Aside: I originally published this post about ‘Ras Tailteann’ on 27th September 2012, but in a rush of blood to the head (well, finger….) this morning it got deleted (see “No men were harmed….etc.” below for background info!). Anyhow, someone kind and good had saved it elsewhere……. I am so happy, and flattered, Thank You !!! 😀
On the morning of Good Friday this year, in a car-park in Kilorglin, someone introduced me to Gene Mangan. He was leaning against a car having a laugh with Ted Crowley, I was, in theory, leaving team wheels with Neutral Service for Ras Mumhan, …….. except I had no idea which car was doing this job so I was wandering from one to the next like an abandoned puppy….. When we exchanged greetings and he offered his hand, I couldn’t shake it because my hands were covered in that black tyre-dirt that now I barely see as dirt at all; I wish I could have shaken your hand Gene……. to me you were just another gentle man, one of many involved with Ras Mumhan that weekend……. little did I know you are also a hero.
Last night, during a fortunate lull in “on-call”, I watched ‘Ras Tailteann – Rothai an tSaoil’ on TG4. This documentary, dubbed ‘The Secret History of The Ras’, was typical of the insightful material produced by TG4, and I couldn’t believe I was the only one sitting in front of it in the tv room in The Res. I wanted everyone in the hospital to be enjoying this, especially everyone who wonders why I spend my weekends and my holidays supporting cycling, or trying to be a better cyclist myself…… “Look everyone!!! This is what it’s all about! Look at them……. this is what loving the work is; you can’t do this unless you love it. They look like they are suffering, and they are, but inside they are smiling, every one.”
I watched enthralled as one after the other these Men Of The Ras reminisced about the early years of this great race. Gene Mangan and Se O’Hanlon spoke not only of their pursuit of victory in the Ras, but also of being spirited away to France to race against their continental peers under assumed names……. The infamous Joe Christle instigator of the very first Ras Tailteann (and several other notable historical events…. who knew? Not me.) was featured; a shadowy figure with a big dream…… Mick ‘Iron Man’ Murphy talked of being forced to leave home because his fanatical training, at ungodly hours, drove his family to distraction….. Stephen Roche confessed that his experience of the hardmen-racing-style of The Ras helped to make him the legend that he is today…….. The inspirational Dermot Dignam talked about the evolution of The Ras from it’s Nationalist origins, to the international event it now is. I lapped it all up.
But for me the most moving aspect of TG4′s golden hour was the black and white footage of these men (no women featured in this program, why would they, The Ras is all about men, as it should be; for me The Ras has come to mean what being a man is all about…… this may not represent a great reflection on me, or my judgement!!). There was Gene, young and handsome; Paudie Fitzgerald, full of youthful energy; Mick Murphy, glowing with strength and vitality; and here was Paddy Flanagan, young and indestructible, being interviewed as he rode the Ras of 1970….
“Will you win this one Paddy?”
“No. I’m too old”
Paddy was 29.
Working in a hospital gives me a perspective on life and death that is not afforded to everyone; this is something for which I am unashamedly grateful. The people I am required to X-ray on-call at night, like last night, well, they are the proper sickies…… newborns struggling to get started in this life, and elderly patients, gasping their last few breaths within these walls. Who are they all. Nice old man in Bed 2…… who are you? What’s your story? What things did you do that everyone exalted you for? Did you fulfill your dreams? I meet “visitors” on the stairs and always try to smile, who are you coming to see? did your sister just have her first baby? is your mother dying in CCU?
I don’t mean to be maudlin people (though I am not long in the door, and I am over-tired…), but I do want to say… “Do not take this life for granted!”
Do not take this life for granted.
Shay Elliot, Des Hanlon, Paddy Flanagan, Peter Bidwell, Ben McKenna, Mark Hayden, Kevin McInerney…. Cycling in Ireland has a long tradition of honouring its departed heroes by naming races after them….. And, not to favour one legend over another, The Paddy Flanagan 2-day is run each June, by Newbridge Cycling Club, in memory of this 3 time Ras Tailteann winner. Paddy died in 2000, he was (only) 59 years old. I am rambling a bit now (again, I’d like to play my ‘Tired’ card…), but,….. just….. You too will be old someday my friends…. do The Ras while you still can, do it as many times as you can, do it because you will suffer, do it because great men have been here before you, and you will be great men too…….. there is a legacy to live up to, ……do it because to finish a Ras is a victory…..
How does it go?….. If you are ever forced to look back & ask yourself if you have regrets, regret the things you did, not the things you didn’t do.