It is now the country’s biggest single-day fundraising event — and one of the longest-running.
Ten thousand cyclists participate in the event that started as a dare in a sauna in Sporty McCarthy’s gym in Killarney in 1983.
That first year 36 people cycled to raise funds for a dialysis machine for Tralee General Hospital.
They thought they would make a few hundred pounds for the “kidney people” who were desperate to get a machine to spare loved ones the long return journey to Cork — but they made a few thousand.
The amount was buoyed by two donations of £1,000 which they were asked not to reveal. One of the cheques was from then tánaiste Dick Spring and the other was from the late Mickey Moriarty of the Gap of Dunloe Industries.
This July 7, the man whose idea it was, Denis Geaney, will lead a vintage team, cycling for Killarney teenager Ian O’Connell, who suffered a spinal injury after falling from a bike in the Killarney National Park last summer.
“I never expected to be still doing it 35 years later. It is hard to believe it is 35 years,” Geaney said.
Last year €1.5m was collected for causes ranging from the Valentia Island hospital to addiction counselling.
At the start, we said the money that would be collected in Kerry would be left in Kerry. And this is largely what has happened.
Cycling is so popular now that organisers have had to put the brakes on cycling clubs.
“It’s not the speed with which you travel, it’s how much you raise for your chosen charity,” said event frontman, Cathal Walsh.
It’s a family event, a day out, and now families at home and abroad plan a week’s holidays in Kerry around the cycle, said Mr Walsh, a former garda who has been involved since 1984.
Of those early years, one man stands out for Cathal, the late Jimmy Duffy from Blennerville. He typified the spirit of the early years.
Jimmy would cycle from Blennerville, do the Ring and cycle home. He wasn’t dressed in lycra. He had an old style bike and carried a baby Power’s and sandwiches.
The local support and the goodwill and the ability to handle big events seamlessly has kept it pedalling, where in other areas, cycle events have fallen away, the organisers say.
Good food and plenty of craic and the stories told on the road are another thing.
“You can be cycling alongside someone who has recovered from cancer. And the Ring cycle is something they promised themselves on recovery,” Mr Walsh says.
Numbers now have to be capped at 10,000. New health and safety standards are rigorous and the charity regulations are an extra layer — but none of this is resented.
An event as big as this has to have good structure and governance notes chairman, Tony Daly, hotel manager in Parknasilla.
Profile: Betty Breen
Betty Breen of Kelly’s Corner outside Sneem paints her house each year for the cycle.
Portaloos are installed in the garden for the men — and the women get to use the facilities indoors.
Tables of food and soft drinks are laid out on this the first stop after Cahercvieen and before the “dead pull” to Sneem, three-quarter ways round the Ring. “What they really liked from the start is the well water. It’s beautiful water. Cold water.”
Betty, a native of west Limerick, says her husband Jack’s mother, Anne Breen ran a shop which would have been open the first years of the cycle — so her home is a natural stop.
There’s a settee and an electric blanket and a bed for those who need it.
Already Betty’s little helpers, 10-year-old neighbouring triplets, Padraig, Sean and Michael Casey are asking her if they can come down this year.
- The Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle is the biggest one-day charity fundraising event in Ireland, attracting up to 10,000 leisure cyclists each year and has raised approx. €15m for charities to date.
- Approximately 40% of cyclists are first-timers each year, people who don’t consider themselves as cyclists and just “give it a go”.
The event has a slick organisational structure involving approximately 1,500 volunteers from a variety of organisations.
Participants have the support of 10 bike repair stations and mobile repair crews, three medical centres and mobile medical support, three food stations, support sweep vehicles, 80 bike marshals, and much more.
Nineteen ambulances, 19 doctors, five medical support vehicles, 75 trained medics are strategically placed.
- Key members of the team involved over the years include Killarney Sgt Dermot O’Connell, who is in charge of traffic and safety, and Tom Brosnan, the ex-bomb squad officer who runs the team of medics countywide.
- Thousands of sandwiches are made and eaten, 25,000 bananas are distributed and tens of thousands of litres of water.
- Places are limited but still available via www.ringofkerrycycle.ie