Back in the 1990’s, down tube gears, narrow saddles, and even narrower tyres were all the craz, people cycled everywhere with little more than a cap on their heads. It’s hard to believe that cycling helmets had only been introduced into the Professional peloton. All those years with huge pelotons, manic bunch sprints and not one of them wore a hard shell helmet.
The country was coming out of lean times and cycling wasn’t a popular sport, especially after a terrible 1998 tour. The tour started in Dublin and ended in a fiasco when drugs were found in a team car at a ferry port in Belgium. It has since transpired that drugs were ruining our sport! The Kelly / Roche era had been forgotten and a cycling club was been formed in the small South Mayo town of Ballinrobe.
Western Lakes Cycling Club was founded in the winter of 1998 but it was 1999 before we got affiliated to the National Governing body, now called Cycling Ireland.
Eight friends (John Halloran, John Holian (RIP), JJ Flaherty, Dessie Woods, Paul Maguire, Eamon Marrey, Noel Gibbons and Padraig Marrey) set up a club to cater for the cycling needs of South Mayo and the West Galway region.
The late John Holian was the club’s first chairman; he gave us the use of his car so it could be used as the club’s first team car.
Since its foundation in 1999, our membership has grown to over 160 members. We have always been known as a cluster club, we have pods of cyclist littered everywhere from Clifden/Renvyle to Shrule, Partry & Hollymount with Ballinrobe the hub.
You might ask why the name Western Lakes Cycling Club? Well it came from a number of reasons, first, most of us lived near a lake and with the whole area being associated with the “Lake District” (an organisation for promoting tourism and enterprise in South Mayo) and with the club based in the West it was just a case of combining the two.
Ballinrobe is beautifully situated in the middle of a cluster of lakes or Loughs called The Mask, Corrib and Carra, for any cyclist there is a great sense of achievement just to cycle around any of these beautiful loughs.
With the club barely formed and under the leadership of Eamon Marrey we set about putting Western Lakes CC and Ballinrobe on the map by first looking to host a stage of the infamous FBD RasTailteann and secondly securing that bid. Bringing over 500 riders, managers, helpers and supporters to the town for a night in May was some feat by the bunch of novices.
Main street Ballinrobe was going to be the finishing straight for a peloton of nearly 200 riders, local man Padraig Marrey was hoping to be the star of the show!! riding for the Hire Equip team from county Kildare but his ambitions were dashed a long way from home with a serious of mishaps… The stage winner was David McCann who went on to win with a solo effort. The following day was to Sligo, Padraig got the chance to redeem himself which you can watch here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZWVFZwAaVU “see Ballinrobe stage end from 2 min 09 seconds on”.
This was now the standard, leisure spins, youth skills and a host of competitive events brought scantily clad lycra cyclist of all shapes and sizes to the area, ex footballers and rugby players got in on the act too.
Looking for something adventurous to aspire to, these new enthusiastic members were mad for road, an idea was floated… Why don’t we try and cycle the length of the country!!! The goal was set (680k Mizen head to Malin Head), and for the next 5 months elaborate training plans were hatched so that everyone would be fit enough to complete the challenge. Most of the spring of 2002 was spent getting men in rugby and football shorts converted to lycra. Getting them used to the saddle was a whole different ball game! The road was the new football pitch, miles were the new terminology, and the game had changed. There were no more balls, just bikes!
A few recce spins in June and July told their own stories, training plans were great but practice was another thing altogether. The crew were in poor shape…
Against all the odds, the poor accommodation, faulty speedometers, spluttery vans and cars, the strong headwinds and at times even hail stones. There was lashings of sudacream and a huge amount of sacrifice, the group of 16 made the 680k trip a huge success. The club collected a small fortune en-route putting all the coins into a large galvanised garbage bin that they couldn’t lift out .. it was OK as it all went to charity.
Seamus Maloney’s account of the 2002 M2M
“We set off for what I thought would have been one of the biggest cycling challenges I have ever undertaken; most people said we were mad, and I nearly agreed with them but a challenge was set and who were we to refuse it, especially when it was all in aid of a good cause.
It turned out to be the most rewarding 3 days spent with a group of 16 guys along with a big fund raising crew, the craic was 90 and just full of encouragement all the way to the finish by everyone involved. Myself and good mate Pat Grimes (both novice cyclists at the time) learnt that a ‘leisurely spin’ from Mizen to Malin is possible when the company is good. Don’t get me wrong we were challenged along the way, day 1 saw 175 miles clocked (we were told it was 175k), day 2 the head was feeling down but we covered 155 miles and on day 3 when the hail poured down on us in Donegal, I thought we might never see what Malin head looked like but we got there in the end. We had a great celebration I think …I was drunk after the first pint, I suppose the 436 miles took its toll.
With the opposite direction planned the following year it wasn’t too hard a job to convince us to do it again for the Blazzing saddles and NCBI charity. For anyone who does not know Padraic Marrey the consensus is ‘leisurely spin’ does not come into his vocabulary!”
This was the Celtic Tiger era for the club, in these years the club built up monster numbers in our youth ranks with weekly skills and road sessions; the club was getting a name for itself winning numerous national titles across an array of age groups.
In 2004 we brought a new kind of cycling event to Ballinrobe called Cycling superstars, this was a national championship. The name changed in 2005 to Talent Spot. The championship was like a decathlon for cycling, participants had to be good at cycling skills and maneuvering around an obstacle course, have exceptional explosive power which was tested with a short timed sprint. To top it off be good at controlling their bikes at speed on a slippery grass track loop.The winner who accumulated the most points from the three disciplines would make the podium.
The club still pursued more leisure cycle challenges, this time with a Malin to Mizen effort. Going this was way was supposed to be downhill…
More ideas were floated, this time why not go from the most Easterly to the most Westerly points so the Carnasore Point to Erris Head challenge was invented for another 3 day epic cycling adventure, guys talkng to cows, arses covered in white cream! that 3 days seen a lot of unthinkables or was in untalkables …
The racers were up and down the country winning prizes and representing the club in valour!
We were lucky to get our hands on an auld factory building on the Kilmaine road. With the help of the Ballinrobe scouts we secured a lease from Mayo County Council that we have to this day.
03 to 06 Martin Munroe and Willy Connolly were regulars on Irish teams both on the road and in the velodrome. Martin even got to race the European Youth Olympics in Paris in 2003; a great achievement for any cyclist.
Loads of youngsters cycled and raced their bikes locally, and the lifelong activity of cycling was becoming infectious.
In 2006 Padraig Marrey and Mary Mulchrone dipped their toes into Ultra cycling for the first time, when they both completed the Mizen head to Malin Head in under 22hrs (non-stop).
Later that year Padraig Marrey had caught the bug and went on a solo bid to break the record from Mizen Head to Fair Head (the two furthest apart points that can be cycled in Ireland) with an incredible time of 17:49hrs. That record still stands...
These were lean years for the club. Our youth program went quite for whatever reason? The country was coming into a recession and money was scarce.
In 2007 we built the BMX track at the Cycling Centre, we even got the great Sean Kelly to ride around it on his racer.
The aim was to have another stepping stone for our youth members. A discipline of cycling that looked exciting was BMX, and that fitted the bill nicely.
BMX was to be an Olympic sport in 2008 so we wanted to capitalise on it.
In 2008 the Professional Tour of Ireland was back on the cycling calendar. Eamon Marrey pulled another rabbit out of the hat and got one of the five stage starts for Ballinrobe. Considering the town didn’t have the accommodation or infrastructure to hold such an event, this was a master stroke.
A yellow jersey clad Mark Cavendish led the race for Team Columbia from Ballinrobe, looking through the results it’s amazing to see the stars that were in our home town that day.
See from 1:27hrs onwards https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4loyqklLLk
The Western Covey League kicked off in the summer of 2008, the idea was to tier riders by using a handicap system. The stronger riders were put back X amount of minutes with the aim of all riders finishing together. This didn’t happen often though; it was great training for everyone. Most were encouraged to try out the open racing scene for the first time.
This league nurtured some great talent for both clubs and helped build a great relationship with the Covies. The league is still going strong today, 12 years on.
Above the Western Lakes CC team and Mary Mulchrone at the last round in Swinford, Mary with the help of her team won the Connacht cycling league, she was and believe still is the only woman to win that league against male competition.
In 2009 we were back cycling the length of the country but with a specific Goal in mind, the challenge was to cycle from Mizen Head to Malin Head as fast as possible with a group. Western Lakes CC organised the challenge and had 7 of the 18 riders in our club colours, plus all the backup crew. It was completed in 18:53 which was some feat when you look back at it. It is still the record for a group today…
Looking back, this was the Ras Tailteann era. An Post sponsored the event for 8 years. Once they came on board the race’s profile increased significantly.
A stage end of the 2012 route was announced for Westport. That was the catalyst the racers in the club needed... The Goal was announced Western Lakes were going to put a team in the race. All types of favors were pulled, sponsors, cars, vans and accommodation were all summoned for the project. The aim was simple, get to the start line and be ready to duke it out with some of the brightest stars in the sport. Teams could only enter under the county from where the riders were from, so with the help of Centra as a main sponsor, Team Mayo Centra was born. For three golden years Western Lakes fielded the Mayo Centra Team, what a unique experience for all involved and a huge Thanks to Gary Higgins Centra for making this happen.
In 2012 Mark Cavendish was after winning the Green Jersey in the Giro d’Italia but Donal Harrington from the Mayo Centra ras team took the front cover of Cycling Weekly (a UK Magazine). He also got a 4 page spread on the inside of his journey in cycling.
The photos from that 2012 Ras are still doing the rounds such was the extent that people associated the Mayo Centra team as the real county team of the event!
In 2012 we built a great event with the Covies called Westportif. Using the tourist town of Westport and the know how and infrastructure from our experienced Western Lakes CC members, the event grew to be a thee go-to event for all leisure riders nationally.
Another great event was born in 2012 called The Ladies Sportif. The brainchild of Fergal O Neill, Andrea Heneghan and Marie Fraser the idea was that there were only ladies aloud to enter but there was a little twist, the men of the club had to do all the behind the scenes stuff, like sign on, marshal, look after breakdowns and man the food stops. The event was one of the first only lady events for cycling that now is a trend for the sport.
In the summer of 2012 the BMX track was revamped with a new starting gate and ramp. Over 200 tons of materials was shaped by Shane Gilligan in his digger along with the help of a few committed members. The new makeover completely re shaped the track making great use of an old container donated by Tim Kelly ltd this doubled up as a starting ramp and storage area. Flood lights were installed and now the track could be used during the dark winter months.
Martin Joyce got the leisure scene back on the road with another 3 day effort of Mizen to Malin.
Also in 2012 the Hollymount Wheelers group formed their own branch of the Western Lakes CC reuniting some of the older members with their original roots.
In 2014 for whatever reason the racing side of the club slowed. Most members of the club really got into the leisure scene especially Sportifs (Leisure events with numerous food stops…).
In an effort to get more members racing we started our own club league, based on the format of the Western/ Covey league. With members now multiplying in Clifden (Twelve Bens) and with the (Hollies) in Hollymount plus a scattering more from around the South Mayo area the league was a great success. The early years of the club league were full of hot air with a lot of bragging going on. At the conclusion of each event, there was allot of showing off...who had the best spread, as it was all about the grub on offer, which was just delightful. I’ll have to admit that the Robeen and Renvyle rounds were the most appetising with all sorts of goodies on offer pre and post race.
Sportif’s turned into the new races, members claimed they won this and that sportif’s without ever a result being published or recorded… That didn’t stop the likes of Westportif, The Ladies sportif, The Great lakes challenge, Tour of the Bens and the Hollymount sportif going from strength to strength with big numbers turning up to sample the beautiful routes in the West of Ireland.
On the racing front, Sean O Malley, Janis Blivous, Padraic Hughes, Barry Holian, Kieran Heneghan, Michael Gilvarry, Mark Kelly, JJ Flaherty and John Gill led from the front in their various categories.
Kilmovee native Jerry Towey nearly qualified for the Rio Olympic games after a number of podium places at para World Cup events at various destinations around the World. In the end it wasn’t to be, national selection processes dictated otherwise… saying all that, he still came along way from where he started as a leisure cyclist!
Martin Joyce again organised another epic 3 day challenge from Carnsore Point to Erris Head, 10 years after our maiden journey.
In 2017 we drew up plans to improve our cycling centre, it was in a bad state and with very limited facilities for training during the winter months the plan was to modernise the building with new showers, changing rooms and a plan to insulate the whole building.
The BMX track made a comeback and the kids got back into cycling with new coaches helping out.
In 2017 the Twelve Bens formed their branch of Western Lakes CC led by the infamous Johnny King; sorry no it’s JJ Flaherty…
Off road cycling was always a part of Western Lakes CC but it was more by a select few on the competitive front. Cong, Clonbur and Moorehall woods are now recognoised as good off road cycling areas, loads of members hit the trails be it in darkness or day light hours it didn’t matter, off road was the new craz.
The club ventured into the World of Audax… For 2 years the club created a 100k and 200k off road route around Lough Mask, this further created enthusiasm for trail riding with many members now into gravel and adventure riding.
The Mizen to Malin route is a huge attraction for members of Western Lakes CC, everyone who cycles around our area wants to say they have completed that route… It takes a big effort to get everything sorted and to get people to give up 5 days to help out, it’s such a big ask for volunteers.
In 2017 Mizen to Malin again was the big challenge when the Hollymount Wheelers put together a composite group.
In 2019 the Twelve Bens put together another challenge on the Mizen to Malin route, again over 3 days. It’s always a huge effort and achievement.
2020 our 21st year.
At the start of 2020 all sports were shut down and by March all races
and sportifs were cancelled. When restrictions lightened over the summer months youth cycling flourished and by September the youth coaches had a great idea. They came up with Bikefest Mayo, it was held at the splendid facilities of the Ballinrobe race course. Every discipline of the sport was covered and coached! There were areas set aside for Cyclo Cross, Track, Road, BMX, road safety, obstacles courses and we even built a mountain bike course. The event was huge success, it sold out. 120 kids participated from all over Connacht. Some outsiders said it was the best day out for youth cycling enthusiasts that they had ever seen. In the history of the club this event and day was definitely one of the better days for coaches, officials and volunteers who combined to pull off a great days fun pedalling.
The reward has been tremendous since, with up to 50 plus kids turning up weekly for youth cycling training.
Just before Christmas the club organisied a Christmas evening spin where all participants had to do their bikes up with Christmas lights. They paraded around the town in small pods with over 80 kids involved. This was another great milestone for the club.
Western Lakes Cycling Club at a glance.
We cater for all cyclists including;Leisure, Off-road, Track, BMX, Gravel, Recreational, Racing and we also nurture the young cyclists.Western Lakes Cycling Club is one of the most progressive cycling clubs in Ireland. It is held in high regard by other sports organisations in Mayo and Connacht. Western Lakes has a wealth of experience including youth coaches, reps for each discipline (Cyclo Cross, BMX MTB, Road and track). We have national grade cyclists and administrators at virtually all levels.
The blue ribboned event of Irish cycling is the RasTailteann, the club has had the privilege of entering four squads in the years 2003, 2012, 2013 and 2014 equipped with team car, support van and all the personal to go with it.
At Youth/Junior level our club has had significant successes – winning Gold, silver and bronze medals at National Track and Road Championships. At senior level the clubs boasts numerous national champions in various disciplines. At provincial level every year we always win at least one title and bring home a host of medals.
This is no mean feat for a club in South Mayo with no former tradition of cycling in the area.
One of the greatest honors for our club was seeing Martin Munroe and Willy Connolly wearing the Green jersey for Ireland at five different World Championships from 2004 to 2008 there is no greater honor with maybe the exception of the Olympics. Brendan Butler, Jerry Towey and Padraig Marrey also got to wear green for Ireland at various international prestigious events around the World.
1998 World Junior champion and Tour De France rider Mark Scanlon of Sligo has a long history with the club as he was coached by one of our own who is now the chairman of Western Lakes CC. Cong’s David O Loughlin who was an Olympian in the 2008 Beijing Olympics also has a strong connection with the club.
Over the years the club has organised all kinds of mad, innovative and competitive events to cater to its members. All of our events benefit charities of various natures and its estimated we have collected over €250,000 for them.
The founding members still help direct the ship from time to time and are still very valuable volunteers.
Looking back is 20/20 vision but leaving a legacy is priceless, over the years people come and go into the beautiful sport of cycling, some gravitate towards MTB/Off road, others do all things road but for the club they all come under the one umbrella of cycling.
Keep the pedals turning, keep your head up and clear, open up your spirit and let the wind take you there….
To these great volunteers the cycling community owes you a huge debt of gratitude:
Salute to Breege Connolly, Gerry Butler, Jimmy Durcan and Brendan Scullion.
EVENTS THE CLUB HAS ORGANISED
Ballinrobe 2/3 day
Bogman 2 Day in Tullycross
The Sean Stagg Shield in Hollymount
Tourmakeady festival race
Tour of Kilmore Belmullet
WLCC Ladies sportive
Westportif (in conjunction with Westport CC)
Tour de Bens sportive
The Great Western Lakes Challenge
365 Mile a day challenge
Mayo coastal challenge
Family spin Cornmarket to Castle
Mizen to Malin; 2002,2003, 2012, 2017 & 2019
Carnsore point to Erris head; 2004 & 2014
Mizen to Malin non stop in 18:53 in 2009
The club holds weekly safety and skills coaching session for young cyclists. Weekly Off road spins for Adults, Sunday morning group spins for all abilities, Weekly virtual spin classes during Covid-19 times and this is only a small measure of our commitment to promoting all types of safe cycling.
The club would like to thanks all its sponsors, supporters and volunteers who have put their shoulder to the wheel so that it continues to move forward.
Aims of Western Lakes Cycling Club: