Cillian Read speaks to Rita de Brún about his love of the outdoors and the Bike Shed in Dennehy’s Cross, Cork.
As a kid I spent a lot of time in West Cork. As soon as we’d arrive there for weekends and holidays, I’d disappear from the house and go wandering along the shore, peering into rock pools and picking up crabs, seaweed and periwinkles.
That’s where I first got a sense of nature and how beautiful it is.
I was a bit of a wild child, with wanderlust and a love for the sea. I spent a lot of time surfing and wind-surfing and was into all sorts of outdoor sports.
I studied Earth Science at UCC, then worked as a hydrographic surveyor and a marine mammal officer for the Marine Institute.
About ten years ago I opened The Bike Shed in Cork city. That came about when I’d be dropping off old hydrographic instruments at the scrapyard and I’d see bikes dumped there.
One might have a seat missing, another a tire. I’d look at these bikes and think if you just took that part from this one and put it on that one over there, one bike would be perfect.
That they were being dumped to be melted down, to me, showed a disregard for perfectly useful items. I knew I could get them road-ready, so when I was dropping off scrap I’d ask the lads there to put some of those bikes aside for me so I could recycle them. I saw then that there was a market in the student world for those bikes I was recycling. I’d make a bike and sell it the next day.
As demand was growing, I started buying bikes from the bike rental companies.Their season ends in August, just as the students go back to college. I’d fix them up and sell them on to students.
The Bike Shed has always been environmentally friendly. Our old bike tyres go to artist Mick Davis, who makes wonderful sculptures from them. We’ve donated bikes to Penny Dinners for their Night Run campaign and to a team from UCC which is Ireland’s first student-led community first responder group.
We’ve also supplied bikes to UCC to help get staff cycling rather than driving to work. To encourage cyclists to keep cycling, we’ve run bike maintenance workshops for third-level students and for Foróige.
I know that for me to really make a difference I’d have to go live in the woods; have a composting toilet and do without electricity, running water and the rest. But I’m not willing to do that as I don’t think that’s what my family needs. So what I do instead for the planet, is lots of little things and hope they add up.
My wife, Esther and I have three sons aged 5, 8 and 11. We try to bring up our kids to think about the impact they are having on the environment and the world around them. The boys help me to make liquid soap for our home and for the shop. We used to throw out an empty hand dispenser bottle a week. Now we reuse the ones we have.
At home we make wind chimes from old bicycle cogs. Different sized cogs make beautiful chimes when they touch off each other. This is really our kids’ project. They enjoy breaking apart old cogs and learning knot-tying skills while joining them together with string.
The kids are happy out when I bring home cardboard bike boxes from The Bike Shed, as we use them on the stairs to make slides. Only a few Bike Shed bike boxes end up that way though. Most we give to local gardeners and a local business that delivers vegetable boxes, Dripsey Farm Fresh Veg.
Blarney Castle and Gardens take a lot of our cardboard for their vegetable plots. They also use our old bike tubes to tie young trees onto support posts. I’m constantly trying to find a use for stuff rather than throwing it out. Only if we can’t reuse, we recycle.
Before lockdown, I used to cycle or skate to school with my kids in the mornings. We’ve been doing that together since pre-school. As soon as we get on our bikes everyone’s smiling. When we climb the first hill and feel our hearts beating, we’re all having fun. By the time they walk through the school gates they’re beaming.
When I was a kid, the bushes in our garden would be swarming with bees and butterflies. My sister and I would go out, collect them in jars, take a look at them, then release them back where they belong. You never see swarms like that around bushes anymore.
I remember going fishing off the piers with my dad when I was very young. We’d come home with buckets full of mackerel. My dad passed away when I was 11, but I have very special memories of being outdoors a lot with him, usually involving the sea.
He loved to sail and windsurf. The mackerel have gone off shore now and no longer come in, but I have a little boat that I bring my boys out in Ring harbour to try our luck.
The love of the sea, binds them to me and him, I think and they are great swimmers, they love to surf and paddleboard.
We are so lucky to be close to the ocean. I've been fortunate enough to travel a lot of the planet with my surfboard, but nothing beats the Cork coast. HG Wells said he thought there was hope for the future of the world every time he saw an adult on a bike. I think about that whenever we get a kid cycling in The Bike Shed.
Kids are the future. When they’re cycling, we know we’re going in the right direction.
Cillian Read owns the Bike Shed in Dennehy's Cross, Cork. They sell and rent new and second hand bikes for kids and adults, they offer the Cycle to Work scheme, and have a range of electric bikes and cargo bikes and accessories. https://thebikeshed.ie/