Twelve of us set off from Felda at 10 am. I led the group as far as the Greengates, then pulled in to encourage them to go to the front. The strong group pulled away rapidly and I was happy to see them go. Four of us now took up the rear and had a very leisurely cycle down to Castlebellingham. I didn't know that another 2 riders had been dropped up the road and decided to wait for us at Dorians. Unfortunately, they didn't know where Richardstown was, and when there was no sign of us after 10 minutes, they assumed we must have turned for Annagassan. So they decided to continue to Ardee.
Richardstown Graveyard Co Louth
Now I know 10 minutes is insignificant. I know that in 10 minutes the best time trialists can do Felda to Castlebellingham. But you'd be surprised how slow I can go and how I can drag out time. So Tony and Janet missed us and we never knew we were so close behind them. To make it worse we stopped in Ardee for a wee snack at that lovely bench provided for us between the two roundabouts. So really it was a chain of errors,or a comedy of errors, if you like, but that is how most confusion arises.
Anyhow we were completely oblivious to all of this and having the time of our lives on a gorgeous Spring day, doing what we loved in the sweet County Louth countryside. "Úr Chill an Chreagain"; to be buried in the sweet sod of Creggan was the wish of Art McCooey, one of my 3 poet friends from Creggan, and after 17 years of cycling I understand fully this love of the Irish land. Richardstown, Tallanstown, Mullaghcrew (little bit of suffering here), they all have their tale to tell and a history often going back to the Stone Age and beyond.
To get back to the present, we were making solid, if not spectacular progress, and eventually were glad to see Stephenstown Pond. This is a very pretty facility in the county and there is a cottage which once belonged to Agnes Burns, sister of Robert Burns, the Bard of Scotland. I don't seem to be able to get away from Poetry, in any language, and it seems to be all around me here. My dad wasn't a smoker, but he always bought 10 Afton, on a Fair Day. Even as a child I always thought it was a bit of a pose, maybe to face down the hard dealing men from Crossmaglen and from up this side of the country that we needed all our wits to handle. I loved the wee verse on the packet "Flow gently Sweet Afton among thy green braes, Flow gently I'll sing thee a song in thy praise" and even though I didn't speak Scottish, I was moved by the loveliness of it and took up smoking myself.
Burns Cottage Stephenstown
Burn's Cottage has been turned into a Coffee Shop and we had a very welcome coffee and scone here. The speed merchant's were getting ready to leave, having been there 10 or 15 minutes before us, as we were informed. I'm a bit on the slow side, but even I noticed the group was smaller. "Where's Mick?" I said. "He turned left at the Stonetrough". OK. 5 minutes later - "Where's Janet?". "Is she not with ye". "No, she was with ye". She never was". Oh jaysus, this is like the time the child disappeared off down to the Arbat in Moscow and left me sitting sick with nerves in the hotel all day.
Finally just when the coffee was nicest - WHERE'S TONY? Who's Tony? He was with ye. No he wasn't, never saw him. This is when I was most glad for 35 years teaching experience and 30 bringing brats up and down to Mill Road for a game of Rugby. It stood me in good stead although just for an instant I wished I was up in Mill Road with the Under 18's. To cut a long story short, Tony rang me as we cycled across the Marlbog Road to say they had a lovely cycle, we had a lovely cycle and the speedy group were grinning like cats that got the cream.
by Robert Burns
Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.