00:00 Saturday 29 October 2011  Written by JACKIE KEOGH

Donal Harrington cycles Tour de France route in memory of his late father for charity

€11,000 raised for Irish

Cancer Society so far

ONE false start followed by one gruelling, but nevertheless exhilarating, month cycling the Tour de France route has transformed the life of a man from Castletownbere.

Thirty-six year-old Donal Harrington, who lives in Sligo, but originally comes from Castletownbere, was given a rousing welcome reception when he returned 'home' on the afternoon of Saturday, October 15th last.

Friends, family and supporters were there to applaud the fact that he completed nineteen of the twenty-one stages of the Tour de France race (omitting two time trials) in memory of his late father, Michael Harrington, a popular member of Cork County Council, and to honour his chuffed mother, Carmel.

The adventure was a real family affair because his brother-in-law, David Geraghty, had planned the trip with military precision, whilst his sister, Ella, volunteered to drive the camper van - kindly donated by Chris Hayes of Leap - throughout the journey from September 10th until Monday, October 10th last.

Donal's friend, Neil Hoare, was also on hand to video the endeavour that was originally inspired by Tony Griffins, an All-star from Clare who gave up his hurling career to cycle across Canada in memory of his late father, Jerome, who also died of cancer.

'I got talking to him about his book Screaming at the Sky,' Donal told The Southern Star, 'and by the end of the conversation he had me cycling the Tour de France. In what I call my Jerry Maguire moment - you know the scene in the movie where he puts out a mission statement and later regrets it - and I was left wondering what I had gotten myself into.

'The hardest thing was to get going: at 17 stone and a quarter, I thought, "How could I put on the gear and cycle down the road?" But there was nothing for it. I had to do it. I had to sacrifice the chocolate and the fast food and get moving.'

What spurred him on was thinking of the daily struggles of people like his mother and his father who were both sick with cancer at the same time. And the fact that his mother was also looking after their cousin, Sean Griffin, who sadly passed away a week after Donal's own dad died in February, 2010.

He said it was hard going out each night in the sleet and cold in Sligo, but he sort of offered up every hardship. So, in the end, the extreme level of training and the actual Tour de France become something of a pilgrimage.

Anyone who ever met Michael Harrington liked him. He was smashing! As a son, Donal said: 'I don't think we will ever get over losing him. He was larger than life. A great father. And very funny. What he would do would count for a lot more than what he would say. He was a great parent. A great example.'

Donal's first attempt in July had to be called off after he injured his knee, but two friends, Brendan Fitzpatrick and Ger Hartman, both physiotherapists, had Donal back on the road to recovery within eight weeks.

By the start of September, Donal was ready: he was a good fighting weight at 13 stone five pounds. The camper van was loaded and the new bike - courtesy of his sponsors, Specsavers in Cork, Mallow, Bandon, Midleton, Wilton and Cork city - was primed for the challenge.

'There were some brutal days,' he said. 'Within two days I had knee trouble again, so I took a day off. When I returned I went at a slow pace, and ended up cycling pretty much in accordance with the weather conditions and the terrain along every stage of the circuit.

'In France, there are no ditches or hedgerows so if you run into a headwind there is no shelter. And, on top of that, there are three mountains Agnel, Galibier and Izoard, which measure about 7,500 metres, and can really test your endurance.

Tough challenge

'Under those conditions, I could manage about 60km in four hours, whereas I'd normally do that distance in about an hour and three quarters. It was tough, a real challenge.'

Donal said his wife, Elaine, and his kids, Aidan and Olivia, are delighted that he succeeded in what he set out to do, and they joined him in Beara, on October 15th, alongside his mother, Carmel, sisters Ella and Anne, and brothers Paul and Michael.

As well as being joined by cycling buddies from Fermoy and Cork, members of the Beara club also came out to cycle the last leg from Cork to Beara in a show of solidarity with Donal who has, so far, raised €11,000 for the Irish Cancer Society.

Anyone who would like to make a donation can log on to mychairty.ie website and locate thelifecycle.ie to make a donation directly to the Irish Cancer Society.

Earlier, Donal spoke about his father being a great example. In accomplishing this challenge, he said his greatest wish is to 'set an example for my own kids, but I'll always be a poor imitation of my own father.'

< Back

Features