Today promised to be the longest ride of the Tour but, before I set off, I walked into the town after looking at the bridge over the River Blackwater.
When I arrived the previous evening I had ridden up and down the main street where I had expected the hotel to be but it had actually been on the Quay. What had struck me was the variety of shops and some of the magnificent old-fashioned fronts which had been designed to impress. I called at the stationers and, when I was being served, I mentioned this. The proprietor, who I guessed it was, picked up on my approval and came around the counter to tell me more. He was very proud of his town and explained that Fermoy had missed the boom when prices in Ireland had shot up to what proved to be ridiculous figures. Then the old heart of most towns had been destroyed by redevelopment of the aged properties but Fermoy had escaped and was now thriving. He told me something of the history of Fermoy and, just as I was leaving, took a 70 page booklet published by the Fermoy Enterprise Board, tore off the price label and gave it to me. The origins of the Fermoy had been dated to the year 1170 when the Cistercians founded a monastery. The booklet said that an ambitious Scotsman bought the ruins in 1751 and turned its vicinity into one of the most prosperous modern towns in Ireland. Another factor was that, until the 19th century, the bridge was one of only four, or possibly five, that crossed the river which is the fourth longest river in Ireland.
I had noticed that there was a lot of traffic coming over the bridge from the N72. The main route from Dublin to Cork passed the outskirts of Fermoy where there was a junction allowing the traffic to join. The lanes which I was following became less direct and, as I had a long ride, I had decided to travel a few miles along it before returning to the lanes. It would be interesting to see which of all the various descriptions of the hard shoulder was correct and, not surprisingly, there was some truth in all of them.
The road consisted of one wide lane in each direction separated by a yellow line with an equally bold line defining the outside of the lane leaving the “hard shoulder “ beyond it. Generally the hard shoulder’s surface was the same as the roadway but sometimes it dipped away badly towards a rough surface edge. Where there had been recent improvements to the road there was a good wide hard shoulder of a standard width wide enough for a small lorry to try to undertake a slower, larger one to a chorus of hooting, but other parts of the road had a variable width down to that of a handlebar. The rule about leaving 1.5 meters when passing a cyclist did not seem to apply so traffic could then be passing within inches and my most scary moment was where, opposite a right hand turning lane, a large lorry passed within inches with a great roar buffeting me with its passage. It was a relief to turn onto the lanes again.
Soon afterwards I came round a corner to see an interesting long bridge down a road on my right so I investigated and had a most intriguing sight of a tower peeping over some houses. I decided to check it out and cycled up the hill. At the top was Ballyhooly Castle and, from an information board, I discovered an Irish female warrior to compare with the female warrior I had discovered in Wales.
In 1645 Ballyhooly Castle was occupied by Irish Royalists and was recaptured by the parliamentary army of Oliver Cromwell. In the absence of her husband, Ellen Lady Roche bravely commanded the defence of the family’s stronghold at neighbouring Castletownroche. After a siege, the Cromwellians captured the castle and Lady Ellen was executed in Cork in 1652.
Noticing some early fallen apples by my feet as I read the boards explaining the history, I discovered the tree had been planted by local schoolchildren years ago to commemorate a local tradition. The bridge I had crossed had been an important ford. An ancient manuscript stated that St Carthage, founder of the neighbouring town of Lismore, had picked up an apple from the water when he crossed the ford and, later that day, he had given it to the deformed daughter of a local chieftain and, on accepting it, the girl’s withered arm was immediately restored. The name Ballyhooly is derived from ancient Irish and means the ‘ford of the apples’. I walked into the castle gardens which seemed to be in private hands and took a photograph of what remained of the castle.
Not being very far into the day’s ride I resisted the temptation to visit Mallow Castle, a National Monument, when passing by the town and pressed on mostly remaining close to the river, and, after a day’s cycling of 45 miles, reached Millstreet. There had been little climbing except where the lanes had diverted from the valley near Nagles Mountains.
I was staying at a B & B that I had booked over the phone with a very friendly proprietor who called herself Noreen and who had given me very clear instructions on how to find her. Millstreet, l found out, was purported to have one of the longest high streets in Ireland. The welcome was just as friendly and the house and room were very comfortable. Noreen and her husband were good company and had a wealth of local information.
As it was getting late and, as the pub/restaurant they had recommended was closing soon, Noreen drove me the three-quarters of a mile to the pub, where I had another excellent meal. Noreen and her husband were going for a walk so could not pick me up afterwards but I said I enjoyed a walk after a good meal and a beer. The beer was brewed locally and was delicious and a day’s cycling always improves the thirst quenching properties.
Afterwards, feeling in a good mood, I set off down the road and, after being crouched over the handlebars all day, it was good to straighten up so I set off with long strides and happy thoughts. I then passed Noreen and her husband walking in the opposite direction and Noreen asked “Are you are going for a walk then?” It was only after some time it occurred to me that the road did not seem familiar. Noreen’s directions over the phone had included an instruction to pass by a cemetery and that they were further down on the left and I had carefully noted it near the bottom of a valley. I had not noticed any cemetery but seem to have walked a long way so when I came across a male contemporary by the side of the road I spoke to him and, after an exchange of usual Irish pleasantries, enquired as to the whereabouts of the cemetery. The exact situation I found difficult to explain with any success so we then each started to give descriptions of places in Millstreet, resulting in one of us starting to give details which the other failed to recognise. His descriptions were full of extra information and I started to find out a lot about Millstreet which was all very interesting but I had to confess and say I was looking for the B & B where I was staying. Then I described the B & B which had a very large ornamental sign saying ‘Bed and Breakfast’ and its name. He had no recollection of it. I had only taken a cursory glance at the name and my attempts to pronounce it failed to have effect and he could not remember any B & B. He then asked me who I was staying with and I said I could only remember the Christian name – Noreen. “ NOREEN!” he exclaimed loudly, “you are staying with Noreen!” with a very approving tone and it became clear that Noreen was someone notable.
Of course, it turned out I had continued up the road away from the B & B and had forgotten to u-turn and go back on myself. Later, when I got in, I told Noreen I had had a very good walk. The name of the B & B was Knockdrish.