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Merthyr to Mayo Solidarity Bike Ride: Galway to Castlerea

By: 
Amelia Gregory

The first blog in a series detailing my adventures on a bike bound for Rossport Solidarity Camp in County Mayo, Ireland. Featuring a demo against the atrocities in Gaza, a Lidl carpark and Dallas style houses.

Written by Amelia Gregory

GKM Roadtrip Wales Velorution
My touring bike, kindly lent by Velorution.
GKM Roadtrip Galway Stop Shell

At the start of June I went on an exciting adventure to Ireland… on a borrowed bike from Velorution. It was a trip I’ve looked forward to for a long time because it combined two of my favourite things in the world. Or maybe three: Cycling (I love cycling A LOT), activism (we had a purpose) and being in lovely places with lovely people.

The Merthyr to Mayo bike ride was organised by a loose group of activists based around the country and included members of Bicycology, a cyclists’ collective who aim “to promote cycling and make links with wider issues of environmental and social responsibility”. This intrepid group of riders set off from the open cast coal mine at Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, armed only with an explanatory newspaper and lots of verve. The solidarity ride ended at Rossport in County Mayo, Ireland, thereby linking two communities who are resisting fossil fuel extraction, and educating other communities along the way.

Green Kite Midnight Roadtrip Wales
Green Kite Midnight Roadtrip Wales
Green Kite Midnight Roadtrip Wales
Mini ceilidh en route in Wales.

An added bonus of this trip was the opportunity to play with my ceilidh band Green Kite Midnight, since providing music for people to dance to at protests is the very reason for our existence. Luckily our banjo player Dom has bought a big ambulance which he has lovingly converted into a tour bus for the band – and thus we set off for Ireland via Wales, stopping to spend the night at the parental house of our bassist Tim, way up in the secluded Welsh mountains. It was then onward to Holyhead, where we caught the ferry over to Dublin and carried straight onto Galway to meet the rest of the crew, who were hastily organising a demo against the atrocities against the flotilla bound for Gaza.

GKM Roadtrip Galway Gaza
GKM Roadtrip Galway Gaza demo

We marched straight into the local branch of M&S (to draw attention to the chain’s affiliation with the development of the Israeli state) much to the bemusement of Irish security guards, clearly not used to such confident behaviour. We then joined a gathering in the street organised by locals, but were eventually rained into the closest pub and from there we retired early to a friendly local’s house, quickly to sleep in preparation for our 90km ride the next day.

GKM Roadtrip Galway Gaza
GKM Roadtrip Galway Gaza demo
GKM Roadtrip Galway Gaza
GKM Roadtrip Galway Gaza demo
Awaiting news in the pub… many people knew activists on the flotilla.

We had been warned that Irish roads are quite dangerous and on our first day I did feel a little less than wholly safe, stuck on a narrow hard shoulder as – head down, legs pumping – we powered through the countryside with little more than a brief break for lunch in a small town.

GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea
GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea

The main thing I noticed about rural Ireland is the predominance of ugly newbuild housing estates. Boy do the Irish like to build some shoddy housing! The more upmarket modern houses favour the architecture of American TV series such as Dallas from the 80s – amusing for their kitsch value if nothing else – but at the bottom end of the spectrum the Barrett home style identikit boxes are nothing short of a blot on the landscape.

GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea
GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea
Endless housing estates.
GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea
GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea
GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea

Like many other economies the Irish housing boom was completely unsustainable, and speculative construction has given way to half-finished housing estates fronted by signs that looked spangly a few years ago, now peeling and faded.

GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea
GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea
GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea

Okay, so I was a bit worried about the length of our first day’s ride with no preliminary warm up – but I needn’t have been. With nothing but a vista of endless stone walls, housing estates and crumbling barns (the Irish prefer new builds to renovations, apparently) to distract us from our mission, our little affinity group was one of the first to arrive at our final destination – the Lidl carpark at Castlerea. Being rather fast and meeting at Lidl – these were both to become a bit of a theme…

GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea Lidl
GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea Lidl

Once everyone had arrived at we we were herded up the longest steepest hill I’ve ever tackled with such a heavy load… and this after a long hard day too. I stayed on my bike to the very top but boy was I glad that I hadn’t brought my Pashley – it never would have made it.

GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea Pagan
GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea Pagan

At the top our destination was a gorgeous stretch of land bordered by woods, owned by some friendly Pagans who greeted us with lentil stew brewed for us in a cauldron over the fire surrounded by medieval-style tents. Our two nights spent on the hill top were characterised by excessive amounts of midges and late night music sessions. The intervening day was spent at Castlerea Prison, which you can read about in my next blog here.

GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea Pagan
GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea Pagan