What I learnt in Kilty – Leitrim Cycling Festival 2021

I learnt that I will never win a slow bicycle race 
Or ride a penny farthing
And that cycling round and round 
a village roundabout is mesmerising

I learnt that a colourful friend 
is the key to colourful gear
And that for some, moving clouds
is something you can hear

I learnt you can take a line for a cycle
And that bikes are instruments too
And cycling up hill is not easy 
after two platefuls of stew

I learnt you can fit six people on a single bicycle
(according to the Rock)
And that wise men like Ken
know how to take a knock

I learnt that the Tottenham Estate 
cleverly grew within their grounds
pineapples and lemons
while famine raged all around

I learnt that the ‘nuachta’ of old was always the ‘buamai’ in Belfast

I learnt that the fiercest streets of Dublin 
are learning to care
and that within every community  
there are gardens to share

I learnt that when the measurements are wrong 
a curry feast can go on 
and on and on..

I learnt that ‘Kilty Live’ 
brought life to the street
and watched with glee as the Wandering Bandstand 
brought people to their feet

I learnt that the pub has only 24 pint glasses

I learnt that you can dance in the rain
with the Cosmos in an awning
and that sticks for the fire 
can be delivered at two in the morning

I learnt that Leitrim
is even more beautiful than I knew
And that Kilty can definitely 
teach me a thing or two

So thank you Kilty
From all of us cycling crew



Jo Sachs-Eldridge


A poem inspired by a wonderful weekend 
of playing, listening and gathering stories
 inspired by the 
Human-on-a-Bicycle Library project








Love your bike!

The bicycle is an object of love for so many reasons.

Are there many other items that were in everyday use a century ago and are equally so today? Can you think of a means of transport that is suitable for a three-year-old and a ninety-three-year-old, that is at home amid gleaming skyscrapers and rural Rothar Roads?  Is there another invention as versatile, convenient, space-saving, cheap to run, good for you and as gentle on the planet? Most of all is there another invention which is as much fun!

For the week that’s in it, when love is in the air, we want to pay homage to the love bicycle owners everywhere feel for their chariot by posting two poems on the theme of bicycles. We do this by kind permission of the author and poet, Bernadette McCarrick. The poems are taken from Bernadette’s most recent collection of poems “To Walk in My Native Place New and Selected Poems”

Bernadette is an award-winning poet, and this is her third collection. The other two were “My Fathers Barn” 2009 and “A Swan in Flight” 2015.  This latest book was completed in collaboration with her brother Pat McCarrick who took the photographs which accompany the poems. Pat is also Chairperson of Sligo Greenway Co-op.

We hope you will love the poems as much as we did and that you too might pen a poem to celebrate the love of your bike or share a photo of bikes being used and loved by you or previous generations.

Celebrate this Valentine’s Day with #LoveYourBike and #NowAndThen.

We look forward to seeing the love!

Learning to Cycle

Although it had been lowered

the saddle on my mother’s bike

was still a bit too high.

So, I stood on the pedals and pushed

took hold of handlebars with grips

for steering, for veering into grass

hoping for a softer place to fall.

My first trip was a hundred yards

of squeal and freewheel and after

ten or twelve of these

with all the balances achieved

the next run was a country mile

of triumph to the local shop

for liquorice and sugar barley.

My lap of honour took me

three miles down the road

and I was an eight-year old

arriving for the first time

on my own

at my grandfather’s house

where I was welcomed

with a silver coin, a trophy

better than Olympic gold.

Midsummer’s Day

On this hot midsummer’s day

here he comes again

the same man

who wheels his bike to town

the bike his prop

his beast of burden

for carrying his purchases

for leaning on

while he halts

where it’s cool

under the copper beech

while he stops

to chat to people

tending their gardens

while he takes

a break at Boyle Abbey

on the bridge

resting

one elbow on the saddle

before continuing on his way

breath by managed breath

back home.

Poems copyright: Bernadette McCarrick; Pat McCarrick (Photographs)

“To Walk in My Native Place New and Selected Poems”- published by Mayo Books, Castlebar Co Mayo, Ireland (www.mayobooks.ie) September 2020 and available to order from Mayo Books, Liber Sligo, Foxford Woollen Mills and Reading Room Carrick on Shannon.

Whose line is it anyway?

In this article, Jo Sachs-Eldridge from the Leitrim Cycling Festival and Cyclist.ie reflects on the importance of good design and how we might achieve it using the input of diverse voices. 

The announcement of additional funding to create almost 300 jobs in active travel is a very exciting step towards a more sustainably mobile Ireland – as we reported here . 

As the Minister for Transport notes ‘Developing high quality walking and cycling facilities will encourage more people to switch to active travel and will contribute to tackling climate change. Really good design is what is needed to connect communities and make walking and cycling attractive, safe and accessible to everyone.’

He is absolutely right we need really good design. But we also need to consider the questions of who determines whether this is really good design? Who gets to make those decisions? Who is involved in the whole process of design? Are everyone’s voices being heard – particularly those who may not traditionally engage in the process such as women, young people, people with disabilities and other people who may be even more significantly impacted by the quality of the infrastructure. 

As noted in the recent TII ‘’ report, ‘Travelling in a Woman’s Shoes’, “Transport is often seen as gender neutral, providing benefit to all equally. However a growing body of international research highlights that this is not the case. Women and men can have different needs, constraints and expectations for using transport”.

Really good design is often a highly complex process with no definitive right answer but lots of wrong answers. There is guidance out there, good guidance, but that doesn’t guarantee good design. We know that. So how do we now do things differently? 

My experience in Cardiff, where I previously managed the programme for cycling, is that engaging with the right people at the right time is key to good design. It sounds simple and in some ways it is. But to do it right requires a considerable amount of time and effort. Every aspect needs to be considered – the timing, the information, the audience, the wording, the method. But the time and effort invested will make a considerable difference to the result.  

Because good cycle design is all about lines. To start with are the desire lines of the people who live, shop, work, play, learn in a place. The desire lines matter but they are not the only ‘lines’ that need to be considered. 

We also need to think about the line taken on introducing innovative design; the line we take on deviating from the status quo; on reallocating road space; on removing parking spaces; on reducing the capacity of a junction for motorised private vehicles; on prioritising active travel road users over motorised traffic. 

And then there are all the detailed lines, the lines that can get so easily lost in translation – every millimetre of road space reallocated, every kerbline, every sign installed, every barrier is another decision. Another line.  

Who makes these decisions? 

Who draws these lines? 

There is a myriad of conflicting needs and wants and a myriad of potential decision makers. 

And there are no simple answers. 

The only way we get can this right, the only way we can overcome these conflicts and draw the best possible ‘lines’ is through engagement and collaboration with as many people as possible at every stage of the development. 

From my experience I would argue we need: 

  • strategic cycle network plans developed in collaboration with the people who matter and based on real desire lines; 
  • the integration of these network plans with all other relevant local area and national plans; 
  • routes that are designed based on best practice and through collaborative design workshops that involve all relevant parties – members, internal officers, external stakeholders – all with a clear understanding of the ambitions of the scheme;
  • community street audits or walk-throughs incorporated into the design process – for both internal officers and external stakeholders; 
  • simple audit tools to allow a broader and wider range of people to be involved in the process and to ensure that no aspect of high quality design is overlooked; 
  • effort made to ensure that voices from those harder to reach groups are heard – the right lines to be drawn by the right people at the right time.  

We know that designing for the expedient movement of car drivers no longer fits with our policies, our future plans, our targets, or our long term sustainability. 

Cycling benefits all of us regardless of who is doing the pedalling through the reduction in congestion, pollution, pressure on the health service and improved community cohesion. 

Key to developing a high quality cycle network that will have an impact on travel behaviour is the answer to the question ‘whose line is it anyway?’

In order to create quality networks that make cycling an attractive option we must make the time and effort to engage with everyone that matters.

As ultimately no one has a claim to the line.

It is all of ours. 

Photo credit: Luciana Prado

Have your say in the ‘Vision for Cycling in Rural Ireland’

As printed in the Leitrim Observer 26th August 2020

Over the last few months a new group has been established in Ireland – the Rural Cycling Collective.

This Collective is made up of members of cycling campaigns/clubs/festivals from all over the country and is part of Cyclist.ie, the well established national cycling advocacy group. The Collective was set up to give a voice to people who live and cycle outside of the cities and to rebalance the debate on active travel so more of those everyday journeys by bike and on foot across rural Ireland are enabled and supported.

The Rural Cycling Collective’s first action was to produce a Vision document that encapsulates what they believe needs to happen to enable more people to cycle and walk more often.

Jo Sachs-Eldridge, organiser of Leitrim Cycling Festival, led the creation of the ‘Vision for Cycling in Rural Ireland’.

Jo is passionate about the group having a shared vision “From my experience in Wales as both a Transport Planner who specialised in walking and cycling and an active travel campaigner I felt it was hugely important for us to create this Vision so that we had a clear set of ‘asks’ and spoke with one voice.”

“It has been such a privilege to be part of such a positive, proactive group. The creation of our draft Vision for Cycling in Rural Ireland, has been a wonderful collaborative effort that has brought together those that have an intimate knowledge of every policy document related to cycling in Ireland, alongside those who have experience of cycling in rural Ireland and those who have big dreams of what we could do to make change happen.”

“The clearer we are about what we want the easier it will be for our representatives to make that happen, particularly now that there is so much more funding available for active travel.”

The Rural Cycling Collective are keen to get more people involved and for as many people as possible to have their say on the draft Vision before it is presented to the Dail in late September.

Jo added “We know that the strength of this Vision will come from the gathering of knowledge and ideas from everyone, not just those within the group but also those who have yet to get involved. That’s why we have published it as a draft so that others can help shape it before the final Vision is taken to our representatives. We want them to know that this is a truly collective vision.”

The draft Vision for Cycling in Rural Ireland has 8 priorities. It calls on Local and National Government to –

  •         Create an environment in our towns, villages, and rural roads where cyclists are expected and respected
  •         Create and map useful, connected cycle routes throughout Local Authority areas
  •         Implement best practice design so that routes are safe and comfortable for all ages and abilities
  •         Create safe cycle routes to school and car-free zones at school gates
  •         Lower Speed Limits to make our roads and streets safer and more accessible for everyone, and to reduce casualties
  •         Ensure clear and timely access to funding by improving capacity at all stages of local and national government
  •         Collaborate with all stakeholders including cycling and community groups at all stages of planning and design
  •         Provide Cycle Training for all ages especially children

 

‘A vision for cycling is a vision for the future’

Taken together these measures would transform active travel throughout Ireland. The co-benefits would include improvements to health, safety, congestion, air-quality, noise levels, and the public realm.  More cycling will also help us to meet our climate change obligations.

Leitrim Cycling Festival invites everyone – people who cycle, people who don’t cycle, want-to-be cyclists, mums, dads, planners, councillors, Ministers and An Taoiseach – to get involved in shaping this vision and helping to make it a reality.

To find out more, add your support, share your feedback go to http://cyclist.ie/ruralvision/

The start of a new rural Cycle Bus

As printed in the Leitrim Observer 26th August 2020.

Leitrim Cycling Festival’s small bike ride last Saturday may have seemed like an inauspicious event but it may just be the start of a small revolution. Thanks to the ‘Get to School on Your Own Fuel’ initiative being run by Cyclist.ie, the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network, groups all over the country have been taking part in practice runs to schools. The initiative is running from the 15th to the 28th August with events and a scavenger hunt competition to encourage families to practice their route before the schools start back.

Throughout the summer, children have been out cycling in their local neighbourhoods, going to parks, meeting friends, and enjoying the freedom and fresh air. With the return to classrooms in September, the advocacy groups want to highlight the opportunities for more children and students to cycle, walk, scoot or skate safely to school.

Key to getting more children to get back to school ‘on their own fuel’ is the familiarisation of routes from home to school.

Last Saturday 22nd August, Leitrim Cycling Festival in conjunction with parents from Cootehall National School including Emily from Artwood, Sarah from Donal Neary & Co. Accountants and Mo from Hullaballoo, organised a short bike ride from Cootehall Village to the school and back. Gerry from Trailblazers met them at the school where he gave a short workshop on how to carry out a simple m-check of your bike to make sure its road worthy before heading off on a ride.

As a result of the practice run two of the parents in Cootehall School will be starting a regular Friday morning bike ride to the school from the village. This means that an extra 5 children at least will be arriving at school having had a blast of fresh air and exercise to start the day. Studies have shown improvements in performance in school for those who cycle and the active start creates energy that helps concentration levels[i]. It also saves money, reduces congestion during the school drop-off, encourages independence and can be a lot of fun!

There are already active cycle buses in places like Galway, Limerick and Dublin. The idea is simple – a group of parents and children ride along a set route, at a set time with set pick up points, just like a bus. The number of parents required will depend on the size of the group and the complexity of the route but it is recommended that there be at least one parent front and back.

Mat Warren, of Leitrim Cycling Festival and a cycle trainer, will be on hand for the first cycle bus to Cootehall National School on Friday 4th September to help make sure the parents involved are comfortable leading the group.

If any parents in Cootehall National School would like to get involved or find out more about the Friday morning Cootehall Cycle Bus they can contact Christine or Emily.

Organiser of Leitrim Cycling Festival, Jo Sachs-Eldridge, said

“As someone whose day job used to be designing cycle routes, I’ve loved seeing so many more kids and families out on bikes this summer. We are so lucky to live in places where the roads are still relatively lightly trafficked and the distances between our schools, towns and villages mean that the bicycle can be a real alternative to the car.”

“This national campaign to ‘Get to School on Your Own Fuel’ is a fantastic initiative to give people the chance to practice their route to school before the September rush. It would be wonderful for more families to discover what might be possible. Even if they then only do it a few times a week, or even a few times a month, it all makes a difference.”

The network of cycling groups, of which Leitrim Cycling Festival is a member, are calling on schools to provide space for secure bicycle parking. They will be contacting all local authorities and the National Transport Authority with a request to support and fund this initiative where possible and are encouraging parents to do the same.

As set out in the Vision for Cycling in Rural Ireland (http://cyclist.ie/ruralvision/), cycling groups want to see all agencies and organisations remove barriers to cycling and walking by reducing speeds of car drivers, creating segregated routes where needed and installing other infrastructure to make walking and cycling an attractive, safe option. The groups will also be contacting all local authorities to ask that they implement as a matter of urgency 30 km/h speed limits in all urban areas especially around schools.

ENDS

REFERENCES / NOTES

Get to School on Your Own Fuel www.cyclist.ie/school

National Scavenger Hunt Competition  www.cyclist.ie/school

A Vision for Cycling in Rural Ireland. https://cyclist.ie/ruralvision/

 

[i] https://www.edu-quip.co.uk/blog/4-benefits-of-cycling-to-school-and-why-we-should-all-get-involved

 

The Rural Cycling Collective and why its worth shouting about it!

In recent months I have had the absolute privilege of being part of an exciting new group of groups – the Rural Cycling Collective. This Collective is made up of members of cycling campaigns/clubs/festivals from all over the country and is part of Cyclist.ie, the well established national cycling advocacy group. The Collective was set up to give a voice to people who live and cycle outside of the cities.

And it turns out there are lots of people cycling for everyday journeys all over rural Ireland. And not only are there lots of people cycling but they are also really passionate about making change happen to enable more people to cycle to work, to school, to the shops, to visit friends, to do all of those everyday journeys by bike (and on foot) wherever possible.

Why is it worth shouting about this group?

Not only because it gives a much needed voice to those who traditionally haven’t been heard but because of the nature of the group itself.  Why?

  • The Collective focuses on strengths. As a collective we bring many different skills, knowledge and expertise to the table. The group has started from a place of strength by asking everyone to share what they can bring so we can immediately make use of all of those skills and all of that knowledge in all that we do.
  • The Collective is open to new ideas. The group was created to fill a gap – a voice for cycling in rural areas – but did not have a fixed idea of what exactly that might look like.  This ability to create a space and allow the strategy to emerge has already enabled lots of wonderful ideas to come to the fore, ideas that may never have been shared if the group started with a fixed agenda.
  • The Collective is positive. So often campaigners can get so caught up in campaigning against things that sometimes they can lose sight of what they are campaigning for. This Collective has started by creating a positive vision of what we want and what we think needs to happen to get us there. This vision will give a coherency to our group and a focus for future actions. Find our more here – A vision for cycling in rural Ireland.
  • The Collective works collaboratively. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and the nature of our group our first action, the creation of our Vision, has been a wonderful collaborative effort that has brought together those that have an intimate knowledge of every policy document related to cycling in Ireland alongside those who have experience of cycling in rural Ireland and those who have big dreams of what we could do to make change happen.
  • The Collective is based on the power of collective intelligence. Similar to the previous point the group knows that its power will come from the gathering of knowledge from everyone, not just those within the group but also those who have yet to get involved.  For this reason  we are publishing our Vision document as a draft as we want other people to also have an opportunity help shape the vision and get involved in making it a reality.
  • The Collective is hugely action focused. Thanks to the leadership the group is high energy and highly action focused. This is definitely not a talking shop, this is a group that’s moving fast!

As a former transport planner and now a life coach I am incredibly excited by the potential of this Collective. It feels like a wonderful combination of planning alongside a strengths-focused, action-focused, future-focused group. That focus on strengths, action and the future is at the core of coaching and is something I know will help us have an impact.

If you would like to get involved give us a shout – we would love to hear from you!

You can contact me on jsachseldridge@gmail.com or get in touch with the group via https://cyclist.ie/contact-us/

A vision for cycling in rural Ireland

photo collageDuring the lockdown period of restricted travel one widely remarked phenomenon countrywide was the large increase in the numbers of people of all ages out walking and cycling. A desire to retain that peace and freedom, together with the promise by the new coalition government of an annual €360 million spend on walking and cycling infrastructure has led to the formation of a new Rural Cycling Collective.  Comprising an array of groups and individuals under the umbrella of the wider national Cyclist.ie advocacy network, the group is focussed on making rural communities (towns, villages, and rural roads) cycle-friendly for all ages and abilities. It aims to rebalance the debate on active travel so that everyday journeys by bike across rural Ireland are enabled and supported.

“A VISION FOR CYCLING IS A VISION FOR THE FUTURE”

Jo Sachs-Eldridge, organiser Leitrim Cycling Festival, said “This vision document aims to promote and celebrate everyday cycling in, towns, villages and their surrounding areas.  The Rural Cycling Collective are working together to highlight the needs of areas outside of major cities. We are campaigning for fair distribution of transport funding to regional parts of the country to make cycling for all ages and abilities a reality.   Our 8 identified priorities have the potential to completely transform communities.”

“RURAL CYCLING COLLECTIVE HAS 8 PRIORITIES”

The collective is calling on Local and National Government to –

  •         Create an environment in our towns, villages, and rural roads where cyclists are expected and respected
  •         Create and map useful, connected cycle routes throughout Local Authority areas
  •         Implement best practice design so that routes are safe and comfortable for all ages and abilities
  •         Create safe cycle routes to school and car-free zones at school gates
  •         Lower Speed Limits to make our roads and streets safer and more accessible for everyone, and to reduce casualties
  •         Ensure clear and timely access to funding by improving capacity at all stages of local and national government
  •         Collaborate with all stakeholders including cycling and community groups at all stages of planning and design
  •         Provide Cycle Training for all ages especially children

Taken together these measures would transform active travel throughout Ireland. The co-benefits would include improvements to health, safety, congestion, air-quality, noise levels, and the public realm.  More cycling will also help us to meet our climate change obligations. “We can be a voice for areas of Ireland that have not realised the potential of cycling for everyday activities, cycling to school for children and students, to work, to the shops and so much more. We need to change how we develop our towns, villages and rural roads and we need our collective voice to be heard” said Jo Sachs-Eldridge.

The Rural Cycling Collective are calling on everyone – cyclists, non-cyclists, want-to-be cyclists, mums, dads, planners, councillors – to get involved in shaping this vision and helping to make it a reality.

To find out more, add your support, share your feedback go to

www.cyclist.ie/ruralvision

 

AIMS

The Cyclist.ie Rural Cycling Collective plans to foster collaboration amongst cycling groups across Ireland and to jointly lobby local authorities and public representatives for the changes which will entice more people to choose the bicycle for everyday activities.  They will also work towards a cycle-friendly Ireland by collaborating with all stakeholders, organising regular events, fun-cycles and campaign actions.

MORE INFO

Further information is available here:

www.cyclist.ie/ruralvision

Our manifesto can be found here:

https://cyclist.ie/2020/07/a-vision-for-cycling-in-rural-ireland/

Leitrim Cycling Festival – its working!

Leitrim Cycling Festival 2019, held in Drumsna from Friday 21st June to Sunday 23rd June, was another great success. On the banks of the river Shannon and steeped in a fascinating history, Drumsna proved to be the ideal location for the festival with it’s surrounding dense network of quiet roads and most important of all, it’s very welcoming and talented community.

The festival programme included film screenings (Jimmy’s Hall and Why We Cycle), live music from The Knotted Chords and special guests, Babz & Chris and John & Kate, dancing with Aideen Burke (a local award winning Sean-nós dancer) and local djs Fuzzz and Sweetcup, a family picnic, bike maintenance with Trailblazers, the hilarious slow bicycle race, a bike art workshop, the stunning wooden bikes handmade by local craftsman Jim Gannon, the solar powered bike built by Peter Schneider, a guided walk with local historian, Noel Duignan and of course lots of lovely cycles on the quiet roads to nearby towns and villages. There was also lots of great food, tea and delicious homemade cakes.

Leitrim Cycling Festival is organised by people with a passion for cycling, building local communities and showcasing all that this beautiful county has to offer. And its working!

Festival goers came from all over the county, all over the country and all over the world including people from Manorhamilton, Kildare, Mullingar, Dublin, Boston, New Zealand, France and more.

The feedback so far shows that the festival is not only encouraging people to get out on their bikes, it’s also demonstrating the power of communities and showcasing the beauty of the whole county of Leitrim.

Below is a selection of comments from festival goers demonstrating the impacts of the festival on tourism, transport, health, communities and more.

Aaron, a postman from Kildare, came to the festival for the first time this year with his wife and two boys said “It was also our first time to see Leitrim up close, having only driven through in the past.  On Saturday we cycled the 16km loop to Carrick on Shannon, all on our own bikes.  It was Mark’s (5years) longest cycle to date, about 19km including in and around town. 

I really enjoyed cycling the quiet roads with children

“Stand out favourites for me were the friendliness of all who attended both volunteers and cyclists, the various musicians  be it in the pub or on street,  the cycle itself and most of all I think…the quay in Drumsna, what a view!

The boys favourites were the bike dressing up, slow bike race and Mark’s longest cycle yet.  

We will definitely be back again next year!”

A couple living in north Leitrim, who have recently acquired a tandem said “We absolutely loved the Leitrim Cycling festival, it was great.

I’ve actually only ever passed through Drumsna before now, so it was nice to stop and get to know the place a bit, excellent area for cycling, great network of small back roads with little traffic.

I thought the film was great and the popcorn being served out was just the icing on the cake!

I really liked the fact that it was all age inclusive, it worked really well.”

Declan from Mullingar saidMy friend and I arrived just in time to join up with others for the Drumsna-Sheemore  loop cycle which was one of the nicest and  most scenic we have been on for years.

Fiona, who is originally from Limerick but living in New Zealand for the past 25 years said “Last year’s festival was the first time I had ever been to Leitrim, I loved it so much I came back again for this year’s festival and next week I’m taking my elderly parents for a week holiday by the canal in Leitrim Village

A couple from Boston who found the festival while cycle touring in Ireland said on their blog We then followed lovely back roads to Drumsna where we joined the Leitrim Bike Festival. ..it turned out to be delightful, and an inspiration to see what a small community of cyclists can do together.

Kate, a local mum, who was inspired by the festival to get a bike seat for her 2 year old said “We loved the cycling festival and have been cycling every day since. Leitrim will cycle again!”

The festival really is helping to showcase Leitrim and get people on their bikes!

The festival organisers would like to thank all their sponsors for making this year’s festival possible – Waterways Ireland, Leitrim Tourism, Leitrim Sports Partnership, Sugru, Jim McMorrow Solicitors and Energy Efficiency Experts. Thank you also to all those who donated – Oasis Health Foods, Noel’s Bakery, Trailblazers and Showers Pass clothing. Another huge thank you to the wonderful staff of Drumsna Community Resource Centre for allowing the festival to make use of their beautiful building and of course to all the residents of Drumsna, all the fabulous volunteers and festival goers for making Leitrim Cycling Festival 2019 such a great success!

As it is a roving festival, alternating between north and south Leitrim and being held in different locations each year it is a great way to explore the county. And a community in north Leitrim have already asked the festival to come its way next year…watch this space!

 

Why cycling matters and why Greenways are not the only answer

As a former transport planner I know cycling matters. Cycling in cities as an alternative to driving is the answer to so many of our transport related problems – traffic congestion, ever increasing journey times, parking space requirements and poor air quality.

But cycling in rural Ireland is a different beast. In rural Ireland we don’t generally have the same problems – there is little, if any, congestion, parking spaces are not such a premium and air quality is not as poor.

But in both city and country, driving a car remains a significant contributor to our carbon emissions. And using a bike, as an alternative, has an impact on our physical and mental health, wherever we are. Cycling in rural Ireland still matters. And cycling should be seen as a real alternative.

However since moving back home to Ireland I was disappointed to see the shift to a national cycling strategy that focuses almost entirely on Greenways. Greenways are wonderful. And the ones I’ve cycled on have been designed beautifully. But in rural Ireland, Greenways are not the only answer.

We don’t need to wait for Greenways before we can get out on a bike or even before we let our kids out on a bike. The Greenways, as wonderful as they may be, contribute to this idea – that the only safe place to cycle is on traffic free paths.

Yet here in rural Ireland we have an enviable dense network of smaller roads ripe for cycling. These are lightly trafficked, generally have good surfaces and they already go virtually everywhere. What we need is for these smaller roads (‘Rothar Roads’) to be reclaimed as roads where bicycles are expected and respected. What we need is for the people who use them to travel at a speed that would allow them to react to a cyclist around any corner.

Improved infrastructure is of course welcome but huge gains can be made by simple improvements such as lower speed limits, better signs and more training for everyone (cyclists and drivers) so that they have the skills and confidence to interact with all road users. These small changes could lay the ground work for a real shift in the way people travel.

I started Leitrim Cycling Festival to celebrate bicycles and to showcase what we already have to offer here in Leitrim – inspiring local communities all connected by miles and miles of roads almost perfect for cycling. Roads that take you from village to town, roads that take you to the shops, to work, to school, to the hills and hidden beauty spots. Roads where you can often cycle for miles without meeting another soul.

Of course there will always be journeys for which the bicycle is not the answer and there are people for which cycling may not be an option but there are many, many journeys being made every day by car which could be made by bike (and even more so by electric bike), using infrastructure that already exists.

Cycling matters. And we may already have the means to make it matter more.
________________________________________________________________________________

Leitrim Cycling Festival runs from 21 st -23 rd June 2019 in the village of Drumsna, Co. Leitrim.

http://www.leitrimcyclingfestival.com
https://www.facebook.com/leitrimcyclingfestival
leitrimcyclingfestival@gmail.com
Jo Sachs-Eldridge jsachseldridge@gmail.com / 085-8161653

Jo Sachs-Eldridge was a member of the Welsh Government national advisory group for the development of the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 Delivery Guidance and a member of the team that authored the accompanying Design Guidance.

Rothar Road

Leitrim Cycling Festival 2018

Leitrim’s second leisurely hiking and cycling festival enjoyed fabulous weather over the solstice weekend. Hosted by the villages of Manorhamilton and Dromahair the festival attracted visitors from near and far with touring cyclists visiting from Argentina, New Zealand and  America, with more local visitors cycling from Kiltoghtert, Boihy and Rossinver.

There was something for everyone at this festival, kicking off on Friday evening with well attended talks by William Bennet and Mary Russell in the Glens Centre.  William Bennett entertaining the audience with tales of adventure, and photographs, from his three year round the world cycle. Travel writer Mary Russell spoke about her travels in Syria before the war.

Some of the festival cyclists camped in Manorhamilton that night after the talks.  Manorhamilton’s Community Cafe, the Castle Cafe, opened it’s doors and grounds to the visitors on Saturday morning, the garden was a beautiful intimate setting where festival goers congregated. Events on Saturday morning included a touring bicycle display and a printing workshop run by Manorhamilton print group.  For the energetic there was a morning cycle run in the hills surrounding Manorhamilton, the cyclists commented on the beauty of the area and the steepness of the hills. By mid morning Paddy Bloomer’s “Scary go Round” , like a scene from a funny children’s story book, was in full swing, accompanied by music by the ‘Knotted Cords’ from Waterford.  Margaret Connolly led a fascinating historical tour of the village. There was a family cycle to Lurganboy where the Woods provided a beautiful environment for a picnic.

Mid-afternoon cyclists mounted their bikes again and, once more, took on the challenge of the Leitrim Hills, heading for Dromahair.  The route, chosen for quiet roads and scenery, went via Lurganboy, Shanvas Cross, on to Parkes Castle and along the lake to Dromahair, showcasing the unique beauty of North Leitrim in the afternoon sun.  After setting up camp in DARC, Dromahair visitors explored the village, stopping in local shops, restaurants and pubs for sustenance.

Later that evening with 15 tents pitched, most of the cyclists hit off for a bit of dancing and craic at the crossroads being St. John’s night, where there was music, singing, eating, chatting and dancing with a few talented cyclists joining in the entertaining.

The cycle back was magical, we were like a caravan of cyclists in a tribe, pedaling back in the dark to the village in terrific spirits full of the joys that infects the spirit by being on a bike!!

Up and about early as the sun shone warm on the tents and enjoyed a tasty freshly cooked barbecue Irish breakfast to set everybody up for the day ahead on the greenway where circus themed costumes entered one in a fancy dress competition. Bikes got decorated as well as helmets and babies before assembling at the ‘Demo Stretch’ at 2pm for some theatre by the Rabbit’s Riot about a grown woman who cannot cycle but has grown a steely determination to do so by June 2019, so watch this space!

This was followed by a ‘parade of cycles’, bicycles, tandems, unicycles, folding bikes, black nellies, tricycles were wheeled past the judges who had the challenging task of choosing the best dressed cycle and cyclist.

There was a trombone player beating out a tune from the lofty heights of the ‘Twisted’ beech tree as the slow bicycle race course was measured out and ribbons put in place underneath. Around the corner at Edergole Cottage the Old Market Street Swing Band entertained the crowd gathered who enjoyed home made scones and tea served in the marquee.

The next treat in store for the crowd was the launch of ‘Gluais Linn’, Dromahair’s very own trishaw which was cycled over the adjacent stony bridge with 2 distinguished passengers enjoying the experience of gliding through the beautiful countryside in the sun.

The Cycling Festival came to a close as the cyclists took off to the band’s aptly chosen ‘King of the Road’.