This is a long blogpost with my 2021 in review
January : #100daysofcycling & #Keepwell and #KeepActive
With the 2nd(!) lockdown announced just before the new year, I really needed something to keep me going, and started my #100daysofcycling in January. I saw it through and saw amazing places. And I stayed sane..this then motivated me to explore further… once the lockdown was eased, I couldn’t wait to go explore.. All I remember are bright sunny days and incredible landscapes- oh- I want to go back!! To check out the places I visited, click here.
#Keepwell and #KeepActive
Galway Sports Partnership organized this exciting programme – I became the leader for the Peterswell/Gort Community and combined cycling with walking every day!
February : #RedRoute5
Back in January 2021, I saw a Bridge that Gap posted a note on Facebook that there was a public consultation to get feedback from the public to connect Athlone with Galway by means of Greenway/Cycleway.
When I saw the map, I noticed that one of the proposed routes, the Red Route ( because it was coloured red), was routed via Gort. I admit when I saw that, If had been on a bike, I would have fallen off it. But then I started to dream …..
Back in 2019 I cycled a lovely, safe route from Gort to Coolepark, I wrote about it here, and called it the #GortMiniGreenway – if we can have a Mini- Greenway, why not have a REAL Greenway
It was clear to me this was not an obvious choice, as all the other routes pretty much go via the middle of the country, some of them via old railway lines, and it was also the longest option, and there was also the added confusion with the yellow corridor… so we were outliers.
I recommend you read Malcolm Gladwell’s Book Outliers: the Story of Success ( Affiliate link)
The other communities had campaigned before, and as this outlier would be pretty much a Virgin Greenway ( as in not using previously made infrastructure) it nearly had a holy meaning to it all.
Still, having been part of the community here in South Galway for almost 20 years, there is an immense beauty, heritage, history, music and major potential for the development of the area and there are strong community groups! Rural regeneration must be prioritized before communities die( I hate to use that word, but the reality is that services in most of the smaller villages have been phased out with post offices and local shops closing and public transport tailed back) so except for the fact that people still live there, it has an eerie feeling at times.. ( sorry for the negativity here).
There is however the lifestyle factor, people wanting to exercise, get fit, and learn and explore their area — cycling and walking is ideal for that. Also, Failte Ireland seems to think this, and there is this massive shift from a far more experience bases experience, connected with places… and their people …
This time the development would have to be of a different nature, as constructing a huge factory up the Aughty Mountains just isn’t going to work is it.. So what else is there???
I guess I don’t have all the answers, but clearly Slow Tourism, sustainable tourism is high on the agenda of many.
For the next 6 weeks, we campaigned to create awareness of the opportunity/potential of the Greenway to come via South and East Galway.
Looking back ( as at the time it was all very agile as they say) 🙂
- I organized a zoom call with the 5 local councillors to formulate our plan to promote and advocate this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of investment in our region and to ask for their buy-in
- Set up a meeting with the project office, to understand what their priorities were and the scorecard used
- Set up a FB Group ( not a page)
- Set up a Free Website
- Set up Twitter/Instagram
- Agree on a few # to use #RedRoute5 #RedRouteCycleWay and later on #Route5IsAlive
- Engage with the community, their leaders , groups, Schools and not to forget, Businesses
When I say “we”, there were a few drivers ( and a lot of supporters!!!!) that decided to give this a go and pull out all stops to have a go at this opportunity – sure, what’s six weeks …
David Murray, who has done/is doing tremendous work on various local projects, including South Galway Vision, South Galway Floods Bio Gas Plan, and the very exciting Gort River Walk. He has long been involved with projects to do with water and rivers and has a large number of personal connections with farmers and locals in the area. His knowledge and expertise in this area, coupled with his ability to visualise and connect the proposed Greenway as a way to connect communities and other existing initiatives such as the Shannon Master Plan, really helped us to shape our vision. David created the website, added content, wrote blog posts and as the FB Group developed, added content that was being shared in the Facebook Group.
Katleen Bell-Bonjean ( Me), blogging on this website for 10 years, self-confessed social media addict, with an interest in business, enterprise. nature, tourism, and a newfound love for cycling. I set up a Facebook Group called Gort Cycle Trails to document Safe Cycle trails in the region of the Burren Lowlands. Languages are also my thing and have always worked in Pan European Enterprises, primarily looking after customers, using my languages( Dutch, French, German and English).I had been made redundant in November 2020, and had just successfully completed a Diploma in Digital Marketing. I had time, time I wouldn’t have now, as I recently started a new job:)
I looked after the Social Media Channels, created content and had a taste of what it must feel like to head up a fully-fledged social media campaign and also what it must feel like when you are canvassing ( for votes). The lockdown really limited our ability to really talk to people on the ground as the furthest we could travel was 5 km and there were Garda checkpoints in various places. Living where I live, this barely brings me to my nearest petrol station. I had brochures that were destined for Gort and Oranmore. To avoid the Garda checkpoints, I travelled from Gort via Kinvara and Ballinderreen to Kilcolgan, Clarinbridge and Oranmore. I was never so happy to make it to Oranmore where I handed over the brochures to Mairin O’Reilly from Bridge That Gap that would distribute them to some of the estates there. It gave me a taste of what it must feel when you are a fugitive.I called into as many businesses as possible and talked to anyone that was willing to listen. Though our Facebook group was hopping, people on the street that were not on Social Media had not heard about it or needed help to read the map with the 5 routes.
Karen O’Neill – Up until recently, I was volunteer secretary and Social media person at the Burren Lowland CLG, whose objectives are to make the region of the Burren Lowlands a better place to live, visit and work. During my time volunteering there I worked ( and still do) very closely with another gem of a person Karen O’Neill. Grassroots community activist and a master at connecting with so many people, built relationships, achieving a true shift in the region. Karen also loves cycling and took me on my earlier trips around Ardrahan. In 2019 Burren Lowlands was successful in applying for funding for an Enterprise Business developer, who recently opened the first Remote working, Covid proofed Enterprise hub in Gort called Forgeworks. Karen also drove the completion of the rejuvenation of the Gort Market Square. ( And other projects, Karen never runs out of ideas!!)
Our 5 local councillors supported our maverick campaign, and as the Facebook Group grew, people were adding stories and most importantly images of places, places that most of us, had never heard about before. There was a fervour in the area that I have never experienced, all rooting for the same aim…. Promoting the potential of the Greenway, which David Murray wrote about on our website here.
Some of the highlights for me were when Hilda O’Grady suggested we’d reach out to the schools in Gort and Kinvara. Northampton school did a great project on the Red Route.
An outdoor meeting in front of Sullivan’s hotel at the Gort Market Square that was only meant to be with 1 or 2 teachers, turned out in a much bigger event with several teachers, including the principal Brian Crossan, Aoife Lynskey Keane, Marian Gardiner and Clora Neilan with their Transition year students, all supporting the Red Route 5. I had asked Susanne Wunsch to call over to do one video. Suffice it to say Susanne did a few videos, below are just a few of them!
As the campaign grew to a close, Gort Community School produced this video – I loved it . For some reason I can’t embed it, you can check it out here!
The last few days were exhausting, I created lot’s of short videos, all encouraging people to submit their feedback…. It took me about 2 weeks to recover .. Was it worth it???
March & Dangerous driving
Now that I was really getting into exploring, I wanted to record where I was cycling. One of my sons had a GoPro ( he never used it) so I bought it off him and set off. I am glad to tell the tale, as I very nearly got killed. You can check out my article about how to report dangerous driving As a follow-up, I received an update in September that it was indeed a case of dangerous driving and awaiting court proceedings.
As there are 18 communities in the Burren Lowlands, I decided I’d go to each and find a loop I could cycle. I wasn’t disappointed. I found many… I started to document them, you can find them here. This was for me a profound experience and really took me to places I‘d seen on the #RedRoute5 such as Ballinderreen. Highlights were cycling from Corofin to Carron, Boston/Kilkeedy via Loughbunny and the Father Ted House, and a bit off the path, Tawin Island – seeing them for myself really made me realize what a beautiful area we really live in. ( written articles in progress) My only reservation was that it’s ONLY accessible by bike /or foot and large throngs of cars let alone coaches wouldn’t be viable.
I raised almost 1000 Euros for Cycle Against Suicide – a tribute to my funky anty Leen Bonjean in Belgium.
Gort Cycle Bus – Aoife Lynskey started an initiative for transition years to cycle from Ardrahan into Gort, I helped out as a marshal.
August – Visit to Belgium
Visiting my parents in Belgium in August, gave me the opportunity to cycle there with them, and see what the cycle infrastructure looks like ( and what e-bikes are all about). A few things jumped out for me… no one was wearing helmets or high Viz jacket, and it looked like everybody over 60 was given an Ebike( no, they weren’t), and only those under 18 were on a regular bike. Cycled a beautiful country route called Trappist route and had a beautiful day too.
I then went cycling in Ypres, as a friend of mine had asked me about Ypres/Ieper. I didn’t plan this very well( haha) and just caught the train, arrived in Ieper, rented an electric bike for the first time, no maps, no nothing. I followed a marked cycle route ( see markers) for the Vredesroute – 45 km – amazing cycle – great weather — it was an especially fantastic ride, as I had just had my final Zoom interview and was told I was starting a new job in September and that I got funding to set up a #bikeweek event too — hurray – persistency finally paid off. Feast of famine.. when it rains, it pours!
Seeing those marked signs, I thought to myself, maybe I should get markers for ( some) of my loops too – so that is my next plan
Around the same time, I also heard I was accepted on the Cyceright Training course ( evening course with a practical over a weekend)
September : Bikeweek and Cycleright Training Course
Bikeweek takes place in September, 30 people registered, 40 people turned up – it was truly a fabulous day…. Cycling our #GortMiniGreenway reminded me …what if we would get a Greenway ….Check out the write up here.
Completed the CycleRight Training course and took part in weekend practical – I am still dreaming about look – signal – look
November – Cyclist.ie Executive committee
I put myself forward as a new member of the Cyclist.ie executive team, as the voice for rural cycling in South Galway. The AGM took place and I was elected. I really look forward to working with other cycle advocates around Ireland, so much to learn!
Cycling the Limerick Greenway
The Limerick Greenway is the nearest Greenway to us, so a few of us got together to check it out. It was a particularly frosty morning, but it was dry.. And it was sunny…Great experience altogether
Cycling on this perfectly smooth surface, with windmills in the background my mind went into overdrive… we could have such views too if we are successful with our #RedRoute. I’ll be setting up an event soon, if you’d like to cycle the LimerickGreenway with others, sign up is here.
Big News #RedRoute5
Oh yes..so this was brewing in the background – the announcement was due on the 8th – I had been following the press, but didn’t have any insights… and then on the 6th of December, seemingly news had been leaked ahead of the “official “ announcement !! David Murray rang me to tell me that our route was chosen and I was sworn to secrecy… If I had been on my bike, I would have fallen off it. I was in disbelief… but also extremely ecstatic …. Omg …. We did it….
Within an hour of that conversation, the news was on Galway Bay FM. It was a Monday and poured myself a glass of wine to celebrate — when communities rally together, great results can be achieved! Check out the Blog article on our website for more detail!
The following day Galway County Councillor were briefed and announcements were made – Congratulations poured in… there were also many, many disappointed communities .. their disappointment was palpable. Really, all those proposed Greenways should be built( where possible) and serious investment and engineering is needed to once and for all have segregated cycle lanes — I am hopeful this will be the impetus for Galway County Council to really seize the day and do just that! I have always wondered if I have done anything to contribute to the next generation – my mind is at rest!
Having attended the #OranmoreChristmasCycle, I thought, why not set one up in Gort. So I set up #GortChristmasCycle via Eventbrite.. Sullivans Hotel sponsored hot drinks. I thought there would be a good turnout..I hadn’t expected 143!! People to join… also that day, blue skies and not a drop of rain… I will be forever grateful to Nadine Reichel for taking pictures, Karen and Sean for locating a Santa Costume and the many people that turned up and the marshals that helped out to.
On another note, we had planned to celebrate Christmas in Belgium- It’s been 6 years since we celebrated Christmas there…. Flights were booked… Coronavirus levels were so high again, and as my parents are turning 80 next year, we decided not to go to at Christmas and stay home instead. It’s all a bit blurry, but managed to watch 8 episodes of #MarriedatFirstsightAustralia. I have learnt that even when the “professionals” match you with your perfect partner, they get it wrong…. Before starting to watch episode 9, I Googled to find out about a few of the couples ( that I thought were getting on mighty), and found out it hadn’t worked out, so I didn’t watch the other episodes
It was my big birthday at the end of the year … it wasn’t the tuxedo party with bluegrass music and champagne I have been dreaming about – I am hopeful there will be a time in 2022 to have a garden party to do just that!
Thank you for reading & happy, healthy 2022!