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by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

Cycling the Ring of Kerry – sometime after 04:00

A thin frame of bright light leaks out in the gap between the heavy drapes and the wall of the room.

You reach for the phone.


Too early.

Far too little sleep for what lies ahead.

You turn from the light.

Then back again.

And again.

By 5am you’ve admitted defeat and you rise.

You’ve laid out your kit already like a warrior preparing for battle. Getting into lycra is a challenge at any time but in the dim half light when you’re trying not to wake the Sleeping Beauty it’s damn near impossible. You abandon operations and head for the lighted loo. Soon you’re set. You stare fixedly in the mirror remembering Bill Cullen’s advice: “You’re marvellous” you intone but not aloud.

Don’t want to wake the Sleeping Beauty.

ROK departureBeatrice is already buzzing in the dining room when you  walk in around 5:15. Martin and Adrian are there already. There’s an elaborate buffet and the juices catch your interest.

Should you chance  a few shots of the prune juice?

Would you get the lycra off fast enough?

Beatrice brings the porridge and soon you’re all out front having your picture taken under the canopy of one of Ireland’s best hotels. This is your third Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle and you’re rigid with excitement.

06:15 Killarney Town Centre

The start and finish for the Ring of Kerry cycle have been switched this year to Killarney Town Centre and at 6:15 it’s busier than Dublin airport on a Monday morning. While the official start isn’t until 7:30 hundreds of lyrca clad men and women, many sporting the official 2013 shirt, are already passing under the start sign and embarking on this monumental 180km cycle. Spirits are high and chat flows easily as crowds freewheel through the brightly sunlight town, heading out past Pugin’s splendid spire into the magnificent mystery of a scenic circuit that has delighted millions including Queen Victoria herself.

It’s pleasantly downhill as far as Killorglin. The mountains are harmlessly resplendent in the rising sun, betraying no sense of how, shortly, they’ll tame your hubris and cure you of any false belief that this is an easy ride. This year the Ring of Kerry cycle takes you up the steep incline through the heart of Killorglin and experience the first pangs of pain. You drop quickly to the granny wheel pretending it’s all so easy and push on to Glenbeigh as the skies grow grayer

 Around 08:00

ROK Landscape50km and you’re still buoyed up by the sense of occasion. You relax into the moment and take in the awesome scenery. The gifts of the Holy Spirit come into your mind. From confirmation class, more than 40 years ago. “Wonder and awe in God’s presence”. That’s what this scenery inspires in you. The purity of that thought, however, is quickly supplanted by another. A baser consideration prompted by physiological needs. Adrian admits he never knew orange juice was a diuretic. You tell him your orange juice story. Then Mike Buckley siddles up to you. “I could hear you a mile away” he says as he glides onwards effortlessly.

By Cahirsiveen you’re all ready for the full Irish. The foreign waitress at the Ring of Kerry Hotel recognises you from last year and 3 middle aged men, evenly balanced both sides of 50, light up like 16 year olds. You eat greedily, your body craving calories.

Over 70km done, only 110km to go.

Time to move on.

Ring Kerry Cycle: About 10:30 

Joining the oncoming bike traffic is like merging at a busy junction on the M50 such is the volume and intensity of the flow. This year 8500 have officially registered and that doesn’t include the “squatters” who don’t register.

ROK MuckrossThe way up Coomakista is rendered shorter thanks to a lovely conversation with a great character from Killarney. Before long you’re half way up and feel no pain. It’s satisfying to look back and see the spiral path up the side of the mountain. Now it’s misty and you’re glad you’re wearing two layers against the chill of the climb. You reach the summit and keep going, delighting in the easy freefall on to Derrynane. Under grey and gloomy skies the monochromatic scenery takes your breath away, all mystery and magic  like a vintage black and white photograph.

ROK PeletonThen it’s  a blur into Sneem as the peaceful easy feeling of free fall gives way to painful hard labour on that final, nasty drag before the village. Nobody is saying anything now but the intensely irritating cycle clubs continue to weave past you with the ungracious arrogance of snowboarders on a ski slope. Sneem is magnificently chaotic with thousands of tired riders resting, refuelling and catching the second half of the Lions historic win in Australia. Spirits are rising again with 3/4 of the circuit complete although we’re apprehensive about being fried on Moll’s Gap as the sun makes its first appearance since early morning in Killarney.

Ring Kerry Cycle: About 14:00 – sun up again

From Sneem onwards you’re saddle sore and road weary. It’s the part you least like but you chat with Martin and the kilometres roll gently by. You reassemble in Kenmare and make final preparations for the the climb to Moll’s Gap. The sun is back and lights up the landscape like a garish John Hinde postcard from the 60s. You crawl upwards feeling the full impact of having endured 150km in the saddle. Not a word is spoken except for occasional words of encouragement. You round the corner and see Moll’s in the hazy distance, a target that now you believe you can reach. Strength comes back to you for the final kilometres and you reach the summit relieved but exhilarated.

ROK LadiesMoll’s to Killarney is always more difficult that you imagine. After the initial rush downhill there are a couple of  uphill drags and you feel them on your calves. You reassemble above Ladies View and take the picture that paints a thousand words.The endorphins rise to greet a gracious vista that has beguiled men and women for centuries. All pain goes away as you attack the long and winding road that leads you home.

Approx 17:00

Finish Line, KillarneyThe finish line this year is in the town centre and the final kilometres along the Muckross Road feel like a lap of honour. Musicians are positioned on the Laune Bridge and there’s a great Samba band at the finish line. Great event planning ensures you can park up your bike, get your certificate of completion and, importantly, eat some barn brack, a traditional staple of the Ring of Kerry. You head back to the Killarney Park and laze in the sun filled garden enjoying a long cold pint of Bulmers.

This has been an amazing day, a unique volunteer effort that raises much needed funds for local charities. It has grown from a tiny event involving 16 people 30 years ago to a major undertaking with 8500 cyclists and hundreds of volunteers who give their time and expertise for free. It showcases one of Ireland’s prettiest scenic routes and brings you face to face with communities for whom friendliness and hospitality is as natural as the beautiful scenery that surrounds them.

Padraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique consultancy firm working with hotels and destinations in all areas of marketing including digital


3 thoughts on “Cycling the Ring of Kerry – 180km in a day

  1. Derek Thornton says:

    Well Padraic , I am doing the Ring of Kerry cycle for the first time this year and have been doing lots of online research and i have to say your blog was one of the most enjoyable pieces i have read so far . If your doing the Ring of Kerry again then best of luck and take heart from the fact that its little pieces of writing like yours that inspires people to stay with it .

  2. Hazel Joy says:

    A insightful account of a testing event, Padraic, and an eloquent description of the beautiful landscape encountered along the way. Well done.

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment Hazel!

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