If you ever happen to be on the roadside at any major cycling event you will often hear the shout of “Chapeau” from your fellow cycling spectators. It’s a French term (literally translated as “hat”) that offers encouragement or admiration and essentially means “I doff my hat to you”. When the 45 amateur cyclists taking part in the “On Yer Bike” charity cycle in memory of Stephen Carroll gathered on the morning of 3rd September, they each had a small photograph of Stephen with the caption “Chapeau” on each of their bicycles. 360 kilometres and 3 days in the saddle lay ahead and this group would take all the good will that it could get.
Popular local businessman Stephen Carroll succumbed to cancer in 2013 and his devastating loss left a family and community in mourning. His close friend, Eoin Doohan, wanted to do something in memory of Stephen and organised a charity bike ride that would take riders from the Carroll home in Blackrock to Liscannor in Eoins native county of Clare. The charity cycle would raise much needed funds for cancer charities and bring a group of people together in a united memory of a close friend and family member.
Among the riders heading off that morning were Stephens’s wife Breffnie, his brother David and sisters Michelle and Edel. All gear was double checked and the support drivers, who all volunteered their time for this worthy cause, took off ahead to the cheers of all the locals who came out to see off this brave group. Clad in the Louth colours the main group quickly split into three smaller groups to allow everyone to find the pace that suited their experience and the journey began in earnest. Months of preparation lead up to this moment and stage one was finally underway.
Day one’s route took them through Castlebellingham, Ardee and Kells before stopping for a much needed break and brunch in Mullingar. Even though the task they set themselves was both mentally and physically daunting (as well as the number of punctures that needed sorting) spirits were high and after refuelling, the peloton pushed on to the final destination of the first day, Athlone. 150k done and the beds in the “Prince of Wales” hotel were as welcome as any bed could have been.
The second day’s riding would see the cyclists travel from Athlone to Limerick and the toughness of the effort was in evidence. There were several groans and complaints of saddle soreness but everyone dug deep and encouraged and supported each other all the way. During stage two Stephens wife Breffnie, stopped off to take a quick interview with Ray D’Arcy on 2FM and no one could forget why they were on this trip. Everybody was emotionally charged and powered on towards lunch in Nenagh. Day two came to a close with a Garda escort leading the tired cyclist past the legendary Thomond Park to their hotel in Limerick city for the night.
On Friday for the final leg of this cross country trip the group swapped their Louth colours for Clare colours as they headed for Eoins native home and the final destination of the tour. The gang were blessed with perfect weather for the entire journey and all said that Stephen was truly with them the whole way smiling a blessing of sunshine down on their efforts. By the final 10k of the trip the group had added to its numbers with Stephen’s eldest son Senan and his father Ian and as this brave group peddled on to Liscannor in the sunshine three generations of Carrolls lead 45 friends and family to the end of a three day epic journey.
Everyone who took part in this charity cycle said it was a hugely emotional experience and their efforts not only helped them but earned over €80,000 that will undoubtedly help so many others. Everyone hugged and kissed and many tears were shed as the spirit of Stephen Carroll filled a group that decided to something in memory of a lost loved one. Their efforts were outstanding and the money that was raised (the figure is still rising) was split between Clare Hospice, North Louth Hospice and the Irish Cancer Society.
If Stephen were here no doubt his shout of “Chapeau” would be loudest of all.