Day 10: Sligo City to Donegal (86.4km)
"Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking," quoted the visionary Irish poet, WB Yeats, whose grave we passed as the rain fell on the 10th day of our all-Ireland end-to-end cycle. Taking these words to heart, our resolve remained strong as we attempted to fulfil this Irish challenge of a lifetime.
The cycle along the coast of Donegal was sublimely scenic yet throughout the day I couldn't help but sense a sinking feeling as I had 4 punctures - which neatly matches the amount of celebrity encounters throughout the 80km day. Four punctures! Just checked the Guinness Book of Records to see if this is indeed a first but sadly no records exist for such a ludicrous twist of bad fate.
Nonetheless it was a cracking day. We passed Drumcliffe Church within 30minutes of departing Sligo City. It's weird seeing a coffee-shop in the middle of a cemetery but I guess this is a measure of how famous Yeats was and how contemporary he remains. The tomb for such a literary luminary is remarkably simple. Inscribed with his name and life span plus a simple verse by way of an epitaph:
'Cast a cold Eye,
On Life, on Death,
Horseman pass by'.
A particular fan of Yeats was none other than the slightly downbeat yet legendary American songsmith, Leonard Cohen, himself a brilliant lyricist. There wasn't time however to visit a special garden dedicated to him at Lissadell House, nearby, where Cohen played a gig in 2010, as he pursued a fascination for this region and Yeats.
All was going very well by this stage as we swept around a stunning coastal headland. The sea was steely-grey and the rain fell but the views along sweeping sandy bays punctuated by fingers of lava were suitably poetic. Around the time of our the first 'brew stop' for coffee and patisseries there are distant views to a very large castle called Classiebawn. I can't offer a shot as the grounds are huge and the castle well set back and distant in poor light. But it was off this coast in 1979 when its owner of the time - Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, was assassinated offshore by the IRA as his boat was blown up.
Its not long thereafter passing more curved beaches with boisterous surf that my day's moments of puncture madness began in Ballyshannon - where a statue exists to mark the birthplace of the famous Irish song-writer and multi-instrumentalist, Rory Gallagher. I'd run over some glass and had two punctures. A few miles further on, after passing Peter and Carol, who'd also endure a double puncture, and my new front inner-tube burst so loudly I terrified a family sitting on the beach. Five miles later down the road ... another flat!
Still, I made it into Donegal, a compact little town with some nice ruins - not least the castle of Red Hugh O' Donnell, from the late 15th-century, a chieftain of Donegal, who fought the invading British. The castle was said to have been set ablaze by him in 1592 rather than let it fall into English hands.
Two more days now to go and I'll leave the final words with Yeats, an eminently more eloquent writer than your's truly...
"Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame..."
Okay, okay, fine words.... but could WB Yeats mend a puncture?