The start was a bit like Mardi Gras mixed with Formula 1; it’s sort of like Electric Picnic for petrol heads.
My Aston Martin sits beside a red Ferrari and a lime green Lamborghini. The public mill around and the first question everybody asks “How fast can it go?”
Let’s not deny it, men are fascinated by power and speed (not always a good thing). It’s 11.30am and Nicky Byrne waves the flag and the Cannonball Run begins. Wheels spin, engines roar, the smell of burning rubber makes some people envious and others gag.
With the roof down we head for Dublin’s Port Tunnel. Like spoilt teenagers we rev and roar as the sound of thousands of horsepower echo and bounce off the walls.
Starting line CannonBall Run!!! pic.twitter.com/cwHumcHHum— Colm Hayes (@ColmHayesRadio) September 12, 2014
We leave Sligo with horns blaring and hundreds of people lining the streets waving and cheering. It’s amazing the effect a shiny car can have on people.
Lunch is in sunny Ballina along by the quays. On the way in, Ryan Thomas ‘the bloke from Coronation Street’ is mobbed by young girls and their mums as they jog beside his car trying to keep up. He sits on the window frame of the soft top Merc waving at the crowd and I’m reminded of a photo of the Allied Forces entering Paris. (Not quite but you get the picture).
Somebody shouts “Enda’s here” and the Brazilian dancers flank our esteemed leader with two Cannonballers dressed as East German border guards. It’s a bizarre photo and one that may come back to haunt him. He’s looking pretty cool in his t-shirt, balancing sunglasses on top of his head. (Angela Merkel thinks he’s working!)
And then we drive onto Galway with a few petrol stops along the way. These cars sure know how to drink petrol. I’m not sure which needle is the petrol and which is the second hand of the clock they both seem to move at the same speed.
A funny thing happens in Galway. I arrive in Salthill before anyone else. They forgot to tell me to stop in Ballybrit and wait for everybody. The streets of Salthill are blocked off and thronged with people. The finish line looks like the line at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.
My black Aston Martin turns the corner into the crowd and they cheer and whoop and clap. I cross over the line and some who recognise me shout “Your man from the radio has won the Cannonball.”
“It’s not a race.” I say under my breath and sheepishly wave at the crowd.
I just kept driving and then the barrier opened at the end of the street and I kept driving. I met up with the convoy and finished the Cannonball for the 2nd time much to the amusement of many Galwegians. “Did we not see your ugly face already Hayes?”
Saturday night was a stark reminder of what it was all about. Susan O’Dwyer, chief executive of the ‘Make a Wish’ foundation spoke with great eloquence and emotion. We watched videos of sick kids who wanted to be princesses and soccer stars. Some wanted to fly to the moon some just wanted a hug from Peppa Pig. A senior consultant explained how the effect of having a wish come true made their spirits soar. It was powerful and moving.
On Sunday we said goodbye to Galway and drove south arriving in Cahir like heroes and passed over a bridge especially constructed for the run. Then we went onto the Barack Obama Plaza, probably the only petrol station named after a US president.
It was getting late as we headed off to Tullamore and while the convoy turned left I turned right and headed back to the city feeling lonely in my Aston Martin.
I was thinking about the kids beaming with joy sitting in my Aston Martin getting their picture taken and then I remembered the little girl in the video hugging Peppa Pig and there and then flying past the Portlaoise junction I made a wish and I hope it comes true.