As a National Cyclist (NatCyc) I am growing weary of the cyclist hate seen regularly on my twitter feed. The bicycle has been a friend to Ireland, in particular the rebel, for a long time, and in this article I will describe the many such scenarios. Now of course, I don’t want to see the bicycle replace the car like the left do. But at the same time, some of you lazy chuds could do with a cycle from time to time.
The bicycle started off as a pastime in Ireland around the mid-19th century and by the 1880s it became popular amongst the wider public due to new methods of mass production making it more affordable. Numerous cycling clubs were established throughout Ireland at this time, with many people using the bicycle as their main mode of transport. Coinciding with the bicycle revolution was a cultural revolution of revitalizing our language, literature, sports, and eventually politics.
The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) was founded on 1st November 1884 by a group of Irishmen in the Hayes’ Hotel, Thurles, Co.Tipperary. They planned to set up an organisation which would strengthen and maintain our unique sporting games whilst also further developing the growing craze for cycling. The Irish Cycling Association (ICA) also formed earlier that year with the two associations becoming rivals for potential members. However, the ICA didn’t last long and by 1910, it had succumbed to the nationalist-minded GAA.
In 1912, what became evident was the importance of the link between bicycle clubs and the cultural awakening. Séamus Ó Maolieoin, Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) member and Christian Brothers School teacher, launched Irish language facilities, dancing, a choir and an Irish language and cycling club in the town of Mullingar. The clergy approved of the club helping it grow in popularity with the Midland Reporter exclaiming: “thank God there has been a great National awakening in the language revival in the last year after years of apathy”.
Peddling through the Easter Rising and War of Independence
The bicycle played a crucial role in the Easter Rising and later, the War of Independence with men such as Michael Collins and Liam Mellows being massive bicycle-respectors. Collins had a bike known as the “high nelly” specifically customised for him in 1919 with the item itself only being relocated in 2013. While it was said of Mellows that he would sometimes cycle up to sixty miles a day in order to avoid detection.
Moreover, there are several Bureau of Military History Witness Statements providing testimonies from those who served Ireland by bicycle. They include cycling from town to town during the cultural revival, acting as dispatchers and transporting arms during both the Rising and War of Independence.
A couple of accounts in particular emphasize the lengths some of our rebel’s went to join in the fighting. One young man from Newry, Patrick Rankin, cycled from his hometown to Dublin to fight alongside his compatriots in 1916. Another man, Peter Paul Galligan cycled from Dublin, via Maynooth, through Carlow to get to Enniscorthy to give orders to volunteers there to cut the railway line to prevent the British bringing reinforcements to Dublin.
Michael Walker, champion cyclist and 1916 rebel
Speaking at the funeral of fellow Irish Volunteer Joseph Norton in 1917, who participated in the Rising a year earlier, Seán Prendergast stated: “There was a large representation of the Dublin Brigade I.R.A. – over 1,500 attending. The Cyclist Corps of the City Regiment was in full attendance, Cumann na mBan, Citizen Army, Fianna and some of the men who were with deceased in Lewes Jail. The firing party was selected by the Dublin Brigade. After the internment three volleys were fired over the grave and the “last post” sounded. The cyclists numbering a thousand caused a sensation as they marched through the city and were dismissed in O’Connell Street.” It showed how the bicycle had become a symbol of the revolution.
“The cyclists numbering a thousand caused a sensation as they marched through the city and were dismissed in O’Connell Street.”Seán Prendergast, 1917
It continued to play an important role when the War of Independence broke out as it was the perfect mode of transport during guerilla warfare with it being silent and difficult to detect. However, it wasn’t only used by our rebel’s during this time with the British also using the bicycle to patrol areas where martial law was enacted. Towards the end of the War of Independence, the Brits even went so far as to order their men to seize all bicycles when engaging with Volunteers in their area. The historian Joseph McKenna termed this the “Bicycle War”.
An Rothar agus an Ghaeilge
The bicycle continued to be peddled as a tool for revolution in the Free State, this time for the cause of our language. In 1926, the Gaeltacht Commission was established to combat the decline of Irish in Gaeltacht regions. The opening remarks in their report were as follows: “We believe that the Irish people as a body recognise it to be a national duty to uphold and foster the language”. The conclusions the commission came to were welcomed but as the 1930’s approached, the fundamentals of the report had still not been achieved.
This led to many pressure groups forming with one in particular named Muintir na Gaeltachta using the bicycle to protest the failings of the government. During Easter time in 1934, members of the organisation cycled from Rosmuc in Connemara to Dublin to confront the then Minister for Land and Agriculture, Eamon de Valera, on the government’s failure to act on the report.
With our language up North having no political backing, a grassroots approach was needed. Many Gaelic cycling clubs were set up throughout the 1940’s with the aims of touring the country and learning the Irish language. Newspaper archives from this time showed the importance of these clubs.
An Ulster Herald article in May 1943, heaped praise for the Tyrone Gaelic Cycling club. During the summer months, the club brought together Gaelic speakers and students to learn Irish and the history of their country.
While another Ulster Herald article, written in September 1943, further emphasized the significance stating “the powers that be in the North” arranged the school curriculum “so as to exclude as far as possible any chance of Irish”. The article goes on to provide a run through of successful Irish language initiatives by grassroots groups. It specifically mentions the value of Gaelic Cycling clubs in letting “all and sundry know that Irish DOES exist in Tyrone and many other places (in the North) as well”.
In post-partition Ireland, the bicycle was used as a border-disrespecter in regards to the North of Ireland after the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), cycling’s main governing body, issued a motion ordering cycling organisations to abide by national borders as they stood in post-war Europe. This was extremely controversial in Ireland’s case as it meant we had to restrict events to the 26 counties. This led to the nationalist-minded National Cycling Association (NCA) being expelled from the UCI as they did not abide by the ruling. A new group was set up called Cumman Rothaiochta na hÉireann (CRE) who only operated within the 26 counties.
In 1953, Joe Christle, who was involved in the blowing up of Nelson’s Pillar, founded Rás Tailteann, which is an annual international cycling event that is still running to this day.
The first stage of the 1955 Rás had crossed the border to Newry, and the second stage, the longest of the Rás – 225km from Newry to Sligo – started in Co Down, and went through counties Armagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh. It was a great success with no trouble being reported. The event orgainisers decided to add a third stage for the following year’s Rás. It didn’t run as smoothly this time round with trouble occurring on the second day of the 1956 race when Christle flew a large Tricolour from the roof of the lead car. The flag had been banned in the North under the Flag and Emblems Act of 1954 and RUC officers seized the flag in Lurgan, Co. Armagh. Christle, while standing on the roof of the car, shouted the odds: “the national flag will fly as long as this national sports event continues”. Stones and bottles were also thrown at the riders by seething Unionists as they cycled through Cookstown.
The Rás resumed the next day with a reorganised stage from Monaghan to Ballina. The race finished in Tralee with a large crowd gathering to witness the finale. Before the crowd dispersed, one of the Kerry cyclists, Paddy O’Callaghan, produced a Union Jack flag and proceeded to set it alight to the delight of the crowd.
The Pusher in Modern Times
The bicycle, or pushbike/pusher as it’s known in Dublin, has continued to play an important role in our modern times.
In 2016, a nameless youngfella went viral after he posted a video of himself cycling around Dublin 12 spreading the good word of “go Bricker” (translation from Deano-speak: go to Brickfield Park). It’s actually quite simple really, you cycle past people and shout things such as “here youngfella go Bricker tonight, gonna be lethal”, or “Brickfield Park’s the session”. You do so in the hope of getting as many people to go on the session in Brickfield Park as possible. I’m told it’s a rather successful method.
This year alone, the pusher has been at the forefront in regards to the Nationalist cause and was even used as a weapon in May when a squatter camp backed by the far-left was set up on Pearse St. directly across from the flats. This did not sit well with concerned locals who immediately confronted the fakeugees. Upon confrontation, a known terrorist squatting at said camp, became agitated and swung a fence pole at the group of residents which included women and children. Our lads were quick to react with one youngfella throwing a bike at this grifter, knocking him to the ground.
Indeed, two-wheels have been the vehicle for much of the ethnic unrest in Dublin in recent years, with the sludgey horde of rude Brazilian deliveroo riders being harried by Younfella Woodkern Light Cavalry on their swift roadracing bikes.
Furthermore, last month saw an anti-asylum bicycle protest take place in Dublin. The bicycle was used as a symbol with the protest aimed at Mel Sutcliffe, owner of Euro-Cycles and, more importantly, Quanta Capital, a vulture fund responsible for the plantation centres in East Wall and Santry. A group of 100, or so, cycled from Connolly Station to the house of Sutcliffe. It was a resounding success setting a precedent for future protests to take our concerns directly to landlords doors.
Forward with haste
It is clear the bicycle has played a significant role in Ireland not only as a pastime, but also in a revolutionary sense since its introduction in the 19th century. Our reliance on this device was particularly encapsulated throughout the Easter Rising and War of Independence. I do believe it will continue to be a close companion of the Irish rebel whether it will be used for its main use, i.e. cycling, or as a weapon, with more protests to be had and more squatter camps to be cleared out. So, go out to that shed and clear the cobwebs off your bike. We’ve got some peddling, and possibly throwing, to do!