. Wine was consumed. Yesterday, the penultimate day of the painting tour, began with rashers and tea, as you'd hope, and then some more serious painting, this time of a Castlebellingham street scene.

The painting took much longer than he'd have hoped, and with the clock ticking and no scope for cycling before dark it was time for a third lift; earlier in the trip he'd have stayed another night, but the days are shorter now and the Brother needs to be in Lucan tomorrow, so ground needed covering quickly.

Ciaran Downey's grandmother's house having been carefully cropped from the view

No harm in that, anyway; he was to be staying in Meath which he'd already cycled through over the previous couple of days, so his hosts brought him via Clogherhead to Mornington, there to stay with an old blogging friend, to revel in curry and to drink perhaps a mite too much. Not just tea either. Champagne too, and other stuff as well, I rather suspect. It was a long night.

And so that brings us to today, the last day of the Painting Tour. The Eighth Day of this unique eight-day week. One last day, one last painting, and then time to saddle up and to have off for the last sixty or so kilometres of the journey, being cheered home by a huge crowd of Twitterati, virtually roaring their congratulations and support, with every tweet seeming a landmark.

45 kilometres out, and in Balbriggan he was technically in the new county of Fingal. Nobody cares about that. He was back in Dublin... Onward to Skerries, then, adding five kilometres to the journey, but what the heck, it's worth it and it's not every day you finish a journey like this. Might as well do it in style... Somewhere on the north Dublin coast, 32 kilometres away from home, and wishing the wind would drop... 14 kilometres out, in Santry, and a banana being eaten to keep the limbs moving, knowing that the last few kilometres would be in the dark but that most of them would be safely off road...

And then, with the tweets of support flowing in, and just moments after I tweeted to congratulate him on surely having bested that hill that lies waiting at the end of every trip home, he said the words we were all waiting for.
'Home. From a 3,000+ km cycle. To a smiling dog and a cup of tea. People of the internet, with the whole of my heart, thank you #paintingtour'

And with that, I thought I'd join a few others out there and pour myself a celebratory drink.

Thanks too from me to all of you who've been reading. It's been fun to write this and play a small and distant part in this whole affair. And anyone who, reading this, felt prompted to step out of the internet to offer the Brother a cup of tea or a bed for the night, well, thank you especially. I'd best head off to bed now, but as for the rest of you, the Brother's painting tomorrow at the Lucan Festival. If you can, you should go to see him.

And say hello for me.

* Yes, this is a joke. Not mine, mind, but a joke for all that.

1 comment:

Grannymar said...

Thank you for the weekly updates. Well worth the read.

I did do a little driving, but we didn't cross the water to Scotland (Glencoe) ;) The waterfall we visited was Gleno, County Antrim